“How do you divide your time between the two of your families for the holidays?” It's one of the questions I get asked the most this time of year and one of the things that I think married couples worry about the most. Deciding how to spend your time for the holidays, which family traditions to participate, and making sure that you get quality time with each of your families while leaving room in the schedule for quiet nights at home and your own traditions can be a challenge.
That challenge doesn’t end with the holidays. It’s a year long, life long situation that you will always have to think about. As your family grows and moves through each stage of life, the traditions will change as well. If only it were as easy as figuring things out the first year you get married and sticking with those same plans for the rest of your life, right? I’ve put together a few questions to ask yourselves to help you more easily make your decisions when you’re discussing how you’ll spend your time this holiday season. I will also share some of the things that we do and how we split our time between my family and Joe’s family during the holidays and throughout the year.
Tips for Splitting Time Between Your Families During the Holidays
What is the most important part of the holiday season for you?
Our focus during the holidays is being grateful for what we have, celebrating the birth of Christ and spending quality time with those that we love the most. We also want to enjoy the holiday season without feeling too overwhelmed or exhausted when it’s over. We want the holidays and our time with family to be relaxing.
When we are planning our activities and committing to events around the holidays (and throughout the year), those are the things that are our priority. As I’ve been putting together our calendar for this coming month, I reminded myself not to plan too much and to leave plenty of time for relaxing and enjoying quiet activities and evenings at home. One thing that we decided early on in our marriage is that for the Christmas holiday, when there are so many parties to attend, we want to make sure that we make time for our own traditions and plan celebrations with each of our immediate families before we commit to any other events. This means that sometimes we miss extended family parties or work parties, which can be disappointing because those are fun and we want to attend them as well, but we know we’d regret missing those things that we’ve determined are the most important to us more.
Which activities or traditions are non-negotiable for your family unit?
In years past, Christmas became a busy day of rushing back and forth for us. After we added kids to the picture, we set a boundary that Christmas morning and day were times when we would be staying home and focusing on our own little family traditions. We let both sets of grandparents know that they are more than welcome to stop by and see what our kids got for Christmas or enjoy breakfast with us, but that we won’t be going anywhere until late afternoon on Christmas day. This allows us to enjoy the magic of Christmas morning, take things slow and create some Christmas traditions of our own. Having decided that was a non-negotiable for us makes it easier to arrange plans with our families and not feel frustrated
Another, maybe silly, non-negotiable for us is nap time. One of our first years as parents, we planned for fragmented naps in the car on our way to and from different family activities that were planned. By the end of the day, both of our young kids (a newborn and a toddler at the time) were so tired that they weren’t able to enjoy the party we had planned with my family, which was one of those events that we’d decided was important to us. From then on, we decided that nap and rest time is non-negotiable so that we are all able to better enjoy the holiday activities we have planned.
How much time do you want to spend away from home for events?
Do you ever find yourself spending an entire day or night at an event? Does it ever feel like you spend your entire holiday season out on the town or at other people’s houses rather than in your own home? Chatting with family you don’t see often, game nights, and other festivities are great opportunities for quality time, but if they start to feel like a burden on your time then they won’t be fun for you or your family anymore.
This year I decided that for each event or activity that we have planned, we will also plan a “return home” time. Joe and I will discuss each occasion individually and decide together how long we want to stay out for each one. We might determine our time frame based on how far we have to travel, the weather forecast, bedtimes, toddler nap times or even family situations that weight on us mentally. Being on the same page and knowing that we won’t be gone forever will allow us all to enjoy the holiday season and not leave us wishing for a long vacation after it is all over.
What does “equal time” look like when you’re splitting your time between both families?
We’ve been blessed with families who are understanding of the time that we spend with each other’s families and never feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick. We trade off years that we spend with each family for Thanksgiving, but because our parents live a couple of blocks away from each other, we’re still able to usually see them both on that day. For Christmas we’ve split Christmas Eve and Christmas day evening based on our different family traditions and any time we spend with them in addition is the cherry on top.
Whenever all of my siblings are home for the weekend, the holidays or a special occasion, we try to fit in a little more time with them than we might with Joe’s family. My siblings and our significant others are only all together a few times per year and we see Joe’s siblings and their kids almost every Sunday, so the balance of time works out in the end and we don’t feel bad if we’re with one family more around the holidays than the other.
We treasure the time that we get to spend with each of our families and feel blessed that they both live so close so that we don’t have to spend the holidays complete away from one family or the other. If your families live miles apart or if you have a blended family that adds another level of events to your holidays, you might have to be more creative and intentional with how you spend your time. I would suggest that you talk to other couples in situations similar to yours and find out how they do things, then take that into consideration when you’re making your plans.
The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year but they can easily become the most stressful time of the year as well. When you bring family together, things can be difficult and feelings can get hurt. Deciding on some of these things ahead of time and communicating those decisions respectfully to your families will hopefully relieve some of the tensions that couples experience when they feel like they’re trying to keep both families happy during the holiday season and throughout the year. And remember that things can change, and your current season of life is temporary. The next season might open up more room to do more of the things that you wish you had time for in your current stage of life.
How do you divide your time with family during the holidays?
Photography by Sadie Banks Photography