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How To Juggle Extended Family During Holidays. Tips to help you balance time with all sides of extended family and still have time for your little family.
My husband and I were engaged over what is known as “the holidays.” We had a short 7 week engagement that went from November 14 until January 2. We were also both full time college students, so we were engaged over finals week. Needless to say, it was a stressful time to try to cram in wedding plans.
As if dealing with planning a wedding, studying for finals, finding a place to live once we were married, and dealing with normal “holiday” hullabaloo wasn’t enough to deal with, we also found ourselves faced with trying to figure out how to split up holiday time. Both of our families had events with both of their families, so we had four extended family events to work in along with my husband’s immediate family (my family just did stuff with extended). To make things harder, the families were in two different states (in the West), so it wasn’t as though we could easily hop from one place to another. So we had five families to work around and squeeze in and in two different states. Frankly put, it was a nightmare.
The next holiday season came along and really wasn’t any better. We still hadn’t decided what we should do during the holidays and really aimed to please everyone. Some were easier to deal with than others. I was pregnant with Brayden, extremely sick, and we were back to state-hopping in an effort to please everyone.
The next holiday season was Brayden’s first holiday season. For the first several months of Brayden’s life, we were still living in “try-to-please-everyone” mode and the three of us were miserable because of it. In October, I finally declared enough was enough. We needed to step up and do what was best for Brayden and let adults, essentially, grow up and get over themselves. I really think grown-ups can think about what is best for children and work with that. Not to say children should never be disrupted at all–sometimes that is okay. But adults can give, too. And I actually think adults should be more flexible than children.
My husband and I found ourselves absolutely dreading the approaching holiday season. The last two years had not been enjoyable for us in the least. I hated dreading that time of year. It had previously been my favorite time of year, and religiously an important time of year. We decided we needed to set some boundaries and lay down expectations. Here are some frank tips for helping you to set your own boundaries.
1-Recognize People Who Will Not Be Pleased
Some people just will not be please with anything less than 110% of you. Unless you plan to abandon all other family members, that isn’t going to happen! You can’t take to people and give the same amount of time to each family over the holidays (unless one of you has no family). You have to visit both families. And there are frankly some people who will never feel satisfied with that. Even if they get it on a logical level, they will be hurt on an emotional level and will never be pleased or satisfied with what you can give.
Take note of these people and STOP trying to please them. Because they won’t be! They will always have something to complain about that you aren’t doing quite right. Some will let you know outright and some will let it fester for years before blowing up about it.
As you go through your next steps of figuring out how to juggle this, do not worry about pleasing those who will not be pleased.
2-Think About Your Options
Think through what your different options are for juggling family around the holidays. Talk to other people to find out how they do it. Write ideas out. Write out what parties and events traditionally happen when and think about ways you can do as much of the things that you would like to do.
Think about where you would like to be when.
There are some common ways people work around this conundrum. Some people establish a certain day for certain parties every year. For example, my dad’s family does a Christmas party the first Saturday after Christmas each year. We were with my mom’s family on Christmas and my Dad’s the Saturday after Christmas. My mother-in-law’s family used to do a family party on Christmas Eve each year.
Some people take an alternating approach. One year, they are with the wife’s family on Christmas Day. The next year, they are with the husband’s family on Christmas Day.
Some people stay at home on Christmas Day and visit extended family on other days around Christmas.
Some people have families that live close enough that they squeeze both families into the same day.
3-Decide What is Best for Your Family
Now that you have your lists of options, think about what is best for your family. What will work best for the two of you and your children? Every year, my parents packed up Christmas and drove it four hours so they could be with their parents at Christmas time. I have found very few people are actually interested in doing such things. My husband and I tried that out initially and found we didn’t like it! Think about your different options and decide what seems will be best suited for your family.
4-Inform Family of Your Plans With Clear Communication
Once you have decided what your plan is for dealing with the holidays (and isn’t it sad that I even have to put it that way? “Dealing” with the holidays? I guess more like dealing with family at the holidays), very clearly tell your family of your plans. Don’t sweeten it up or beat around the bush. Just say, “We will do XYZ from now on.” End of story. Don’t leave things open to interpretation.
Don’t expect this to go any better than it would go to suddenly tell a 13 year old she will now have chores ever day when she previously has not. If you are in a situation where you feel you have to take these detailed steps, you will have family members who take the new plan very negatively. Some will take it as a sign you hate them and never want to see them again. Some will cry. Some will take the passive-aggressive approach and act okay with it initially but then push you on it when the time comes to put your plan in action.
Hopefully you are like us and will at least have some family who says, “Great! We are great with whatever you can do.” And NOTE to all of us–let’s all be that way when our own kids get married! Deal?
5-Stand Your Ground
As you are faced with the range of emotions of the new plan, stand your ground. Go ahead and assure that you still love them. Turn down offers to come to things that you have already clearly stated you will not be able to attend.
Some years, you will be able to change things up at times. When you do, make it clear that you are making a one-time change. Open communication is the best way to make it through these situations.
I was sorely disappointed when I got married and learned open communication was not always the easy answer. As a English Major and Communications Minor, I had been taught that if you communicate openly, conflict is easily resolved. This is unfortunately not always the case. Sometimes it takes years or decades of open communication. Sometimes all open communication gets you is clear understanding of what you will and will not do. It definitely doesn’t always get you a Kumbaya moment.
Curious what our end-plan was? We were lucky enough that my husband’s little sister got married the summer Brayden was a baby and they were smart enough to seek out a plan right away. They were interested in an “every other year” plan so we went with that.
Here is a sample of how we do things:
Thanksgiving Day: With my family.
Another day around Thanksgiving: Do a party with my husband’s family. The day is not set–we just find one that works for everyone.
Christmas Eve: We host a Christmas breakfast at our house. Everyone from both sides of our families are invited. This is our attempt to allow both families to be with us at a Christmas holiday even if it isn’t “their year.”
Christmas Day: With my husband’s family. We wake up at home, open presents, then go to my in-law’s house.
Another day around Christmas: Do a party with my family. There is no set day–we just find a day that works for everyone.
Thanksgiving Day: With my husband’s family.
Another day around Thanksgiving: Do a party with my family. The day is not set–we just find one that works for everyone.
Christmas Eve: We host a Christmas breakfast at our house. Everyone from both sides of our families are invited.
Christmas Day: With my family. We wake up at home, open presents, then go to my parent’s house.
Another day around Christmas: Do a party with my husband’s family. There is no set day–we just find a day that works for everyone.
What is Your Plan?
I am always interested in hearing how people have worked this out. What do you do to juggle family around the holidays?