Holiday Shuffle


The upcoming holidays are starting to fill parents with excitement over their children’s joy, dread over shopping, some anticipation over food, cookies and celebrations, stress over family time and the much less talked about…

Coordinating of family holiday schedules all while gracefully handling various personalities.

Or as I like to call it, the “holiday shuffle.”

Maybe this is a total non-issue for some families.

For others, there are:

  • Children and step-children with visitation schedules
  • Family members who live hours away
  • Work schedules
  • Family members who don’t speak to each other but want you to make appearances with both parties
  • In-laws that demand…well, just demand
  • Guilt from family members when you don’t spend 100% of your holidays at their respective houses

Some families have two sets of families (in-laws and related members), some families have 3 or more (including exes, other kids, cousins, etc.).

It can be overwhelming to coordinate all the while trying to keep the peace.

Before we had children, we did the driving. My father was a commercial airline pilot, so holidays were not always celebrated on the actual day – and honestly, that made it easier sometimes.

Back before kids, our holiday schedule would look something like this:

Wednesday before Thanksgiving: Dinner with one division of the wife’s family

Thanksgiving Day: Dinner at the in-laws

Friday after Thanksgiving: 2 hour drive for dinner at my parents.


Christmas Eve at the in-laws
Christmas morning at brother-in-laws
Drive 1-2 hours to Christmas brunch with my family (or sometimes Christmas on the 26th)
And occasionally, dinner with another part of wife’s family in another part of the state.

Now, take that schedule and bring it to 2012.

Throw in a sibling with a blended family: 2 kids from his first marriage, a step-son and a child from his second marriage. (There are 2 other parents outside of that relationship that need to be coordinated with).

My father retired and no longer works on holidays, so my family would like to celebrate on the actual holiday.

We now have children and would like to be at our home for some part of Christmas Day.

In-laws with their own plans

Let the holiday negotiations begin!

A wrench is thrown in when you have blended families, i.e. a marriage is dissolved and the parents are working through holiday schedules. I do not practice family law (for good reason) but I know that it is rarely easy to resolve holiday schedules during custody or visitation discussions.

I’m not sure what’s more difficult for the parents with the most children (who are the most exhausted): hosting all the relatives? Or doing the most traveling?

Sometimes, it becomes a challenge to keep the holiday spirit flowing when some relatives are unhappy about how you decide to control all of the moving parts.

But when you step back and take a very deep breath (or giant gulp of wine), you are (somewhat convincingly) able to remind yourself that the holidays are about family.

I recognize that we are lucky to have so many members of my immediate family and every member of my wife’s immediate, extended and gigantic Italian-Irish combined family within driving distance. My extended family all live 3,000 miles away and we don’t have the opportunity (or resources) to spend holidays together.

And I’m sure that any member of the armed forces serving overseas would love to have the opportunity to complain about driving to see family over the holidays.

It’s important to keep this all in perspective and not get stressed out about family time.

Even if your family is crazy of dysfunctional (like all of them truly are), and Thanksgiving looks more like this:




than this:




…it is worth some great efforts to be able to spend time with them.

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, whether your family is easy or not. And please feel free to share your tips on how to handle schedules (and personalities) through the holidays.

For some “How to Survive Thanksgiving” with your respective families, dysfunctional or not, check out these links:
How to Survive Thanksgiving with your In-Laws
10 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with the Dysfunctional Family

4 comments on “Holiday Shuffle”

  1. I both love and loathe the chaos at Holiday time! On one hand it stresses me out to have to shuffle around to various places, but then when we are there and in the moment, all I see are rooms packed with people I love and who love my family! So bring on the chaos (though hopefully Santa slips a massage and a bottle of wine in my stocking this year)!

  2. Holly, it’s all true! Bigger families can bring bigger joy, but the “shuffle” gets more complicated! We are used to celebrating on off-days rather than the actual holiday, since my husband usually is on call either Christmas or Thanksgiving. We live within two hours of both sets of our parents, as well as my husband’s sister/her little family.

    Taking a step back is good and respectfully saying “no” to some things, for the sake of your sanity, is necessary. I don’t have any great suggestions–except maybe plan some kind of family trip/gathering at a different time. For example, we are thinking of getting a beach house for a few days for as many family members can make it, and doing a family stay-cation some time in January or February. This works well since we are already in south FL.

    This week, I should be planning Thanksgiving menus and cleaning my house…right now, though, my son is sick, my daughter looks like she’s getting sick, my husband is sick and out of town, and I’m sniffling too. My mom has a cardiac procedure (hoping it is simple) tomorrow, and that is kind of dictating how the rest of the week will go.

    Take it all as it comes and let’s all be thankful for the family we have…even or especially when it’s tricky!

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