"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
December 6, 2012
The Holiday Shuffle
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My husband and I are travelling back to our home state for Christmas. Both my parents and his live in the state.

That might sound convenient, but it is actually very difficult. No matter what we do, one set of parents feels like we are favoring the other set of parents. No matter where we are, we are constantly feeling pressure to get to the other family’s activities.

To make things worse, the two sets of parents live two hours apart. So we spend a lot of our trip in the car being shuttled back and forth.

I wish we could sneak into the state to visit only one family at a time. Do you think that would work? If not, what else can we do besides boycotting Christmas in Home State altogether?

Answer:

Sneak into the state? If you think you get pressure and guilt trips now, just wait until the un-visited set of parents finds out you made a clandestine visit to the other set of parents.

What you need is a better way to manage time and expectations during your holiday trip. I suspect that each set of parents is feeling cheated because you are shuttling back and forth so often that it feels to them like you are never actually anywhere. I further suspect that each set of parents is tired of waiting around for you to arrive at family events.

Instead of spending your holiday on the road between two locations, you need to make a plan under which each family, including you and your husband, gets some of what it wants. You will never be able to eliminate the pressure — or even competition — you feel from them. But you can lessen it by acting in a way that assures each set of parents that you are sensitive to their plans and feelings, and that you want to spend time with them.

Start by sitting down with your husband. Discuss openly where you want to spend your time during your holiday. This is no time for hints or insinuations. Say what you have to say and listen to what he has to say.

Call your parents. Tell them how excited you are to visit them, and that you will be splitting your time between the two families. Ask if there are any family events of particular importance they would like you to attend, such as Great-Grandmother’s 98th birthday party. But tell them that you are still planning your trip and cannot commit to anything until you make your final plan.

Once you have this information, sit down again with your husband and discuss what events your parents want you to attend. Then discuss what events each of you most wishes to attend. Then discuss what events you ought to attend.

Then, draw a bright line down the middle of your trip and give each family half. Think of it as two trips: one to see his parents and one to see your parents. (If your two sets of parents lived closer to each other, you could split your time by whole days or a couple of days at a time.) Your goal is to stop the shuffle and concentrate on one family at a time. Make sure each family gets some of what it wants.

Now, a word of caution. When deciding how to divide your time, do not simply give priority to whichever family “cares more” about a particular event. If Family A is absolutely nutso about Christmas Eve, or gives you a lot of grief for every moment you spend with Family B, you should still rotate regularly to Family B and their more sedate celebration. It would not be fair to favor the gregarious and emotional over the sedate and balanced.

Similarly, one spouse must not demand his own way about the holiday travel plans on the grounds that the holidays are “more important” to him. Said another way, one spouse should not hijack the other’s holiday just because he can more eloquently express his preferences. Any sentence that starts with, “It just won’t be Christmas unless I can ...” is forbidden unless it ends with “be with you.”

After you make your plan, let your families know in advance when you will arrive, how long you will stay with each family, what events you will be attending, and when you will leave. Make sure to tell them as well, very clearly, what events you will not be attending. They might truly be shocked to find that “at my in-laws” means you will in fact miss Grandma’s birthday party. Although as a point of order, I would prioritize my own grandmother’s birthday party over almost anything else I can think of.

If you get some push-back, respond with: “I know. I wish we could go. I just love [name of event]. It’s really too bad that we can’t make it. We are so disappointed.” If pressed, respond with: “We just can’t. We’ve already committed to be with Family B that day.”

Don’t expect to make everyone happy.

Finally, during your trip, be punctual and cheerful.

Arrive when and where you said you would.

And act delighted to be wherever you are. Show that you love and appreciate your families by participating in their activities even if you don’t particularly enjoy them. Part of the fun of being a grown-up is the ability to arrange your life to your liking. But when you are visiting with someone else, you have a responsibility to think about what that person would like to do, and to be a good sport.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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