The holidays can be a wonderful time to get together with family that you don’t often see. It can be an enriching opportunity for your children to visit with cousin, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It can be “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Or, it can be a tad stressful.
Family holidays can bring out the best in us — or the worst, depending on our circumstances, our finances, or our moods. And when we’re parents of young children, it can be really difficult at times to balance family commitments, our desire for tradition, and our need for sanity.
A reader wrote with the following question:
My husband’s family and my family both live locally. My parents are divorced. Each year, for Thanksgiving in particular, we seem to attend and/or host some combination of 3-4 Thanksgiving celebrations between all of the sides of the family. While I would like to think that we could bring everyone together for a large family holiday, this just has not been feasible in the past. What suggestions do you have for keep our sanity in regards to time and efforts during this time? I have come to dread Thanksgiving over the last several years because of all of this.
Wow. I can understand this situation in many ways. Our family has experienced divorce as well and in the early years of our marriage, we did the dance from one turkey dinner to the next. While it was manageable during our pre-children days, we knew that it would get tough once we had kids.
And even if divorce is not an issue, balancing family commitments can be tricky. In-laws’ or parents’ or your own house? Multiply that by your siblings and their respective family/in-law situations, and the mental gymnastics to get all the family in one place at one time can be a death-defying feat!
Some ways to approach it:
Be united – Whatever you do, you and your spouse need to be united about how you will handle holiday get-togethers. I can’t stress this enough. If you’ve got an in-house debate going, it will be hard to handle any outside friction gracefully. Begin the conversation early and not during stressful times.
In fact, you may start talking about next year now, instead of trying to enact change this month. Find a moment that is not “in the heat of the moment” and address your goals for the holidays and other family events.
Be willing to say no and to disappoint – Before you can make decisions about where you’ll be when, you need to be willing to say no — and be okay with the idea that you might disappoint someone. But, if you and your spouse are united, then you can tackle anything! Just season your words with gentleness.
Alternate sides each year – Some extended families tend toward the switch off technique. Spend Thanksgiving with one side of the family, Christmas with the other. Keep New Year’s to yourself! Rotate positions next year. In the case of a third or fourth branch of the family, you may need to do a little fancier footwork or combine groups that get along.
Keep one holiday to yourself and alternate the others – This is the route that we’ve taken since FishBoy13 was one. Our kids have always spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning at home. We don’t. go. anywhere.
While it was probably difficult for our families at first (Sorry, Mom), it has proven to be a very good practice for our kids. It builds traditions for them. And they love the continuity of celebrating Christmas at home.
We have had family come to us at Christmas, but we made it a point early on not to move our kids around on a day when they just want to play.
Invite everyone over to your house – This makes more work for you in some ways, but in other ways, it enables you a little more control over what your family does.
If you don’t think the different branches of the family will blend well, consider hosting an open house. Family can stagger their visits throughout the day; your kids can play in safe and familiar surroundings; and you won’t run yourself ragged all over the place.
There is no “one right answer,” unfortunately. In fact, what works for you this year may feel like a train wreck next year. Such is life as MOM.
Be willing to roll with the punches, love your family despite the demands on your time, and enjoy the season with your peeps.