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How to Survive Visiting Family during the Holidays

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You want to visit family during the holiday season to introduce your little one to long-treasured traditions and catch up with far-flung loved ones. But you may be nervous about cramped sleeping quarters, squeezing in quality time with everyone on your must-see list, and staying sane on someone else’s turf. Below are some strategies to make sure your visit is as stress-less and joy-filled as possible.

No Room at the Inn?

Settling in at a loved one’s home can be a restful retreat under the right circumstances. Staying as a guest at grandma’s house makes it easy to engage in holiday activities like cookie baking and tree trimming. It also gives you easy access to gift wrapping necessities and a kitchen for food preparation and storage. You may even be treated to some home-cooked holiday meals during your stay! Plus, after your child’s bedtime you are free to chat, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or play board games with your hosts.

All the better if your hosts are eager, or at least willing, to help out with childcare duties! Most grandparents and other doting relatives are more than happy to babysit while you duck out for last-minute gift shopping or a much-needed night on the town. Whenever I stay at my folks’ house in Arizona, my mom outdoes the best nanny – she helps with naps, feeding the kids, and even does our laundry!

Consider staying at a hotel if there there isn’t enough room for you at the in-laws or if having your own space will be the best way to keep your family’s schedule (and sanity!) on track. Choose a convenient middle ground between far-spread family members to cut down drive-times. A hotel near eateries and amusements or with amenities like an indoor pool, may increase the fun factor of your trip. Staying in a hotel can make your visit seem more vacation-like too. After all, your Aunt Emily doesn’t offer room service, daily towel changes, or chocolates on your pillow.

Another option is to book a vacation rental home or condo, or do like I often do, and participate in a home exchange. Check out or

Plan a Holiday Potluck Party

In the several years since I moved from the Midwest to the West Coast, I have slowly pared down the list of must-see people during visits home. Hosting (or asking someone to host) a holiday potluck is a festive way to get everyone together while disbursing the cooking duties and keeping stress to a minimum. A casual get together enables you to 1) show off your darling prodigy, 2) squeeze in time for second tier friends and relatives, and 3) free up your schedule for other activities – like naps!

Double-Up Social Visits and Make Your Schedule Known

During one family visit, my mother-in-law broke into tears when she learned my husband and I – and most importantly, our children – were booked for brunch at my sister’s house for our last few hours in town. We eventually convinced her and Grandpa to join us for pancakes and playtime, but not without more tears for her and guilty feelings for us.

Spelling out which days will be spent with whom ensures quality time with everyone on your must-see list, sets appropriate expectations for everyone, and decreases guilt-trips significantly!  This is especially true during the holiday season. If visiting more than one set of grandparents, make sure to spell out which nights of Hanukkah will be spent with which family members or with whom you will be celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Doubling-up visits with multiple families or social circles can give you some much-needed down-time.

Safety-Proof Your Temporary Digs

A Christmas tree laden with glass bulbs, tinsel, and strings of beads is a beautiful holiday tradition, but one that can pose a hazard to young children. If traveling with a baby or toddler, ask your hosts to encircle the tree with a safety gate or to place the tree in a room separate from where your child will be exploring. Likewise, holiday candles and decorations should be kept far out of grasp.

Long-treasured items saved by well-meaning grandparents can be dangerous for your child as well. The high chair at my mom’s house, for example, is 45-years-old, which happens to be my sister’s age. The rickety chair has no belt or leg divider to keep a baby from slipping out.  The tray threatens to pinch tiny fingers with its metal claw mechanism for attaching to the base. Even more dangerous are old cribs, in which little arms, legs and (heaven forbid) heads can get stuck, leading to serious injury or even death. Many old cribs were painted with lead-based paint too. Scary old cribs, although sentimental to a grandmother who has stored it for 20-plus years, should be tossed in the trash.

To avoid such hazards, rent highchairs, cribs, and other items from a baby gear rental company. You may also want to pack some outlet covers and hide away grandma’s delicate collection of Hummel figurines for the duration of your stay.

Schedule Alone Time

Constant social visits will stress out even the most easygoing parents and children. Why not sneak away from the holiday hubbub for a stroll to see holiday lights or to take a jog to work off all of those gingerbread cookies and candy canes? Making room for exercise and relaxation will minimize meltdowns and enable you to be at your best when showing off your adorable offspring!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

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