Splitting Time Between Families During the Holidays

It is that time of year again. The time of year when my husband and I sit down with our calendar and try to figure out how to juggle all our families’ holiday celebrations. Unfortunately, we can’t. It is not feasible to attend every single get-together within such a short time span.

You see, my parents divorced when I was ten. The majority of my life has been spent dividing up holidays between my parents. Fortunately for me, as a child, a judge determined with who I was to spend each holiday and we made it work. But as an adult, the responsibility to divide up the holiday calendar now falls to me.

To make matters more complicated I married a man who also has divorced parents (statistics don’t look too great for our marriage – yikes!). This means four different sets of families that we need (and want) to please.  

sleeping children in car
Divorced families equals SO MUCH holiday driving!

But my children are very young. Dragging them to four different Thanksgivings and up to seven different Christmas celebrations is unrealistic and a setup for disaster. I need to keep my kids well-rested and not overwhelmed by the changing environments and the sheer number of people involved in the celebrations. No one is going to be happy if my girls miss their naps! So each year we elect to not participate in some of the various festivities. This has led to hurt feelings and a number of guilt trips.

You Can't Please Everyone You're Not Nutella

We have yet to find the optimal plan but I am determined to find a schedule that works for our family for years to come. I know we are not in this boat alone. With divorces, remarriages, in-laws, etc. many of you might be in our same predicament.

So how do we go about navigating the holiday season? Here are ways others have split time between their families;

Option 1 – Divide Up Holidays

  • Each side of the family gets a holiday to celebrate together every year.  
  • Example – We spend Easter with my dad’s family, Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s, etc.

Option 2 – Alternate Years

  • Every other year celebrate the holiday with one side of the family.
  • Example – We spend Christmas with one family this year and next year spend Christmas with another family.

Option 3 – Host

  • Everyone comes to your house to celebrate.

Option 4 – Celebrate on Different Days

  • Unless you are super religious a holiday can be celebrated any day of the year.  
  • Example – My mom’s side of the family has their Thanksgiving celebration on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend every year. It works great.

When choosing an option(s) that might work best for your family situation there are numerous factors to consider. How many people are being affected by my decision? Will weather likely alter our plans (stupid snow!!)? Are there special circumstances this year (relatives coming you never get to see, someone is sick and likely not going to be around next year, etc.)? Will this option reduce or add to my level of stress?

No matter how hard you might try, your families may still feel you have planned the holiday schedule unfairly. Try to remind them it is the quality of time together that matters, not the quantity. As my fifth-grade teacher always said,

Fair is what you take the kids to.

*Tip – Throughout the entire year I color code my planner when one of our parents gets to see the grandkids. I use a different color for each parent. Then if anyone tries to guilt trip us over a missed birthday or family event I threaten to pull out my calendar and show how I try to be as “fair” as possible.


How do you split time between families?


Mehgan recently moved back to Wisconsin and is taking advantage of all Madison has to offer! She graduated from UW-Madison in Family and Consumer Science Education and taught high school for five years before becoming a bridal store manager/wedding planner. Currently mom to her extremely active toddler Cora (March 2017), sweet baby Autumn (September 2018), and large Goldendoodle Benny (January 2010), Mehgan is relishing the opportunity to stay at home for the moment. Reading and blogging on her personal blog (www.PlanningForKeeps.com) takes up any spare moments she can steal during naptime. Mehgan can't wait for summer when camping, zoo outings, and trips to Door County will be on the agenda.


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