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Surviving Extended Family During the Holidays

The holidays are upon us, which means for most of us, it’s time to travel to see family.

We just survived the Thanksgiving wave, and now here we are again. For some, time with extended family is the best! The kids play with their cousins, you get a break while the grandparents help out with the workload, and everyone is happy. For others, this may not be the case. Maybe your mother-in-law is passive aggressively reminding you that you aren’t good enough for her son for the millionth time. Maybe you just don’t raise your kids the way your father thinks you should, and he sure likes to share his opinions. That’s why I’m here. I’ve been married 10 years, been a mom for five of them, and have three kids. While I love my in-laws and my own parents, it’s safe to say the holidays are always stressful. Here are a few pointers on how to survive close quarters with the extended family:

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It all comes down to time and space.

This means, if you’re stuck staying at their place, or they’re stuck at yours, make it short! Day one has adrenaline and the final day has relief, so just combine them! My favorite family visits are day trips, even if that means I spend upwards of 10 hours on the road to make it happen. Two days seems to be the key to our healthy marriage. Any more time at either set of parents and its couples counseling for months. If you can afford to get a hotel, or heavily suggest they get one, DO IT! If you’re stuck with them for long periods of time, just make a lot of excuses to get away. You can always pretend to go to bed early, then binge watch tv on your phone.

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Breastfeeding makes them uncomfortable? Then cover up.

I get it, we’ve come a long way in recent years to normalize the most natural form of feeding. In fact, just this year (2018!) it’s FINALLY legal to breastfeed in all 50 states. If you know feeding the baby will make family members uncomfortable, cover up! I find if I bring a queen size comforter, it’s large enough to cover upwards of three uncomfortable family members at a time. If the living room has multiple seating options, you might need to bring a few more blankets. Your baby eats freely, and your family can bond under that blanket with grimacing faces.

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That dreaded question: When are you going to have more kids?

We’ve all heard it a million times. It makes us cringe, it makes us squirm, it’s a loaded question. It’s also a very personal one. I find it’s best to always respond to a personal question with a very personal answer. Look them straight in the eye and say “Hmm, I’m not sure, but we’ll definitely be trying tonight if you know what I mean”. It helps if you wink at the end, or playfully smack their arm. If it’s your in-laws asking, feel free to add some more personal detail such as “Why, are you worried about your son’s performance?” If you’re really looking to shut it down (and possibly not be asked back to stay with them) you can ask about the quality of the mattress you’ll be using tonight. Remember, meet personal questions with personal answers.

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They don’t agree with your parenting style.

As we all know, these are fighting words. It’s hard when it comes from the people you love. The truth is, you’re never going to make them happy, so don’t stress. Embrace it. When my parents comment on how I’m raising my kids, I like to play a game of “remember when…”. It goes something like this: “Hey mom, remember when I was little and you used to let me play in the pot holes on road in front of our house after it rained because you said it was like my own little swimming pool?” or “hey dad, remember when we were little and you drove us down to Disney World with us sitting in the bed of a pick-up truck that you had a topper put on? And you said if we got near the end of the bed, the wind would suck us out so (my sister and I) sat horrified huddled together against the cab window wishing we were inside with you for 18 hours straight?” These ‘fond’ memories of parenting ‘wins’ tend to be quick reminders that we all parent differently. If it’s your in-laws, you might not have these memories to produce. That’s okay, you have all your spouse’s flaws that are surely results from not-so-perfect parenting. Give them a quick reminder that you’ve seen their parenting outcomes, and chances are they’ll back down a bit.

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Anything to do with your appearance.

Man, this one gets me every time. I’m a firm believer in not talking about how my body looks in front of my kids. They have the rest of their lives for everyone to tell them how to look, it’s the last thing I want to do. We focus on healthy eating versus diet, and looking strong/healthy/happy rather than fat/thin. The truth is, our parents came from a different generation. If your mother-in-law notices you aren’t as “firm” as you were before birthing a tiny human, I find that pointing out that it hasn’t affected her son’s sex drive is helpful in ending the conversation. If your mother comments about taking a second helping at dinner, ask her if she wants to get up at 5am and workout with you or go for a run after dinner. This always takes care of it in my situation because let’s face it, my family is lazy! If they are trying to make you feel bad about where you’re at in your life, then honestly there’s nothing you can say or do that will fix the situation, they’re just jerks. Remember that their opinion doesn’t matter, and love that beautiful body you have!

In all seriousness, sometimes it’s hard when you’re with your extended family. It’s a delicate balance between what’s best for your family core but also trying to please those around you. While it doesn’t make it any easier, just remember that (most of the time) they love you very much. While it might be frustrating or annoying or even offensive, chances are they don’t mean it in malice. Cheer up, at least you don’t have to go through this again until next year!