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How Can We Balance Holiday Visits With Extended Family?

Don't stress over choosing to stay home for the holidays. Use these communication tips to find peace and joy in the season.

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It’s just impossible to meet everyone’s expectations during the holidays. A parent, grandparent, and family therapist weigh in on how to connect with loved ones while building your own holiday traditions.

THE GRANDPARENT SAYS…

“Talk to grandparents sooner rather than later about your need for flexibility in scheduling time, as they may not fully realize the extent of your challenges and potential conflicts. Be up front if it’s a matter of logistics or cost, especially when it comes to long-distance issues; this may soften the blow if you can’t spend the holidays with grandparents.

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Schedule a video chat to open gifts from Grandma and Grandpa before or after the busiest festivities take place. Simply knowing they were considered, and time was set aside for them during the big day, assuages some of the disappointment of not participating in person.

Try to create plenty of positive interactions throughout the year between parents, grandparents, and the children. That makes it easier to accept less-than-ideal arrangements at the holidays, as the strength of relationships doesn’t depend on seasonal celebrations.”

—Lisa Carpenter, author of The First-Time Grandmother’s Journal and founder of grandmasbriefs.com

THE FAMILY THERAPIST SAYS…

“Many parents feel guilty, or encounter guilt trips or negative comments from family members, if they don’t travel for the holidays. Remember, these are your holidays too, and it’s your job as the parent to make the best decisions for your family. This may include not traveling, or traveling before or after the actual holiday.

If you’re dealing with passive-aggressive comments, first remember that the comments are not actually about you, even if they’re aimed towards you. Second, be on the same team with your spouse regarding handling problematic family members. The parent whose family member is being difficult needs to be the one directly interacting with that person, whether it’s setting boundaries or asking the family member not to speak in a negative way.”

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—Katie Godfrey, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, child and family team coordinator at the Catalyst Center in Denver.

THE PARENT SAYS…

“We used to take turns traveling to see family prior to having kids and agreed to travel with kids when they were young. But once our kids started understanding holidays, we started our own traditions at our house, which we really enjoy. Anyone is welcome to come see us.

It’s important for both you and your partner to agree and be very matter-of-fact with each family. You have to say, “This is what we’re doing and, don’t worry, we’ll see you another time of the year.”

We started planning a spring or summer vacation with each family. This is way more fun and less stressful for everyone. I think I have a better relationship with them because of the changes we made.”

—Lane L., Denver, mom of a five-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.

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