For behold, I bring you good news of great joy—today I’m answering a Christmas question! Also, I’m going to be taking a few weeks off for the holidays. Because, let’s face it, you’re all going to have family in town, and the last thing you need is yet another person telling you how to fix your life. I’ll leave that to the pros and see you back here in 2015. Hark! Let’s get to work …
I am invited to be a part of my girlfriend’s family’s holiday celebrations this year. I am nervous, because it is their family and I am not even yet a committed member of their family. How can I navigate this new celebration with my girlfriend’s family? What can I do to make them feel valued and not feel like I am infringing upon their family tradition? This is one of my first chances to spend extended time with what I hope are my future in-laws.
Are you 21? If so, I’m going to virtually pour some bourbon in your eggnog and ask you to take a load off, soldier. You’re kind of freaking out right now, and I need you to take a sip. Shhh, there you go, Aaron, that’s better. C’mon buddy, let’s throw a yule log on the fire, enjoy that eggnog, and chill the heck out.
Now that you’re relaxed, I need you to know it is perfectly acceptable and totally normal for you to join your girlfriend’s family for the holidays. Also, because I don’t like calling her “your girlfriend.” I’m going to give her a fake name: Erin. That shouldn’t be too confusing. Anyhow, here’s why I think it’s totally fine for Aaron to visit Erin’s family:
First, on a very fundamental level, the holidays have nothing to do with Erin, relational posturing or sucking up to the (potential future) in-laws. And while all of these things are realities for you right now (more on that later), I want you settle your heart and focus your gaze on the manger. Along with everything else that pulls our focus this time of year (parties, gifts, Christmas cards, etc.), we have to be diligent in ordering our steps toward a tiny baby, sent to save us all.
Sometimes, when I get lost in the minutia of this world, it helps me to reorient my heart and remember what the heck I’m doing here. That is, seeking Jesus. Maybe a bit more of that would help in settling the understandable freak-out of meeting the parents. This, this, and this are great resources to help you do that.
Which leads us to the second reason it’s OK that you’re going home with Erin. And guess what, YOU said it, and I quote:
“This is one of my first chances to spend extended time with what I hope are my future in-laws.”
When I was reading your question for the first time, I got nervous. Because meeting the parents is a big deal—big enough to have movies made about it. And while I don’t need to get into why it’s so significant, I will say that you were justifiable in your reaction. But then you got to the end, where you basically said you want to marry Erin. Congratulations! I’m excited for you.
And because you’re moving toward that level of relationship, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in establishing a healthy connection with the people who have made Erin who she is. It’s helpful for you to know family traditions, goofy stories, and yes, even dysfunction. Conversely, it’s helpful for them to know you.
Erin cares about you, at least enough to bring you home—and that’s a big deal. Her family deserves to know the kind of man you are, how you care for Erin and what life will be like for them as they visit Christmas future with you (bah humbug). If you truly are moving toward marriage, all parties involved will benefit by knowing each other and figuring out what the new family is going to look like. And how do you do that well? Again, I quote you:
“What can I do to make them feel valued and not feel like I am infringing upon their family tradition?”
Sweet Aaron, the fact that you even care about these questions makes you a great man—which means you’ve already done everything you need to do! Seriously, it says so much about your character that you would care about making the possible-in-laws feel valued, appreciated and not annoyed. Erin sure knows how to pick ‘em.
So what I’d do is (and while I really despise clichés, there just no better way to say it) … Aaron, just continue to just be yourself! Erin loves you for a reason, and it’s not because you’re great arm candy for her. It’s because she is proud to be associated with you—the real you—and she wants her family to see what she sees.
So bring a gift, say thank you, don’t try to be too much of a kiss-up, be flexible and, above all else, just be the guy you are naturally—a kind, thoughtful man who loves Erin and is honored to be sharing the holidays as part of her family. Oh, and if you’re over 21, just keep sippin’ that eggnog.
Ho! ho! ho!
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.