It’s that time of year. No matter what your faith tradition is, the end of the year tends to gather families together. This close contact creates friction sometimes.
All the annoying habits, past hurts, and uneasy relationships rise to the surface. If you are expecting a baby, you will be the center of attention at these events, whether you want to be or not. You are not only a magnet for everyone’s advice, you may represent their hope of redeeming past mistakes in child-rearing.
As you prepare to become a family, or a bigger family, here are some ideas for creating new memories and healing and deepening your relationships with your extended family (and coping with their often unsolicited advice):
1. Explore your family’s past
Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles about their childhoods, their school years, their favorite games, books, and movies. How did they meet their spouses?
What did they do for entertainment before the digital age? How much did things cost? If you have kids already, they should listen in. This stuff is gold. Write it down; believe me, you will treasure this information later on. Every family history is mixed with both happy and painful memories. Look for things to laugh about together. And as your kids become obnoxious teens, be prepared to become the topic of their jokes (Remember when mom tripped on the stairs at Aunt Terri’s wedding?).
2. Start a tradition
Ask your mom or grandma or mother-law to share a family recipe.
One of my most precious memories is making Christmas candy with my grandfather. He made divinity by hand and showed me how to check the sugar mixture by dripping a little of it into a cup of water. He let me stir in the pecans till my arms got tired, then he would take over. I have his recipe on a hand-written card.
My mom still makes divinity with my aunt every December, and they laugh together and remember him tenderly. Develop your own holiday rituals. These bind your new family together and draw your extended family closer.
3. Welcome your family’s wisdom
Until now, your mom and dad were simply Mom and Dad. But they were once young parents, too. What did they worry about? What advice did they receive when they had babies and young children? What mistakes did they make? They may be less adamant that you do things their way when they are reminded that they themselves got lots of unsolicited opinions.
There’s nothing like having a baby to make you see your family with new eyes. It’s terrifying to raise kids. Understand that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone just does the best they can. Their best may not resemble your best or someone else’s best. Forgive your parents for old hurts, and while you’re at it, forgive yourself, too.
Accept your family’s input with grace, and remember that they are only trying to help. You don’t always have to do what they suggest, but do listen attentively and humbly. Their annoying advice, comments, and instructions – it feels like criticism until you shift your perspective just a little and think instead: This is what love looks like. This is how they love me.
Let them love you. It’s the best holiday gift you can give and receive.