Dividing the Holidays Between Multiple Families Is Tough—Here’s How to Make It Work

Source: @jlgarvin
Source: @jlgarvin

The holidays are upon us, and if you are anything like me, wrapping yourself up in a cozy throw blanket and watching holiday movies is mandatory. After my third viewing of Love Actually, I stumbled down a Netflix hole and landed on Four Christmases with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. Witherspoon and Vaughn hilariously play a couple who struggle to visit all four of their divorced parents on Christmas, and as the day progresses, chaos ensues. 

I immediately started thinking about all of the hours I’ve spent on the road as a child traveling to visit multiple family members over the holidays— the low budget hotel rooms, the gas station bathrooms, the boisterous chatter among family.

The feeling of needing a vacation after my “vacation.”

As a married woman with a large extended family and an even larger family on my husband’s side, the task of dividing the holidays between multiple families is not an easy one. No matter how fair we try to be, someone (ahem… my mother-in-law) always gets hurt and lets it be known. From parents to in-laws and grandparents, this time of togetherness and love can quickly turn into a tumultuous time. When you’re part of a couple—or furthermore, a child of divorce—splitting your time up between loved ones can add on another layer of chaos that no amount of good cheer can rectify. 

It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve come up with four ways to help make the task of dividing your time between family members a bit easier, along with some input from fellow moms.


Early communication is key

It’s important to not only talk to your partner about your expectations for the holidays but also to communicate it to your families as well. To avoid confusion and disappointment, the earlier you can communicate your plans for the holidays, the better. 

“Right after Labor Day, my husband and I make our plans for the holidays. We take turns each year between spending time with his family for Thanksgiving and my family for Christmas and vice versa. We let our families know how long our visit will be and if we will be staying in a hotel or not. This way everyone knows what to expect from us and it’s harder for our families to guilt-trip us.” – Nora S. 

“My parents are divorced, and each year they want us to spend Thanksgiving through New Years with them. This is impossible. So, my husband and I have to decide beforehand which days will be spent with which parent. The same goes for his family. We look at the calendar, strategize, and prioritize so that everyone gets equal time and attention. We let everyone know our plans as soon as we can to avoid the grumblings and negative comments.” – Eva D.



Alternate the major holidays

You and your partner don’t have to commit to one holiday with one family for an extended period of time. Switch it up every year and alternate between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah/Christmas, Fourth of July, etc. There are plenty of holidays and traditions to go around. 

“My husband and I decided that we would do one holiday with his family and one with mine, and then the next year we rotate. It’s pretty straightforward and simple and leaves no room for argument.” – Molly H. 

“We rotate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter between my home, my parents’ home, and my in-laws’ home. I don’t love it, but it works for us for the time being. I’m looking forward to the day when all the holidays are just at one home, preferably ours.” – Felicia A. 


Let them come to you

Traveling is hard. Traveling with small children is even harder. Now that you have your own family unit, let the relatives come to you. 

“One year, my husband and I went to six different family members’ homes for Christmas with our 4-month-old baby. We spent a good five hours in the car, and I was so stressed out that I dreaded upcoming Christmases. This year, we decided to stay home and host our immediate family. I’m looking forward to a more calm and peaceful holiday season without dragging my baby from home to home in the freezing cold.” – Samantha F. 

“My husband’s parents are divorced, and he travels a lot for work. Sometimes he has to work the day before and after Christmas, making travel impossible. We have four children and flying or driving with them just makes the holidays more stressful for me. If people want to see us, they have to come to us. We’ve started our own traditions and both sides of our families are always welcome to join us.” – Valerie B. 


holiday celebrations

Source: @dwellhometeam via #sharetheeverymom


There is no right or wrong way

Your time and attention will never be evenly split 50/50. It’s never going to be perfect. Someone will always feel slighted or left out. Focus on your immediate family (your partner and children) and aim for a happy holiday season. Before you know it, your home will become the anchor that everyone will navigate towards for the holidays.


This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated for timeliness. 

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