Be Mindful of What Your Kids Need
Do they need to go to bed earlier than your sister’s kids? Become antsy when they’re cooped up for days on end? Fall apart easily when overloaded with too much noise, screen time, or sugar? You know your kids better than anyone else in the house. So don’t hesitate to make decisions based on that knowledge and experience—particularly when you know it will make the next day a thousand times easier for everyone. And if your family pushes back on your decisions, simply respond with, "Trust me. This is what they need right now." You don't have to clear your choices with them, either. You know what your kids need!
Make an Escape Plan
Visiting out-of-town relatives doesn’t have to mean literally being together 24/7. Work in a movie or take your kids to the local park or an indoor gym to blow off stream and give everyone a break. Even if you only have half an hour to get away, you’ll come back refreshed and better able to cope with little annoyances.
Know Your Options
Who says you have to stay with your parents the whole time you’re in town? If you have travel points (or road-warrior friends who are willing to share), cash them in for a couple of nights at a local hotel. Worried about the backlash or hurting someone's feelings? Tell your family that you promised the kids a night or two in the hotel pool. Then take advantage of it and allow yourself to enjoy the small break. When you return to everyone else's stories of drama and conflict, you'll be glad you gave yourself a night or two off!
If you’re bothered by the way things have "always been done" in your family, speak up about it. Let your sister know if your kids are too old to be sharing an air mattress or let your parents know ahead of time that you'll be the one making decisions about your kids' bedtimes. Be clear about your boundaries, too. When someone goes behind your back to approve something you don't allow, calmly say, "I'm the parent, and it's my decision."
Use Your Manners
Be sure to exercise your manners and teach your kids to do the same. For example, make your beds, wipe down the sink after you wash up, and don't leave your toiletries to pile up in a shared bathroom. Be intentional about helping to prepare meals and clean up, too. Your hosts will appreciate the assistance, and sharing the workload is a great opportunity to get quiet family members to open up.
Finally, remember that every family has its share of struggles. Yes, you'll get tired of one another and possibly offend each other. You may even wish you could escape heading home for the holidays altogether. But take the time to sort out the difference between the perfect ideal and the imperfect reality. Life's messy. Your family will disappoint you. You'll feel misunderstood at times. But you'll also have the opportunity to connect, learn something new about one another, and equip your kids with extended relationships they can count on in the years to come. And chances are, that's 100 percent worth the amount of family stress you'll put up with this holiday.