- Both my husband and I love visiting family during the holidays. Each year we are invited to both families but they live in separate states about a three-hour drive from our home. Our relationship with both families is good and we don’t want to let either one down by not coming. How do we accommodate everyone without upsetting someone?
What a great problem to have. Both families want you to visit and you get along with both families. Obviously, you can’t be two places at once.
Many couples handle home visits by alternating years and holidays—visit your family one year and his the next. That said, kids grow quickly and grandparents don’t want to wait an entire year to see little ones ripping through gifts and squealing with delight. Those early years are so precious.
Another option is to have one set of grandparents visit you for part of the holiday, and travel to the other grandparents for the rest of the holiday.
One final suggestion is to examine each family’s traditions and prioritize where you will be and how long you will stay based on those priorities. For example, if Christmas Eve is more important in one family than Christmas day, go to Christmas Eve, bundle up the kids and travel for Christmas morning to the other family. I know this is tiring for you as parents, but the joy you bring to your families may be worth a few hours of less sleep. And grandparents are usually fine with giving you a nap while they watch the kids who slept in the car. Traveling back and forth may be a little hectic but it can be done if it is important to you. I am a big believer in the importance of family and making time for children to know their grandparents. When my kids were little, we did a lot of travel back and forth to both families and I was so glad we did. It created a bond that continues in their teen years. It also taught them to value family, something that seems to be fading in our culture.
Even couples who don’t come to therapy will occasionally think about this.
What is interesting is whether or not the couple agrees on the rating. When one spouse rates the marriage low and the other high, usually it means one has checked out mentally and the other is unaware of issues.
And it seems that even troubled couples will rate their marriages higher than reality when it comes to comparing their marriage to others. One reason is because the rating exercise helps you think of positives in the relationship. We tend to overrate our own and underrate others in order to keep our alternatives low.
But is rating your marriage a good idea?
Therapists think so, that is can help you take a step back and evaluate strengths and weaknesses. And it can serve as a baseline for problems that can be worked on and repaired. It’s not helpful if you use it as a club over someone’s head!
So if you are game to do this, do it from a positive perspective. “Hey’s lets take this little quiz in order to gain some insight into our marriage. You know I love you and want our marriage to be the best it can be, and I know you do too!” Then look first at the positive areas and use the lower score areas as a guide to improve.
Here is the quiz if you want to give it a shot. It’s 40 questions that you rate from 1 to 5. It’s only a tool to help point out areas of strengths and weaknesses, not a scientific test!
Source: Arthur Aron, Stony Brook University and the University of California, Berkeley; Lisa Neff, The University of Texas at Austin; Terri Orbuch, The University of Michigan
- Examine your expectations and let go of any “Brady Bunch” fantasies. Most disappointments come from unrealistic expectations.
- Continue “old” holiday traditions with your biological kids while creating new ones with the stepfamily. This helps the children ease into the new.
- If the kids don’t feel the holiday cheer, try to see the world from their point of view. They have lost the old and are adjusting to the new. Eventually, they will adjust.
- Practice the fine art of silence when your stepfamily is stressed by the holidays. You don’t have to share all your negative feelings.
- Don’t compete with your children’s “other” parents by showering kids with expensive gifts.
- Stepmoms, reach out to your stepkids’ mother. Buy her a gift. Tell her you appreciate her children. (OK, this is optional!)
- Don’t fight with ex-spouses about how much time you will spend with children over the holidays. It only hurts the children
- Invite your ex-spouses over for a holiday party. Brace for surprises.
- Join a stepparent support group to share the many feelings about “family” that come up during the holiday season.
- Pray and be patient. Blending takes on average, 2-4 years of adjustment time.
- We will be traveling to our relatives in another state for several family gatherings during Christmas. Two of my siblings are problem drinkers and I am not sure how to handle this with my family. We do not drink so my children are not used to seeing family members act up while under the influence. In the past, the drinking has gotten out of hand. My children are now old enough to ask questions. What do I do or say if the drinking starts to become a problem again?
Drinking during the holidays can get out of control and create many problems for families, especially in families where problem drinkers are in denial and do nothing to prevent getting intoxicated.
The best advice is to make sure that when you visit, you have a way of escape. Even if your siblings offer to let you stay at their homes, reserve a room at a hotel. That way, if their behavior becomes problematic, you can leave.
Before you travel, I would tell them and your parents that the past history of drinking makes you uncomfortable and that if things begin to get out of control, you will excuse yourself and leave. This way it puts the burden on them to moderate. If they persist in their behavior, you explained the rules ahead of time.
If you leave, have a talk with your children about the importance of family (the reason you continue to visit) but that there are times family members must set limits and boundaries on behavior that is unsafe or inappropriate. Being around people who are drunk is not something you want to expose them to or be around. Altered states change people in ways that are not always nice. This is a hard line to take but one that will earn the respect of your children and may cause others to rethink their enabling behavior. Don’t allow anyone to put guilt on you for setting boundaries. You are not telling your family what to do, but telling them what you will or will not tolerate to keep your family safe.