Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The First Holiday Negotiating In-Law (or Almost-In-Law) Needs and Wants

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Edith: Hi Jane! I know that you've found love, which is wonderful and I am very happy for you. Hmm, that was sort of supposed to sound like a joke, I guess, except I am happy, and it is wonderful. Anyway, how has it been blending families? Dating someone –> dating that person exclusively –> meeting that person's family? –> cohabiting with that person –> marriage –> still cohabitation, but now you have to share holidays, since you're now a unit.

What were those first conversations like? Because it's all still so potentially fragile.

Jane: We've had a pretty easy time of things, I think. For one, I come from a large family with a few splits and have had to navigate that for decades already, so I've got a lot of practice telling the people I love, "No, I won't be at your Christmas Eve dinner. I'm sorry, but I still love you and would love to see you another night or holiday!" My husband, on the other hand, has a small family who are all quite close. It's been hard for him to not be there for a few big holidays since we've been together, but luckily they are all so nice. They're truly understanding and sweet about it. Like, they get it. Which brings me to my first Big Point concerning this subject: If your SO's family are jerks about sharing time — knowing that YOU love YOUR family too, and that you love your chosen person and want to be with them on sentimental days – think really hard about if you want them to be part of your family ... forever. I mean, look at how your lover handles the difficult people in these situations, you know? Your person should have your back and make you feel like #1. If you don't feel that way, say something. Ideally, your partner will be willing to stand up to the jerks on your behalf and temporarily piss off some passive aggressive weirdos who have personal issues they're taking out on you.

Edith: Do you split Thanksgiving and XMas/New Years stuff? (Wait, people don't spend NYE with in-laws or family, do they?)

Jane: I think we unofficially rotate? For now. In talking to our parents about this, once they had kids, and recalling from my memory, they had holidays at their house. Think about it: How does a holiday end up happening at one person's house rather than all the other candidates in the family? Well, time and deaths and marriages, that's how. Change! Change is how anything happens, right? I hope, as someone who loves to host, to become one of the houses people migrate to for the holidays in the future. For now, we're happy to bounce about.

Even our current plan is an evolution: For the first few years I was all about doing my own thing — I'd go off by myself and visit one of my best friends in Beirut for Thanksgiving, so that just left Christmas and we'd try to split a few days between his family out east and mine in the Midwest. If I had to recall where we were, exactly, on which exact days of the last few holidays, I couldn't tell you. But we do make the rounds in some sort of fair-ish way: Christmas eve dinner at someone's house, Christmas morning somewhere else, a few of the days in between Christmas and the New Year somewhere else entirely.

My dad used to do a big family thing for New Year's Eve too, which was a lot of fun for many years and took the pressure off being home for Christmas day, but now he has two toddlers which puts the pressure ON for us to be there to watch them open presents! Just kidding, it's not pressure, it's the funnest thing about the holidays. Those little girls have made it much easier to choose where I want be that morning. But again, if my dude really wanted me at his family's, I'd be there in a heartbeat.

Ah, and sorry to go on and on, but also also, my husband and I don't really have a problem being apart, so we often do things separately. This year, for example, I'm going to my home state a few days before the holidays and will figure out when I get there what days I'll be at my mom's and which at my dad's. He's flying in Christmas day after spending the eve and morning with his family, and that is just fine by me.

Oh, and one other thing: on years that we've not had plane ticket money, we stay home and everyone misses us, but life goes on!

Edith: Are there any funny stories of mistakes you made (that you can share)? Or victories?

Jane: This year when I moved my mom's Thanksgiving to this past weekend so that everyone could be there. My brother is having surgery the day before Thanksgiving and everyone was feeling super down about having to cancel the holiday, so we just did it a few days early. And you know what? It felt more like Thanksgiving than many in recent memory because everyone who wanted to be there could be since they didn't have to make a choice of where to be that day. It really made us wonder why we are so stubborn about holding holidays on their official dates.

Edith: How do you make it so that everyone likes you as much as possible? (Making sure that you don't feel bad about yourself in the process.)

Jane: My approach is twofold: 1. I don't worry about it. I mean, but I rarely worry about when people don't like me. Not everyone is going to like you! There are plenty of probably decent people who I don't like, you know? So I just remind myself that my husband likes me and hope, for his sake, that if his family doesn't like me that they at least like him enough to not make that his problem. And then 2. I just smile, try not to talk way too much, and stay super busy being helpful.

Edith: Was there a moment when it suddenly felt like the two of you had not just blended two things together but were truly creating something altogether new — a third thing, a new family?

Jane: Yep, last year when we hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. His mother came and it was actually my first time meeting her and it just felt very stress-free and reasonable, unlike flying all over the country twice a winter. It was bittersweet because we had such a lovely time, but his mom had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so we were extra-extra thanks-giving that we could spend the time together. Anyway, it was so low-key and peaceful that we're doing it again this year.

Edith: I love you, Jane!! Happy holidays. 

Jane: Happy holidays, Edith! I wish you could come over Thursday!

Edith: Me too, a lot.

Jane: I have a question, though: what kind of issues DO come up for people? Are parents actually not-understanding jerks to their grown kids in relationships? Do they feel like they have ownership over the holiday and everyone's time or something? We don't have holograms or clones, mom/dad/stepmom/grandpa/in laws! You know? Ugh, I'm getting mad at those people just imagining them. Sharing is caring. I guess that wasn't a question.

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212 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott

Are parents actually not-understanding jerks to their grown kids in relationships? Do they feel like they have ownership over the holiday and everyone's time or something?

Yes. And yes. And some parents are OK with being awful to you and being angry with you and making you feel incredibly guilty for wanting to build your own life/growing up and realizing you will not be able to spend every holiday with them for ever and always/having other people in your life who are not your parents.


@The Lady of Shalott for. real. My in-laws act like somehow no one else has any traditions and you CANNOT MISS any of theirs. Hi, I have a family, and they do stuff on Christmas too! Weird, huh? (Years of passive agressive silence)


@The Lady of Shalott Yep, just last year my mom screamed "That was my day!" like a toddler throwing a tantrum when she got shorted a day at Christmas! And then proceeded to act like my boyfriend and I had kicked her puppy during the time that we did spend with her. Happy holidays!

the roughest toughest frail

@katekatekateyeah mmmhm. My in-laws celebrate both Hanukkah AND Christmas, and therefore insist that we spend both holidays with them, despite the fact that my family only celebrates Christmas. I bet you can't tell how unbelievably irritating this is.


@The Lady of Shalott See also: you not enjoying holidays because it becomes too stressful and you get resentful that you have to spend your vacation time navigating family crazy.


@The Lady of Shalott You don't even need to get married to enjoy that! Just have your parents be acrimoniously divorced and jealous of every second you spend with the other person, so every. single. Christmas. Day. for the past ten years there comes a point midway through the day where your dad and his wife are passive-aggressively refusing to get to the present-opening stage while your mother is blowing up your phone asking when you're coming over.

every tomorrow@twitter

@The Lady of Shalott Yeah, the second Christmas I was with my boyfriend he invited me to come spend Christmas with him in his home country and then had to uninvite me because his mother wanted it to be just family. It took me like 2 more years to come to terms with that being his mother having issues, as opposed to his mother having issues WITH ME.

We did go the next year, and we've alternated years in the US and years with his family since then. I'm not sure if it's because his mom got over it or because he didn't give her a choice. My family is very "the more the merrier" and my mom is super bummed that none of my friends are coming to Thanksgiving this year, so the idea of having non-family present for a holiday somehow detracting from it is totally alien to me.


@sophia_h Haha right? Blergh. And my mom's birthday is on Christmas day. That, combined with post-divorce-emotional-instability induced tantrums and my siblings HATING my stepmom, made Christmas very stressful for a long time. For years and years I sort of pretended like my siblings and I were not going to leave and go do Christmas ALL OVER AGAIN. "Oh wow, presents and turkey! Amazing!" 12 hours later "Oh wow, I'm SO HUNGRY for turkey! Yummmm!!!" Gas and bloating ensued.

It's better now, except for the gas part. That's the same.


@The Lady of Shalott Agreed. My (soon to be) mother-in-law is a very awful person who abused and neglected my SO throughout his childhood and continues to do so (to a lesser extent) now that he's in his late-thirties. He still feels drawn to spend some small amount of time with her, especially around holidays, but the whole thing is pretty wretched. I've tried several approaches to coping with/managing the situation, but none of them have really "worked," since it appears that her primary objective is trying to make the two of us as miserable, subservient, and un-unified as possible. The tiny silver lining has been that I'm now extra-thankful for my annoying-yet-mostly-reasonable family of origin!


@RNL Luckily my dad is much more laid back than my mom (but he does have his moments - two Christmases ago I texted my sister's the Mrs. Doubtfire quote "we're his goddamned kids too" and they didn't realize it was from the movie and it caused a huuuge scene) anyway we do his Thanksgiving the Saturday after (I'm actually hosting this year because his house was pretty beat up by Hurricane Sandy) but we do some sort of red meat because at that point everyone wants to puke at the sight of Turkey.

Christmas is the worst though. My mom is supposed to get Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning, my dad is supposed to get Christmas Day. I don't stay at my mom's Eve night because I do my boyfriend's family (they do presents at midnight) then I head to my dad's first thing and we sit around alone for hours until my mother releases my sisters.

I completely, totally, engulfingly hate this time of year.


@BuffyBot It gets better! Or at least it did for me. People seem to have mellowed. Plus I now consider lots of drinking completely acceptable.



Two years ago my mom screamed that I "ruined Christmas" because my boyfriend and I left to visit his family...the DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. He missed Christmas day with his family to spend it with us, but no, I still managed to ruin a day that had already happened! I am the Doctor Who of holiday-ruining!


@The Lady of Shalott Wow, you just described my in-laws. Four years ago my husband (then bf) spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family because his parents kept changing their holiday plans and he got fed up. Three years ago his Dad had a temper tantrum, so husband spent both holidays with his family "to make up for last year". Last year we were married and had divided the holidays so that in-laws get Thanksgiving (they live 2 hours away it is much easier to travel there), and my family gets Christmas. The whining and bargaining were impressive. For some reason, despite his parents being completely non-religious, Christmas suddenly because a very important holiday. Yeah there are definitely non-understanding jerk parents.

Better to Eat You With

@The Lady of Shalott One year when I came back to my hometown for *two weeks* at Christmas, my mom started a shouting match with my best friend because I was going shopping for one of those fourteen days without her. My then boyfriend/now husband was at his family's in a nearby town, but we'd driven 1,500 miles to get there. We left four or five days early, when I couldn't take my family any longer.

superfluous consonants

@abetterfate mr.SC's family also celebrates both, while my family only celebrates hanukkah. my stepmother has STILL taken to pushing for us to spend christmas with my family, because...we can't break up the sacred tradition of chinese food and a movie?


@The Lady of Shalott This whole thread made me feel so much better. I know people with good, nice families where the adults (parents) behave like adults find it hard to understand that some of us find managing our extended families stressful, and I get that the question came from a place of wanting to understand. But the message that Christmas Is For Family and the reminder that some people have lovely families is one of the hard things this time of year for me!

Personally I am excited for a change this year because I have my boyfriend's family to take into account. (in my family, I have suffered in the past because single people are, of course, at the beck and call of relatives, to paraphrase Bridget Jones.) I am contemplating telling my parents that we can have Christmas breakfast or dinner with them but not lunch as per tradition, because my boyfriend's family has to have a lunchtime do because of people coming from different places. I can't wait!!!


"I completely, totally, engulfingly hate this time of year."


@gravie Thus far we've managed to keep it pretty easy -- thankfully, both our parents are pretty laid-back and are cool with us skipping out on things or missing part of days. We like to be at both, though, so what we've ended up doing is alternating dinner and dessert. This year, we're eating dinner with my family, and then driving the 10 minutes to have dessert/after-drinks with his family. We'll likely flip-flop who gets dinner and dessert next year to make it up.

Thankfully, Christmas isn't as bad -- my family celebrates on Christmas Eve, as we're Finnish and that's how we do, and then his family gets Christmas Day. So that worked out pretty nicely.


@sevanetta I am feeling bad about the fact that I was mildly annoyed with my aunt. The Aunt Who Secretly Except Not So Secretly Judges My Mom Because Her House Is Smaller And Less Tidy ie Not Obsessively Cleaned and Disinfected Who Has Been Using Northern Midwest Passive Aggressiveness Combined With Fear Of What The Neighbors Think To Try And Manipulate Her Way Into Hosting Every Holiday And This Year Is Invading Christmas Eve And Also Wants To Host Christmas Day.

I just...

Thank god my mom just said "our kids are only home for a little while. Why don't you host the Eve, and then we'll pass on the day so they can all go see their in-laws or friends or whatever." In the nicest, kindest way.

All I had to do was say "whatever you want, Ma, I will do."

It does bug me that my aunt manages to imply my mother is a filthmongering slattern without saying a word, because really. The lady works 60 hour weeks and her house is fine.

Yikes. Guess that bugs me more than I realized?


Doing this in 2 days! Ah!

The only issue that's going to arise is the sleeping situation. Embabe told me that they have a bed set up for us, which is cool and fine and progressive of them, but had also previously told me that the last time I was up there, they were uncomfortable with the fact that we shared a bed (but we sort of had to due to space issues). So did they magically change their minds in the past few months? Are they begrudgingly doing it? Will they begrudge me?? And I am not usually the type to stress over these things!


@Emby Just try to keep the sex noises down so they can pretend you aren't doin' it (to their sweet innocent baby).


@iceberg She's coming out to visit my family at the end of December, and that will be a whole other can of worms. My parents are just slightly more conservative and I think would prefer we slept in different beds. And although they're perfectly, perfectly nice people, they live in a very WASPY suburban bubble and are confused about how to accommodate Embabe, who is Jewish, into our more traditionally Christmas traditions. And bless them, they really are trying, but I just know they're going to do/say something borderline offensive in an attempt to more actively involve her in the holidays and ugh. Ahhhhhh.

dj pomegranate

@Emby The first time mr pomegranate and I visited my parents (post-cohabiting, pre-engagement, post-parent freak out about us moving in together) we slept in separate "beds" in the living room, by which I mean, separate sleeping bags on separate couches. It was...super awkward. The next time we visited, my parents had magically changed their minds and we were allotted one two-person sleeping bag! This year we get an actual guest room!

[ETA: sleeping bags were not because my parents didn't want to give us beds, but because they were remodeling their whole second story. So, it was like sleeping bags for all guests for like a year.]

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Emby My folks are ridiculously traditionalists when it comes to this sort of thing, too. They made my sisters sleep apart from their respective boyfriends until they said their wedding vows. Luckily for me, my parents figured my ladyfriend couldn't knock me up and we really don't fit tradition anyway, so we've been allowed to sleep together, always. Ha! Take that, heternomativity! One for the Rainbow Team!


@Emby " And bless them, they really are trying, but I just know they're going to do/say something borderline offensive in an attempt to more actively involve her in the holidays and ugh. Ahhhhhh."
Ugh, I know this feeling - my family actively tries to be 'accepting of other cultures', which is its own brand of condescending, and say awkward things to my boyfriend (who is latino and was raised Catholic, whereas my family is white and Protestant) in an attempt to be curious and accepting. My dad is pretty ignorant and even asked him if his family celebrated Easter(!!! raised Catholic, what do you think?!) or Thanksgiving - uuuughghgh. yuck.


@highfivesforall My mom totally pulled this with my sister's first husband - he was Mexican and every time he came over for dinner she INSISTED on making fajitas or tacos and guacamole.


@Emby "So, mom and dad. Will Em-Babe and I be sharing a guest room when we visit for Christmas? Or should we book a hotel room and come on over after breakfast on Christmas morning?"

Fastest solution to the issue, frequently resulting in exactly the outcome you want- place to stay at theirs, in a double bed. Done!

Oh! And if you can't afford [days and days] at a hotel, then:

"Mom and dad. Will we be staying together in a guest room? Or shoul we book a hotel for [X-fewer-night-than-usual]? We can manage that in our budget if we hotwire."


Orrrrr you can just marry someone who doesn't celebrate anything except birthdays so he just comes to your family's Christmas etc. if he feels like it, and then move overseas with him so you never go to anyone's house for anything ever again.

fruiting body

@iceberg I have recently adopted the "move overseas with husband so you never have to attend family gatherings ever again" and it's great except everyone keeps asking if they can stay with us, which cramps my style...


@iceberg This is what my parents did. Moved across the country for my dad's grad school, which also meant lack of money. All factors that contributed to a reasonable "Nope, can't fly to California to see either family" situation.


@iceberg You can also marry someone who's moved here from overseas and so you only visit your own family! That has worked out for me, especially the handful of times his family bought us plane tickets to visit them in Europe. ;)


@iceberg This also works with moving to a different coast as all of your family. Due to various circumstances, this is our first Christmas not going home or seeing any family. Still no telling whether this will ultimately be freeing or incredibly depressing.


@fruiting body
I seem to have done the nightmare reverse version of this, which is marry somebody who has moved here from a country where the holiday doesn't exist and therefore has zero interest in Thanksgiving at all; plus my parents died a few years ago, so it is not possible to do what would actually make me happy and spend the time with them. Every year, my interest in Thanksgiving-celebrating drops by a huge percentage point. I'm less interested in traveling a long distance to celebrate with friends as I have in the past, and very tired of being anyone's holiday orphan. It's fun to stay at home with my husband and ignore the Thanksgiving build-up, but then it also starts to feel antisocial somehow? And it's uncomfortable when people ask what I'll be doing? The strange powers of social pressure...

fruiting body

@harebell Yeah, I am totally ignoring Thanksgiving this year. It hasn't been a family holiday for me in a long time (I've never found it worthwhile to fly somewhere for a 4-day weekend - personal preference) but I've always made it about friends-as-extended-family. But now I'm in a country where no one else celebrates Thanksgiving AND I don't even have friends around! I guess the husband and I will just skip right to having a drink :)


@fruiting body
okay, I'm actually very happy to have company in ignoring Thanksgiving. It's a relief of sorts. We will probably break out a nice wine or some Scotch that night, and I'll be thinking of you at the first clink - in a far away, distant time zone, also not celebrating Thanksgiving!


@harebell The past 4 years my husband and I decided to make Thanksgiving the time that we take a vacation- just the 2 of us. It works out because we can take extra days off of work. People understand and it is a big relief to not have to scurry around for dinner. This year we are renting a cabin out in the boonies and taking our baby and dog and 1000 DVDs.


That sounds amazing! & thanks for letting me know about another alternative-to-Thanksgiving plan.

We might do something like that for Christmas -- we might just go fly to Mexico or Guatemala. And as for Thanksgiving, maybe I will try to think of it more as a little hibernation-staycation-vacation.


@sophia_h Yep, pretty much all of my holiday problems are solved by having non-American in-laws who live a 14-hr plane ride away!

every tomorrow@twitter

@sophia_h I'm dating someone from a different continent and it just means that every other year we spend a million billion hours on airplanes to visit them for Christmas. Not that I'm complaining, I've gotten to spend a shitload of time in Ireland I'd never have gotten to in any other circumstance. Well, I guess I am complaining a little about the airplanes, they sort of blow.

That said, it does make Thanksgiving a huge non-problem.


@harebell we don't really celebrate t'giving or christmas because we're not american or christian, but I grew up with christmas & my husband didn't. I definitely miss my family more but at least I can get them on the phone :( I don't regret not having to put in work to organize for a special day though!


@harebell I don't celebrate (Canadian) thanksgiving either, I mostly ignore it. If I was going to celebrate it I would have to fly 2 provinces away to be with my family and I just can't swing that for 1 day and that doesn't mean I love them any less, y'know?. I feel like I "should" observe it, but really, what thanksgiving means to me is stat holiday pay plus overtime, and a quiet day at work because everyone thinks we're closed that weekend.


Ugh, I just kind of realized that I am from that family that is not great about sharing. They were kind of unwitting pains when my brothers got married (saying things like, why don't your new in-laws just come here for thanksgiving, and then complaining when they did). I think that has worn off a little, but I have to be sure i am not participating in it with my fiance.


Yugh, this is the one thing I worry about with my boyfriend and his super-close family if things ever do get Actually Really Serious. My family is from another state a flight away and I ain't giving up one holiday a year home and he better be fucking coming with me (you know, in event of engagement or marriage, I'm not going to force a boyfriend to come home). But I don't know how to bring that up without being too aggressive. Argh.


@terrific Argh indeed. I've been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half and we moved in together this summer, so this is the first holiday season things are kind of Actually Really Serious and we thought it would be nice to spend at least part of the holidays together. His family lives really close to us, while my family is on the other side of the country. This year, I'm spending Thanksgiving with his family, and he's coming out to see my family for few days after Christmas (he didn't have the patience to deal with his mom's potential wrath for not spending Actual Christmas with them).

I think it just ends up sucking more for the person who lives further away from their family, because it's hard to win the argument of whose family to see when one choice is so much more convenient. BUT in my situation, we see his family throughout the year fairly often because they are so nearby, and since he's only met my parents once and they're DYING to get to know him better, it didn't take much convincing.


@terrific i drag my boyfriend on plane rides, for sure. his parents/brother live between 1-2 hours on a train, all of my family lives at least 3 hours on an airplane - so we see his family more often, but spend more time per trip with mine. this year for the holidays, we are spending christmas day with his parents and then a few days between christmas and new years with my family, but just because that was how it worked out for everyone.


@AlwaysHaveToGo your situation is basically the same as mine, but we're in Canada and don't do the big Thanksgiving thing this time of year. we essentially decided to do it this way because travelling after christmas has to be better than travelling during christmas.


"Ideally, your partner will be willing to stand up to the jerks on your behalf and temporarily piss off some passive aggressive weirdos who have personal issues they're taking out on you." + "1. I don't worry about it. I mean, but I rarely worry about when people don't like me. Not everyone is going to like you!"= why this is the best story I've read on how to effectively split holidays with a partner.


Oof, I'm stressing about this year because I used to try really hard to spend exactly equal time with my dad and my mom when I'd come home for Christmas, but due to stepmom issues, we're going to my dad's for two days and then my mom's for five. I feel bad, because I like my dad and he's essentially a sweet guy, but he basically lets her be in charge of the emotional side of family stuff, and she and I just don't mesh. I've tried for ten years, and either it's not my fault or it is but I can't fix it, so I gave up this year and am trying to give myself permission to just do exactly what works and enjoy it. I am having...intermittent success.


@SarcasticFringehead Good luck. Try to schedule a dad/daughter (or son) time in February or something. If she complains, too bad. My parents are married and I have had to do stuff like this, but it has worked out!


@ohnoohno Thanks! One good(?) thing about both my dad and stepmom being totally passive-aggressive is that if I do piss them off, I won't hear about it, so it won't ruin the holiday.

But really - I am excited to go out and see them, and of course to see my mom. It could be a lot worse!


My family is pretty easy -- my parents are divorced and their families all live at least a 6-hour flight away, so there are no expectations that I'll come every year. My husband's family does expect to see us, but luckily they live 2 hours away and we can see them more often. We did spend our first married Christmas at home by ourselves last year, and though this wasn't our intent, people tell us this was a smart precedent to set.

I have a question, though! I think my husband's grandmother thinks I changed my last name to his (her) last name. I've never given any impression of this, and I've signed my own name in correspondence with her since the wedding, but she recently gave me a birthday card and check with my first name and his last name. Now I'm afraid she's going to find out and consider it a slight to her family and I will lose all of her good will. What if it comes up at Thanksgiving? What do I say? I can't be like, "oh, I just think that's an outdated patriarchal tradition," obviously. Right?


@anorktopus Certain people on both sides of our family have that impression about me too. Just keep ignoring it, that's worked for me for the last eight years.


@anorktopus Do you have to tell her? I mean, if your bank refuses to cash the check (my bank doesn't care, but even if yours does it should be fine if you bring a copy of your marriage license), that's one thing. Or if you really hate that she calls you/thinks of you with that last name. I didn't change my name but I don't mind being called by my husband's last name, so I never correct people.

But if you really mind, saying "Actually, I kept my own last name" the next time it comes up is fine. (Anyone who pushes further gets [part of] the truth: I say that I am very close to my family and felt that changing my name would lose part of my connection to my heritage.) (Also patriarchy/identity issues, but that is a much bigger conversation than I'm willing to have most of the time.)


I am pretty sure she read your previous correspondence and noticed you weren't signing the family name. So the possibilities in return are a) maaaaybe obliviousness; b) passive-aggressive correcting you & your antifeminist ways; or c) she doesn't quite know what to do, being from another generation, but wants to welcome you and make you feel you belong and is upset by the idea of writing your maiden name on the card.
All signs most likely point to c! And you win if you assume it's c, anyway, because it lets you take the high road. I bet all will go smoothly if you just thank her for the birthday card, and if the matter comes up at Thanksgiving (not likely), you just thank her and say, that's right, I haven't taken my husband's last name, but I did know exactly who the card was for and thank you very much -- all very matter of fact.

My maternal grandmother once sent 8-yr-old me a birthday check with the wrong last name on it -- my mom's maiden name, not my actual last name which is shared by my entire nuclear entire family. The bank cashed it, so no problems there. And yes, it made me incredibly angry, but it was apparently total obliviousness, said my mother, so that is not a force to be underestimated in human nature.


@anorktopus Spending Christmas by yourselves as a couple can be a VERY smart precedent to set. While we were dating/engaged, we tried to accommodate everybody and failed utterly. After we got married, we made it clear that holidays (specifically T-giving day, Christmas day) would be spent at home, alone, just with each other. The funny thing is that, since then, we've occasionally departed from that and have spent a Christmas day or a Thanksgiving with our families. But it's been so much better. It's now a pleasant development rather than an expectation.


That sounds really nice. Do you celebrate the holidays in a traditional way when it's just the two of you, e.g. cooking a turkey and all that, or are you more low-key?

(I do something similar, and we're low-key, plus in a very mixed-cultural marriage, but it's begun to feel weirdly like we are ignoring all the major holidays that other people celebrate, and I'm starting to have mixed feelings).


@sophia_h @SarahP @harebell Thanks for the sound advice! I think I am happy to just ignore it as long as it doesn't come up -- it doesn't offend me, just makes me nervous that I will somehow be discovered and disowned (highly unlikely, but I like to imagine the worst). And I think I can make a good case that my last name is my connection to part of my family heritage that I want to retain without saying anything about patriarchy. That is very helpful.

@datalass I love that! Turning it into the happy exception rather than the rule must make negotiations much easier.


@harebell We vary it. Last year, we made things pretty traditional. This year, we just moved and we're exhausted and stressed, so I think we'll probably go out to eat and then just laze around.


@anorktopus So jealous of your being able to spend Christmas on your own. We've realized we're NEVER going to be able to do that except maybe if we move overseas.
On the last name thing, I managed to make a name for myself in my husband's family by, at the morning-after wedding brunch/housewarming thing, replying to his grandma's "How's Mrs. [Husband]?" with "I don't know, how are you?" Ahem. She is a judgmental, passive-aggressive piece of work who had referred to me as "[husband's] Jewish girlfriend" (my dad's Jewish) for the five years we dated. She then proceeded to address all our mail to Mr. & Mrs. [Husband] until he said something, and she replied "well, I didn't know what else to write." He said "how about the same thing you wrote before we were married?" Whee! I don't really care that much, but he is pretty adamant about not caving to her, since everyone else in the family does.


@anorktopus Aw hell yeah. I put my foot down on patriarchal naming schemes when my mum urged me to write "Mr. and Mrs. Dude's Full Name" on my graduation invitations and I refused pointblank, so the grandmothers are aware something is up.

Better to Eat You With

@anorktopus My husband's entire extended family knows that I did not change my name, but insist on addressing every single piece of mail to [his first name] and [my first name][his last name]. I hand the mail over and tell him, "This is for you and your other wife."

RK Fire

@harebell: Hahaha, I just remembered my last Christmas where it ended up my in-laws decided to celebrate the holidays out of town contrary to all expectations, and I had just visited my own family the week before. My husband and I just invited whatever friends who wanted to escape their family and ended up watching Downfall because we wanted to see the original context of the "Hitler getting pissed off at X" memes. So in short: it was a very unusual Christmas.

Also, I too kept my last name, and while I usually let shit go if people address things to me as "Mrs. RK Fire-MarriedName," I will say something if someone introduces me that way. Except for the dry cleaners, because on occasion they will refer to my husband as "Mr. Fire" and that cracks me up since I have a very Asian ethnic last name and he is clearly not Asian.

Heat Signature

So, my mother likes to plan holidays, etc. months in advance and I'm lucky if my mother-in-LAW plans things one week beforehand. This year she just decided that she was having Thanksgiving at her house, AFTER we'd already committed to my mother for that day. CUT TO scene of husband and I fighting, him calling Thanksgiving at his mother's a "transcendant event" (family healing and so forth), me finally acquiescing and offering my mother a roast beef dinner on Saturday as a consolation prize.


@Heat Signature Ugh, this. I feel you on this, deeply. Good luck <3


@Heat Signature Ugh! How is it such a "transcendant event" if his mom didn't even bother planning it in advance? I get not wanting to plan things ahead and being a procrastinator, I really do, but as a professional procrastinator myself, I try to make an effort when other people are involved, considering I'm the one who leaves everything for the last minute, not everyone else. Ugh, anyway, I hope you have a great roast with your mom on Saturday.


@Respondona "I shall transcend your already-set plans and impose my own."


@Heat Signature This is exactly what makes it so hard. When I first met my husband, my family was big into doing exactly the same thing every year with exactly the same food and exactly the same participants. Both my mother and grandmother were good cooks who spent a lot of time and effort preparing fairly elaborate meals. My MIL, on the other hand, was an indifferent cook who thought nothing of offering as a side dish a bowl of not entirely defrosted corn sans any kind of seasonings.

BUT on the other hand, my husband's family is big and more spread out. So missing the holiday at his parents' house could mean losing a rare opportunity to have everybody together. Whereas with my family the exact same people would be getting together on Christmas as got together on Thanksgiving as got together on the Fourth of July, and so on.

Heat Signature

@all This is my mother-in-law's (and indeed, that whole side of the family's) M.O., in that major events get left to the last minute. I'm just hoping that the house doesn't blow up (old electrical wiring) and we don't get food poisoning (MIL is a terrible cook).


Oh man, did I ever need this thread! My boyfriend and I are hosting Thanksgiving at our place and I just started to get kinda freaked out.

My BFs mom is coming, and I've only met her once. She was very sweet and I thought we got along great, but she's pretty sensitive and gets sort of worked up and nervous about things, and she doesn't like to travel. Over the past few weeks, she's flipflopped back and forth about coming and he's insisted, and now the compromise is probably going to be that she is bringing her cat and staying in our apartment while we go and stay at a hotel.

Of course, I learn about all her concerns second hand via my boyfriend, who conveys them in unhelpful summary bulletins like"My mom is acting crazy about her cat but I DON'T CARE, we are just going to do what we want and she can deal, and by the way we are going to stay at a hotel while she is here, it's fine, NBD." I appreciate what he is trying to do (shield me from getting sucked in to her obsessive worrying), but it just makes me worry more that somehow she is going to have a terrible time and I won't be able to fix it and she'll end up hating me.

Meantime, my parents are divorced and my Mom and her boyfriend are coming for the whole thing, but my dad and his girlfriend, for their own complicated impenetrable reasons, decided they were coming only for "appetizers," even though we weren't really going to make appetizers? So now I will be trying to cook and run parental interference and serving appetizers and introducing our mutual families for the first time, and tripping over a cat, and probably setting the kitchen on fire, and...yeah.

I'm not really sure why I agreed to do this.


@Kristen Oh god. Good luck to you hon. I wish I had more (any) helpful advicde.


@iceberg Thanks! I think I will muddle through somehow. :)


i strongly suggest leaving small video cams all over the house to record what could be some real comedy gold. this whole thing sounds like a comedic holiday movie in the making. maybe drop some xanax into people's drinks to really ratchet up the unpredictability?

(seriously though, that sounds pretty stressful... fingers crossed everything works out swimmingly!)


@Kristen "...but my dad and his girlfriend, for their own complicated impenetrable reasons, decided they were coming only for 'appetizers,' even though we weren't really going to make appetizers?"

Haha, I love when people just make shit up for adding to their own convenient timetable, even though it doesn't exist. But for real, all of this sounds stressful as hell & I wish you luck!


@fabel I'll be coming for the amuse bouche course only. I may stop back for the sherbet palate cleanser, not sure.


@Kristen Oh I have So So been here. Several times. Here's my (unsolicited) pro tips... 1. Buy yourself some pre-cooked trader joes-esq apps that can be popped into the microwave and then brought out. That, or baked bri, which you can pre prep and takes very little oven space/ looks fancy. 2. Give your guy big hugs and a drink. The fact that he's willing to face his mother's crazy/ knows it shouldn't be your job to deal with, that is a Very good sign. 3. Pre-prep a kitty isolation point. A spare room or large bathroom. If the kitty is too neurotic to be left alone for a few days (and kitties tend to take after their people that way) she will be Very stressed by the travel/strange people/new place. 4. Make sure you pre-distribute all cooking and clean up tasks. You deserve to have fun. 5. If all else fails, play what my family calls "the pop-pop game." every time someone says something truly awful, open another bottle of wine and pour a round. This really only works if you are a happy/oblivious drunk and don't start before noon ish. Good luck! You can win!


My boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend even though we still spend a lot of time together) comes over to my house.

However, his grandmother moved in with his mother about a year and half ago and I haven't been allowed over since. Not that I ever really was but it is a strong 'no' (as opposed to a pensive 'okay'... before).

So, that's weird and contributes to why he is my ex... because I don't think that's normal (at least in my world). So we get married and I still am not allowed over? I mean, a 2 1/2 year relationship is pretty serious in my mind.

Blergh. Holidays.


@Kitty Wait what do you mean you're not "allowed"?


@iceberg something about his Grandmother not being comfortable with me? And his mom not being comfortable with me there? It's very... odd. To say the least.


i would escalate that "odd" to "really effed up and probably a good reason he's your ex"
Raise a glass to his kooky family this year, and give thanks that you're on to better things?


@teenie girl yes.


My family's very close, so holidays apart are a little sad (when they happen), but they're easy about it. Except every now and then someone at the table says "Of course this will change when you have kids...?" and it's sort of ominously questioning, as if my husband and I should already have concrete plans for how holidays will be spent when we have kids, which is stressful in its own right.

My family is full of overly neurotic planners, I guess I'm saying (which should not be surprising to anyone who knows me/my comments).


@SarahP MLibrarian and I are doing the first round of holidays with our daughter right now. It is not fun, especially since she is the first grandchild on both sides of the family. While I wouldn't say you need to sit down and have a talk about it now, I would suggest that you and your man come up with a plan when/if you get pregnant and then be an unshakable, united front on the subject. Because even the most level-headed family members turn into lunatics when OMG WHY IS THE BABY HAVING HER THANKSGIVING AT THAT PLACE AND NOT THIS ONE EVEN THOUGH SHE'S NOT ON SOLIDS YET AND WILL BE NAPPING DURING THE MEAL.

We may have mysterious car trouble next year. And the year after that.


@MmeLibrarian Oh gosh, my brother-in-law and his wife are in this situation, first grandbaby and all. As he said, "well, we have managed to upset everyone, so we must be doing it right."


@MmeLibrarian Good thinking. Maybe my plan will be (years down the line): "I can't possibly travel as a first-time mom, you must all come to me."


Actually, separate thread for this, because I would find it super-useful:

Have any Jewish 'pinners spent the holidays with a significant other whose family does Christmas? How was it? Did they do anything to specifically accommodate your holiday traditions? Did they leave it up to you to do Hanukkah stuff? Would you have preferred it if they made some token efforts, or would that have been, I don't know, patronizing? My girlfriend isn't terribly observant, but at the same time I know my folks want her to feel welcome and I want a.) her to feel welcome, too, and b.) my parents to not stress so much about what they should and shouldn't do. I've asked her about it, and she says basically the only thing she wants to do is make a traditional Jewish dinner one night.

Lisa Frank

@Emby I think there's a huge range of opinions among Jews about how they observe Judaism/ feel about participating in Christian holidays. Some Jews are totally down with going to Church, singing Carols and eating ham; some aren't. Have you guys talked about any of that stuff? I think as long as she's treated like a welcome guest in their home, the religious stuff won't be so difficult to navigate.


@Emby I've stayed with friends (but not SOs) during Christmas and I've always been fine just doing Christmas things. Chanukah doesn't overlap with Christmas this year so I wouldn't do any Chanukah things, if it did overlap it would be nice to have a menorah or something but it isn't really necessary. As long as everyone goes in knowing what's expected of them (girlfriend knows Christmas traditions, parents know not to talk to girlfriend about Jesus) it should be ok.


@Emby Seconding @Lisa Frank; there are varying levels of commitment and observance, and there are a lot of people who identify as culturally Jewish but don't practice much at all. Also, Chanukah runs from the evening of the 8th to the 15th this year. I personally would find it weird to have my hosts doing stuff for that holiday a week and change later, but again, this is up to your girlfriend!


@VDRE Not that they can't talk about Jesus at all, it is his birthday, just try to avoid awkward religion conversations.


@anachronistique & everyone,

Thank you!!!


@Emby My husband is culturally Jewish and we only observe the holidays so we can make fun food. Nonetheless, it took me about three years to break my immediate family of making cringe-inducing references to his Jewishness at Christmas and Easter. So, uh, make sure they don't do that.


@Emby Cooking a traditional Jewish dinner one night sounds like it could be good Mom/girlfriend bonding!


@Emby I treat both Thanksgiving and Christmas as “his holidays” and basically leave up to him what we do and where we do it. Last year we went to his parents’ house for both holidays. This year, we skipped Thanksgiving (scheduling issues on his end) and his parents will be coming here for Christmas as his sister and her fiancé, who also live in this city, just bought a house and will be hosting for the first time.

I don’t feel that sharing in my partner’s traditions makes me any less Jewish so I have no issues doing the Christmas thing. But that’s in part because I genuinely like his family and am happy to celebrate with them, and in part because they are very respectful and accommodating of me. His mom says grace, but she talks about god, not Jesus. I’m vegetarian and there’s always a ton of food I can eat. Plus, my parents are moderately observant (i.e. they keep kosher at home, but will eat a vegetarian meal at a restaurant that also serves meat,) but my mom converted when she married my dad and we’d often do some sort of Christmas thing with her parents. Even as a kid it was very clear in my mind that Christmas was grandma and granddad’s holiday, not ours. We gave them Christmas presents and they gave us Hanukkah presents. It all made perfect sense to me, though I’m sure there was a ton of adult negotiation between my parents that I wasn’t aware of at the time.

tl;dr; I celebrate Christmas w/his family and it’s nbd, but that’s mostly because we all like and are respectful of each other.

superfluous consonants

@Emby how long are you going to be with family? hanukkah this year ends on December 16th, so couldn't the whole "recognize other people's traditions SUPER AWKWARDLY" just be avoided?

superfluous consonants

@superfluous consonants ps: i am a short-term thinker.

that one girl

@Emby the first christmas i spent with my husband's family involved a violin serenade of the driedel song performed by his 9 year old cousin. just for me, the token jew, in front of thirty family members i didn't really know yet. it was so incredibly sweet and well intentioned and horribly, horribly awkward.

that said, i'm just happy to be part of his lovely family and i love that they care enough to try to recognize my traditions. i also work every christmas (i'm a nurse), so i appreciate that they don't begrudge me that habit and let me stop by for a little while between shifts without making me feel bad.

fondue with cheddar

My family is mostly okay with things. My parents are divorced so they were already used to not seeing us for every holiday. But I always said that I can't date someone with divorced parents, because then there are just way too many families to try and visit. My dad places great value on family, so he has the hardest time with not seeing us for holidays, but he's gotten better about it over the years. My brother having his own family helped.

I never have to worry about my boyfriend making me spend more time with his family than mine because he likes my family better. ;) And his kids spend alternating holidays with their mom.


I'm flying out to the midwest to have Christmas with my fiance and his family. I'm really, really not looking forward to it. His parents are so kind and generous, but they both smoke in the house. The last time I spent Christmas there I would have to periodically lock myself away in the guest bedroom and breathe deeply in to my inhaler. All my clothes were stinky when I got home, too.

They also have the TV on 24 hours a day, and they don't allow alcohol in their home (family member is a recovering alcoholic). Two minor things in comparison, but it doesn't make it any better.


@yrouttasight I'm also heading to the midwest for Thanksgiving to a house full of smokers. I took the day after the trip off of work not to recover, but because I will have to wash everything, shampoo my hair at least twice and put the luggage out in the sun. I empathize. :/


@yrouttasight hm. smoking in the house is a pretty legit complaint - have you considered getting a cheapy hotel or airbnb rental for the time you're there?

oh! valencia

@yrouttasight ugh. Go for lots of walks?


@oh! valencia Yes, I did that last time too. It's too bad there is no where to walk to (not even a cool nature trail), and when you're walking down the road people stare at you from their cars because no one walks in that town. As a city-dweller, I find this disconcerting.


@teenie I wish. Luckliy, their house is massive and they don't mind if I sneak away to an unihabited corner for periods of time to get away from it.


@yrouttasight Oh man that sounds super hard. I second teenie's idea. Smoking in the house is kind of a lot to deal with. A hotel might not be your in-law's fav idea but you're not the first person to have this problem.

Good luck!


My bf and I live in the same city as my parents on the west coast, but his whole family is 12 hour flight away. It's actually super easy this way because my parents don't care about us going there every other Christmas since they see us all the time anyway. And small holidays are obviously not an option. We're going to try to visit them in off years during the summer, but this hasn't happened yet.

I am slightly worried about when we have kids though, traveling all that way is going to be hell. And $$$.


@annebee when my sister had kids - she lives a 8 hours drive from my parents and a flight from me - christmas got moved to her house, but we do it for a few days between christmas and new years. she's the least mobile, with two kids, and likes to host us all. maybe that is an option?


@karenb totally

lavender gooms

I will be spending at least part of Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's mom and stepdad. Which is the adult thing to do, and they live nearby so it makes sense to spend part of the day with my family and part with his.

But... oh my god, I don't want to have to leave my family celebration and go to his. I love Thanksgiving! I want to spend it with my family! I don't want to go somewhere where Fox News is blaring and racist sentiment is spewed! Being an adult sucks.


@lavender gooms I think it's ok for y'all to spend one day of the year with just your own fmailies, if it works better for you! You can spend other times with each others family that are more casual / have better early-escape options

Ten Thousand Buckets

@lavender gooms Arrange something with the boyfriend where he leaves you at your family's house and explains to his family that you were just so wrapped up in the big family Twister game you couldn't tear yourself away, as if it was a last minute change of plans.

Even adults are allowed to be a little selfish from time to time.


first married holiday season, yay! we've always split pretty reasonably - we would "divide and conquer" for Thanksgiving, then Christmas eve was a must at his mom's because of feast of the 7 fishes, and Christmas day we would spend with my family.

but this year, Mr. Teenie's mom... invited my (small, easygoing) family to her annual blow-out thanksgiving celebration, usually involving about 35 aunts, uncles, cousins, and greats. My family accepted? so now they get to see the completely lovely but somewhat insane intensity of Mr. Teenie's Italian family. YAY? YAY!


@teenie YAAAAY!


@teenie YAY!!!!!


@teenie oh man you and I are the same person! My husband's family does 13 fishes though- one for each of the apostles+Jesus. fiiiish. And, my parents love coming over to his family's get togethers sometimes, they don't do it other times. Does my mom probably have freakouts about this? Yes. Do I involve myself? No.


Seven fishes? Like a stir fry of seven different fish? I love fish! That'd almost be too good to be true--I should look it up...
"The Feast of the Seven Fishes .... is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes."


yes, and if you don't eat all the fishes - BAD LUCK FOR THE FOLLOWING YEAR! JESUS WILL SABOTAGE YOUR LIFE! or something.


Idc about the guilt trip I would devour that load.


@noodge FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES. The husband's family has this family friend that does that every year on Christmas Eve and we actually stop in my family's Christmas Eve stuff to go there, eat all the delicious seafood, and then come back and finish my family's Christmas Eve stuff, because you can't just not go to the feast of seven fishes.


@Scandyhoovian ahhhh, the little fried smelts that are just like delicious fish chips? I CAN'T WAIT!


It's my first Christmas with my boyfriend. We missed Canadian Thanksgiving because we were on holiday in Vegas (and his mom came too, which...whole other discussion).

His parents have been separated for about 6 years but only just finalized the divorce in May. In the 6 years, they still had joint holidays and vacations...it was weird.

Since it's the first 'official' holiday season, they've got it written into the divorce agreement that the kids spend Christmas Eve with their mom and Christmas Day with their dad, and they can't skip or move the dates (and alternate days every year).

So my problem is: how do I fit my own family's Christmas schedule in with this insanity of a legal document? Oh, and I'm moving in with him on December 7 as if this didn't make things complicated enough.

(Will probably do Christmas Eve split between my parent's house and his mom's later, then have Christmas morning alone at our house, and go over Christmas afternoon to do presents with my family. Ugh. ADULTING IS HARD.)


@antipretty Wait, is your boyfriend older than 18? Because then it's HIS choice how he splits his time on holidays, not his parents'.


@Gussie he's 25. I haven't read the divorce papers but the dividing of holidays is part of the settlement. Being that it's the first year it's in effect, I'm not going to push too hard on it.


Did he sign the settlement, too?
Because if he didn't, as an adult, I can't imagine that it's binding on him. You can't be bound by something that you weren't a party to and didn't agree to.
That said, I totally understand not wanting to mess with the arrangement and just follow it for the time being given the recently settled dust of the divorce. Am just asking because curious and fascinated by the legalities. (And by your boyfriend's parents apparent cavalier attitude towards "the children" who are not children anymore).


@antipretty Yeah agreeing that specifying where your adult children spend christmas is not something a divorce agreement should have any control over. Do what you want, and although I understand the temptation to just go with it since they just got divorced, its true what others have said about setting a precendent. My husbands parents are divorced and we used to try to spend equal days with them, which is nice and all, but not always feasible. Life is too short for that nonsense. We do what we want/what happens to work out/whoever invites us first. No one has any expectations so they are typically not disappointed.

all the bacon and eggs

@antipretty That...is not how contracts work. And if your bf's parents say otherwise, they are putting one over on your bf and you. I'm all for keeping the peace, but letting them get away with that kind of controlling BS might not be the best precedent to set.


@antipretty Ugh, I worry for zero reason 90% of the time.

Me: "so...what are we going to do for xmas this year, i mean w/ your parents arrangement/divorce stuff"
BF: "oh i wouldn't worry about it, dad's gonna have us over for Boxing Day and Mom wants to do Christmas dinner. we'll do Christmas Eve with your parents, go to Midnight Mass, then home to bed and I'll make eggs benny in the morning"


all the bacon and eggs

@antipretty Eggs benny! He sounds like a peach.


This is when I 'm glad of my forever single ("spinster" yells someone else helpfully) status. I'm an only child and I don't like the idea of leaving my mom alone for the holidays every other year, which sounds like the arrangement most people have. But I also don't like the idea of making someone else not spend the holidays with his family either. It would be hard for me to compromise what is now basically a once-a-year trip to my hometown and at the same time I wouldn't want anyone compromising on that for me either.


I live a thousand miles away from my nearest relative, and have done so for years and years, so for most of the last decade, my holidays have been willfully family free. I do a whole family visit once a year on a non-holiday, which is better for everyone concerned.

HOWEVER. Now I live near my gentleman's family - all of them - and there are divorces and weirdnesses, and if we went everyplace we were invited, it'd be four stops on one day. We're circumventing that by having a thing on our house on Saturday, (vegan/vegetarian so we can have food to eat which is a whole 'nother deal) and whoever wants to come, can.


My first husband worked in a hospital and never attained enough seniority to request any time off on the holidays, so we always hung at my mom's house for every holiday and went to his family a week before or after. Husband two is a teacher so he can go home for the holidays.

After 37 years of spending every holiday with my mother, I told her I was going to his family's for Thanksgiving. She didn't talk to me for six (!!) weeks. The year later was our year to go away for Christmas. That resulted in a four week period where she spoke maybe 10 words. On Christmas day I called her and she broke down in tears and hung up after 23 seconds. Now we're back to being away from Thanksgiving, and we're down to about an hour of weeping and a bunch of sad texts.

If I could do what I want for the holidays, at this point I'd go to some tropical island and hide away from everyone.

Better to Eat You With

@kimberussell Your mom sounds exactly like mine, and we've seriously considered moving to another country, in part to get away from family.


I'm spending this Christmas with my girlfriend's family for the first time - she just came out to them and her father is a big homophobic jerk (her mother is super into being "tolerant and accepting" and has issued the invite). Tips? Helpful suggestions?


@WWEKSD? oh man. i have no personal experience here, but good luck to you. patience, lots and lots of patience.


@WWEKSD? maintain as much of the moral high road as you can. also try to figure out an early escape plan if you need it, but don't leave your girlfriend behind if/when you do escape.


@WWEKSD? Ugh, so sorry you have to deal with that. No personal experience either, but my general tip for dealing with awful relatives is to actually rehearse how I'd respond to rude comments. Find out from your girlfriend the sort of things he'd be likely to say and work out how you'd shut that down, and have emergency subject changes pre-prepared.

You can still get blindsided, but it's helped me to spend less time gaping like a fish and then beating myself up later for not having the perfect comeback. All you can really do is stand up for yourself and her politely but firmly. And god, hopefully "tolerant and accepting" mother will have him on a short leash.


@WWEKSD? I also have evil in-laws who are openly critical of my partner and I, and it's terrible. I'm sorry you have to deal with it. When an in-law starts with the criticism, my response is always "I'm sorry you feel that way." It's not an apology for my behavior or my life choices or for who I am, but it's still gentle and civil. I also think it's so important to refuse to engage in an argument, no matter how much he baits you. Be polite. Remain calm. If he crosses the line, leave the situation, but wait until you're in the car and driving away to start screaming in rage.

If you can, I'd also recommend trying to find conversation topics that you know he'll find interesting. The last time I had to socialize with my mother-in-law, I mentioned having an interest genealogy. All night, I sat there and let her tell me all about finding family members and her recent trip to some kind of family history convention and everything like that. It wasn't the most fun way to spend an evening, but it was civil. If there's something that he feels passionate about (other than your girlfriend's sexual identity), let him talk to you about it. Hopefully it'll distract him from how upset he is.

I'm sending you positive thoughts. I hope he eventually realizes that his daughter is happy with who she is and that your relationship is a positive force in her life.


@WWEKSD? Thanks so much, you guys! These are great practical strategies - so far I'd just been worrying vaguely.

Off to plan come-backs, practise conversation openers and look up the bus timetable for the city we'll be in. . . :)


@RoyRodgersMcFreely that's what I say to my family! when they start in on the mega criticisms! 'I'm sorry you feel that way' and calm, calm, calm to the end. Do not argue - that is what they want and opposition confirms them in their belief that they are right. If you don't oppose, you leave them no one to argue with. I have also found 'Why do you feel that way?' and 'What makes you think that?' effective with certain accusations. People who try to create drama usually have difficulty telling you exactly what they are upset about.


But guys, what about presents? I'm doing both Christmases for the first time this year (one at my childhood home, then flying to my BF's childhood home the next day) and I have no idea who I should shop for outside of my usual list (my immediate family members and my BF). Should he give my family presents? Should I tell my mom to get him something? Do I have to get one for his sister and her husband? Do we give joint gifts? I don't expect to get anything from his family, but I would hate if they did get me something and I didn't have anything to give them. What do you all do?


@clarkie we decided to get the things for our respective families that we ordinarily would get, and joint-sign the cards. i don't have the funds for twice the presents, and wouldn't know what to get, anyway. i am pretty sure his family is going to get me something, and vice versa, though.


@clarkie I don't think you need to double-up on gifts. But -- If you're staying as a guest at your BF's parents house, a Christmas/hostess gift would charm and delight. It sounds like you live a distance away -- if that's the case: maybe something from your local winery/confectionery/maker of delicious things. That kind of thoughtfulness can cost less than $15.


@clarkie This is where I'm glad my boyfriend's large family (first Christmas for us!) has rules in place where they draw names from a hat on Thanksgiving and buy one nice gift for their chosen person. I'm not included which is just fine by me, since I have my own family to shop for. His family also has a funny $15 Yankee Swap tradition, which I will be joining! But I will be buying a Christmas/host present for his parents (a restaurant gift card or something?) and bringing cookies, because they're awesome people.


@EMarrinner I second the hostess-type gift. Just a simple sign of good intentions.


@clarkie I'm trying to figure this out, too. Last Christmas, we hadn't even been dating for a year, and I'd only met his parents a handful of times, but his mom got me a present and I didn't get her one and felt so bad. This year, I'm sure she will again, so I'm trying to figure out if I should just get one for her, or maybe one for both his parents? Probably not his brother and sister and nephews? And my family most definitely isn't expecting it, because they live a 5 hour flight away and he's not coming down for Christmas. So I'm thinking he shouldn't get one for them? But then is it weird if I exchange gifts with his mother but he doesn't with my family?


@MilesofMountains No!! Not weird at all. My boyfriend isn't going to see my family over the holidays, so although he said he'd get them something, I said, "Save your money!" I'll be at his parents' so I'm bringing something... not sure what, yet, besides cookies.

He will, however, help me pick something out for my dad, who really needs to get a hobby... whole 'nother story.


An ex of mine had the most hideous parents. Said ex had cheated on me with a friend of his family, parents were aware of this, but still invited the friend to all holiday & social functions at which I was not present, and would do lovely little things like leave photos of her lying around.


@Lemonnier grooooossssss. i'm glad that's your ex. ETA - haha I just rememebred the boyfriend whose dumping of me I bright-sided by realizing I never had to talk to his mum ever again!


My parents split when I was an adult, so in order to not choose (they're really cool about it, they actually don't even care if I choose one or the other, esp. now that my dad lives mad far away) I just started hosting thanksgivings on my own for just friends, and for Xmas I go to a friend's family party, which I love.

Hosting Thanksgiving is a hard one for me, because it's become, like, "My Thing".

I hate to say it, but in a 'real' relationship, which I have not been in for a thanksgiving since I started my tradition, I might be a little "Look - your peoples can come to my tiny apartment, but Thanksgiving is MY THING." I know it sounds horrible / uncompromising, but I'm cool with doing whatever like, every other holiday. I grew up in a huge family that fell apart mostly when matriarchs passed and completely when my parents finally split, so I used to have big dinners every sunday and holiday, and now there is none of that.

Thanksgiving has become my stake in the ground of "I have built my own life. My friends are my new family. I have traditions" - as a quit-Catholic, tradition and ritual are important to me. I host a turkey-day each year, and will do so in perpetuity, non-negotiably.


@leon s I think that stake in the ground of "I have built my own life" is important to do. Not just for boundary-setting, but for your own health and happiness. So good on you! I don't think it sounds horrible or uncompromising—the fact that it is only one holiday out of the year, I'd say it's a great compromise.

I went to my first friendsgiving this year (I'm Canadian) and realized it was the first time I'd celebrated a holiday in Toronto (where I live, where nearly all my friends live, where none of my relatives live), since moving there 7 years ago. Then I realized that not celebrating holidays autonomously, in my city, had been making me feel stuck in adolescence and like I hadn't fully embraced my life in my city, like I was clinging to the past.



This will be the second set of holidays with my BF. Sorry for the long explanation, but it's kind of relevant, I hope.

@fondue with cheddar, both BF and I have divorced parents, which actually is one of the reasons our relationship works. It's very symmetrical:

My mom
His mom & (special needs) older brother

My dad & stepmom (she has a son, his wife, and now their son, but we're not close)
His dad, stepmom, and two middle-school-age half-sibs

And my college-age sister :]

All are within about an hour's drive of where we live, which is cool but also makes things tricky. His family's got a pretty solid rhythm as far as which holidays "belong" to which family, while mine has pretty much split the DAYS because we live so close. Thanksgiving he'll be with his dad's fam, who live furthest away, and I'll do two-dinners-in-one-day with my sister like always.

CHRISTMAS IS THE PROBLEM. My BF's mom is Italian, do-the-feast-of-the-million-fishes Italian, and the whole day of Christmas Eve and midnight Mass (yep, we're almost all Catholic, which, like the divorce sitch, helps-hurts) are sacrosanct. Last year we did:

1. Christmas Eve day: me with my mom & sis, him at his mom's
2. Christmas Eve evening: me & him at his mom's and midnight Mass at their church
3. Drive to my own bed to sleep, even though his mom kindly offered to let me stay
4. Christmas morning: He pickes me up and we drive 45 minutes to 10:00 am Mass at my dad's/stepmom's/grandma's church, then "brunch" at (90-year-old) grandma & (95-year-old) grandad's with dad, stepmom, sister (NO ONE was going to do Christmas with the grand-rents, which is just wrong when you have 8 aunts and uncles and 12 cousins, most in driving distance...)
5. Plan was to swing by my mom's Christmas afternoon w/ the boy, but things had wound down by then, so we went home, BF went to Christmas Day at HIS aunt/uncle's
6. Ended the day exchanging presents at his house and being all lovely. THAT was nice. :]

This year, I have no idea what to do, only that last year didn't quite work and that I'd like to get my mom in the mix (she really likes BF) without slighting HIS mom. He mentioned last night the thought of "not going anywhere," which sounds lovely, but I'm not sure it'll work. We should be talking about it soon.

I'm really glad we've both got experience splitting things up with relatives. My hope is we've got it figured out by the time we get married (it's looking likely but we've got at least another winter before that happens).

Anyhow...I guess I'm posting to (1) Give hope to y'all four-different-parent-households folks (the cool thing is our hypothetical kids will have 6 grandparents!) and (2) ask for advice. Especially from peeps with Italian mothers or MIL or almost MIL.


So, this: "And then 2. I just smile, try not to talk way too much, and stay super busy being helpful."
Any suggestions on ways to stay super busy being helpful? (I swear this isn't from the Desk of Lady Mary -- hear me out): This year, I will have the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving AND Christmas with in-laws. During festivities, they make a big show out of shooing my fella and I out of the kitchen. While we both feel relegated to the kids' table during holidays, I am the one especially in need of good PR. What are some ways I can be helpful during holiday meals and get-togethers, despite not being allowed in the kitchen?


@EMarrinner Maybe you can help set/clear the table? Watch any actual children who may be there (take them outside to run around, watch cartoons with them, whatever). Be willing to be the person who runs out to the one store that's open for the thing that everyone forgot. Does "not allowed in the kitchen" extend to dish-washing? Because washing the dishes is one of the best ways to earn points. I would say basically, be on the lookout for little things, like taking out the trash or folding the napkins in a pretty way that show that you're attentive and willing to help.


@EMarrinner Offer to help with dishes after dinner. That will get huge brownie points.


@EMarrinner I would just try not to ask "what can I do?" I feel like when I am hosting I don't really think about what tasks I can delegate so I never know how to answer this. But if you something specific in progress that keeps getting abandoned, maybe ask if you can help with that like "Oh can I take those plates to the dining room for you?" etc.

Nicole Cliffe

If there are small kids, too, helping entertain them / keep them out of the kitchen is huge.


@EMarrinner Also, I totally second Jane's advice, but maybe don't stress too much if you get shooed out of the kitchen. Sometimes people don't like making their guests do work. It's generally polite to offer to help, but I think some people would honestly be fine with their guests making themselves cozy.


Thanks, everybody! I so appreciate the help with specific ways to assist. Like P-aBJ noted, "what can I do?" is an empty request. I will be on the look out for little things and push my luck with an offer of dish washing. Also -- I thought of a party job all on my own: booze patrol! Keeping those glasses topped off. What's Christmas without kids: there will be little ones in the midst -- and I will herd them. I will do it! (And if everyone tells me to sit down and drink some more wine, I'll do that instead).


@EMarrinner My boyfriend and I spent Thanksgiving wrangling the kids, and then I did the dishes afterwards. Also setting the table is helpful.

Tuna Surprise


I just went to a Sunday dinner at a friend's house with three small ish kids (3, 6 and 8) and scored mega brownie points by bringing games for the kids to play. Ask around or look on Amazon for suggestions to entertain kids/adults. People love the guest that brings the fun!


@MilesofMountains You are my inspiration! Here goes!


For better or worse, I really like holidays. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a super-grinch who doesn't really like celebrating unless forced to. I think he gets seasonal depression around this time of year, so holidays just seem dull and like too much trouble.

Last year I let him bring down my cozy holiday happy vibes with his sad grinchiness and skimped on the things I like (nicely wrapped presents under a cute little tree, luxurious Christmas morning breakfast, obscene amounts of Chocolate, etc etc) - instead we just visited our families together which was nice, but I wanted to do something at our little apartment too.

So, this year I am totally going to make a lovely, cozy, warm, & loving little Christmas for the two of us and our dog in our very own apartment, and I think he'll (hopefully) like it and not roll his eyes too much at my enthusiasm. I don't want it to be cheesy or anything - no weird decorations or gaudiness - just something sweet & happy. I'm excited about it!

Does anyone else have a holiday-hating partner/family?


@rimy My husband is Christmas incarnate compared to me. I'm not quite at Grinch levels, but I don't believe in having decorations or a tree if we aren't going to home to enjoy them on Christmas Day. Plus, we don't have the room to store stuff. You'd think I'd kicked his puppy the first year we lived together and vetoed the tree.


@rimy Yes, my boyfriend is kind of like this. I love holidays (LOVE them) and he doesn't hate them, but he definitely doesn't get childishly excited the way I do. I find it's best to continue to celebrate the way I want to, but not to take it personally if his response isn't enthusiastic.


@Mae "childishly excited" = me too!

I don't know if anyone has watched Peep Show (so good!), but I loved this Christmas episode so much - I am not really religious, but definitely a Christmasist.


@rimy Sorry I meant this episode!


@rimy gah! html fail. it's just www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wNUkFooFiU


@rimy That is so great! I'm a Christmasist too and hate trying to tone it down.


@rimy Oh yes! "They're eating salad niçoise. Salad niçoise".


@rimy Yes! My BF HATES the whole Xmas thing, and I still haven't figured out what to do. The issue is that December 25th is also his birthday, and he never gets to spend it the way he wants (quietly at home with a utter lack of fuss). He's repeatedly expressed his preferences to his (split-up) parents, but both his mom and stepmom are fuss-loving Christmasists of the highest order and WANT EVERYONE THERE TO CELEBRATE. Negotiating the dynamics of his two families, to say nothing of my own, is predictably complicated and stress-inducing, but the knowledge that my sweetie is miserable the whole time makes it basically impossible for me to enjoy this time of year. Your "lovely, cozy, warm, & loving little Christmas for the two of us" sounds utterly lovely to me, but I fear he'd hate even that much, and I'd be just as bad as his moms for not respecting his wishes on what is, after all, his day. He's certainly more important to me than the holiday, but can't I just have some mulled wine and Handel and the smell of fir without feeling disloyal?


@rimy I am wondering how to negotiate this issue this year and in future years. I am not exactly a Christmasist but since I have had awful Christmases previously where others were horrid to me, I have reclaimed the holiday by doing the things :I: like, which are: decorating my house (even though I'm not in it on the day), making special foods, going to Christmas carol evenings, and giving gifts to friends and spending time with them as well as my family. This is my first Christmas with my boyfriend and he doesn't decorate his house and I doubt he will want to join me in going to Christmas carol evenings etc. Years of being single and therefore doing things on my own or with friends or my friends' families means I don't mind if Christmas carols aren't his thing, and I figure my house is my house so I can decorate it if I want to. Whenever we live together might be a different issue, but I would hope that he won't mind my wanting a tree and some tinsel around the house.

Basically, live and let live. I think it's mean to ruin someone else's Christmas fun by sniping about how much you hate meaningless commercialism etc (of course there is commercialism - this does not stop me enjoying the bits I like). If you can gracefully turn down my invitation to have a picnic and sing Christmas carols (I'm Australian) then I can gracefully accept you would rather not be part of it.

This is my new username

@Nonny I think it sounds like your boyfriend is maybe being a little bit too selfish. I get that it would be frustrating to have your birthday on Christmas, but lots of people don't get to spend their birthday doing exactly whatever they want. Lots of people end up having to work and go about their daily lives and all kinds of things on their birthday. He could pick a day somewhere nearish to his birthday to do what he wants to celebrate (or not celebrate or whatever), and not be miserable because other people aren't bending to his will on that specific date. Sure it is his birthday, but that doesn't mean that he owns that day and it's not a special day to other people for other reasons.


I stopped going home for Thanksgiving in college because it was too far to travel for such a short time. So, spending those with my husband's family is no problem. Plus, for a couple years, my family joined came too, so it was fun and happy.

Christmas is a whole other ballgame. My husband's family is very serious about Christmas traditions. Their festivities started on December 23 with Festivus with a family that were total downers and no fun to spend the actual holiday with. Christmas eve was a part with two other families that involved gift giving for the parents and Yankee swap for the kids. Christmas day was hours going around in a circle and each person opening 1 present at a time.

My family's Christmas is much more laid back (open presents, feast on pancakes, hang out till it's time for dinner at Grandma's), so my first Christmas at my husband's was eye opening to say the least. Christmas day I thought I would die of starvation and coffee jitters because we didn't eat till almost 2 pm after opening presents all morning.

He and his mom took it really hard a couple years ago when it became clear that it was time for the traditions to change due to new babies and people moving away.

Ten Thousand Buckets

@lobsterhug "Christmas day was hours going around in a circle and each person opening 1 present at a time."

My in-laws do this, except they're Scandinavian and do presents on Christmas eve. At night. After all the dinner and church and running around... Also the MIL over shops, so we've literally been up until 2 am unwrapping. The worst part is because there are so many fucking presents, we don't have any time to chat.

In my family we go light on the presents, so we have maybe 4-6 gifts each. We still open them one at a time, but there are always stories about "I bought you this because..." or "Thanks, I really like this present because..." When I tried to do that my first year at the in-laws, I was basically given the stink eye and told to shut up so the next person could open their gift.


@Ten Thousand Buckets Ugh, that is a marathon. My husband's mom also go overboard with gifts, which is not what my family does. It's hard because I don't want to seem ungrateful but at the same time, I need to eat breakfast or I turn into a rage monster.


@lobsterhug I am the biggest fan of not insisting that every Christmas must have the same activities, with the same people (that you are related to - no non-family), at the same times. Let go of most of your traditions, everyone! The way that traditions start is that everyone remembers when they did something a particular way and it was fun. So you try to replicate the fun by doing the same thing. But eventually it doesn't work because people grow, change, move away, pass away... and what made you happy now makes you sad. So include someone different! Have Christmas brunch instead of dinner! the possibilities are endless :) (now if only we could all convince our families of this)


In the 8 years since I moved out of my parents' house, I think I've been home for Thanksgiving 3 times. (twice during grad school, and once when my high school reunion was the same weekend). For a good chunk of my adult life I've had jobs that required me to work on the day before and after Thanksgiving (and I've even worked ON Thanksgiving), and it was better to save up the leave for Christmas. So they are sort of used to the idea that I will not be home for Thanksgiving.
When I was a kid, we would go see my Dad's family in the south (I grew up in upstate NY) I think every other year or so. We did Christmas at home most of the time, and when my Mom's parents were alive, we did something at their house a couple of days later with her family (they lived close enough that I used to spend weekends there if my parents were traveling). It worked out nicely. For the past few years, we were going to Dad's family almost every year, in part because his mother isn't getting any younger and is basically waiting for death (which is really morbid, I know, but she's ready to go). But his sister is a terrible hostess and we basically spend Christmas morning watching my cousin's daughter get spoiled and eating off our laps in the living room b/c there's no dining room. I think the last straw was when we ended up going to Waffle House for Christmas dinner (though we went back to the sister again the next year). My father always makes a rather nice dinner and we set the dining room table and all that, so my parents finally put their feet down, and now I get to go home. It helps that I also have a job that allows me to a) take that much time off and b) work from home, so I get to spend a whole week with my parents.

In a perfect world, I'd have a house where I could host them for Christmas, because I live in DC and they live in upstate NY, and while I love them, everytime I visit them I feel like I've gone back in time at least 10 years (the hair and clothes alone!) and start itching to get back to civilization.

For now, I'm spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend, my metamour and our whole extended poly family, which I am super excited about, and then going home for Xmas. IF/When he and I move in together, I expect I will spend at least one Christmas with his family, which should be interesting (we went there for Thanksgiving last year, when we'd been dating less than 6 months and I was introduced as a "friend" b/c his parents know his other girlfriend but not that he's poly, and it was this whole extended family and anyone who didn't have anywhere else to go, held in the church basement, and someone tried to hug me less than 5 minutes after I arrived which I had not been properly prepared for).


My mom's side of the family is very close, so as all of us cousins have married/paired off and needed to spend holidays with other families, we've started alternating Thanksgiving and Christmas. There's still a get together on both days but each year there is one designated holiday where if you can only come to one you should try to get there. It doesn't always work but it gives those of us who are further a way a good chance of seeing everyone at least once a year. My boyfriend's family doesn't really do Thanksgiving together, but on the years where it's Christmas with my family we just plan a non-Thanksgiving trip to see his folks and stay at home for Turkey Day.

Also, this year is a Thanksgiving year and both my brothers will be there (for the first time in two years) AND my cousin 's new babies -- we leave for the airport in half an hour and I am SO EXCITED.

Summer Somewhere

I think it might be sweet to have two families fighting over my partner and me. We've been together for five years and I'm not allowed to her family's house. I don't like navigating the various divisions in my family during holidays but have long ceased sacrificing my happiness to please them. Thanksgiving tends to be my favorite because I usually spend it with friends, potluck-style, and I love to cook for people who appreciate my vegetarian stylings.


@Summer Somewhere How do you navigate the not being "allowed"? I was also not allowed (see above thread) and it was too much for me to handle. Sometimes I think I was a baby about the situation and should have just "sucked" it up.

Summer Somewhere

@Kitty It sucks but there's nothing at all that I can do about it. It's between my partner and her mom - who is the only family member that knows about me and is determined to keep me a secret. Fortunately we don't have to compete for holidays because they don't celebrate on the same days, and my partner really likes going with me to see my family/friends around Christmas. We have been talking marriage-things recently, and that's what worries me, because I don't want to be a secret to her family if we're married. If they don't like me, fine, but if something happens to her I don't want to be a surprise wife.


@Summer Somewhere
Is there a reason that your partner hasn't gone past her mother to introduce you to the rest of the family? I don't mean to butt in when I don't know the full situation, and of course the holidays are maybe not the best time to rock the boat. To me, it just seems that your partner, not her mother, has control over whether or not you are a secret and could (respectfully) let her mother know that this has gone on long enough, and then start introducing you around person by person.

Please forgive me if I'm reading it wrong! I know everyone's situation can be very complicated for various reasons. Just my uninformed outsider thoughts. Best wishes for a fun friendsgiving!

Summer Somewhere

@toastercat It is complicated, largely by the fact that her parents immigrated here from a country where a whole family can be shamed by one queer member. Coming out to her family could have consequences on their relationships with other people in the community (or that's what her mother seems to fear anyway). I don't understand it, but pressuring my ladyfriend only makes her clam up more, so I try to stay out of it. I can tell you that when she mentioned to her parents that she was thinking of buzzing her head, they freaked out. They called her back from my house at midnight (she was 21 at the time) and asked her, "Are you pregnant? Are you on drugs?" Yeeeeah.


@Summer Somewhere Ooh, that is a tricky situation. I see where you are coming from completely--sorry if I was forward, I shouldn't have pried. Just interested, as I have been a secret SO before in a different type of situation where I really should have stood up for myself earlier and made a point of being recognized since my (clearly now ex-)partner just genuinely didn't want to introduce me, to family or even to many friends, because I was temporary in ex's eyes. Not a fun feeling, and I'm glad that your relationship is strong and that you have other great ways to spend holidays without having to deal with the rest of it! All the best to you both. And happy (almost) Thanksgiving, hope it's a nice one!


My parents split before I was 5 years old and to this day (I'm over 30) are insanely jealous of any time spent with the other one. My husband's family lives on the other side of the planet, so it wasn't hard to convince him that my decades old plan of GET OUT OF TOWN NOW for holidays is always a winner. Who wants to open presents when you can snowboard with out lines?

I'm also into the friendsgiving concept due to an intense love of cooking for a crew.


this post made me feel great in many ways, post-break-up. Because one: my ex made me feel horrible all the time, and 2. it was directly inherited from his mother, who made him feel terrible all the time. Now I don't have to deal with either of their bullshit.


@hotdog Nice. I hope this Thanksgiving is extra relaxing and drama free for you.

Leon Tchotchke

The past couple years I've been getting really grumpy at Christmas and Thanksgiving because the Family Holiday Dinner torch passed from my grandparents after my grandfather passed away. It's understandable, since my grandfather did all the cooking and my grandmother haaaaaaates doing anything in the kitchen, but the relatives who host it now are loud and argumentative at the best of times and even moreso in their own house, and now they've started inviting all their weird coworkers and odd friends, when in the past it was purely family.

And I know it's petty and I'm sure a big part of this is just Growing Up And Realizing Things Can't Stay The Same, but I've started feeling like my relatives are HOLIDAY HIJACKERS. And they live further away and are difficult and there's always uncomfortable arguments and aaaaaaaaaaaaa. I never understood why people got crazy around the holidays, but I'm starting to.


I basically am the impossible in-law. I refuse to accept that my brother and sister-in-law have to go to her parents' every year instead of mine. Everyone seems to be cool with this but me. WHO WILL BE ON MY FOOTBALL TEAM? WHO WILL HELP ME HIDE THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS SO WE DON'T HAVE TO EAT THEM??


@paddlepickle I felt a bit that way about my brother and sister in law, and I don't even get on that well with my brother! In the end my solution (being single at the time) was to hang out with my friend's family on Christmas Day before and after seeing my own family. It was fun!

Harriet Welch

@paddlepickle Awwww this is me with my brother! That dumb lady was not around for the first 20 odd years and now I'm supposed to share my brother?


I'm still kind of traumatized from visiting my mother-in-law for the holidays a couple years ago...it was the first time we'd met, my husband and I had just gotten engaged and STILL had to sleep in separate bedrooms. She and his cousin kept making oblique comments about my weight (I had gained a few lbs because my family celebrates Christmas by spending all our time eating). This was my husband's step-family, his dad had passed the year before (we never met) so it was extra sad when he tried to cheer me up by saying, well, my parents would have loved you...

For now we just spend Christmas apart, we haven't come up with a good solution.

Harriet Welch

We have kind of the reverse issue of most people. My family is super-duper close and live nearby and we all love each other and have sweet and happy traditions that I love.
My husband's family is scattered, insane and generally difficult to be around. His mom bought a one way ticket to our wedding and proceeded to move up to our town. Since then, we've had to share my family holidays with my mother-in-law. She is an alcoholic and also comes with a severe case of the crazies. If she doesn't take her meds, she rambles on and on, forgets things, repeats herself and falls asleep in the middle of conversations.
Now my holidays are spent feeling sort of awkward and sad while my family is really nice to my mother-in-law and very sympathetic to my struggles with it.
This year I wanted to just spend the holidays with his mom and skip the big, awkward family to-do, but my husband flipped out and was really opposed. Turns out, the experience of being left in a condo alone because both of his parents drunkenly assumed that the kids were staying with the other parent's house had an impact. He said all he ever wanted was a family that took it for granted that they would spend holidays together.
Soooo...looks like we have a lot more weird holidays where my nieces and nephews are afraid of the strange old lady that sneaks outside for cigarettes and falls asleep while she talks.
blah, realizing this is long, but feeling sad and venty.


@Harriet Welch - Ohhhh no that sounds really stressful. I don't really have any good advice. And it's not like you can say "Honey, your mom is nuts and makes my family uncomfortable." (I mean, maybe you can, but I can't imagine it would help the situation you find yourself in now.) It sounds like your family is being wonderful about it though, and maybe it's corny or cliche but it sounds like she's their family too now. If one of your blood relatives had a case of the crazies, I'm sure they would deal with it with grace because no family is perfect. And I'm sure they are fine with dealing with her, because she's family now, and family deals with each other's crap.

Harriet Welch

@KeLynn No, they are super wonderful. My family has its share of crazies, but they are warm familiar crazies. They are so amazing and nice about it. They take her presence for granted and always know that she will be there and are more than happy about it. It makes me feel like more of a selfish jerk for really just wanting a holiday with my family of origin and my husband.
However, her other son (who she likes more) is in prison, she is thrice divorced and the only living relative is a sister that lives 1000 miles away and still complains about what a burden my husband's mother is. We are really the only family she has.
Thanks for not ridiculing me for essentially whining and stamping my foot Veruca Salt style. I know it's unbecoming, but I am graceful and kind about it all the time in real life.


My boyfriend and I have been together 5 years and we've only spent a Thanksgiving or Christmas together once. We always split up and spend them with our respective families. I'm not a fan of how we do it, but I don't know what else to do.

I have an enormous family, so it's important to me to be at holidays because it might be the only time I see some people all year long. But since I have an enormous family, it would also not be a HUGE deal if I skipped the extended family party to go to my "in-laws," but I can't do that because they live 6 hours away. It's not a matter of spending the morning with one family and the afternoon with the other - it's all or nothing. Also, my boyfriend's family is just his parents and his brother and him so his absence WOULD be a huge deal. I can't force him to stay in town with my family because it would be cruel to deprive his family of 1/4 of the party. But I also can't spend holidays with his family and never have him spend some with mine in turn without really hurting my family's feelings.

So, I don't really have any solution other than what we do, which is split up and spend the holidays with our respective families. But this can't keep going on forever, because he and I are a family now and we have to split ourselves up. I think the real solution would be to have his family come down and spend the holiday with my family, which my parents would like to do, but every time I mention it to his family they kind of brush it off so I think they like doing their own thing.

Harriet Welch

That sounds rough...is it possible to do like a one day with one family, next day with the other (idk what holidays you celebrate, but maybe Christmas eve with one, Christmas with the other)?
Maybe if you don't mention it to his family, but sometime (in the dead of summer!!!) tell whoever the point person on these things is (matriarch? maybe that's just my family) that you guys don't like it that you spend holidays apart and that you'd like to come up with a solution that allows you all to be happy . Throw in an "I really value your judgement and I know that you'll be able to help us come up with a solution that everyone likes. Here were my ideas..."


My husband and I live 600 miles east of where I grew up and 600 miles west of where he grew up. His family is Jewish so Christmas is never an issue. Most people think that we spend Thanksgiving with his family since Christmas is always with my side but we avoid family all together and invite friends over on Thanksgiving Day. I haven't spent Thanksgiving with my family in 10 years. It's magnificent (I love them dearly but, MAGNIFICENT)!


I'm quite pleased that the Mister & I have found loopholes to family holidays...when a flight attendant with zero seniority (meaning I work most weekends and EVERY holiday) marries a Naval officer (sometimes deployed for six months at a time), no one actually expects us to come to holidays. Well, let me rephrase. My family does not expect us, but often drop hints of how they would really really really love it if we could somehow make it, but it's okay, they realize it is out of our control. His mother on the other hand does horrible things like when asked what she would like for her birthday, the only thing she wants is for her son to be come on the family vacation that he is only skipping because he is in the Navy and is on a ship and the ship is out to sea.


This is my boyfriend's and my third Christmas together, but the first where we'll try to navigate both families; in the past, it was logistically unfeasible, but this year it's just difficult. Plus now we're buying a house/talking about rings so we're more of a solidified family unit. Both of our moms are doing the passive-aggressive "Do whatever you need to! No hard feelings! I can have Christmas without my baby! " thing. Do they teach that to all Italian/Irish mothers, or what? We hit on the compromise that we'll be splitting our time between the two families, who are ~a 7 hour drive apart. As such, I'm looking at a 7 hour drive on Christmas Day. Ugh. In the near future we'll probably have to start alternating, but I don't think either myself or my boyfriend was ready for that this year.

Frankie's Girl

My own family lives several states away (3 hour plane/13 hour drive) and I have no problem not visiting them (huge mess with lots of scary mixed in... dealt with it for as long as I could but I have reached my limit and now I always plead not enough vacation time to travel up there).

My MIL used to try to take over x-mas, but after she pulled a huge f-you move during our first year as a married couple, I told the husband that x-mas is at our house from here on out and sometimes we don't even invite her. It is just the two of us, so sometimes we go out of town and she can't just drop by unannounced thank dog. (husband is fine with this - he's always had trouble standing up to his mother and now actually enjoys the holidays as he gets to decide if he wants to see her or not)

The husband and I now celebrate "Catsgiving" - we make a full turkey dinner, eat, sleep and laze around the house in our pajamas and basically get to be honorary cats for 4 days... it is GLORIOUS and now our fave holiday. :)

Best thing I can tell you is go where you'll have the most enjoyment out of the effort. If that means staying at YOUR house and having others visit you, then do it.

Also, this is just me saying this, but if you do choose to have children at some point, PLEASE don't be one of those people that drag your poor kids out at the crack of dawn after rushing them through presents so you can slog over to the inlaw/parents' house to please them. Soooo not fun if you're going because of guilt and obligation and kids pick up on that stuff.

I now call any parent or inlaw on passive/aggressive behavior. Try to guilt me, manipulate me or otherwise force me to do something I either have no control over or otherwise already told you isn't happening? Absolutely not acceptable.


My brand-new husband and I have the best (for us) system ever: We spend holidays at home. Our families live far away from us and far apart from each other, and we've found that it's much more relaxing and fun for everyone if we travel to visit them at times that are filled with fewer emotional expectations. This is our first holiday season as a married couple, but we've been spending holidays at home for a few years now. It's really great--we have friends over for thanksgiving dinner/christmas brunch if people are around, if not we just go out. It's seriously the best thing ever, and will make life 10,000 easier when we have kids.


My mother is the completely unreasonable one. We live in the same town as my future husband's family and she lives eight hours away. My partner is new at his job and doesn't have much time off, we have a four-year-old, don't have extra travel $, and are depended upon to take his non-driver brother to work. For some reason to her, this adds up as the perfect situation for US to come to HER. We went there Easter, met halfway for Mother's Day, and tomorrow we will have our first holiday just the three of us. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we have convinced her and her husband (who has tons of off time and likes to throw money at things) to come out for Christmas. I don't see why holidays make people completely insane, but they so do.


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