With the winter holidays fast approaching, you may be amongst the many families trying to strategize how to visit with relatives during this hectic time of year. This can be especially stressful if both spouses’ parents have expectations around visits, a situation made even more difficult if a spouse doesn’t get on with the in-laws.

If this sounds like your dilemma, then here are some strategies to get you through this hectic time of year…

Never bend over backwards to make your parents and in-laws happy.

No matter what your strategy, this needs to be your mantra this season. You’ll make yourselves miserable otherwise. Giving into your parents’ and parents-in-laws’ every whim also establishes a power dynamic that will be hard to undo, setting the stage for expectations for every holiday here forward. Be willing to work with family on reasonable hopes, taking care not to overexert or commit yourselves.

Diffuse expectations.

Better done sooner than later, communicate with your family members about what you want to do and don’t want to do for the holidays. For example, I know of one couple who told both sets of parents that they would not be coming home for Christmas, as they are agnostic and do not want to celebrate a religious holiday. While their parents weren’t happy, laying down this law has made life a lot less complicated around the holidays.

Set boundaries.

Discuss with your partner how the two of you want to spend the holidays. In looking over your list, determine what is manageable and what is not, then communicate to your relatives what is feasible. You may, for example, choose to only visit with one set of relatives instead of running around trying to please everyone with shorter visits.

Mira is set on doing that from here on out, “Two years ago, my husband and I spent Christmas Eve and early Christmas morn with my parents, then drove over five and a half hours through snow to spend the rest of Christmas day with my in-laws. Never again. It was not only hard on us, but our little one, and driving such distances to accommodate others is not the holiday tradition we want for our daughter or our family.”

Explaining to your family why you won’t be spending time with them, e.g., distance or energy levels, can help them to not take your decision so personally. You can also gently remind them that you are your own family now, which leads us to the next point…

Explain that you’re starting your own traditions.

Who says that you have to go to your parents’ houses for the holidays? You’re an adult with your own family now, a family with whom you can start your own traditions (just as your parents did for themselves at one point). Let your parents know that you’ll be spending the holidays in the comfort of your own home, doing your own things in recognizing the season’s many meanings. If you want them to be included, then invite them, making it clear that you’ll be hosting them with the traditions you may want to keep from your childhood, as well as some new ones.

Withhold information.

Your parents and parent-in-laws don’t need to know everything going on in your lives. It’s okay to not share information around plans, activities, and travel. It’s ultimately none of their business. Plus, what they don’t know can’t hurt them, as Nila knows, “Unbeknownst to our parents, my husband, children and I went to Europe for Thanksgiving. That’s what we wanted to do and privately at that. We simply told them that we wouldn't be seeing them this holiday.”

So let go of any guilt you have in choosing to spend the holidays with your own family. While it may be hard for parents to accept that you want to do things differently and in your own way, they need to respect your decisions around such.

About the Author

Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD, MSEd, ACSE

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a certified sexuality educator, sexologist, professor, columnist and author of nine books, including The Better Sex Guide to Extraordinary Lovemaking.

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