“My husband Tom and I live near my Dad and my sister-in-law, Sarah. My sister Nancy and her husband Bob live down South, about a six hour drive away. In the past, Nancy and Bob drove up North on Christmas to be with the rest of our family, When our Mom died, and Nancy decided that Tom and I should drive Dad down to their house, and we did, but it was a very long trip for dad, who is starting to have health problems and he didn’t want to do it again. The year after that, we met halfway at a hotel, but that didn’t work too well, either. This year my sister-in-law, Sarah invited everyone, including Nancy and Bob, to her holiday dinner, but when I suggested this to Nancy, she got angry and upset and said that dinner with Sarah’s family wasn’t her idea of OUR family having the holiday together, and that she wasn’t going to drive that distance just to spend her holiday with people who weren’t even her family. I would make dinner for Nancy and Bob and my dad, but my husband says this will be dissing his family since we’ve already been invited to Sarah’s house. The situation puts me in an intolerable position with my husband and his family as well as with my family. To me, the holidays are about getting families together. Why can’t Nancy just accept Sarah’s invitation so I can have peace and we all have a place to go and understand that this keeps peace in my house with my husband and his family? I’m being pressured by everyone and I can’t please all of them. I’m beginning to dread next year. Is there any way to put happiness back into the holiday?”
Alison: The Advice Sisters answered this in a classic double-take over a decade ago, but I’m updating it here in one “take.” It really depends upon how you view the holidays, and your family, to figure this one out. The bottom line, from my “take” was that some families like coming together as a group so much that they blend easily, but most couples aren’t that easy-going about blending families. The tug of war over whose home to visit, and when, and how, causes a lot of tension in relationships. If the families live near one another, it’s sometimes possible to juggle times and please everyone — breakfast with one, dinner with another, but if they are spread out across the country, it isn’t possible to satisfy everyone, all the time.
In my opinion, respect, consideration, and compromise are the solutions to the problem. So let’s consider Janelle’s sister Nancy’s issues, first.
Nancy is the one who has done most of the traveling, most of the time. That means Nancy and her husband are the ones who generally have to endure the stressful, expensive, and exhausting holiday travel. But if her father can’t or won’t travel on the holidays that’s the limiting factor as long as he is alive, if Nancy wants to see him and the rest of her family. Perhaps it’s unfair, but that’s how the dice fall. So if Nancy feels that her family gatherings are important, she’lll have to decide if being with him and the rest of the family is worth the long trip once a year.
As to Janelle’s issues, her sister isn’t obligated to like her in-laws or to socialize with them, but it isn’t reasonable for Nancy to insist that Janelle exclude them from any holiday dinner Janelle might ever have, thereby insulting and alienating Janelle’s husband. Perhaps Nancy doesn’t have the same relationship or pressure from her in-laws, but her wish to keep the family holidays just as they were when Nancy and Janelle were just little girls doesn’t mean that it’s manageable. Things change. But that said, it is clear that Nancy isn’t too keen to travel six or more hours coming and going to have dinner with a bunch of people she doesn’t care for even if that means she helps her sister out of a sticky situation.
As long as each person feels “put upon” there will be no win/win in this situation. The first issue is “Dad.” While it might seem unkind to leave him at home, perhaps the best way to handle the situation in the short term is for Janelle and Tom to enjoy Christmas Eve dinner with Dad at home, and then travel down South to visit with Nancy next year, but have Nancy and her husband come up the year after. Should Janelle decided to include others at her holiday table, Nancy is not to complain or the deal is off. When you are the host, you are within your rights to invite anyone you want. Janelle’s sister has no business dictating whom she can and can’t invite to her own holiday gathering!
This is a compromise, not the “Norman Rockwell” Christmas that Nancy covets, but if there is no way to totally please the people involved. perhaps it’s just time to make new holiday traditions with those who are nearby, and send holiday greetings from afar.
What do you think of this advice? Have you been in a similar situation? Share your thoughts, below!