Playing Nice: A Foolproof Guide To Mixing The In-Laws At Christmas

Is it ever advisable to put two matriarchs under one roof wonders Sophie White as she gears up for melding family with in-laws this Christmas


There comes a point in every relationship when someone has to sacrifice their family Christmas to do Christmas at the In-Laws. In my marriage, that argument underwent something of a reversal with each of us pleading to go to the house of the OTHER'S family. If we could do some kind of Wife Swap vibe with the other's family that would probably make for the most harmonious Christmas for all concerned.

My reasoning is the usual: I just wanted to enjoy my christmas without my mother counting my calories from the other side of the table, carefully keeping a tally of how many roast potatoes I'm having and assiduously monitoring any additional portions I might decide to help myself to... as a 32-year-old woman who, ya know, is free to exert her will however she chooses.

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Also, if I spend Christmas with my mother my every dud life decision between the years 1996-2017 will be trotted out for re-examination and held up, with the benefit of perspective, as a tragic foreshadowing of what a disappointment I've turned out to be. It's fairly intense stuff. I've alway envied my husband who is the youngest of three gigantic ginger men, the sheer scale of them alone provides a certain shelter from the scrutiny of their dissatisfied parents. Sadly I am one of a family that totals two members, there is literally NOWHERE to hide.

I've often fantasised about letting the husband field my mother for Christmas day while I enjoy his clan's respect for the cocktail hour and refreshing lack of malice towards me. But alas, I fear that my husband just doesn't have the thick skin required to survive one of my mother's damning life-critiques. Seriously, nothing is off-limits to her.

“You could look so nice, if you’d just make the effort,” she announces, on seeing another failed attempt to sufficiently blend my foundation into my neck. This is particularly hurtful as this comment usually comes after hours of me trying, nay STRIVING to look nice. She views my apparent refusal to sort out my appearance (read: align it with her tastes) as an act of overt aggression towards her, a rejection of her values. There’s always a lot of weight placed on the fact that I refuse to do exactly as she dictates; her emotional investment in how I dry my laundry, for example, is quite baffling. "How can she care so much about Colour Catchers?" I wonder genuinely baffled.

She openly regards my “insistence” on having a second child a particularly bewildering act of self-sabotage and simply cannot understand why I’m “bringing all that on myself”. She's not overly maternal, you'll note.

You can see why, contrary to stereotype, I might actually find it a bit more relaxing spending the holiday with my mother-in-law.

This year we have bravely decided that rather than going on a driving tour of relatives houses that would warrant an unpleasant level  of sobriety on Christmas day, instead we've optimistically opted to blend our respective families. It definitely feels like a dangerous prospect. Two mothers-in-law corralled under one roof while the heating is cranked to the inferno levels, toddlers are getting overtired and the festive hanger is setting in? It seems verging on irresponsible, what if they spontaneously combust? It's risky. How can one defer to two matriarchs at the SAME TIME, we all know that's what they want, to be the head queen matriarch. The stress.

When you decide to bring two (or more if you are very brave) families together on Christmas Day there is a lot of things to consider. Who's cooking? Who's bringing the booze? How do you meld the traditions of each family to everybody's satisfaction?

My advice is to immediately abandon any hope of 'satisfaction', if you make it out of the day with limbs and wills intact, with no one having been disinherited over a charades debacle then I think you can consider the day a success.

Negotiating a melded family Christmas involves stress levels akin to discovering late Christmas eve that there's only one 10 kilo bag of potatoes or eating a Cadbury's flake in bed.

Often the matriarch's will vie for dominance with regards the cooking, this is because it may be tradition in their own homes for them to cook the dinner and bathe nay wallow in the martyrdom such slave labour entails. Matriarch's love a good old martyred sigh so it's best to head this off at the pass and divvy the cooking duties up among the younger generation. "It's time to pass the baton," you'll say prising the spatula from her goose fat-coated claws.

If you're a blending a Christmas TV-watching family with non-watchers, it's best to play a game after dinner to distract from the Christmas Day Eastenders omnibus. Though expect a breakaway faction to form when someone spots the annual showing of the Yellow Submarine - it does offer a pleasantly trippy escape hatch from the tension and maddening unending stream of questions emitting from older relatives.

One of the biggest hurdles of the blended family Christmas is of course the decades-old Rose versus Quality Street debate. If you and your partner come from two families who prefer a different holiday chocolate then you might as well make a swift exit now like your star-crossed counterparts, Romeo and Juliet. No family in the history of the Christmas tin of chocolates have ever switched allegiance, even when Roses went particularly crap (oh, I'm team Quality Street alright).

Lastly, I advise keeping conversation steered firmly away from incendiary topics such as politics, religion and whether or not Love Actually is utter shite. If my plan fails however, I'm ready to take one for the team and remind my mother of that time in 2002 when I dropped higher Maths in the Leaving Cert and dashed all her dreams of me ever becoming the daughter she wanted, that always gets her going.

God Speed Christmas-blenders!

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