Holiday Dilemma: Whose Parents Get To Play With The Grandkids This Year?

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Here’s what sucks about the holidays: having to play favorites.

You see, I live in the same city as both my parents and in-laws. Not only that, but we’re actually a 10-minute drive away from each despite living in a major urban city. And, truth be told, we actually like our parents. Not to worry – we’re hardly The Brady Bunch – but we’re lucky to have two sets of parents who are healthy and happy and who value family above all else, especially when it comes to the holidays.

Not that it’s all about us. In fact, it’s hardly about us. The grandchildren are who matter here. Our parents want to see their grandkids, which is why we get totally stressed out when it comes to choosing which side of the family we’ll be spending the holidays with.

Past attempts to work out a “fair” system often leave one side feeling left out. For example, during the Jewish holiday of Passover, there are two seders (ritual feasts), which means two separate nights of eating and family bonding. Simple, right? Not so much. My in-laws only celebrate the first night, which means we go there. My side of the family celebrates both nights, except my brother and sister have their in-laws to consider, too. That means we’d need a major Excel spreadsheet to figure out a way to to spend the holidays not just with my parents but with my siblings, too, and all of their kids. Of course, this is virtually impossible to coordinate (for example, my brother and kids go to his wife’s side of the family on night two because that’s when her siblings are there).

In an ideal world, we’d just combine both sets of families and have a giant blowout. But this is challenging, too, since few of us have the physical space to accommodate such a large crowd. Plus, the dynamics change (imagine a 12-person girls night out vs. an intimate dinner with your two best friends). It’s not such a big deal in the end, but I always do feel tremendous guilt knowing that my parents would love to see all their children and grandchildren gathered around the table together this one night each year (it usually feels like we gather in shifts).

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have friends with similar problems. One lives in Boston with her husband and their three kids. Her family lives in Boston, too, but her in-laws live in Michigan and so they don’t see them as often. In the months leading up to every major holiday, the phone calls begin. First it’s her in-laws, begging them to come to Michigan and even offering to pay for their airfare. Then it’s her own parents with the whole, “Sweetie, I was thinking that for Christmas this year, we’d have the kids sleep over and blah blah blah…”

It’s the whole presumption aspect that gets to this friend, but even more so it’s the guilt. The never-ending guilt! She’d secretly prefer to be with her own parents – and her kids are certainly closer to them – but she feels guilty about her in-laws when she pictures them eating turkey or sitting around the tree solo and, well, it’s just too much to bear. So she’ll usually head to Michigan with the nagging feeling she’s let her own parents down.

Other friends have simplified their lives by alternating years (one year with one side of the family, the next with the other). This is good in theory but it rarely works out this way. For example, there are always extenuating circumstances (i.e., a sick family member, or a new baby that makes traveling tough).

My friends and I recognize that, despite the stress, we’re blessed to be in this position in the first place. I mean, let this be our biggest problem in life – having too much family to choose from.

(Photo: Noam Armonn/Shutterstock)