Print   |   Back
December 03, 2015
The Real Issue
I Don't Want to Spend Christmas with My In-Laws
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


Every year my in-laws invite us to spend Christmas with them, and almost every year we decline because I prefer to celebrate Christmas in my own home, alone with my husband and children.

The problem is, that after we say no, my in-laws “surprise us” by buying plane tickets to come and visit. They don’t bring gifts for my children, or they’ll just bring one, and it’s uncomfortable on Christmas morning when my children open the many nice gifts that my parents send.

I want to spend Christmas in my own home, alone with my own family. But every year I end up either where I don’t want to be or with houseguests I didn’t invite. We said “no” again this year, and I’m just dreading the “surprise” phone call I know I’ll be getting soon.



Entertaining relatives — even burdensome or not-quite-invited relatives — is a time-honored holiday tradition. It’s part of what makes the holidays exciting, and is an important cure for the myth that you can create a perfect Christmas that is entirely to your liking. It is also a good exercise in not getting what you want, which, as everyone knows, builds character.

Children, for their part, generally prefer the presence of their relatives — especially grandparents — at Christmas. Grandparents tend to enhance Christmas cheer.

It can be tricky for grandparents to schedule visits with their children and grandchildren. Part of respecting adult children is not assuming that you can descend upon them any time you wish. It can be a particularly delicate operation for paternal grandparents to schedule a visit in a daughter-in-law’s home.

If an invitation is not actually extended, the grandparents are left with few options beyond inviting themselves. This is why part of being a responsible adult child or child-in-law is inviting your parents and in-laws to visit on a regular basis.

Extending invitations not only demonstrates your interest in building family ties, but it tells your relatives when a good time would be for a visit. You, for example, do not wish to visit or be visited at Christmastime. The simplest way to achieve this is to say so, and to invite your in-laws to visit at another time of year.

Now, you may think you have said so for years. But you haven’t. What you have done is hint. You have become increasingly frustrated with your in-laws for openly disregarding your wishes, when in fact, they were simply unable to interpret your hints.

Specifically, when your in-laws invite you to spend Christmas at their home and you decline, you are trying to tell them that you want to spend Christmas at your own home without them. But you haven’t actually said that.

All you have said is, “No,” which, especially if you said it with regret, could reasonably be interpreted to mean that you’d like to come, but travel is too expensive, you can’t get time off work, the children have games or performances, you have to lead the ward choir that Sunday, or any other number of reasons that would make travel impossible or impractical.

Your in-laws, therefore, can be forgiven for continuing to surprise you at Christmas. They are not being obtuse. They are simply hearing a different hint. They don’t hear, “No. Stay away.” They hear, “We’d like to come but we can’t make it all that way. Why don’t you come here, instead?” Especially if you and they have had this interaction several times over several years.

Even if your in-laws are somewhat pushy, it is highly unlikely they would continue to visit you if they knew their presence actually upset you. Most people are not aggressive enough to push in where they know they are not wanted.

You’d like to know if there is a way out of this annual frustration. I suggest you get out in front of the situation immediately. If you think they are going to call you this week to say they have booked a trip, call them first.

Tell them that you have plans from December 20 through 27, but that you’d love it if they could visit you any time from the 28th until Marissa goes back to school on the 4th of January. Offer however long or short a visit you think you will all enjoy.

If your mother-in-law responds that she was planning to buy tickets for the 24th, just like last year, tell her you can’t. Don’t give reasons for her to debate or problems for her to solve. Just say that the 24th won’t work. You should, however, be sensitive to their travel costs and schedule; it is more expensive to fly on certain days, and they might have responsibilities you need to accommodate.

If they ignore you and come for Christmas anyway, go ahead with your previous plans. Don’t feel embarrassed about their modest gifts — if they don’t mind, you shouldn’t, either. Do all the things you wanted to do whether or not they want to participate.

And feed everyone normal, non-company food. If you are eating ramen, your in-laws can eat ramen. If they show up after you told them you were unavailable, your duty to be a gracious host who puts her guests first is downgraded to a duty only to invite them to join you where possible, and to treat them like one of the immediate family.

For future planning, I suggest you agree to celebrate Christmas with your in-laws on a set schedule — every so-many years. You don’t prefer the way they celebrate Christmas. Fair enough. But that is not the only consideration in deciding where to spend the holidays.

The actual Christmas celebrations are only part of the reason for visiting. Visiting is the other part. You aren’t really going because it’s fun, or because the food is amazing, or because you love to hear their municipal choral presentation.

You are going to spend time with them, for your husband to visit his parents and for your children to know their grandparents. Those relationships have more value than any celebration.

Speaking of your husband, what is his opinion on this topic? I assume you have discussed this problem with him. Does he also prefer a quiet family Christmas at home? Or does he enjoy visiting his folks and doing Christmas their way? Does he enjoy their surprise visits and low-key gifts? If so, you and he will have to graciously take turns from year to year.

Finally, put yourself in your in-laws’ shoes. Someday you will be the grandparent who wants to spend Christmas with your son and his family. You will be the one extending invitations and trying to read between the lines of your daughter-in-law’s response.

You may be the one booking tickets as a special surprise, and arriving with modest gifts for your grandchildren. I suggest you store up some good karma against that season by extending invitations to your in-laws and making them feel welcome in your home. They, your husband and your children will appreciate you for it.

Copyright © 2024 by Cyndie Swindlehurst Printed from