How To Take The Holidays Back From The Grandparents

Because over the hills and through the woods is a pain in everyone's ass.

by Jonathan Stern
Originally Published: 

2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your spouse thinks you’re as awesome as your kid thinks you are.

Admit it — you’d prefer to spend this holiday season in footie pajamas, teaching your BB-8 to fetch beers while your kids lose their minds opening presents, as opposed to battling with your spouse over which grandparents get which slices of your time all month long. “But aren’t the holidays supposed to be about family?” you ask BB-8. “Won’t everyone be disappointed?” To which BB-8 says something like, “Beep-boop-beep.”

With all due credit to J.J. Abrams, you really shouldn’t be asking the heir to R2D2 how to get out of a Grandma trip without a guilt trip — that stuff is way better handled by guys like relationship therapist Michael Batshaw, who has your answer wired: “Focus on wanting to have your own holidays because your parents gave your such great experiences in the past. It’s really a compliment to them.”

First, Get Your Partner On Board With The Idea

“Ask their opinion first,” says Batshaw. “What’s meaningful to them for the holidays? Ask so you’re not just coming at them with your idea and fitting them in. And be patient — allow the dialogue has to evolve because it’s a complex issue. You’re not going to get a solution in 5 minutes. If you do that, you’ll avoid a lot of the defensiveness.”

Introduce The Idea of Hosting At Your House

It’s going to be tough, but you’re going to have to burst that sentimental bubble. Your parents probably have this idea about how the holidays would go: Well-mannered grandchildren running around their feet by the glow of a hearth fire. The reality is more like: Grandchild threw a tantrum on the way over while you were stuck in traffic and wants to leave as soon as possible.

Batshaw says, “These structures around the holidays are very static. In many cases they’ve been going for 30 years or longer. To change a system like that is going to involve some amount of pain.” Here’s a way to lessen that pain:

  • Give plenty of notice. A year is good (or, you know, right now if you were thinking of pulling this off in 2 weeks).
  • Compliment past holidays. It’s good to start with building them up — like how all of your mom’s Christmas hams were on fleek — before utterly disappointing her.
  • Remind your parents that they were once just like you and had to rebel against their parents. Don’t use the word “hypocrite.” That tends to put people on the defensive.
  • Offer up a plan. Tell your folks that you won’t commandeer the holidays every year, and work out a way to see them on another meaningful family holiday. Like Flag Day.

Now Back Off

If you want to avoid an emotional explosion, don’t press the issue. Give the folks some time to think about it. Let them go through the stages of grief, leave a few voicemails that at least try to sound empathetic, and then you can re-engage the conversation.

Get Your Siblings Involved

The first thing to do with your brothers and sisters is to get on the same page. “Adult children who have a united position with the parents is going to be way more powerful to get a change in the system.” Easy for him to say — he’s never met your siblings.

Pick the holidays that your family celebrates and decide on a rotating calendar for who goes where and when. Then choose one representative to talk to the parents. This is probably your oldest sibling — they’ve been arguing with mom and dad the longest.

Be Flexible With the Terms

Congratulations on expressing what you really want. Now it’s time to swallow a bit of pride (it tastes like dry fruitcake). Once everyone is coming to your place for the holidays, allow the grandparents to add input without micromanaging, because it’s their party too. Warning: It may involve matching ugly Christmas sweaters.

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