Breaking from Holiday Traditions
While not easy, here's why it's more important to make decisions and establish your own holiday rituals.
Many of us believe that we have to go home for the holidays—no matter how old we are, where we live or who we are with. For the first 30 years of my life, I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with my family in Canada. No matter where I lived, I always went home for the holidays for a banquet dinner with forty relatives. My grandmother and aunts lovingly prepared food for weeks. It was loud, chaotic and traditional. We were all expected to be there. In fact, I do not remember anyone breaking that rule…ever.
Fast forward to my married life. One year, my husband proposed that we go on a trip to Santa Fe...over the Christmas holidays! I could not imagine breaking our family's tradition. My family's tradition!
However, as a psychologist I was familiar with the marital success research: "Happily married couples prioritize their relationships" and "Successful marriages require that you separate from your family of origin to form a new family." Also, research finds that happily married couples "need to be open to our partner's influence."
I told my husband that I would consider his invitation.
Making the Marriage Priority No. 1
When we make a long-term commitment or decide to marry someone, do we actually think of the long-term implications? We have spent years focusing on the "me" in our lives; and that "me" often includes our own family and friends and traditions. When we marry someone, we become a "we." What does that really mean, and are we each willing to make changes to support our new "we"—our new family?
When I told my relatives that I was not going to be home for Christmas that year, I broke a very long tradition. I asked myself, "What is the worst thing that could happen?" Yes, they were disappointed, confused, sad and a little angry. And they survived.
The upside was the important message that I gave to my new family—my husband. He felt like a true priority. My willingness to decide on our holidays together is one of the many ways we became closer, more connected and more of a family ourselves.
Yes, you can still be a good daughter, son, sibling and grandchild while breaking the family tradition of always going home for the holidays. There is no need to feel guilty for creating your own family rituals. Allow your relatives to have their feelings of disappointment and grief. Be creative about other ways to spend time with your family. Brainstorm with your spouse about options.
When we had children of our own, we enjoyed establishing our own family tradition of Thanksgiving in Yosemite. We decide on our Christmas celebrations depending on the year. Some years we visit our families. Some years we host. Most importantly, my husband and I make the decision together.
Someday we may be sad when our own sons grow up, prioritize their new families and perhaps do not come to our home for the holidays. I guess we’ll just have to survive.
Dr. Michelle Gannon is a psychologist specializing in relationships and women's issues. She has been in private practice in San Francisco for 20 years helping individuals and couples. She is also a founder of award winning Marriage Prep 101 Workshops for engaged, newlywed and seriously dating couples with her husband, Dr. Patrick Gannon. Marriage Prep 101 has been featured in local and national media including CBS Early Show," Evening Magazine," Ronn Owens Radio, "Time," San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. She blogs at www.DrMichelleGannon.com and www.MarriagePrep101.com. Dr Gannon lives in San Rafael, California with her husband, two sons, dog and cat.