Christmas Visit Stress

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Dear Hoopers,
Christmas visits have to be spread between 3 families. My husband’s parents are divorced, so we see his Mom and new husband on one visit and his Dad and new wife on another, and then there’s my parents. His Mom goes all out for the holidays and they have the closest relationship, so we always do Christmas Day at her place. We see my parents on whatever other day works. This leaves my parents alone on Christmas Day every year. I need to stress that my relationship with my parents is strained and distant. It’s always an awkward, depressing experience for both my husband and I to spend time with them. I do constantly feel guilty for not spending time with them, though. Are we being selfish for always prioritizing the most enjoyable visit? Would it be considered “the right thing to do” to alternate who I see on Christmas Day, even if it means spending Christmas Day away from my husband to see my folks instead? The last thing I want to do is spend Christmas away from him and I know that would crush him, but there is no way he’ll give up laughter and good food for a visit to the black hole that is my parent’s place.
-Christmas Visit Stress

Dear Christmas Visit Stress,
The holidays can be stressful, but they can also provide the opportunity to grow relationships and bond with family. My siblings and I have developed a schedule where we come together every other Christmas in Oregon with our parents and each other. Because our partners live on opposite sides of the country, my brother heads to New Jersey with his wife and I travel to Louisiana to be with Ryan and my in-laws. The following year, we’re all back together. It’s about fairness.

“The right thing to do” is not to do “the last thing you want to do” which is to spend Christmas away from your husband. Although three families are a lot to coordinate, I would advise striking a balance so you don’t feel stricken by the guilty plague. Have you thought about visiting your parents on Christmas day, without investing an entire day to them? It may not be as entertaining to be with your folks, but selflessly giving time to them on Christmas may mean a lot to them.

If good times and food exist at your husband’s mother’s house, the show will go on.


Sit down with your husband and let him know this is weighing on you. Reiterate the love that you have for his family and allow room to discuss the option of visiting your parents on Christmas day. Marriage is about sacrifice, which you most likely know. It’s also about fairness. If good times and food exist at your husband’s mother’s house, the show will go on. You can still have a great time with them before, after or on Christmas.

Dear Christmas Visit Stress,
You’re trying to keep a lot of people happy. Your parents, your husband, his mother, his father, and you. It’s tough to balance all of these needs. You know that you need to visit your parents for Christmas but in many ways it’s soul sucking. The relationship with your parents is strained and awkward, while both of his parents are close and loving. This is becoming increasingly stressful this year as this may even cause you to be away from your husband in order to do “the right thing.”

Let me say that there really are no written rules about how to do the holidays. It sounds like you still value visiting your parents even if it’s uncomfortable, but you simply can’t be everywhere at the same time. I don’t think you should feel compelled to spend time away from your husband just in order to visit your parents on 12/25/16. The day before and after are still perfectly good days to visit and I think your parents should be able to respect your choice.

The day before and after are still perfectly good days to visit and I think your parents should be able to respect your choice.

-Dr. Ryan

You aren’t deciding to prioritize your husband’s parents because you’re an evil person, you are motivated by the dynamics of the relationship with your parents and the way you feel when you are there. These difficult dynamics likely haven’t popped up suddenly but have been there for some time.

It sounds like you are content with the current status of that relationship but in the event that your parents respond strongly to your Christmas day decision, this is a real opportunity to have a heart to heart with them about your feelings. You may not feel up for this but life has a knack of giving us these opportunities to be honest with the people we love.
-Dr. Ryan