Sure, it’s the most wonderful time of year, but it can also be the most stressful time for many of us—myself included. Between earning extra money for gifts, crossing off all my to-dos on my holiday bucket list, and getting adequate rest to make it to next week’s lineup of get-togethers, it can feel less jolly and more appealing to be a total Grinch.
But the biggest headache of them all is undoubtedly deciding who to spend which holidays with. In an ideal world, you’d have enough time to visit all of your family members and soak up all the joy in a single day, but since that’s unrealistic in many people’s cases, learning how to spread the holiday cheer while not feeling guilty about how long you’ll see people (or if you see them at all) is crucial.
Whether you’re splitting time during the holidays between multiple sides of your family or between your and your partner’s families (especially if it’s your first holiday season with your partner), it’s not easy to divvy up your time between all of the people you love. But rest assured, there are a few ways to make everyone—including yourself—happy.
Remember: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to determining how to make the holidays work. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s OK. To prepare, consider these 10 tips for splitting time during the holidays without feeling guilty about where you end up.
1. Set expectations ahead of time
Well before the holidays begin, connect with your family members to discuss their plans for the holidays. This way, you’ll have all the information you need about where and when the festivities will be. At this time, communicate that you will be doing your best to juggle multiple households and that you will try your best to be as present as possible by saying something like “I have a handful of fun get-togethers this year—I will be doing my very best to attend as many as I can, but I might not be able to stay very long at some of them just depending on timing and my schedule.” If you already know you won’t be able to make a certain get-together, be upfront about your prior commitments so you’re not letting anyone down last minute by saying something like “I so wish I could be there, but I already committed to another dinner at that time—let’s get together after the holiday!”
2. Switch off every year
Don’t want to worry about dividing your attention? Give all your focus to one household this year. Sure, you’ll probably feel a little pang in your heart wishing you could also see more loved ones, but not having to worry about leaving at a certain time to make it for dessert at your aunt’s house will take the pressure off so you can truly enjoy the day. If you and/or your partner have divorced parents or mixed families, you’ll have even more households to choose from, making deciding where to go even more difficult, but considering these factors can help: how far away they are, who you haven’t seen in a while, and who you will enjoy your time with the most. The answers to these questions can make your decision-making process a little easier to manage. And just think, next year you’ll be able to create memories with those you weren’t able to last time.
3. Designate holidays
Instead of switching it up each year, give certain families certain holidays, and then there won’t be any guessing. For example, if you spend Thanksgiving with Mom this year, spend Christmas with Dad, and next year, switch so you see Mom for Christmas and Dad for Thanksgiving! This can help take the pressure off of you to jump from house to house for every holiday, which ultimately makes the holidays less stressful. Everyone will know what to expect, and you’ll make each family member a priority, no matter the holiday.
4. Celebrate on a different day
Who says the holiday spirit should die after the holiday has technically passed? Designate another day (the day or weekend before, the day or weekend after, or another day in the month when everyone is available to be under one roof!) to celebrate with your loved ones. Not only does this help ensure you’ll see everyone, but it will also extend the holiday fun! At the end of the day, it’s not the calendar day that makes a holiday special. You can get together with your loved ones, make a special meal, and create holidays any day of the year.
5. Offer to host
The older I get, the more I think about how many more years I’ll spend splitting time during the holidays. A solution to this that I hope to accomplish in the next few years is being the host and having everyone come to me instead. If this is a possibility for you this year, let everyone know well in advance that you’d love to host at your house! Ask your family members if they’d be willing to make a trip your way—whether they live close by or they’d have to travel to you. You can choose to incorporate the traditions that you are accustomed to (like eating the same meal or playing the same games after dinner with your family) or create brand-new traditions. Set the time, invite the people you love, and prepare enjoy the sight of everyone you care about in one place.
6. Hit up both families
This might not be practical for everyone—Christmas is the last day you want to be on the road! But if it’s an under-an-hour situation, you can get quality time with more family members. Dedicate around three hours to each stop and you’ll be able to designate dinner, dessert, and gift opening to various households. Just be realistic with how much time you’ll want to spend at each one, and set an alarm on your phone so you don’t get caught up in the merriment.
7. Visit virtually
Whether your favorite people are too far away for a day trip or you’re struggling with the pressure of splitting time during the holidays, stay cozy in your own space while still enjoying your family and friends with some FaceTime calls. (This also works if you’re at one house and want to check in with another side of the family!) Plan times in advance to guarantee the people closest to you will be by their phones or computers at the time you call. Encourage everyone on the other side of the phone to bring their mug of hot chocolate or a cocktail to catch up on the day’s festivities.
8. Divide and conquer
We know that it’s not ideal to split from your partner on a holiday. They’re probably one of the people you want to be with most on such a special occasion, but if it comes down to where you need to be with your family and they need to be with theirs on a specific day, dividing and conquering for a few hours might be your best bet. Just be sure to give your family a heads-up in advance that you’re arriving as a party of one instead of two so they don’t count on an additional place setting. When you both wrap up with your families, you can come back together to make holiday memories together.
9. Remind your family it’s not personal
Sometimes your family will say that it’s OK that you won’t be able to stay for the entire dinner party, but you’re not sure they mean it when they say it. If this is the case for you (first of all, know you’re not alone), remind your family that where you’re choosing to spend your time and how long you’re choosing to spend it elsewhere is not personal. You can say something along the lines of “I really wish I could be there, but this year, I am choosing to do XYZ so I can avoid having to do too much running around in one day. Let’s catch up after the holiday!” or “I would love to stay for dessert, but in order to spend time with everyone equally, I’ll be heading out a little early.”
10. Do the best you can (without stressing yourself out)
If you start to feel like you’re spending more time managing everyone’s expectations about your whereabouts than you are actually enjoying the holidays, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. You are only one person who can be in only one place at a time. Do your best to make it to the festivities that are important to your family (and to your partner’s family), but don’t stress yourself out to the point where you become exhausted and frustrated. Maybe this means that you have to mix and match some of these ideas for splitting time during the holidays, or that you stick with one year after year because it’s the easiest one for you. You deserve to have a special holiday season, so if you have to make certain sacrifices to not go nuts over a jam-packed, run-around and please everyone schedule, that’s what you should do!