5 Tips To Manage a Holiday With Extended Family

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Have yourself a merry little family holiday...

Have yourself a merry little family holiday…

By Liza Wyles

 With holidays on the horizon, chances are good you have travel in your future. You’re traveling to your family, or they’re traveling to you, or you’re all meeting up at a destination you’ve been talking about for months. So you’ll all be together for a couple of nights. And mornings. And everything in between. It all sounds GREAT! Until a temperamental toilet backs up and you learn that no two kids drink the same kind of milk (1%, 2%, soy, almond-vanilla, chocolate rice…).

At some point it will seem like this fun time together is taking way too much time and energy. But with a little pre-planning, you can be an ideal host, guest or fellow traveler without feeling put-upon. Here’s how we handle this quality time in our family.


We try to do some meal planning with our holiday mates prior to arrival. There is nothing more stressful than waking up each morning having to figure out how a combined group of people is going to eat.

If we are hosting or sharing a vacation space we make sure to have enough food in the house to get us through the first day’s lunch and snacks. Once we’re settled in we can take turns grocery shopping and fetching take-out. We also try to make some decisions about what meals everyone (hosts and guests) will prepare at home and when we might dine out.

Tip: We accept we will be running the dishwasher a lot. When we don’t want to deal, we use disposable dishware (ideally compostable ones).

That's more Bailey family...

That’s more Bailey family.

Taking Turns

No one person should have to cook every day for everybody. When I’m a guest I offer to help. When I’m the host I let people know I accept help. In fact, I don’t see it as “help.” We’re all together, so together we share responsibilities. If these folks are close enough that we want to share a house with them, we can all pitch in. Someone wants to make pancakes for everyone? Let ‘em. The in-laws want to take everyone out for dinner? Take them up on it!

If you agree that whoever cooks the meal doesn’t clean up, it gives everyone an incentive to take a turn at the stove and spreads the work out even more.

Tip: We clearly mark where garbage and recyclables go.


Sleep is a challenge when people are not in their own beds (including the host family). When we had babies and toddlers we tried to be consistent with bedtimes and naps, but we also learned to accept it wasn’t always going to always work.

I also take downtime for myself. Nobody can be perky all day every day of an extended family visit. If I need a few moments to shut the door, decompress, and pay attention to my own needs then and I do it and I don’t apologize. I will also occasionally eat Christmas cookies without sharing them.

Tip: We label and hang everyone’s car keys in one spot so if we need to play musical vehicles in the driveway, we don’t have to wake anyone from their holiday food coma to do it.

And less Griswold.

And less Griswold


Shockingly, not everyone in our extended family shares all of my points of view on what time kids should go to bed, how much screen-time is way too much and whether it’s OK to eat cake for breakfast. I’ve accepted that holiday vacations are not the time to be a stickler for our usual house rules. But we do discuss some rules, let everyone have their deal breaker (no playing tag inside) and agree where we can bend a little (fine, cake for breakfast, but not everyday!)


We’ve learned to establish the family policy on gifts way before the holidays arrive. No one should feel like they’ve underdone or overdone it. And really, isn’t the best present the company of your loved ones?

Sure. But a bottle of Bailey’s will also do nicely.

How do you manage holiday time with family without wanting to retreat into the kids snow fort?

Liza Wyles, a full-time working mom of 2, is raising fourth generation New Yorkers. She writes with the conviction that the suburbs are no place to grow a family. She also develops, writes and produces for TV and film and is in blissful denial of a work-life balance. You can read some of my stuff on Aiming Low,  The Indie Chicks, The Jane Dough, Skirt! or her own Mama Jabber blog. You can also see some commercials she’s made or follow her on Twitter.

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2 Responses

  1. All great tips! It’s always a challenge to have that many people at one place. We do a lot of compromise and taking turns too. Here’s wishing all of us a smooth family holiday time. Happy Holidays!

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  2. The advance planning really does help if you can manage it. And they’re good tips for any larger group vacation, not just holiday time!

    Was this review helpful to you? Yes   No


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