Carolyn Hax 298x298

Columnist Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My husband and I are from the same city but now live out of town. Both of our parents live in the same area, albeit an hour apart. Going home to visit has become such a stressful event with the constant back and forth between both houses and both families vying for our attention. It's even more difficult this year since we now have a 7-month-old daughter. Both sides want as much time with us and their granddaughter as possible but don't seem to understand the pressure and stress that is placed on us as a result and how difficult it is to unpack and repack all of our stuff to go to the other house.

In addition, all of our friends also live in the same town, and we never get to see them because of trying to spend equal time with both sides of the family.

How can we best split our time without the constant unpacking and repacking and traveling an hour back and forth? — Visiting

Answer: Stop trying to cater to everyone, please. It's nuts.

Instead, create a capital-p Plan that both serves your needs and gives everyone a fair shot at time with you, and then stick to it.

For example: Stay with one set of parents for X holiday in odd years and the other in evens. The off-year parents can drive to see you at the other parents' house. Or, stay home and have the parents visit you — all at once or in alternate years. Or, on a three-year cycle, Parents A, Parents B, stay home. Or four-year: Parents A, stay home, Parents B, stay home. Throw other holidays and ordinary visits into the fairness mix. You get the idea.

The beauty of a system built for fairness is that you can erase the arguments. "We're doing this. Thanks in advance for being on board." No negotiations. "Everyone's getting their time, and we're staying sane." Period.

And, when you're in town, start making time for your friends. You can even have the grandparents baby-sit for you while you do, so they get precious alone time with your kid and you get to keep these local friendships going. They're important.

Remember, these nuclear families you're working so hard to honor were once as new as yours is now. It's part of the natural order for you to start doing things your own way.

Re: Visiting: Our first holiday travel with an infant taught us that what WE really wanted out of the holidays, rather than trying to make things fair for our families spread across the Midwest, was to just stay home and create our own holiday traditions. Sometimes, those traditions include extended family, and often they don't. We travel when the weather is more predictable, the crowds smaller, and flights cheaper. We're approaching our eighth holiday season at home, and this is working super well for us. — Anonymous

Answer: Good stuff, thank you.

For what it's worth, we're no more beholden to our own traditions than we are to others', so making a commitment like yours doesn't have to be just a great idea, period — it can be a great idea for now, which you revisit as your lives evolve.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com or write her c/o The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, DC 20071.

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