I am sure there are couples for whom the holidays are no big deal. The in-laws all get along and don't mind sharing their kids and grandkids for celebrations. Travel isn't necessary, so no one ever worries about how they're going to get home or how much it'll cost. Two families' traditions blend together seamlessly and everyone shares a good laugh over eggnog. The only couples I know who fit that description have just one family to please, either because of death or distance.
For the rest of us, the holidays are a balancing act between cheer and stress. Working out the holiday visitation schedule--and surviving those visits--is key to happy holidays, but how to do it?
Above all else, remember: Parents hold the power.
Who enjoys the holiday most? Children. Who receives the most gifts? Children. Whose reaction is everyone watching 'round the Christmas tree? Children. Holidays really are for the kids, and that gives parents--the keepers of the kids--the right to decide how to celebrate. Your job is to make the holiday season special and important to them. For many families, that means limiting holiday travel. It's hard for a grandparent to argue when you explain you want to keep some of the magic alive by allowing kids to wake up in their own beds Christmas Day. I like this guide from Simple Mom, advising parents to get their holiday calendars in order by deciding as a family what events are most important to attend. The goal isn't to dictate traditions but to make the ones you follow meaningful.
With power comes great responsibility. Isn't that the cliche? Well, it holds true during the holiday season, too.
You might put your foot down and ban holiday travel. The husband and I did early on in our marriage after one disastrous Thanksgiving where we spent more time in the car than around the table and still made both our mothers sad. I decided I enjoyed the holidays too much to ruin them with guilt. No more, we told our families. We might visit home near the holidays but not on them. Our mothers wailed, they gnashed their teeth--and then they bought plane tickets. We exchanged holiday gridlock for two weeks of visits from our parents. To be honest, I'd almost prefer the gridlock to the lengthy visits. But these, too, are survivable.
First of all, if you can, get them out of your house. Long visits are easier if your home is still your own. If your mother-in-law is rearranging your cabinets and your father-in-law is hogging the bathroom (hypothetically, of course), it might set you over the edge. Even if you can't force them into a hotel or a rental house, encourage them to take a daytrip or two. Leave local tourist attraction brochures in their room.
Secondly, stick to your schedule as much as possible or necessary. Be up front about this. If you can and want to, take a day or two off and give them your undivided attention. But if you can't--or don't want to--explain that you have to work and this is the schedule. You'll be home at this hour. Dinner is at this time. Bedtime is at this one. Especially once kids are involved, schedules make things run smoothly. Maintaining your family's might maintain your sanity.
But don't be too much of a stickler. It is the holidays, and they are visiting because they love you and your kids. Let the kids stay home a day or two with Grandma and Grandpa, or spend an evening up well past their bedtime. Those are the times memories are made, and you look gracious doing it.
Still, every family visit has those moments, the times when grandparents question your parenting skills or grown siblings revert back to childhood disputes. Dealing with those is tricky, but doable.
- Keep yourself above the fray. Don't get into a child-rearing debate with your mother-in-law.
- Stand your ground with a smile, a joke or a breezy comment.
- Take a timeout. Do the dishes while everyone plays cards. Take a walk around the block.
- Find a safe place to vent, whether it's online (try the BabyFit Message Boards) or a close friend. Everyone needs an escape hatch.
And, I find, a glass of spiked eggnog doesn't hurt, if you're not pregnant or breastfeeding, of course.