Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Ties That Bind

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.


PamalaLauren said...

I certainly wouldn't put out that they need to come to you right now. Wait until after the baby is born. I say Sept. might be good and just call or write and let them know that two children, one a toddler and one an infant is going to make it impossible to travel and that you're sorry you can't make it there but that you'd love them to come to you if they possibly can and you'll do the dinner and so forth. I think it's reasonable. I think if you were to let them know now then yeah you'll probably bring up a huge can of worms because they'll be wondering what happened that was so bad that you've decided now to not go, even though it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with what you believe your limits are. After the baby arrives you have a new excuse, one people can't argue with.

That being said we travel for Thanksgiving. Have been since my daughter was 5 months old. 8 hours to Arizona. It hasn't been a huge deal. Usually we get a hotel which I think helps a lot, allows you to escape. I'm sure we'll travel next year as well, especially since the new baby will be here and I'm sure they'll want to meet him/her. So Thanksgiving is our opportunity to go do that. I mean we traveled to Arizona (driving) when my daughter was 3 months old. So I guess it's just something we've done.

I think when we've traveled (we always travel as a family, my mom and sister and I, we go to my grandparents) we've accepted that there are a lot of stops especially on an 8 hour trip.

Anyhow that's a long comment. LOL!

Ms. J said...

I don't envy you, esp. after the drama with my inlaws this year about presents, LOL.

My husband's family lives 500 miles away. My family (divorced parents, but very friendly, both remarried) are both within an hour of us, as well as my favorite aunt and uncle. Pre-kids, we would spend Christmas Eve here with my family (that is THEIR big celebration, both mom and dad's side), and then we'd fly to husband's home state either late on Christmas Eve night, or firtst thing on Christmas Day.

Once we had Lil Pumpkin, I was willing to do so the first year, since LP wouldn't know the difference anyway, but Dr. J put his foot down and said "NO MORE!" We now do some stuff on Christmas Eve with Dad's side of family, then Christmas morning into early afternoon just the three (next year four) of us, alone. In the afternoon we go over to my Mom's for more presents, and dinner.

I can not imagine having to haul to husband's home state (by car or air) with two kids in the coming years, especially when I factor in the presents and logistics. My inlaws over-buy and over-indulge (they have plenty of money, and only see LP 2-3x's a year a best). And their house doesn't have a spare bedroom for us, and we are not shelling out the money for a hotel room, so sorry! Once the girls are old enough, Santa isn't an issue . . . we will revisit the topic. Until then, tough for them. They should travel here, and we can make them a reservation in a hotel 3 miles from our house, if they don't like it.

For what it's worth, we have a house with just under 1,200 sq. ft., so no room for them here either!

Polka Dot said...

I don't think you're being selfish at all.

I come from a large family full of steps and all that. I've been lucky enough,though, that we all live within 30 - 40 mins of each other. So even though we've taken a step back from the holiday gatherings, it's not because of the time factor.

I think feelings are going to be hurt no matter what. But I don't think what you'll be asking for is unreasonable. You're right - each family has been able to set their own traditions with their own children. You will soon be a family of 4 and building your own traditions is important. And I think that's what will win out.

Keep us posted!

Jen said...

I can relate to your post all too well. We are in a bit of a different situation in that all of our family lives close but we end up spending all day running from one place to the next. Especially with a second baby on the way, I want to start enjoying my own little family on Christmas day.

Yeah, it feels selfish, but like you I reason that my parents got to do it why not me?

Anonymous said...

First of all, I don't think you're being grinchy at all. Travelling as a couple is way different than travelling with youngsters, especially more than one. When it comes to the holidays, we usually travel for Thanksgiving and stat home for Christmas. I refuse to spend Christmas someplace else now that we have Lemy. I want to celebrate our way and people that want to come here are welcome, but having her put an end to travelling for both holidays. Honestly, I think our Thanksgiving travel is ending soon too as I don't think we can do an 8+ hour drive with 2 under 2.

In any event, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to start your own traditions and celebrate in your own home. That's what growing up and having your own family is all about right? Good luck with whatever you decide! I know this isn't an easy thing to deal with it! ((hugs))

HereWeGoAJen said...

Oh my goodness, they totally need to come to you. It is your turn. Tell them that you've been traveling for ten years, it is their turn for the next ten years.

If it were me, I think I'd wait until next year is dawning to bring it up. That way it can seem like you are basing it on actual circumstances (like "with the new baby we think we need to stay home this year") instead of just what you think is going to happen. (Even though you are totally right.) Plus, when you "blame" it on the new baby, it is a change from what happened this year. (We can't come this year because of the new baby, not because we had a bad time last year.)

Mazzy said...

I agree with others that say you shouldn't bring it up now. Wait until closer to the season next year... giving people too much time to mull over this kind of thing is just a bad idea. (IMO) And I agree with you about your husband's suggestion... I would NEVER let my in laws give me opinions about how they want to do it. Can of worms, INDEED! We find it best to just tell them what we are doing and they manage to schedule around it just fine!

You read my holiday situation. We put our feet down this year and told them that with our child, we want our own Christmas Eve/morning at home, to celebrate together as our little family and enjoy and create our own traditions. I have also been traveling for as long as I can remember, and with us there are FOUR sets of parents to appease (all 4 are remarried) and it has SUCKED THE JOY out of the holidays for me year after year. I don't want that for my daughter. I want her to remember waking up and being at home and knowing that Santa came to her house, he didn't have to look for. That's not to say that I am sure we won't have to travel on occasion, but as a whole I am vowing to own the holidays. People can come to us and they can stay with or get a hotel... both options work! :)

I hope you can come up with a good solution to this! I cannot put in to words how perfect my Christmas was this year. At some point, you should have "rights" to holidays. That's the trade in for finding out Santa is a big fat phony, right? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with what everyone else said: Leave the letting down until the fall and the next holiday season is pending, and don't give anyone any opportunities to give you their opinion.

In my family, the people with the little ones get to be at home, and the ones without kids or with older ones are the ones to travel. Who says everyone has to be together for each and every holiday, anyway? Give them the choice to come or opt out.

Life is stressful enough with babies, and if they don't understand- tough toots! I always feel better doing what feels right for me rather than stuffing my feelings- even if I am making unpopular choices.

Mommy Shoes said...

In the five Christmases we have celebrated since we have been married, only once have we traveled and that is b.c it was the last year DH's parents were going to be in his childhood home. We host Thanksgiving for whoever wants to come and Christmas we celebrate with just us. I hate traveling at the holidays and fear getting snowed in and stuck in a truck stop or airport on Christmas, so I just won't do it.

I agree with the other, later inthe fall, just say this is what we are planning. Don't open anything up for discussion.

Kim said...

I am probably the minority, but we don't travel on holidays - ever. This is partly because I don't like to share, and mostly because I want our girls to remember holidays at home and not traveling to/from, living out of suitcases, sleeping in new/uncomfortable places, being thrown off routine, etc. It's just not enjoyable at all (for us). We don't mind traveling before or after (like an entire week before or an entire week after.. not getting home the day before or leaving the day after!) but every actual holiday will be spent at home with just our own small family.

But I know that's not how most people work. So hopefully you can figure out an arrangement that works out for everyone involved. Just make sure you think of your own little family, too. If it gets to be too much, then it's okay to say no.

Joy@WDDCH said...

Not selfish- practical! And honestly I wouldn't do all that traveling either. I would ask that if the grandparents and anyone else want to come visit then they're more than welcome in your home.

I would save the talk for next fall, of course. But I wouldn't ask their input because you already know what you want. Nothing annoys me more than someone asking my opinion when they already have their heart set on a decision.

GibsonTwins said...

I only live an hour away from my hometown so since everyone is still there (parents, both sets of grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends) we spend Christmas morning at home and then go to my hometown in the afternoon.

Husband's family lives about 3 hours away and I refuse to travel that far with two kids so they've NEVER been there. Husband goes to celebrate a few days before Christmas and goes by himself and it works out perfectly and the kids and I stay home.

I'd wait awhile before saying this is how it is. Otherwise they may think your reasoning is stemmed from something they did on this past Christmas. 6 month notice seems appropriate though.

cheryllookingforward said...

I think you're being the opposite of grinchy. And I agree with everyone who has said not to bring it up now. Don't give everyone time to think about it. As soon as your family starts talking about Christmas, tell them you want to stay home. We're going to do it that way (and my family traveling is WAY less than yours!). Christmas at home is the best, and so much more relaxing! Good luck!

K @ ourboxofrain said...

Not selfish at all. We did what you guys have been doing for almost ten years too (and I did it for ten additional years before P came along), and it was too much. Last year, at three months old, Harry spent six hours (on what is normally a 2.75 hour trip) stuck in the car in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, starving and wet. And we said never again.

This year, we went to see my grandfather in early November and called it pre-Christmas. My dad is only an hour away, so we went there for the 23rd to celebrate with him and his wife and my brother. Then we spent the rest of the holiday at home. We prepared our own Christmas Eve dinner and went to our own church. We all slept in our own beds. We went to my MILs on Christmas Day for dinner, but she's ten minutes away, so it isn't travel. My mom and her wife and my brother came to us on the 26th. In the end, we had the holiday we wanted -- one that worked for us and for Harry. And I suspect that it will continue to evolve over the years.

As for timing, I'm definitely in the minority (a minority of one?) on this, but I say the more notice the better. For us, it helped to make the change incrementally -- we told folks two years ago that we were going to be phasing out the Christmas-in-the-car phenomenon and shifted a few things one year before making the big change this year. But even had we not done that, I think preparing people in advance helps so they can get used to the idea. Not right now (because, as folks have said, you don't want them thinking something happened this year) but within the next couple of months. But I realize I'm in the minority on this one.

All in all, I wish you luck with this. It's a tough set of conversations to have, but one that I think is well worth having.

Nancy Jones said...

My husband and I were married for 10 years before having kids. Since we are from the same hometown we just took turns, Christmas Eve with one family, Christmas Day with the other, with Christmas morning at our house. Once we had our first child in 2001 we lived about an hour away. We drove to our hometown and spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws, drove home, and drove to my parents house for Christmas Day. My poor son was beyond overstimulated and exhausted. Not even a long car ride, but still...That was it for going anywhere on Christmas Day. We said we were no longer going anywhere on Christmas Day, but that everyone was invited to join us at our house,which they did until we moved from CA to WA in 2005. The parents were all elderly and couldn't travel anymore. Sadly they have all died now. We live about 2 hours from my sister-in-law, but unless they want to drive here we don't see them on the big day. This year it was just us, the kids stayed in their PJs all day, and we had a relaxing and super fun Christmas. I think you would really enjoy Christmas at your house, but don't ask the family what they think about the plan because you already know. And don't ask them now....wait until the baby arrives and just tell them. Gently, but tell them and offer the invitation to your house. Good luck!

kim said...

It is a hard situation. I too have felt this way. If we go to the family it feels like go, go, go, do, do, do, a lot of stress. I have older kids too so they want to play with their new toys..and it's hard to take things along that have a lot of pieces. Yet during the years when I protested and just stayed home, my family wasn't able to come to me, (My bro has five kids and an unreliable car and of course my mom doesn't want to leave them out, which I don't want either)so again it felt like something was missing. We're back to traveling, but we do like you suggested. We wake up at our house Christmas morning, open gifts with our kids, then go for the day. We still have a 2 hour drive each way as well. But I guess it is a compromise that I can live with. Less packing, sleep in your own bed, wake up to your own decorations, etc. Last year we opened presents with our children on Christmas eve so they would have more time to enjoy their new things before packing up and heading out. (My husbands family lives abroad so visiting them isn't usually an option, but his brothers live here in town and we always carve out some time for them too)At least you have a year to think it through before you decide, with luck you'll have an easy going baby who will travel with ease :-)

Nicky said...

The only family member who lives within 500 miles of us is one of my second cousins. I totally understand the travel thing, with the added twist that we have to fly. It sucks. Here are a few things that we do:

1. In general, all of our vacation time is used to visit family. This allows us to make all of our visits relatively long. Weekend trips with kids (or, worse, day trips) make no sense, because you spend such a high percentage of the time traveling. Our trips to family tend to be 6-9 days at a time.

2. People are *always* welcome at our house. Always. If they want to visit us, they can. Our house is 1300 sq ft. If people want to squeeze in, they can. If they want to get a hotel, we help. Our door is open to any and all family whenever they want to visit us. This openness avoids lots of "you don't want to see us" conversations. It's chaotic, but it has also created some of my favorite family memories since S and I got married.

3. We picked one holiday that was important to us and announced that we were spending it at home, every year. Everyone was invited. The first few years, nobody came, but now everybody on both sides of the family come to town for it. It's the highlight of our year.

4. We let my husband's family pick another holiday, and told them that they'd have us in their home for that entire week, every year. It's a frustrating week, and not my ideal, but we decided that was going to be our family tradition for that holiday, and our son loves it. And because we travel a few days before and stay a few days after, the holiday itself is relatively calm. Again, great family traditions and memories.

5. My family is amazingly understanding. They were initially disappointed to not see us on certain major holidays, but they "get" that S's family is also important to us, that travel with children is HARD, and that spending time relaxed with family is more important than the date on the calendar. We have non-holiday traditions that we always observe with my parents, no matter what day or month we visit them.

6. People with small kids in our family get a "pass" on a lot of things, but it expires when the youngest is like 5 or so. Tell both families that this is a temporary situation, but you need some accommodations for a few years. My brother's kids are older than mine, and he assures me that the travel DOES get easier when they're older. In the mean time, everyone needs to hang in there a bit.

Good luck!

Tracy said...

Your situation is definitely unique, but ours is unique as well in that both of our parents are divorced, so we actually have FOUR Christmases!

I saw this coming years ago, so when we got married we made sure everybody knew we would be spending Christmas at home. Period.

We DO make an effort to make alternate plans with everybody. With my dad's family, we spend the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. With my mom's side, usually the first or second Saturday in December. With Scott's dad's, we go down during the day of Christmas eve, and his mom either comes here for Christmas, or we travel to her on the 26th.

Basically, we offered compromises to everyone, and explained that for our kids' sake, we wanted to be home Christmas eve night and morning. MOST of the time everybody understands, though I did have a bit of a spat with my MIL NY eve because she wants us to go on a ski trip next Christmas. Oh well...Evan and Rowan (and our sanity) come first.