Ahh, it’s winter! The holidays are over, and with the exception of Valentine’s Day (and any family birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) we have a lull in celebratory activities until Easter. Easter isn’t until APRIL 1st this year so that’s pretty much a three month holiday… from holidays. If you’re anything like me, you are likely feeling a huge amount of relief at that realization. Why? Because that is three months where you don’t have to worry about traveling or pleasing family members or the stress of wanting to be in six places at once. It’s practically a vacation! (Except from reality, but I digress.) I am so glad… because I am so tired. The holidays wore me out this year like never before. So what does this mean? That it’s a great time to get your holiday planning on!
Everyone wants to see you and you want to see everybody. But logistically… it is SO tough. Especially when you factor in small children, travel (no matter your mode, the logistics are hard), and your own desires for rest and relaxation and making memories with your kids. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my family, and my in-laws are great. But we live eight hours away from my parents and eight hours away from my husband’s parents. AND the parents live 13 hours apart from each other so it’s pretty much impossible to combine trips. When you factor in siblings (5 hours away, 11 hours away) and grandparents and all sort of other relatives… well, it’s a veritable nightmare trying to plan holiday travel for the big three: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years.
In some ways, I feel like this is a total “first world problems” post. I know that my situation is easier than some, and that I should be grateful to have family that I genuinely want to see. I know that having the income to travel is a luxury. I’m a working mom but I have paid time off around the holidays. I could keep going, but I think you get the picture: in some ways I have a hard time making holiday travel plans a “thing” to plan because I feel all sorts of guilt about it. Pre-baby, my husband and I alternated holidays with our families. If we saw his for Thanksgiving, we would travel to mine for Christmas… and vice versa. And what we have learned with post-baby holidays is that it is tough to maintain that status quo.
So, this year… 2018… we aren’t. I wish I could write this post with a tried and true formula for you about how to plan your holidays now, but I can’t. So I’m just going to share my thoughts (sort of as an accountability thing, maybe…) about five simple ways my husband and I are thinking about the 2018 holiday season now.
Evaluate what worked and what didn’t for the 2017 holiday season. I’ll go first. We traveled my parents for Thanksgiving (five days) and to my husband’s parents for Christmas. Also, we tacked on a side trip to see my sister and her family before Christmas at my in-laws because it was “sort of on the way.” Plus we wanted to meet our new newborn nephew. 🙂 We were gone for eight days. But what that means is that we had two long car trips (three if you count our Christmas travels as two trips) between November 21 and December 28, and we were away from home for 13 days in that five-ish week timespan. That added up to:
- Difficult nights of sleep as our toddler adjusted to new settings (though overall he did SO well).
- Quite a bit of money: hotel stays, meals out, pet sitter, gas, wear and tear on the car, etc.–it all adds up, even if it doesn’t break the bank.
- A break from normal routines of healthy eating, exercise, self care, etc.–all things that can be difficult to maintain during the holiday season in general, but that intensify when you are traveling.
- Lots of time in the car that did not allow for other activities: relaxing, socializing, getting projects done, etc.
- Use of vacation time (sort of–our workplaces were both closed during all the times we traveled BUT we still were using our allotted days off for extended family-related travel and obligations… meaning we couldn’t use those days for other things we needed/wanted to do).
For us, this year, by the end, that was just TOO much. Even though it was SO good to see family. I’m not saying it wasn’t. Just that this year was hard, and next year cannot be the same.
So, what’s the solution? I’m not sure, but being honest about what happened is the first step to finding it.
As my husband and I have discussed what worked and what didn’t for the 2017 holiday season, we realized that we needed to talk to our families about all this. Though they know all the travel (especially with a toddler) is tough, unless we are willing to honestly communicate that in 2018 we may very well not see both families in the months of November and December, they aren’t going to know! So, we want to have genuine conversations with our families (parents in particular) to share our feelings and ask about theirs. Maybe we’ll learn they are willing to come to us. Perhaps we’ll be able to plan an alternate time to celebrate (Christmas during fall break, anyone?). Maybe there’s a third solution that eludes us now. But we don’t know unless we talk about it.
Again, we are fortunate to have good relationships with our families. I realize situations vary… I have friends who would not be able to have these conversations without drama galore. But if you can? Do it. Be brave!
Consider Other Solutions
This goes along with the communication aspect, but consider other solutions! Without getting all philosophical, who really says that it’s better to spend time with family during the holiday season? No one, besides Hallmark Channel (and I looove those movies!). Maybe Christmas really can be celebrated during fall break with extended family. Or maybe a summer family reunion is a good substitute.
One way we are honing in on this aspect is thinking about the year as a whole–when are we seeing our families? Can we use other time throughout the year instead of bunching everything up the last six weeks of the year? And even if travel isn’t an option all the time… what about phone calls, FaceTime, snail mail, and other ways to keep in touch?
Well, everything stems from communication, doesn’t it? #truth I wish I could be writing this post to easily declare to you, “we found the perfect solution!” But I’m not. Womp womp. We haven’t even really had a genuine conversation about this with our families yet.
But have that conversation and see what you learn. See what your family prioritizes–being at the big family dinner on the holiday itself? Going to the cookie decorating shindig in early December? Or just being together, without any big to-do? You may already know the answer to this, or you may be surprised. Again, you don’t know unless you ask! I think some of these priorities could be especially useful if the distance to family is “short enough” you can go for events multiple weekends in a row “without much hassle.” Sarcasm in quotes. 🙂
Make a Plan…and Stick with It
In some ways, this is the hardest part. After you evaluate and communicate and consider (everything over and over and over). Just decide what your family is going to do, where you’ll be. Make a decision, tell your families, and stick with it. Don’t agonize longer than you have to. In my experience, this is harder if you are driving versus flying, because you don’t need to buy plane tickets and all that jazz, but it can be done. I think. Fingers crossed!
So what does this look like, in actuality?
Like everything, these big decisions probably get easier over time. For young families especially, this seems to be part of the natural process of establishing yourself as an independent family unit instead of a couple, or even as your parents’ child. In our family, we want to be able to establish our own traditions and not have a holiday exhaustion hangover that lasts into January because of all the travel. We want to invite our friends over for Thanksgiving dinner, to buy a Christmas tree on Black Friday, to go to our own church on Christmas eve, to have our son wake up on Christmas morning at his house, to enjoy our Christmas tree for a longer time period, and so much more. It’s not that we don’t want to celebrate with our families in ways old and new, but that we want to experience it in new ways.
There are tradeoffs for sure, but I am hopeful they will be worth it. I think doing our holiday planning sooner rather than later will help everyone be more prepared and less emotional about it all. I’ll report back in a year to let you know how it went!
Any tips for me? How do you do holidays, especially if there’s lots of travel involved?