How to Handle Splitting Christmas Between Your Families

Once you're engaged or married, it can feel like a tug of war between both sets of parents as they convince you to spend Christmas with them - here's six ways to cope

How to Handle Splitting Christmas Between Your Families

There’s nothing more divisive than that first time you must decide as a couple whose family to go to for Christmas Day. There’s two sets of parents and only one day, after all.

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Where you should spend the holidays is something every couple has to deal with – and the last thing you want is a big argument. Picking one family over the other can cause hurt feelings if it’s not handled correctly, and it’s only made more complicated if you have divorced parents.

Thankfully, there are some tactics for splitting your time over Christmas between your families without causing disappointment. Don’t miss our tips for coping with difficult in-laws too! Here are your best options:

Host Christmas Yourselves

If you have the space to host both sets of parents (and any siblings), you could offer to start a new tradition of hosting Christmas Day. It’s a big undertaking, expensive and lots of stress so don’t commit to it if your wedding planning has already got you on edge. Try it for a year and if it works, brilliant! If not, back to the drawing board. You can save yourself some stress and get parents feeling involved by asking them to bring along their favourite side dishes or dessert.

What’s important here is to set limits on how long family will visit for. Don’t let it become ten days between Christmas and New Year. Agree when they’re arriving and departing and you’ll know the exact moment you get your house back if arguments flare.

Alternate Families Annually

The only truly fair way to split your Christmases equally between your two families is to rotate which house you to go each year. You’ll build memories with both families and, as this is the most impartial way of doing it, it should avoid conflict. If it’s possible travel-wise, could you spend Christmas Day with one family and either Christmas Eve or Boxing Day with the other?

You need to set ground rules with this plan, like don’t complain about how the other family celebrates. Just embrace all the weird and wonderful traditions that come with joining a new family.

How to Handle Splitting Christmas Between Your Families

Visit Both Families in One Day

Could you manage to squeeze in visits to both? Wake up at one parents’ house on Christmas Day and spend the morning opening presents and having a posh breakfast. Then head to the other person’s parents for the afternoon and your big turkey dinner. You can switch who you see in the morning and evening if one family doesn’t always want to end up with the cooking.

This only really works if your families live close enough for you to travel between without missing out on too much of the day. We’d suggest a 30-45 minute drive maximum or your day will mostly be spent stuck on the M1.

Have a ‘Just the Two of Us’ Christmas

If it’s all getting too much, you might need to bite the bullet. Kindly tell both families that you don’t want to choose favourites and you’ve decided to spend Christmas Day as a couple. You’ll need to arrange to see both sets but, for that actual day, it can just be you two. Bonus: you don’t have to have a big turkey if it’s for two! Have a lovely bit of lamb, a juicy steak or even a Chinese takeaway. Have your day and do it your way.

Take a Holiday

Sometimes the best way to deal with difficult families is to avoid them. How about planning a glorious Caribbean trip this December? You can be sipping a glass of rum punch on a Jamaican beach rather than stuck watching the Queen’s Speech with Uncle Alan.

Go to a Restaurant

Hosting is big, stressful task. Put the pressure in someone else’s hands and meet the extended families at a restaurant that’s midway between you all. Going to a restaurant on Christmas Day is quite pricey but it means you get the quality time without picking one family over another. There’s no washing up to done, and there’s a time limit for how long you have to spend with them if you’d like a swift exit.

7 Ways to Cope With Difficult In-Laws

Not everyone loves their in-laws but you will be obliged to spend some time with them. Here’s seven ways to keep your sanity when you’re with them:

  1. Go for a walk. Tell the family the two of you would like to go on a post-lunch amble. You’ll get some alone time and no-one will know if you actually pop into the local pub instead.
  2. If you’re hosting instead of your in-laws for the first time, it can cause a sense of loss for your mother-in-law if she’s used to being the host with the most. Give her some jobs to do that still make her feel useful and included, and ask her for advice but don’t let her take control.
  3. Give yourself a safe space to escape to. Anytime you think a conversation might lead to a thinly-veiled insult or snarky comment, leave the room and head to the kitchen to ‘check on something’, the spare bedroom to deal with a ‘friend’s emergency’ or even the bathroom for a couple of minutes’ breathing space.
  4. Married and starting to get asked every other minute when you’re having kids? Get your partner to have a private word and ask their parents to stop bringing it up. Everyone should recognise how sensitive a topic it is and an appeal to their better nature might work at Christmas.
  5. Avoid certain boardgames like the plague: Monopoly, Cluedo, Cranium, Risk. Stick with quick card or board games that have very clear rules and endings if you want to avoid sniping.
  6. Book a hotel rather than stay over. You’re still in the honeymoon period and you’d like your space so there’s a good reason for them to accept you want to stay elsewhere.
  7. All else fails? Keep your glass topped up during the meal, then fake a headache for a few hours of peace.

The Dos and Don’ts of Splitting Christmas with Your Families

How to Handle Splitting Christmas Between Your Families

DO: Speak to your partner first and gauge what the two of you would like to do. Perhaps you’re totally happy to spend Christmas with their family every year as you love their siblings. Be completely honest; your partner isn’t a mind-reader.

DON’T: Assume the other family will spend the same budget as yours. It can be really awkward if there’s different expectations for presents. Do they go all out or only do small gifts?

DO: Establish boundaries about what’s feasible for you. You don’t want to spend most of Christmas Day in the car driving three hours each way because you couldn’t bear to say no. You want valuable time with each family and that means be firm but fair when you work out what’s achievable.

DON’T: Feel obliged to see your family if it harms your mental wellbeing. Not every family relationship is healthy, and if you’d prefer to keep yourself and your partner away from that on Christmas Day, don’t feel bad.

DO: Try to stick to your plan every year. This means that when grandchildren come along, it’s easier to say, ‘No, it’s X’s turn to have us this year,’ if your parents try to guilt you.

DON’T: Think travelling or hosting with little ones running around will be easy. Come up with an alternative plan while they’re still very little, like Christmas Eve with the in-laws for gift giving, but Christmas Day just as your small family unit.

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