Afraid to Disappoint Parents Over Holidays

Question My husband and I are worn out every holiday season because we have to visit his parents and mine for Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. Our kids are young and it’s hard to keep them out all day. They miss their naps, get crabby and over stimulated. We’re exhausted, but we hate to disappoint our parents. Any advice? Cindy in ID

Answer I remember having this feeling also. My husband and I lived in Michigan, our families in Chicago. It seemed every holiday and vacation we were shuffling back and forth between his family and mine. It’s a special time of year and we all want to be with family, but sometimes it just gets to be too much. Here are a couple of things you might want to think about.

I think sooner rather than later, you and your husband might want to begin your own holiday traditions. That will mean some changes in the way you’ve done them with your families of origin. The sentence that clued me into the fact that you need to change is “we have to visit his parents and mine.” The truth is, no you don’t. You may choose to if you want, but no one is forcing you. When you tell yourself you have no choices in the matter, it’s is much more tempting to feel resentful. Therefore, one change you can make is that you and your husband choose to visit both of your families on the holidays. You do it because you want to, not because you have to.

But it seems that you don’t want to, for good reasons. But you also don’t want to disappoint your parents. But we can’t be true grown ups ourselves, if we’re still anxious about disappointing our parents. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about how our parents feel, but we can’t make our personal and family decisions based on it. Our parents might be disappointed with things we decide to do or not do. We might decide to take a job opportunity out of town, go overseas for ministry, quit college, be a artist instead of a doctor, or not visit them during one holiday, and they might feel disappointed in our decisions. But if our first priority becomes not disappointing our parents, versus doing what we think is best for ourselves and our family, we will never be able to make good decisions.

That said, you’re right to care about their traditions and feelings. If you want to make changes in how you do things this year, give them plenty of notice ahead of time. You might say something like this.

“Mom and Dad, John and I have been thinking about the holidays this year and we’d like to do it different. It was so hectic last year and we were all exhausted. John and I don’t think it’s a good idea for our family to try to visit both families in a single day. We’re open to suggestions on how we might celebrate together, but one idea is that our family stays home and you and Dad as well as John’s family come here. Another is that we alternate years, or celebrate a different weekend than the holiday weekend. What do you think?”

John could have the same conversation with his parents. I realize that if there is a large extended family, the pressure is great to conform, but you won’t know that things could be different if you don’t try to make them different. Like the old saying goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes. Even if your parents do feel disappointed, they should be able to accept your decision without holding it against you. If they don't, or you fear that won't happen, you have a whole other problem.

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