How to Survive Holidays with the In-Laws
Traveling back ‘home’ for the holidays can be stressful enough. For an expat family with third culture kids it packs its own bag of stresses. Throw the challenges of a vacation with the in-laws into the mix and the combination could have you counting down the days till you head home. To make your next holiday a smooth one I have compiled a list of dos & don’ts to help you survive holidays with the in-laws:
DO: Book and Go on that Holiday
Have the opportunity to go on holiday? Pack those bags and leave any reservations of what could happen at home. Whether you are having a stay-cation at home and having the in-laws as guests or meeting else where, there is always the possibility everything will work out just right. Focus on the positives as a family and make a list of things to look forward to on your holiday.
DON’T: Over Plan the Holiday
When planning a holiday with different family units it is best to not over plan. A little structure can keep the days going, while too much can be confining and restricting. This is especially important if you are traveling across many time zones or with children. If there is already tension between families, giving people enough flexibility and wiggle room can help fizzle out drama before it can build up.
BONUS TIP! Plan more than one option at the same time so that people can decide in the moment which activity they want to participate in. Just remember to be okay with what people decide as it is their vacation too.
DO: Take a Day Off
Do something else. Just because you are going on a beach holiday, doesn’t mean every day needs to be on the sand. Why not take a day off and go see a movie. When we went to Walt Disney World our family unit decided to take a day off and visit the Kennedy Space Center. When we went on vacation to the Jersey Shore we took a day off and went to an amusement park. Doing something different can help give everyone a break and a little refresher if things get overwhelming. Not to mention more photo opportunities and chances to make new family memories.
DON’T: Insist on Doing everything together as a Group
Just as you should not over plan it is also key to not hold expectations that everyone will do everything together through out the entire holiday. It is okay and also beneficial to separate into smaller groups and experience different things. By working with the different age groups and interests you can keep the excitement high while keeping the drama low. Giving people time away can make the time back together as a group with a closer sense of togetherness with an opportunity to share as a whole. It also stops people from feeling left out or missing out on an activity they have their heart set on experiencing.
DO: Have a back up plan to Recharge
Just as you may pack aloe vera gel to treat sunburns that could happen, plan a few back up plans in case of family stress. Find what will work best for your family and choose your back up plan to recharge for the rest of your holiday. It could be engaging in exercise, having a lie in, spending a moment together with a good book, etc. Keep the emphasis on flexibility and your family.
BONUS TIP! Keep it simple. You do not need to explain in detail your plans to the rest of the group. Just let them know you are doing something as a family and will rejoin them soon. Not only is your aim to keep everyone happy but your family can focus on the fun.
DON’T: Force everyone under the same Roof
Since we all need a good sleep and a place that can help us relax and feel secure, room arrangement may be another red flag if looking at putting everyone in the same house. Will everyone have adequate space? If rooms contain en suite bathrooms, will all families have one? Will there be space for the kids? Will the early risers and the night owls each be able to enjoy the space without disrupting the rest of the group. The best intentions cannot be a cure-all family drama. If the past predicts an upset or future explosion, perhaps putting everyone under the same roof is not the best idea. Remember that everyone is coming with their own expectations of their holiday. The worst that can happen is having a blow up with out a place people can feel safe. Holidays should be fun and let the space where you go give that luxury to everyone attending.
BONUS TIP! If you are sharing a house, remember to keep communal rooms accessible for all parties. ‘Clean as you go’ is a great tip for when preparing meals in the kitchen but can also apply to rooms where you are creating memories. Before you move on to the next room, pick up so others can enjoy the space.
DO: Be Flexible
This term has come up a bit already but is a key to surviving holidays with the in-laws. You may hit bumps in the road with the holiday, a plan may not go as planned, people need a break, etc. Just go with the flow and if you need to take a moment to recharge. As long as your family is enjoying themselves, focus less on the plans. This also holds true if family drama gets to be too much. You cannot control what people will say or do, but you can take your family out of the equation. Make moments to remember and back away from any toxicity.
DON’T: Compromise about what Matters Most (and establish clear boundaries)
This is key when traveling with your children on holidays with the in-laws. Even if you do X,Y, and Z when at home, you may only get to do X when with family. Before you go on holiday figure out what matters most to your family and find areas where you can be more flexible. Next may clear boundaries with your in-laws as to help avoid future fights or upset feelings.
For example food and what people choose to eat can be a trigger when getting together families from different cultures and countries. Even two families from the same town will have different diet requirements and expectations. If this the area that matters most to you, decide on some clear boundaries to ensure easy communication. One solution could be having your family eat one meal together every day where you can not only plan the meal but spend time together as a family unit. You can also ask to get your own groceries and make your own meals. The important part is making sure everyone is away what the plan is and that your boundaries are not to make things difficult but that it matters most to you.
BONUS TIP! Even the most clearly communicated guidelines can be ignored. Prepare yourself in advance with how you will handle the situation. Setting the bar realistically instead of putting too high expectations on others may be easier. At least you will be prepared in advanced before having to hit combat mode when on your holiday.
DO: Plan alone time with your Family
On our last trip I had a huge emphasis about doing things together alone with our children. As a working mother who works two jobs and can spend an average of 2-5 hours in just walking (for a commute from home, school, and work) I do not get a lot of family time. I really needed this vacation to recharge and connect with my kids and husband as well as make memories for us to keep. I made a point to spend one afternoon of the eight days just with my kids and did an arts project to make our own Mickey mouse ears. We had a nice moment together and created something we got to enjoy at the days following in the parks.
DON’T: Focus too much on the toxicity
If people around you are being negative or bringing toxicity into the holiday, do your best to not dwell on it. Do not play victim to bullying, narcissism, or guilt trips. The one thing I have experienced over and over is that people may react a certain way or say things that have nothing to do with you. While it does hurt to be the punching bag to someones inner problems or struggles, just remember that you matter and life is beautiful. Focus on the good and if you need to take a moment to recharge, be flexible and step away.
DO: Aim for a bonding experience
Go in with a positive attitude and embrace moments that open up to making good memories. Holidays can be like hallmark movies and bring people together in the end. Even if things go south, at least you will know you tried.
DON’T: Lose heart if worse-case scenario happens
Have you had prior bad experiences with your in-laws? Sometimes as try as you might, history will just repeat itself. Remember you cannot control how people will perceive you or how they will react. But keep your spirit high and know how much your family loves you.
BONUS TIP! Have a phone a friend. Is there a friend or outside family member not going on the holiday that you trust? When things get really rough, never be alone. Phone that person and let it out. Keeping everything inside can not only ruin your holiday experience but continue to grow and fester. It is always okay to ask for help and that is what your friends (and family) can do for you.
DO: Let your kids be spoiled
Grandparents generally like to spoil their grand kids. If this applies to your in-laws than what better time for it than a holiday. Just remember you are allowed to say no and you are allowed to spoil your own children instead if that is your choice.
DON’T: Make uncomfortable situations when money is involved
There are few things to avoid generally in conversations and money is part of that list. If issues surrounding the cost of things occurs on holiday be cautious. If your holiday is being paid for be careful as it can come with a higher price than you may be expecting.
BONUS TIP! Meals out can always come with different expectations. Before getting to the restaurant be assertive and find out how the meal is being paid. The worst that can happen is that a meal is ruined over something that could have been prevented.
Surviving Holidays with the In-Laws can be done but do not lose heart if there are still bumps along the way. Remember you cannot control the actions or words of others, so family drama may still rear its ugly head. Focus less on the right or wrongs, which can lead quickly to anger, hurt feelings, and misperceptions. Being respectful of each other’s differences and family styles is important, especially when involving cross cultural issues.
Which ever way your holiday goes remember that it will eventually end. Even if everyone gives a 100% and is on their best behaviour, remember the wise words of Benjamin Franklin.
“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”