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Here is the dilemma. My wife, my brother, my five-year-old son, and I live about five hours from my parents, about four hours from my father-in-law and his SO, and about an hour from my mother-in-law. My sister-in-law lives close to us. My brother lives about eight hours away (six hours from my parents). My brother-in-law lives about four hours away.

Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, no matter what we tell our parents, they somehow expect all their kids, everyone's significant others, and grandson to all be present for one day within a week of the holiday. A further complication: my wife's grandparents are living. We like to see her dad's mother for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and her mom's parents for Christmas. We do see my wife's parents at those events--however, they still expect a separate day to themselves. I forgot to mention that my father-in-law lives in the exact opposite direction of my parents.

Though we've discussed it at previous holidays, we had to discuss again as this holiday season approached that all the driving is just too much. We have extended an open invitation to our whole family to be at our house for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. We said we will do no traveling Thanksgiving, except to my father-in-law's mother who cannot travel herself. We said for Christmas that we would not be traveling the 24-26, but that the other days of the break would be open to requests and we would accommodate the requests that we were able to.

Everyone reluctantly agreed to the conditions for Thanksgiving, though my parents complained at length about the whole thing. My mother-in-law came to our house, my father-in-law saw us at his mother's house, and my parents opted to wait until Christmas.

Now that Christmas is approaching, however, all of our parents are suddenly insisting that it should be no trouble to us to see them on dates within one week of the holiday. My father-in-law is requesting the day that we informed him in advance we had already committed to my parents. He is trying to find a way for my sister-in-law to be present, but we have already discussed plans with her in advance and know that the only time our schedules match is the 24th. My father-in-law has thus far not accepted the invitation to come to our house.

How do we get across to our parents that it is simply unreasonable to expect everyone of their family members to be present at once for every holiday?

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    Tell them "It's unreasonable to expect everyone of their family members to be present at once for every holiday" - if there's a feeling of reluctance then maybe the whole point of the holidays is being lost here. See your family when you can and when you want to. You don't need to wait for some whack holiday to dictate your schedule. – Kai Qing Dec 5 '17 at 16:07
  • @KaiQing That's the thing. We've told them as much, gently first and then bluntly. And we have stuck to our guns, but it seems something is getting lost in communication. Also, we do see them frequently throughout the year, since they are really not all that far when we don't have to see all of them at once. I just feel something is lost on them. – called2voyage Dec 5 '17 at 16:10
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    @KaiQing Also, they have tried manipulation tactics like traveling one holiday when it is convenient to them and then later claiming that they gave up that holiday and should have exclusive right to the next one. – called2voyage Dec 5 '17 at 16:11
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    Your parents are victims of Commercial Culture. They were taught by movies that being together on a specific date is more important than enjoying each other's company and respecting each other's independence. – dotancohen Dec 6 '17 at 8:47
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You don't convince them of anything. You can't. If they aren't being reasonable, you can't reason with them. Stop trying, it clearly is not working. You simply tell them what your plans are, and say that your travel plans are not up for discussion.

  • This ended up being the solution that worked. All the parents gave up on having everyone together for their days with no hard feelings afterward. I really like Becuzz's answer because it would mean we don't have to re-explain our plans every year, but my wife's siblings had no interest in making long term plans. Of course, when they settle down we may have to revisit a long-term solution in the future. – called2voyage Feb 5 '18 at 15:28
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I don't fault your parents for wanting everyone to come visit. Once kids get older and move out it becomes harder and harder to get everyone together, to have one more moment together as a family. That desire to have some more of something that made them happy isn't wrong. And the holidays are usually a good time for such things because many people get/take time off of work and it's expected that people will be gone. So keep that in mind when talking about this with them.

To your point though, it becomes a huge burden on families to do so much travelling, especially in such a short time frame and in many different directions. Growing up, both of my sets of grandparents lived on the opposite side of the country (USA, so it was about 2000 miles or a 2 day all-day drive to get there). So we never got to see them terribly often, very rarely for holidays. We just couldn't make it work with school and work schedules to find enough time to make it out and back around most major holidays.

Now that my siblings and I are out of the house we are running into the same kinds of problems you describe. We've all solved it in different ways (largely because of where we all live relative to my parents). My sister had a schedule with my parents and her in-laws that they would spend Christmas alternating who they visited (something like my parents on odd numbered years, in-laws on even numbered years). For me and my wife, her family will celebrate holidays a week or two early. Then we get together with them for that and then we and her siblings can all spend the actual holiday either at in-laws or however we want.

But the way we make this all work is that we all (parents and siblings, or in the case of growing up, my parents and their siblings/parents) got together and talked it over to coordinate. We brought up the fact that we just couldn't make travelling thousands of miles all the time feasible, economically, time-wise, etc. Then we proposed a solution and coordinated. Rather than having to have the conversation every year about if we were all going to be able to get together, etc. we established a schedule. It was known that for any given year if we were going to all meet at mom and dad's for Christmas. And, while I'm sure it wasn't the ideal my parents/grandparents wanted, it did set some expectations and assured them that they would get the together time they wanted.

The biggest key here was establishing expectations. There was a lot less debate over "I came for this holiday so you owe me this one" or having to have the same conversation about when we were coming ad nauseam when everyone already knew what to expect. No one was wondering about when the next time we would see each other would be. We had already figured it out and it didn't need to be hashed out again and again. (Occasionally plans would change for one reason or another and we would all get on Skype and figure it out. But that was very rare, so it didn't break the trust that the general plan would hold.)

So sit down with your spouse and come up with a tentative plan on how to coordinate this. Once you are both on the same page, bring it to your respective families and make sure everyone has a clear expectation of when the next family holiday will be. If you can make a recurring plan, great. If you can only plan out the next 2 years (one with your family, the next with the in-laws, whatever makes sense for your family), great. Discuss it once, make the plans and when someone brings up the topic, point back to the plan you already made. Don't open it for debate again (unless absolutely necessary). After a little while of going through this, your parents and in-laws will get used to it and should be able to handle it just fine. Good luck!

  • As usual, a great answer. As the aging parent in this scenario, I understand both sides (how my father and in-laws had expectations). It's a difficult situation if the parents are unwilling to bend. – anongoodnurse Dec 5 '17 at 17:13
  • A very reasonable suggestion, especially now that our siblings are starting to settle down. My wife and I are going to create a Facebook group with our siblings and their SOs to discuss. I'll let you know how it goes. – called2voyage Dec 5 '17 at 17:14
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We create new dates.

  • We refuse to travel for Christmas, but are open to people visiting us.

  • We accept invitations for New Years, but warn people to not expect us to stay up past 10 p.m.

  • We accept invitations for Ukranian Christmas (January 7)

  • We accept invitations for St. Nicklaus's day (December 8)

  • In Canada our Thanksgiving is in line with our climate: we celebrate it on the 2nd Monday in October.

  • Remberance Day, Nov 11, is a legal holiday here. If it makes a long weekend, then it's open for visits too.

One year we rented a house at a distance more or less equally inconvenient for everyone. No one was happy with this.

  • +1 I would add that "family reunions" are also this --- you pick some non-holiday day (maybe over the summer) and plan for everyone to get together. You can also choose to celebrate, for example, grandma's birthday, or some other day that won't interfere with holiday plans for the other side of the family. – Rose Hartman Dec 6 '17 at 20:34

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