When Chris and I were first married, one of the biggest challenges we faced was figuring out how to split holidays between our two families. After about three years of just leaving it up to whoever won the argument that year, we finally got a system in place. We agreed that we would do Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other, and then the next year we would flip. So, we would either have Thanksgiving OR Christmas with our families every year, and then the next year we’d get the other holiday.
Choosing a set schedule has worked out really well for the past six or seven years. It keeps us from having an argument about it, and it also makes it very easy to plan. We know where we’ll be for the next few years out, and we think our families appreciate being able to plan that way, too. When my sister got married a few years ago, she and her husband jumped on the band wagon, and now we are synched up so that Ginny and I get holidays together with out families, too.
BUT HERE WAS THE CATCH: The person whose family we were seeing for that particular holiday had to make the plans. Which meant when it was my family’s holiday, I made all the plans, and when it was Chris’s family’s holiday, he made all the plans.
Sounds good, right? In theory.
The reality has been that Chris is not a very good planner, which meant that every time it was his family’s holiday, we never had it all together. We didn’t know where we would be spending the holiday (would they be coming here? would we be going there?). We never knew which side of his family we would be seeing (mom? dad? aunts/uncles/grandparents?). We usually ended up coming into town for about 3-5 days and then running ourselves back and forth between his mom’s family and his dad’s family (his parents are divorced). It was always good to see them, but it was stressful for Chris.
Inevitably, we would end up spending a crazy holiday with his family and then Chris would get so frustrated that the next year, he would forfeit his holiday over to my family just so he didn’t have to make the plans.
AND HERE’S WHERE I MESSED UP: I would always let him forfeit.
But what I realized this year after our colossal date night fight at Bone Fish, was that just because Chris isn’t a good planner doesn’t mean that he should have to give up seeing his family.
My mom told me one time that marriage is not 50/50 all the time. When she said that, my first instinct was to argue, “Well, it should be!” But she went on to explain that each person in a marriage has their own strengths and weaknesses, and those don’t always fall evenly. The thing about marriage is that you should balance each other out by giving more sometimes. Especially, when giving more is in an area where you are stronger. And, in this case, I am the better planner.
So, this year, without even telling Chris, I called his grandmother. I love his Grandma Brown, but I am not usually the one who calls her and makes plans. I think it surprised her as much as it surprised me. I told her that this year I was going to make the plans for Thanksgiving with her family, if that was okay. And we talked for about 20 minutes and got our little schedule of events together, and then we talked loosely about Christmas and I told her I would call her to plan that out, too, in a few weeks.
I felt better already by just chatting with Grandma Brown. It made me excited to see her and the rest of the Brown clan at Thanksgiving. But I was not expecting the response I got from Chris. I told him that night that I had taken care of our Thanksgiving plans and I gave him the window for the Christmas dates for his family. He sort of sat there for a minute, stunned.
“Wait,” he said, clearly confused. “YOU called Grandma?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It just seemed like the simplest thing to do.”
And then his face relaxed and he smiled more genuinely than he has smiled in a while. He was so relieved that he didn’t have to make the plans. Since that call, I’ve also noticed he is more excited to see his family since the dread of the planning isn’t hanging over his head. It’s all taken care of, and he really just has to show up and enjoy being there. I had no idea what a relief that would be for him.
A few years ago when I was sitting in a deep hole of depression, I will never forget what it felt like to have Chris take over a specific task that I was struggling with. He just took over that one particular chore in our family that was really weighing on me at that time, and it was such a sweet relief to know that someone else had taken care of it for me. I know that taking over holiday plans isn’t huge for me, but I also know that it IS huge for Chris.
For the first few years of our marriage, I thought marriage should be fair. We each had our equally divided chores and responsibilities, and that was fair and equal. But the reality of marriage is that sometimes you take on responsibilities and tasks for your spouse simply because, in doing so, you make their lives easier. And, really, that’s the greatest gift we can give to each other, isn’t it?