If you don’t live where you and your spouse grew up, you probably wind up sharing a house with relatives over the holiday season. Sometimes it’s their house. Sometimes it’s neutral territory: a rented vacation home.
Ideally you’re all meeting up for that big vacation you’ve been talking about, renting a big beach house for lots of together time.
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 fellow traveler and housemate without feeling put-upon.
Here’s how we handle quality time in our family when we share a vacation home with your extended family.
5 Tips For Sharing a Vacation Home With Family
How To Manage: Food
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.
When we share 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 we will prepare at home and when we might dine out or order pizza.
How To Manage: Taking Turns
No one person should have to cook every day for everybody. We’re all together and no one is the host, 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.
How To Manage: R&R
Sleep is a challenge when people are not in their own beds. 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 work.
I also take downtime for myself. Nobody can be perky all day every day of an extended family vacation.
If I need a few moments to shut the door, decompress, and pay attention to my own needs then 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 vacation nap or chase them down on the beach to do it.
How To Manage: Routines
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 big family vacations and the holidays are not the time to be a stickler for our usual house rules. This does get easier as kids get older and can go with the flow more.
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!)
Tip: Electronics are a big part of kids lives, especially if they get new ones for Christmas, but families can have different ideas about how much screen time kids should have when they are around other kids.
Agreeing in advance about screen time can make sure everyone has a good balance of alone time and cousin time. Also, throwing all the kids out of the house can be an easy way to get them way from screens and bonding.
How To Manage: Gifts
If we’re getting together for the holidays, we’ve learned to establish the family policy on gifts way before Christmas and Hannukah arrive.
No one should feel like they’ve underdone or overdone it.
A heads up if you’re giving your kids something big and pricey is nice, too. So other families can adjust either their own spending or their kids’ expectations.
And really, isn’t the best present the company of your loved ones?
Sure. But a bottle of Bailey’s will also do nicely.
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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 her stuff on Romper, Aiming Low, Skirt! or her own Mama Jabber blog. You can also see some commercials she’s made or follow her on Twitter.