How Do You Make the Holidays Work for Your Family?

Updated on November 25, 2012
C.B. asks from Palatine, IL
18 answers

Every year... the same dreadful feelings sneak their way back into my life. I do not look forward to the holidays or more accurately, planning for the holidays or the month and a half before Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find it stressful and unpleasant. Even more specifically, it's scheduling get togethers with my family and my husbands. Unfortunately, growing up both of our families had Thanksgiving dinner at the exact same time and both sides had their big Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve. When we were newly married and without kids, we ran around like crazy people and made it to both sides for everything even though our families live about an hour apart. However, fast forward several years and three kids, it's just not possible to do everything and regardless of what we do, one side of the family, often both end up unhappy. We do our best to be flexible and take turns between which side we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve with each year but adding in siblings and their in-laws, I find it to be achingly difficult. I want to enjoy the holidays. I want it to be pleasant. It's supposed to be the happiest time of the year and instead it's gut-wrenching and I know my little ones are smart and they pick up on my stress. How do you make it work with all the variables and enjoy the holidays?

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answers from Boston on

Thanksgiving his side, Easter mine. I host Cmas Eve of both sides and alternate Cmas Day. Every year. No exceptions.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from San Francisco on

Once we had kids we started our OWN traditions and celebrations.
WE decided what events we could, or could not attend.
We also started offering to host, and have, in fact, hosted many meals over the years.
People grow up, they get married, there are families, friends and in laws all around and it's impossible to please everyone, all the time.
My oldest is almost twenty now, and even though I hope he won't get married TOO soon (lol!) I know it's only a matter of time. He has a serious girlfriend, and has already started spending time with her and her family.
So when you think about "disappointing" your own family, or your in laws, ask yourself, how will you handle it when your own kids grow up and move on?
Set the example you wish for your kids to follow :-)

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Been there. Here's the difference for us, ALL of our family lived out of town. But in the same general area as each other. We were the odd ones out. 5 or 6 hours out, to be more precise.
His aunt/uncle/cousins/brother/sister/niece/mother all live in the Atlanta "area"... within 30 minutes of each other, but not in the same towns/suburbs.
MY family all lives within 45 min of most of his family, but about a 30 min drive minimum between my mom's (where would tend to stay) and everyone else.

For years, we or I (husband doesn't always get holidays off, even Christmas and Thanksgiving) schlepped "home" for the holidays. Even after we had kids. But when the kids hit about 4 and 7, and we spent Christmas DAY up there, I had finally had enough. Not only did we spend the holidays traveling, we were in the middle of house building, and living in a small rental, so I had no where to hide gifts. Since we were going to Mom's I ordered most everything online and had it shipped directly to her house. I had a TON of wrapping to get done in the 2 days we were there before Christmas morning, and I had to keep the kiddos busy during the day, so it was a big chore at night.
SO not fun. And husband had to work and had to drive up separately on Christmas Day.

That was the last year that I did that. It was just finally enough. It sounds like you are getting to that point as well. When it happened to me, I turned it upside down by inviting everyone to come to Christmas at OUR house. Of course, only some did. BUT, the important thing was to break the "tradition". Another biggie was that hosting changed the family dynamic, too. As a host, me, moi, was not acting in the "daughter" role....
I can happily say that Christmas has never been the same since.

We ALL like holding onto holiday traditions that we enjoyed growing up. But, when we grow up, our families do too, and holding onto those old rituals doesn't work. We TRY to recreate the "magic" but it just isn't there, because we are different people than when we were kids. It is a difficult realization sometimes, for us AND for our siblings/parents. But once everybody recognizes it, things are much better.

When the kids get old enough to start talking up the holiday traditions (not just "I can't wait to see what Santa brings", but "I can't wait to bake the M&M cookies and put the lights on the house") then you will know your kids are ready to make your OWN traditions and memories. These will be the traditions that they will have to compromise on when they become adults with their own little families. And they'll go through a new iteration of what you are experiencing---unless you are aware enough to be kind and let some of the traditions go when the time comes.

Good luck figuring it out, and making waves.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Scale it back.

Start thinking about what REALLY means something to YOU, and what values you want to instill in your children. Do you want them to grow up with the stress you feel, the sense of dread? You are trying to please everyone, and as a result you are not pleasing yourself. If you are stressed, so is everyone else.

Start rotating holidays. Start having some observances or meals in your own home.

The extended families need to grow up and realize you are an adult, and it's your job to make things wonderful for YOUR family and not continue to be the child making your parents happy. That means that not everyone gets to spend every holiday with YOU. Oh well.

This probably would be great for all your siblings too. Switch off - if you go to Mom's, then they go to their in-laws. Next holiday, a few come to you, and that's that.

Do you do a family grab bag or "name out of a hat" deal? You shouldn't all be stressed out buying gifts for everyone. A lot of families just do the "pick a name" thing for adults, and then buy gifts for kids. Other families just buy for their own kids and do a family gift for their adult brothers and sisters and their families. Some families do a Yankee Swap which is really fun and brings a lot of laughs into a big gathering, but it's still only one gift per person.

The best thing we ever did was to grow a backbone. We wanted our children to grow up with the values we espoused, and not to feel that holidays are about driving and being hassled and angry. What is the point in perpetuating that for another generation??

And I'd say that YOU handle your family, and your husband handles HIS family - don't be the bad guy in telling his side that you aren't coming. Make it about your children, what you want them to know and value, and how you don't want them to resent both sides of the family because there's a competition about Thanksgiving dinner ALWAYS being at 3 PM and Christmas Eve ALWAYS being at a certain house. I think people appreciate each other more when they miss each other now and then.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I get your dilemma. I had it too. My mom and dad are divorced. My mom lives in TN, my dad lives in FL. My In-laws live in MA. I live in NH. So, it gets really hard around the holidays. However in the last couple of years, I have learned to say no, to accept that one or two will be disappointed, and that I have my own family now.

I plan out the holidays 6 months in advance. I tell set parents what I will be doing. That way, they have 6 months to either get over it, or get ready.

Christmas I have made a rule that every year I am either at my house or my in-laws. So, if one set of parents wants to visit, they can do so any year.

Thanksgiving I am willing to travel to either TN or FL.

It's important to plan in advance. It lets everyone else get used to it, and not so upset.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Victoria on

Yes I totally understand you delema. Last year it was 7 different "Christmases" and three different towns and two days. It broke me! I informed them that we were no longer going to do this. I will have one Christmas for each side (husbands and mine) and we will be at our own home for Christmas morning with the kids so Santa can come. Everyone else who wants to have a Christmas party go right ahead we will not be attending.

This is what we came up with.My side of the family is very flexable and allowed us to have a Christmas party on the 16 of December (Sunday works better for most of our family). We are still working out the dates for my husbands side but I stand firm on not allowing our Christmas morning to be anything other than magic for the kids. So far everyone understands. When anyone asks for us to attend partys outside the Dec 16 celebration I quickly and firmly say No. I am still very offended and angery about last years crazy! Trying to please everyone and we were very unhappy. The long distance travels, 7 in thee diff citys and 2 days was madness! So I am still fuled up with that to easly say no and not be upset about others feelings. I posted on mommasource about this.

Thanksgiving everyone and there neighbor and friends are welcome to my aunts orchard. So far this has worked out for my husbands side as they are welcome to attend this too. Although he has a aunt and uncle who choose not to attend. We are having a seperate one this year today?! Not sure why but its just a sandwitch sitation no turkey dinner.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I think you need to break out of the holiday corner you've painted yourself into.
When you get to a point where you feel 'no side is happy no matter what you do' - it's time to break out of the pattern and please yourself.
You can do ANYTHING as long as it makes YOU happy.
You can stay home with just your own kids.
You can invite people to YOUR home instead of running around like chickens with their heads cut off to other peoples houses.
You can travel to Disney World or a mountain cabin or ski resort or the beach or any place you want to spend Christmas (send postcards).
You have every right to take back the holidays and make them your own and the HECK with other people's expectations!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

I think the question is: what is your objective?

If you want to see all families at some point during the holiday, go to one side for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas, etc.

If you want everyone to gather together in one house, at one table... why not plan a day in October or January (or any other month) and invite everyone over to your house? It doesn't have to be formal, it could even be a BBQ.

If you want to please everyone, forget it. Sounds like you have a large family and someone will be unhappy if you go to x instead of y.

Think about what you really want... Christmas day with your family, a small gathering Christmas eve and just DO IT. Let go of the guilt of not meeting everyone's expectations and enjoy life. Break the guilt cycle so your kids don't inherit it later.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

For several years, I hosted his entire family on Saturday, and my entire family on Sunday, closest to Christmas day (yes, it was a bit of work, but we didn't have to travel). Each family then did their own thing on actual Christmas Eve/Day. Then, half of his family stopped talking to the other half, and there were just too many of them to fit in our house anymore (there are 7 siblings), and their family doesn't get together as a whole anymore.

My family adjusted to our adult children starting to have families of their own by voluntarily moving our holiday gathering to the first weekend in January. We've done this for several years now, and although it leaves my actual christmas season a little bare (while everyone else is complaining about how "busy" they are!) I'd rather hold an event when everyone can come. (I have a niece, for example, whose kids have FOUR sets of grandparents because of divorce and remarriage on both sides. Talk about scheduling issues...)

If people speak up, or speak with their actions, families can choose to adjust or not adjust to new needs. But in the meantime, your main concern needs to be with your immediate family and the memories you choose to make with them.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

Traditions need to evolve. We used to run around too, but now we don't. We've had a lot of Thanksgivings at our home, hosting local friends. This year, we did go to my mom's house because we had no set plans when she invited us.

We do not travel on Christmas Eve or Day. We decided that was time for our core family. We generally see extended family the weekend or two before or after.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Well, since Thanksgiving was taken over by a relative I do not like, I started hosting my inlaws. So it's become Thanksgiving with the ILs, my mom, and whoever else wants to come (this year we fed 14) and Christmas is with my aunt and mostly my side on Christmas day. THEN we do Christmas with the ILs who, bless them, long ago decided that non-stressed gatherings were more important than the date, so we do Christmas lunch with them somewhere between Dec. 22 and NYE. His family doesn't do much for Easter, so my DH, DD and I go to my mom's house for a small gathering with my sister and her family. If I swapped years, I'd pick one place to be all day vs trying to run around and eat two dinners. When people grow up and have families, you have to understand schedules and so do they. I think my family was a little hurt at first that I bailed on Thanksgiving, but saying I wanted to host (and realizing I meant it) gave me the out, and I still see them other times of the year. If it comes up, say, "I'd love to see everyone on Thanksgiving but it's just not logistically possible, so we do the best we can. I was wondering, would you like to do a Black Friday leftover luncheon this year since we can't see you on Thanksgiving? We'll host and the kids can run around together while we catch up." AKA start a tradition that works for you.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dover on

I definitely know how you feel! Growing up, I lived with my aunt but next door to my dad. On Christmas Day @ noon, I had to go to my mom's for a week so we celebrated on Christmas Eve at both Dad's and my aunt's. So when I grew up and moved out I said "I am staying home on Christmas Day" and meant it. So I visited all on Christmas Eve (inclding Dad who now lived 25 minutes away instead of next door) and stayed home the next day. My high school sweetheart (and first husband) was fine with that. Then we split and my son had to go with him on Christmas Day IF he showed but often he didnt. Then I met my current husband and his family also celebrated on Christmas Eve. So CE got even more crazy but I was determined to stay home on Christmas Day.

My MIL's side of the family also got together the weekend before Christmas (so we were expected to attend). Then we went there on CE and had dinner and gave them their presents. My FIL would always act surprised and not want to open the presents and in most cases would not give us ours. They still expected us to be there Christmas morning (and my BIL would start calling us asking when we would be there...all day!). The day after Christmas is FIL's birthday so we are expected to be back there they tried to claim the weekend before Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after. When exactly were we supposed to enjoy Christmas? That didn't even include my family (which is crazy in itself). They would also wait until it was time for us to leave for my aunt's or dad's house to decide to do whatever we were doing and I would end up not leaving until well after I should have been to Dad's.

In recent years, I have started hosting Christmas Eve at my house. Often my dad's side will come over for brunch and we all get together. Later my aunt and cousins come over. Then we leave for dinner at my inlaws. Then we come home and go to bed so Santa can come. We stay home on Christmas Day and my mom comes over. Sometimes inlaws come too and sometimes they don't but I am home with my kids.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Savannah on

I guess we have had it easier in some respects since all family is out of town. Growing up, my mom's side of the family had a big (BIG) family reunion at my great aunt's farm for Thanksgiving every year. So every year we did mom's side of the family for Thanksgiving, and then dad's side of the family, where everyone gathered for Christmas Eve at Grandma's house. It was just sort of the given: Thanksgiving with one family, Christmas with the other. You could even rotate and switch which holiday you see everyone at the next year if you'd like.
Now as adults with our own little family: I always tell my mom it's easier for us to buy her 1 plane ticket to us than for all of us to fly out. My brother and his family will stay with us 2-3 days before a holiday (they rotate whether they go "back home" for Christmas or Thanksgiving, and we are very happy to be their hotel in between, to break up their 20 hour drive). Whatever holiday they're traveling for, we will celebrate a little early and have it at our house too. On purpose, I'll cook something different than my sil's family is cooking. We'll make a special celebratory feast and what is actually on the table isn't as important as the time we spend together. I try to make it a little different than whatever they're going to eat at her parents' home because nobody wants to just eat the same meal over and over for days on end, right? But that's what works for us right now: we're the B&B or hotel and love hosting whoever comes through, and we just celebrate being together, when we're together and not specifically on a certain calendar day. So then on the actual dates, it's usually just the 4 of us because yeah, we live out of town from everyone. We have our own little traditions and ways to celebrate. It works for us. There's no family drama or anything that way....and if there is, we're not around to hear it so that's fine. :)
Sometimes, I wish the kids had their grandparents around on Christmas or get a little envious of the Norman Rockwell holiday scenes, but all in all, we're quite happy doing things our way. We're just all SO spread out ( HA, CA, WA, CO, opposite ends of TX, LA, AL, GA, FL, SC, and Germany, England, Spain, and Scotland) that it just is never going to happen for everyone to be together. So we just recognize that and enjoy it our way.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cincinnati on

My in-laws have xmas day with us on even years and my family gets xmas day on the odd years. Whoever doesn't get xmas day gets xmas eve. I had to put my foot down long time ago because my MIL was trying to hog both xmas eve and xmas day and thats not fair to my mom. My husbands family doesn't do Thanksgiving together and my side does it either the day after or on Saturday.
You can't please everyone and if someone won't speak to you so be it and besides they'll get over it and if not, thats a stupid reason not to talk someone. Lifes too short to be miserable so I say do what makes you and your family happy and not worry about anyone else.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

20 years ago when we were dating I felt the same way and said I was not spending every holiday of the rest of my life scraping the car windows and rushing up and down randall rd. So every other year we do thanksgiving at one family and christmas with another. After that, my family started getting together on the eve and his aunt had a wonderful celebration christmas night. Now we just alternate thanksgivings. A few Christmases without family and parents too old to host, makes for flexibility amongst the staunchest families and facilitates changes over the years.

Good luck. And if it helps, after all these years, my teenagers favorite holiday memories/traditions are putting up the christmas tree and eating oatmeal after opening gifts at home on christmas morning. All include just the four of us, happy and enjoying ourselves at home.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My in-laws are far away, so we don't have to worry about them much, but even still, hubby and I are slowly moving towards just doing holidays by ourselves. We use to host xmas eve, but gave that up two years ago (we have movie and take out food night --it's great!). Christmas day is always so crazy, and I was always exhausted for it, so now I can spend the xmas eve baking and then the night just relaxing with my family. It's sooo nice.

And after a weird thanksgiving at my brother's last night, hubby has decided we will just do our own thanksgiving. I tried to explain to him that thanksgiving is about weird family, but he insisted that wasn't the case (he is from Ireland, so it's not like he gets that thanksgiving is the one holiday you go visit relatives you loath). We shall see what happens. I do agree with hubby that I have no desire to celebrate anything at my brother's house anymore, and he does Thanksgiving and Easter.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I handle the holidays by doing what I want to do without needing to make anyone else happy. Some members of my family have carried a grudge over an incident at Thanksgiving 2 years ago. So our family dinner had fewer people. I spent time with both sides. I didn't try, as I did last year, to be a mediator.

I suggest that you and your husband can plan holidays for your children and yourselves. You decide where you want to be on Christmas Eve. You're not responsible to make everyone happy. Happiness is the responsibility of each individual. You do not need to stress out over pleasing your extended families. Let them be unhappy. If they're unpleasant when you visit, leave. They'll catch on that if they want to be with you they'll have to stop with the hostility. The first year that you do this will be hard. I suggest that the second year will be better.

If possible, i.e. the families are open to discussing feelings, then I would plan a time between now and Christmas to tell them what you've told us and ask for their help in making this easier on you. Tell them that you love them and want to spend time with them but you can't be at both places at the same time. Talk together to find a compromise that works for most of you.

When my parents and various relatives in that generation were alive we had family dinners at times other than the holidays. That way we could spend quality time with everyone without everyone having to be at the holiday dinners.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

We alternate. This year we did Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his, next year we'll do Thanksgiving with his and Christmas with mine. Of course, with Christmas we will still do some sort of get together afterwards with the family that didn't get the actual day. Like, if we do Christmas with my family, his brothers and parents will get together with us the weekend before for brunch and presents. Usually we'll come to my family's the weekend after Christmas if we do it with his, but this year we have to wait over a week since we're coming down for a wedding jan 5th. It causes no hard feelings, even though it's hard for me a little knowing my fam is doing Christmas without us, I know we'll see them soon. And nobody's feelings ever get hurt.

1 mom found this helpful
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