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Whose home for the holidays?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dear Miriam,

My husband and I are both close with our families, which is great until it comes to holidays. Both sets of parents expect us to spend every holiday with them, and each time a holiday rolls around, we have to engage in major negotiations to decide where we're going to go. At this point, we just want to stay home and avoid the conversation. What is a reasonable compromise to keep everyone happy and to keep me from going nuts?

Whose home for the holidays

Dear Home,

Sit down tonight with this blog, your husband and your calendar, and map out all the holidays for the coming year. Seriously. Include anything there's ever been a dispute over and even those there hasn't, from Yom Kippur break fast to Mother's Day to your nephew's third cousin's birthday. Make a list of every occasion and the date it will be happening (for Jewish holidays, I recommend opening HebCal in a new tab). Then start to figure out which ones are already decided for you. If his family has a big Halloween party every year and yours doesn't know when Halloween is, then there's no need for a discussion. His family probably won't care about that cousin's birthday, but you know your mom will kill you if you miss it.

After you take care of birthdays and family-specific traditions, my guess is you'll be left with the biggies: Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Thanksgiving and maybe a few others. Once it's all laid out in front of you, there may be an easy and obvious way to divvy up some of the dates. Perhaps that cousin's birthday is the week before Thanksgiving, so you know you'll be getting together with your family then, and it makes sense to see your in-laws the next week. If you're willing and able to travel on Jewish holidays, it may be possible to spend one seder with your family and one with his. If, over the course of the year, you see that there are 20 occasions you spend with your family and only five with his, see if there are some visits you may be able to reconfigure.

Then, after you've done this whole mad thing I'm suggesting, see how many times a year you're traveling (if your families are out of town) or just how many weekends you're committing to spending with your families a year in advance, and then start to decide from which traditions you want to excuse yourselves. Just because your family does Father's Day brunch every year doesn't mean you have to be there every year. Just because your parents really, really want you to come over to help build their sukkah doesn't mean you have to.

Look at this list of holidays with your husband and talk about which ones you'd like to start building your own traditions around. Maybe it's time for the two of you to spend Valentine's Day alone, or try out hosting your own seder. During this process, consider whether there are holidays where you could host both your parents and your in-laws in your home so that everyone can be together and no one can claim exclusive rights to you. There may also be holidays where your parents could invite your in-laws, or vice versa.

Once the two of you have decided what your priorities are for how you want to spend your time and your holidays, you need to communicate your decisions to your parents. If they're friendly with each other and also somewhat tech-savvy, consider copying all the parents on an email with a spreadsheet attached of the holidays and where you'll be for them. That way they'll have it in writing, they've all seen it at the same time and they will have some time to let it sink it in. If you want to communicate with them in a phone call, be prepared to stand your ground when they argue and plead and say that July 4th will never be the same without you there.

This plan assumes that you and your husband will be on the same page about where to celebrate, and I realize that you may have separate and strong desires when it comes to whose Thanksgiving turkey you'll be eating. Don't rush the process, be flexible and understanding about each other's points of view and expect that you'll both have to make some compromises. Any difficult conversations you have will help bolster future decisions you'll have to make as a couple and will reinforce for both of you when the big day arrives, and then arrives again and again and again, that you're in this together.

Happy holidays, and be well,

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