Judging from my e-mail, what's the single biggest holiday family conundrum? "Whose house for the holidays?" wins, hands down.
It's a universal dilemma for young parents. It's a universal dilemma for their own parents. Where will the "children" spend the holidays?
Shiny new parents of a baby or two yearn to create their own at-home holiday. Their own parents struggle to keep the family together, and preferably at their house.
My own chair sits smack dab in the middle. My children are grown, and I'm a grandmother of teenaged grandsons.
Yet I remember (far, far too well) the days of traveling 450 miles one-way in a rackety VW bus with babies in tow, to make the required (and resented) attendance at an in-law's home.
Add divorce, remarriage, step- and blended families, and this issue can become a logistical nightmare.
How do you solve the "whose house for the holidays" question ... and keep the cheer in the season?
For the Young Parent
If you're the young parent, what do you do? Take a look at where the conflict pinches, and it's likely to be a struggle to grow up. These are your parents, your spouse's parents! It's scary to do what you have to do: calmly tell them that you are ready to establish your own Christmas traditions in your own home.
But that is exactly what you must do. It's a rite of passage, and not an easy one. Take heart, though. No matter how much heat and light gets generated the first time you break away from your parents, a calm determination wins in the end. After the first year, you'll find the going much easier.
For the Parent of Adult Children
So you're the older parent? Reading this, you want to jump all over me! After all, it simply won't be Christmas without all your children under your own roof. Why shouldn't you want to hold on to the traditions you've created over many years?
Take a deep breath, Mom and Dad. Your child's desire to begin a family holiday shows that you've done your job well. Keep in mind that these are young parents, and they're going to be a bit protective and defensive about their natural wish to provide for their own babies what you provided for them.
It's a tense time, and you have to be careful. Remember that your children still hold you in great regard. Innocent comments may get mangled in translation and seem far more oppressive and dictatorial than you ever intended.
Add in the in-law situation, and there's even more room for misunderstanding. Not to mention that the children must deal with this issue twice: once with you, once with the spouse's family. Without even trying, the emotional waters can get very, very murky.
The bottom line is to make your children and their families spend time with you because they want to, not because they have to. You're the older party, and have more life-experience under your belt, so it's up to you to craft innovative solutions.
Can you visit your child's home, and share the grandchildren's special Christmas morning? Can you change the time of holiday dinners, gather the family on Christmas Eve, alternate holidays year by year or otherwise help the youngsters with holiday scheduling jams?
Another solution: create your own holiday alternative. My own mother is mistress of this technique, and her children bless her for it.
There's no pressure to drag small children from door to door on Christmas Day, because Mum's special day is her Texas New Year Party.
Held on New Year's Day for a huge flock of family and friends, it's a bonus holiday, and one that solves the generational problem quite neatly.
One inventive grandmother has earned the love of children and children-in-law alike: she gathers all the grandchildren at her home on the evening of Christmas day, and hosts a grand pajama-party sleepover. Tired young parents appreciate the post-holiday break, while the grandkids look forward to their special Christmas party at Grandma's. Grandma gets special time with her grandchildren, and gives the children's parents a much needed holiday break. It's win-win!
Whatever your stage in life, and whatever your solution, take heart. "Whose Home for the Holidays" is a sign that you, your parents and your children all value the special gift of the holiday season.
Keep the season's message in mind as you negotiate ... and make it an organized Christmas!