By Andile Tshuma
The holidays are over for most people and it is back to work.
For many it has been a wonderful time, sharing special moments with family and friends.
However, holidays can be toxic and emotionally taxing especially when they are spent with extended family, the in-laws in particular, especially for women.
Every family is different, and those differences become especially apparent during the holidays.
Imagine being born in Bulawayo and celebrating Christmas with a family braai at home and New Year maybe at your grandma’s house. Or just attending Mass, if your church marks Christmas. Then you get married, and your in-laws have a strict family tradition of going to the rural home and throwing a mega week-long Christmas party where you have to cook rice and chicken, an entire “seven colours” meal for the entire village for three days before Christmas day, on Christmas day, and another one on Boxing Day. And having the same on New Year’s Eve and New year.
It can be a beautiful time, but if you are not used to those kinds of big family events, it can be a terrible time for a new makoti. A friend narrated what she went through this Christmas somewhere in Maphisa, Kezi, and it was such an ordeal.
For married women, according to post holidays stories, such holidays are time for one to show their worth to the in-laws and they have to just adopt and adapt to the new tradition instantly as if they were born in that household. I find it unfair. We must celebrate our similarities and embrace differences too.
For 11 months out of the year it can be tough enough to navigate two sets of in-laws, each with their own rules, be they strict or lax, and their own set of manners, be they poor or pristine.
Parents often don’t realise the problems their married children experience as they try to balance loyalties to their own parents as well as to their in-laws and spouse during the holidays, especially to young couples just setting their own boundaries in the relationship.
Can you perfectly please everyone, every year for every holiday? Probably not. But you can work towards a balanced and fair holiday with a heart for honouring your extended family, while not neglecting to create special memories and moments with your spouse and kids.
It is important to balance the development of your own traditions with those of the homes you came from and to be open to changing your plan as needed. Flexibility and variation can help to avoid hard feelings when the in-laws’ expectations aren’t met.
For instance, you might invite relatives to gather at your place instead of agonising over which ones to visit. You might even take a vacation during the holidays to add variety and break the cycle of expectations.
Agree on how you as a couple would like to establish your own holiday traditions. Work for balance and fairness. For example, you might decide to spend Christmas morning with your parents and Christmas evening with your spouse’s. The following year you might spend the whole day at home.
It may be a lot easier for you and your spouse to change what you want for the holidays than for parents to adjust what’s been important to them for many years therefore share openly with them some of your ideas and hopes for holiday times, letting them know that you value being with them.
Develop realistic expectations of how the holidays should be spent. Wishful thinking generally leads to hurt feelings and disappointments. Personality differences, physical limitations, and philosophical disagreements don’t disappear just because a particular date on the calendar has arrived.
Balance the development of your own traditions with those of the homes you came from. Keep the focus on time spent together rather than amount of money spent. Always remember that you are also an in-law to them.
I have seen people stress out about the inevitable mother-in-law’s opinions on how you raise your children, hang your clothes, cook your steak, how thick your isitshwala should be, some really unnecessary drama. Perhaps the mums-in-law mean well, but somewhere somehow, someone must draw the line.
You can’t go wrong with compliments – as long as they are sincere. Is your mother-in-law a talented host? Break the ice by letting her know you appreciate the effort she puts into making the holidays beautiful – and ask her for some tips, I hear they really love that, just like most mums do anyway.
There are times when you can sit on the fence, but making a decision about which in-laws to spend the holidays with isn’t one of them. With your spouse, discuss all areas of potential conflict and then create a game plan. Figure out where you’re going for the holiday, when, and why. Plan what you’re going to say when the other side throws a tantrum on why you went to Tsholotsho and not Kezi that time around.
A family unit is like a world with its own culture and rules. No two families can be the same. During gatherings, these cultures are literally clashing. There could be differing views on everything from giving presents and time spent together, to the role that each family member plays at the meeting.
Who gets to hang out with the children can be a source of conflict too. Both sets of grandparents, should by right have equal access to their grandchildren, but due to certain circumstances it’s not always the case. Yet it is one of the major causes of rifts among families.
Keep realistic expectations. It’s easy to form a mental picture of a perfect family deeply enjoying one another by the fireside at Christmas.
Longing for this fantasy can set you up for disappointment. There is no perfect family. We are all sinful people. You will disappoint someone in your family during a gathering. And someone will disappoint you.
I really hope your holidays were bearable, and bear in mind that another long holiday is not that far off, so better plan ahead where you will be for Easter and start practising if need be. Learn to compromise and meet each other halfway.