Since the dawning of time, or at least since we started dating, M and I have done the holiday traveling to see our families. All of it. In both directions.
My parents live at one end of the state, his at the other. Four hours apart.
Four hours doesn't sound like that much, and when it was just us, it wasn't so bad. Add in the dogs and things got more complicated, but still doable. Throw in a cat, just another mouth we had to think about feeding, but it was still okay. Will's arrival added a whole other level of planning, packing, and stress. Soon, we are going to have two babies to think about.
M's mom is single. M's dad passed away when he was little, and they were divorced prior to his passing. She never remarried or even seriously dated that I am aware of. All of M's extended family lives in the same town. We never miss an important holiday or family event and we are good about inviting her here, but due to various obligations (two part time jobs and animals to care for), it is difficult for her to get away.
My parents still have a teenager at home. My sister and her husband live in the same town as they do. My dad still works very part time. Getting away for them is not easy, either.
Our reasoning in traveling to our families has always been twofold. The obvious first reason is that we were only two people (now three, soon to be four!) traveling to multiple people. It didn't seem practical making 10 people travel to see us before we had kids. The second reason is that our house isn't that big. It's less than 1800 square feet. We do have (but not for long) a spare bedroom, but my parents, when they come, also bring three energetic dogs and a teenage boy. My brother ends up sleeping on the living room couch. My parents are great, but they bring a LOT of stuff. And mess. And chaos. The house looks like a bomb has gone off the entire time they are here. While I can just kind of "deal" with it, it drives M insane. He tries to corral the mess, putting it away, shoving it in a closet, only to have my mom make another mess faster than he can clean it up. I have to admit, it is astonishing how they can just "take over" the house in mere seconds after pulling into the driveway, but I figure it's temporary. We can always clean again after they leave.
So, most holidays, it has just been easier to do the traveling. We alternate holidays so that every other one is at the alternate family. Christmas is the exception, where we travel to both families to celebrate. Usually, that ends up being two fairly close together trips several hours away from home. We celebrate the weekend before with the "off" family (who had us for Thanksgiving and will have us for Easter and then Christmas next year) and then Christmas Eve and day of with the "on" family. This worked great for the first few years, but I have to admit, it's been wearing on both of us for several holiday seasons now. We do a lot of packing, a lot of driving, a lot of sleeping on uncomfortable hideabeds, and a lot more driving.
As we were driving home from my parents' this past December 26th, we had a frank discussion about how this, and other Christmases, have felt. To put it simply, we are "done." This Christmas we are both sick of the travel, the presents, the stress. . . all of it. We barely had a second to catch our breath, let alone really reflect on the true meaning of the holiday. We were with family, and that is important, but everyone was so stressed, so overwhelmed, that the time together wasn't relaxed. We didn't get to go to Christmas Eve services at our church and neither of our families attend church in their towns. I didn't get to make a holiday meal. We didn't get to enjoy the decorations at our house. As our family is growing, we want to start out own traditions. On the one hand, it feels selfish, but on the other hand, we feel it's kind of the "Circle of Life" when it comes to holidays. Our parents both got to celebrate their holidays in their own homes when we were little, so why can't we? We did make choices, such as moving to a city where neither of us grew up, but we also went where the jobs were, which at the time, weren't in either hometown.
Being sick this year and having a sick baby did not help our stress level. We are trying to decide if the feelings we have are a result of that or truly needing to change how holidays go. Keep in mind, if we do change our future holiday plans, we are going to face major opposition. From both families.
M's suggestion is that we have Christmas Eve at our house, do our own traditions, then travel late Christmas morning to whatever family we are supposed to be with and spend a night or two. I feel that still won't help our situation. We are still going to be doing the all of the traveling, which to me, is a big part of the burnout.
I guess I feel as if it is time that we Take Back the Holiday. We will give plenty of notice and do it kindly and gently, and tell them that next year they need to come to us. I expect hurt feelings and arguments about why that won't work, but I want to stand firm. There are a lot of reasons why it isn't convenient for us to go to our families, but for ten years now, we've been making that happen. With a toddler and young infant, it's going to be very difficult for us to do all of the traveling next year. This is also just a trial, to see how it goes. If it really doesn't work, then we can always go back to the old way the following year. This is not forever, either. As our children grow, it should become easier to travel again (she says with the innocence of a first time mom). It was already easier to pack a 16 month old than it was to pack an infant, so I expect it will only get easier in the future with this next baby, too.
At this point, M wants to send out an e-mail, asking our families for suggestions. While I understand what he is saying (give them an investment in the plan by letting them feel as if they came up with it), I am worried that it will open up a can of worms for even more disappointments if we don't like or take their advice. Since we already know what we truly want, I see no harm in throwing that out there, asking for the moon (them coming to us for the holiday), then seeing if there is a compromise if they don't like our idea. For example, next year would be our year with M's family, so perhaps we do Christmas Eve here and then just go to my MIL's for the afternoon on Christmas Day. Traveling for just an hour, not packing dogs, kids' overnight stuff, and bags, is much easier. Then, we can either have my parents here for the weekend before Christmas, or if they really can't make it, then travel a week earlier in the season so that we have some breathing room between trips.
I don't want to come across as selfish or as if we don't care about our families and what they need and want, because we do care. Hurt feelings are not our intention. I don't think our families understand our feelings because we haven't shared them, so we aren't even giving them a chance to help us find a solution. I feel as if there must be a way to compromise so that everyone gets a bit more of what they want. This bottled up feeling of frustration is bound to explode and I would rather formulate a plan NOW and give everyone lots of advance warning, rather than deciding last minute next year that we simply "can't" go through anothing holiday like this and leaving someone in the lurch.
How do you handle the holiday "split"? Do you think we should just suck it up and keep traveling or are we okay in wanting to have some of the holiday for ourselves? Advice (and gentle admonishment if you think we are being Grinchy) appreciated and welcomed.