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6 Ways to Put an End to the Holiday Tug of War in Families

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Mom's side of the family on one end of the rope. Dad's side on the other. Now, pull! Who will win the prize of having the kids and grandkids for Christmas? If you're a parent or grandparent, you're probably familiar with holiday tug-of-war — and you may feel as if you are always the loser.

The time-honored method of solving this problem is for young families to go to one household for Thanksgiving and the other for Christmas. The next year, switch! Another common solution is for them to spend Christmas Eve with one side and Christmas Day with the other, which is doable if both sides of the family live close by. Still, it makes for a rather harried holiday.

These arrangements don't work for all families, though. When there are divorces in the family, young people can find themselves having to choose between mom's mom, mom's dad, dad's mom and dad's dad. Such dilemmas can take the ho-ho out of the holiday for sure.

Parents and grandparents are nothing if not inventive, however, and have found several ways to negotiate the seasonal festivities.

1. Celebrate early or late.

Some families celebrate with their extended families early or late so that parents can be in their own homes with their kids for Santa's visit. The two weekends immediately before Christmas are popular choices. Still, scheduling can be a headache, and celebrating early means decorating early and having less time to shop. This option probably works best for those who have made it an ongoing tradition.

2. Stay at home.

Increasingly, young parents are choosing to celebrate the holidays with their nuclear families at their own homes. That's the solution chosen by Amy Weatherly, a mommy blogger whose kids have three sets of grandparents.

“There were too many years of stress, trying to make everybody happy,” she said. “And they usually still weren't, because divorce just works that way.”

Amy and her husband Brandon are open to family members visiting on Christmas, but they have no plans to rejoin the holiday round-robin. “Having Christmas in the comfort of our own home has become our favorite holiday tradition,” Amy said.

The best part has been being “still and simple together” for Christmas, Amy said. “It has been magic.”

3. Make it large.

Sometimes a Christmas celebration becomes more of a holiday open house. That's one solution for grandparents who don't want to give up hosting. They can invite not only their children and their children's spouses but also the spouses' parents. This solution may not be workable if the spouses' parents come with their own large entourages.

Sometimes it's the younger generation that has a come-one, come-all philosophy.

“I'm an in-laws and out-laws kind of person,” said Jodi Goodwin, who lives in Texas's Rio Grande Valley. On Christmas Eve, Jodi and her kids visit with her ex-husband's family. The two have been divorced for 12 years, but Jodi maintains close ties with the ex's family. On Christmas Day she has an open house at her home for “anyone who wants to eat, play, and socialize.”

Katie McMullen has a similar practice. She lost her first husband years ago and has remarried but includes the families of both her husbands in her annual Christmas celebration. A white elephant gift exchange provides hilarity. “I can't imagine it working out better,” Katie said.

4. Deal with distance.

Families who live far away from at least one set of parents have a different set of problems. In order to be with their geographically distant family, they must travel during the busiest — and most expensive — time of the year. They must either pack up their children's gifts or leave them at home. Being stranded at an airport is a real possibility, too. It's no wonder that some opt for a nuclear family celebration, or for a celebration with the side of the family that does live nearby.

5. Dodge the issue.

Is it any wonder that some people, both young and old, tend to dodge family gatherings altogether? Yule-themed cruises are popular with grandparents, and the major theme parks see hordes of young families during the Christmas holidays. Resorts, cruise ships and theme parks are enticing because they pull out all the stops during December and provide a mostly conflict-free Christmas. However, more than one family has found that the glitz doesn't replace a more homey holiday.

6. Talk it over.

Families can find solutions to their holiday issues if everything is put on the table for open and honest discussion. Try these rules for such negotiations: No one is allowed to back out of the discussion because their solution is nixed. Everyone has to be willing to try the consensus solution. No one is allowed to play the poor-me card. Everyone must remember that traditions are only beneficial as long as they are workable. And “new tradition” is not an oxymoron.

If everyone cooperates, it could mean an end to the holiday tug-of-war. And that would be a good thing, because there are better games to play. Pin the Tail on Rudolph, anyone?

This essay was written by Susan Adcox, a writer specializing in grandparenting topics. She is the author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.

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