We’re planning holiday travel to the in-laws now and dealing with budgeting and booking. Damn it’s expensive. But when I’ve been planning I’ve been thinking what if I just dropped the wife and kids off? My wife never wants to leave her house and is happy eating cookies and sitting by the fire watching kids movies. I’m not into it. I get lectured, drawn into weird conversations about the best TV shows (I hate The Big Bang Theory), and pulled aside to talk politics. The kids just get freedom to do whatever the hell they want, fueled by insane amounts of sugar thanks to the open cookie jar policy. My wife gets to catch up with family members and reminisce. And I’m left in a lurch. So why can’t I check out for a couple of the five days we’re there for?
My in-laws live two hours from a friend that I’d love to go see and drink some beers with. Maybe go on a hike and check out his more interesting life. I guess I’m asking permission from you. Can I ditch my family to make myself a little happier? I’ll come back in time for the big meal and all that, but can’t I get a little relief while everyone else has their fun too?
Bored in Boise
Man, I think you’re thinking incredibly efficiently about this. Folding time with a friend into time with the family is a pretty great way to save some dough. Also keeping in touch with friends who keep you sane is super important. But on the other hand, the family is important, too. It’s particularly important for children. And while, at first blush, taking a powder from the holiday festivities might not seem like you’re depriving your kids, it’s not really setting the best example either. So, while I’m flattered you’re asking my permission (it really plays into my cult leader fantasies) I’m not going to give you a straight-up yes or no. What I am going to do is suggest you hash it out with the people your absence will affect the most.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a wild proposition to visit people “in the area” when your traveling for the holidays. It’s not like kids who come home from college during Thanksgiving are spending every hour with the people who struggled to get them to school in the first place. No. They’re catching up with old friends and going to get some drinks. There’s a precedent for this kind of activity.
What’s different, though, is that you have a wife and children and it sounds as if you are proposing a solo adventure. This is where things start to feel a little bit selfish and self-centered. Yes, you’re only proposing an absence of two days, but that’s a big chunk of the time you would have otherwise been spending with the extended clan. It’s not that I think they can’t live without you. I just wonder how everyone would feel about your absence.
I know from personal experience that visiting in-laws can mean a reduction in parental duties. Doting grandpas and grandmas provide additional eyes and hands to keep kids busy and out of trouble. Add cousins, aunts, and uncles into the mix and it becomes super easy to parent because everyone has a stake in keeping the kids happy. In a very real and crucial way that helps your case. Because you’re not really abandoning your partner to do all of the childcare while you go play.
There is one problem though. Discipline and parental authority can’t and shouldn’t be outsourced. If kids act up, the parents still have to be present to enforce boundaries and honestly, that’s where parenting is the shittiest. It’s fun to parent happy kids. It’s hell when those kids are acting like assholes and everyone’s expecting the parent to fix it. I’m not suggesting that going to happen. I am suggesting it’s something you keep in mind when you consider how long you want to be gone.
Also keep in mind that, while it looks like your wife is having a grand old time eating bonbons and enthusing on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, there’s probably plenty she’s dealing with. Her parents and siblings have their own baggage, and she may need you around for support. It’s good to have someone on your team. If you take off, you’re leaving her to take on the lectures, and TV show and Trump talks.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve discussed this with your spouse and she’s fine with it, then you’re a lucky guy and should be excited for the buddy beers. But if you haven’t had that discussion, it needs to happen now. If your wife is supportive, that’s great. The next step is in making sure the rest of the family understands that you’re not ditching them because you find them too basic for your refined sensibilities. They have a say in this too of course. They are your hosts after all and might not be particularly enthused to offer their house as a place for you to stash some laundry while you go hang with your bro. The way you communicate your side trip will be a crucial consideration.
Also crucial: The planning and timing. It will likely feel a lot more jarring if you arrive at your in-law’s place with your family only to ditch the crew for 48 hours of fun with your friend. It will be far less disruptive if you visit your friend first and then arrive at your in-laws after your family, or leave early to visit your friend and then not come back. That will preserve the flow of your visit a bit and make it feel like you’ve fenced off time just for visiting in-laws, rather than making it feel like you’re stealing time from a family gathering to do your own thing.
I’d also ask that you consider being flexible. Can you cut your friend’s visit down to a day trip? Would you be willing to invite them to your family gathering so you can have him around that you enjoy talking to for a day? Would you consider visiting your friends with kids and/or wife in tow? Figure out what your willing to accept and work towards a compromise. Lean on the fact that this is a “two-birds” scenario that will save you time and money. That’s not a small consideration.
Finally, no matter what happens, make sure that your kids understand that the most important part of the trip is spending time with the family. If they see you as reluctant or resentful that’s going to stick with them. You do not want your children to think of visiting grandparents or in-laws as a chore. Because, most likely, you’ll be wanting a visit someday when you’re old and grey. The seeds you plant regarding family now, you’ll be reaping when your kids have kids.
So try not to be too cavalier about your attitude to holiday travel. Your kids can see you. That said, I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor, and I hope that if you do this right you and your buddy will drink one for me too.