20-40-60 Etiquette: How to juggle time when visiting family during the holidays
QUESTION: We ran around during the holidays to all of the relatives’ houses for gift exchanges and Christmas cheer. We had to leave my in-laws' home early in order to go to my grandfather’s house. They did not like it. Do you have any ideas about how to politely tell the people hosting these events that they should check with everyone BEFORE planning their BIG event — or that the hosts should plan on people coming and going during the holidays and not get their feelings hurt. Or should we just stay home?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Everyone should understand that the holidays are crazy. But, proud of you for trying to go to everyone’s. That’s really hard and stressful.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: A little grace and flexibility go a long way into fitting family holiday schedules together like a puzzle. Grace mainly on the part of the hosts and flexibility for everyone. It’s hard to get families together as everyone grows older. Running around to all the houses can cause stress, but sometimes it’s the only way to see all the people you want to see over the holidays. Some families alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas (one set of parents at one holiday, the other side for the next, flipping those each year). Some stay home on Christmas Day and only plan gatherings Christmas Eve or other times. Others try to fit it all in on one day. Since what happened this past Christmas didn’t work for you and ended up making people mad, I think the best way to handle it is to communicate early what you are capable of doing. It’s OK to set limits for your own immediate family, but you can do that and try to accommodate both your grandparents and your in-laws. It’s just going to take some communication and advanced planning on your part. And understanding on everyone’s.
HELEN’S ANSWER: You could stay home and have everyone come to you. Plan a come-and-go event at the same time every year. If gifts are involved, invite those who are exchanging gifts to come after the open house.
It is pretty joyous to get to see everyone’s decorations though, so I hate to see you stay home every year. If there are events around the same time, communicate to the host that you can only stay a certain number of hours.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Joe Hight: Endowed Chair of Journalism Ethics in the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Central, columnist, writer, consultant and a bookstore owner: This is one of those "you're not alone" responses. Many of us have multiple commitments in which we are trying not to hurt certain relatives' feelings because we can't be there or have to leave early.
But I would advise you to avoid staying home. That would upset your in-laws even more. Continue to be honest with them about your other commitments, but explain beforehand that you'll need to be at their house for a specific block of time. Remind your in-laws when you arrive that you'll be leaving at that time, so you can go to another relative's home. If they seem upset, simply apologize and say how appreciative you are for their understanding and for what they are doing for you that evening.
The most important thing is not to feel guilty, because we all face these dilemmas during the holiday season. Even afterward.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email email@example.com.