My wife and I just had our first baby and are having a problem with how to celebrate the upcoming holidays. My family opens presents up at night on Christmas Eve, my wife's family opens them on Christmas morning. We both want to honor our family's rituals but can't seem to agree on how to do it.
The first step is to take a good look at the BIG PICTURE. The holidays are about more than the gifts. Just to start the list there's the spirituality, families coming together, the wonderful food, decorations, music, the festivals, the joy of giving, all the things we do to brighten up the winter and each other's lives.
The second step is to sit down with your wife and list all the things about the season that are magical for both of you. Include those aspects that you especially want your child to experience.
Next explore ways to create a new family ritual that belongs to the three of you AND includes the best parts of what you each bring to the table.
Be creative. Try opening family gifts on Christmas Eve, taking time to savor each item and connect verbally between the giver and the giftee. Then in the morning open the gift from Santa and the stockings. Even better spread the gifts out more. Choose a set period of time say Christmas Eve through all Kings Day, January 6, or follow the Hanukkah or Kwanzaa traditions and dates. Then each evening open one gift in a ceremonial fashion using preset phrases so that all involved have a part to say.
With a little time devoted to thought and planning, AND with the spirit of generosity, I'm sure you and your wife can readily come to a happy conclusion and create some wonderful family experiences.
Since my children, aged 3 and 5 , were born, my husband's mother has insisted that we spend Christmas morning at their house. She says that she wants to watch her grand children open their presents. So far we have gone along with her to keep the peace, but the problems are growing. My mother is hurt that we never spend the day at her home, so to try and please her we go there for Christmas Eve. There are too many gifts; my children do not like leaving our home to go to all these different places; I don't like having to shlep them and the gifts all over town; and it feels like we don't have a family Christmas in our own home! How can I please everyone?
It's time for both you and your husband to have a good think about what YOU want for yourselves and your children at the holidays. Make some decisions:
What is the most significant part of the holiday for you, the eve, the morning, Christmas dinner?
Do you want to spend this time at YOUR HOME? (You are entitled to)
Do you want to invite your extended families to this time?
How much time do you want to be away from your home during the remainder of the holidays?
Where are you willing to go? When do you want to go there?
Make a commitment to spend some portion of the holidays at your home. Do it for your children, do it for yourself.
Take time to emotionally detach from how your families might react.
Next schedule a family meeting with both sets of in-laws.
Begin by telling them how much you love and care about them and that you need their help.
Add that this is really important to you and you would like to try something different this year.
Ask them to look at this as a experiment that you can renegotiate for the following year.
Respectfully and kindly tell your parents about your decisions. State them as though you are simply imparting information. Do not defend your choices.
Listen to their thoughts and feelings without trying to fix or change them.
If you feel tempted to speak, stick with something like: “Yes, I understand how you feel, thank you for sharing that.”
Come up with solutions on how you can alternate who hosts the remainder of the events.
Request that each set of parents give only X amount of gifts. Pull names for the adults.
Claim your holiday.
Please give us ideas of how to expand the value/meaning of Christmas and giving to the community in an age appropriate way for 3 - 4 year olds, to help them understand it is as much about the giving as the receiving.
Boy am I glad you brought this up! Since the previous questions and answers have gotten your wheels turning about the bigger picture of the season, let's turn our attention to giving to the community. I am hoping that your 3-4 year old has had her needs for possession met so that she is ready to share/give. All children must meet their developmental need to possess before they are truly able to share. Once the need to possess is met children spontaneously begin to share somewhere around the age of your 3 -4 year old. If a child is forced or even encouraged to share too early she will take longer to get there on her own. If your child hasn't gotten to that place yet, or is younger there are ways to learn to give. Let's start with that group first. Actually it's pretty simple: Adopt a family. There are many organizations in the community that can help you connect with one. Explain to your child that many families do not have enough money to have a Christmas/Hanukkah and so it is up to us, who have plenty, to remember them. Include her in all the aspects: planning, shopping, gift wrapping and delivering. Talk about how YOU feel during each step and leave room for her to share her feelings.
If your child is ready to share, begin a yearly event of going through her things before every significant holiday and donate her gently used toys and clothes to charity. As always make sure to set the example by doing the same with your things.
It is also important to expand your thinking by setting the example of giving and doing volunteer work through out the year. Include in your family holidays the practice of service. Decide together how best your family can do this, whether it be through food banks, soup kitchens, coat and food drives, free clinic work. Once you begin to involve yourself in the community in this way a whole new world of possibilities will open up and you will find the match for your family.