Holidays With the In-Laws Survival Guide: 19 Tips to Stay Sane

Spending lots of time with your in-laws during the holidays can be stressful. Our tips can help you navigate it gracefully.

Published December 1, 2023
Happy senior woman serving food to her family on Christmas

If you're about to spend the holidays with your in-laws, it's understandable if your mind immediately flashes to Meet the Parents or Happiest Season. Spending time with your in-laws, especially during the holidays, is trickier to navigate than a game of Operation. So, before you resign yourself to silence or dread, consider a few of these coping strategies. You can and will get through this.

Tips for Staying Sane During the Holidays With Your In-Laws

Maintaining composure, grace, and good relations during the holidays is already challenging. Then you introduce your family and your in-laws into the mix, and suddenly, it feels like you're a juggler on a unicycle in rush hour traffic. You can get through this gracefully with some clear communication and self-care. 

happy couple talking to seniors during Christmas dinner time at home

Be Clear About Expectations

More than just boundaries, setting expectations for the holidays can help prevent disappointment and guilt. If Christmas Eve in the afternoon is the only time that works for everyone, but they want Christmas Day, too, try to come up with a reasonable solution, even if that solution is alternating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day each year. 

Remember That Nothing Lasts Forever

Everything is temporary. This, too, shall pass. Let these be your mantras for the holidays. Even if that means adding a countdown app to your phone (maybe don't leave it on your lock screen for everyone to see), you'll know that for every minute that passes, you're a minute closer to freedom.

Take a Few Moments of Me Time

Sometimes, you just need to stop and breathe. Or ground yourself. Or meditate. Or stare at the ceiling with nobody talking to you. Find small pockets of time each day where you can be alone (bathrooms work in a pinch), close your eyes, and just take a few deep breaths. Go for a walk or a run. Step outside and watch the clouds. Meditate in the morning before anyone else wakes up. Having a practice, no matter how small, has big rewards in saving your sanity. 

Let Spouses Negotiate With Their Families

Every family has their own language, and even though you might literally speak the same one, having your spouse plan, negotiate, or advocate for you can go a lot further. Likewise, advocating to your family for your partner smooths things over for everyone. Try to use we instead of they. No one wants to feel singled out. 

Make Some Topics Off Limits if Necessary

Whether it's the latest episode of a sitcom you haven't yet watched, not wanting to hear for the 100th time about how you're a fool for rooting for the Buffalo Bills, or you desperately need a reprieve from politics and global events — it's okay to not participate in some conversations.  You might even want to gently suggest that some topics (politics, religion) stay off-limits for everyone's comfort. If one of the topics comes up, you can remind everyone of your agreement or tactfully change the subject.

Choose Your Battles

Since peace is the objective, remember that you don't need to fight every little thing. Maybe your mother-in-law makes barbed comments. If you bristle at every single one, it could turn into a battle royale. But if your father-in-law is running around in his tighty-whities in front of the kids, maybe that's a battle you do want to choose (with a polite request, of course). Only go all-in on the super important stuff. Let the rest go. They'll be out of your hair soon enough. 

Keep "No" in Your Vocabulary

Saying no is always an option. So if one of your in-laws suggests you do something and every fiber of your being says no, then offer a polite "no thank you." You don't need to explain your no to anyone, and being able to say no to specific conversations and activities will remind you that you still have agency. 

How to Handle Your In-Laws in Your Guest Room

Instead of hitting the road or schlepping yourself to the airport, your in-laws are headed to you, and you're playing host. If they're staying at a hotel or other accommodations, you'll have some scheduled downtime, but if they're with you full-time, it can be daunting. We've been there, and we have solutions. 

Extended family sitting on sofa with christmas tree

Set Boundaries, Both Physical and Otherwise

If your office, basement, bedroom, or attic is off-limits, make sure everyone knows that up front. You can make certain rooms, times, or even the whole house an x-free zone, whether x equals sports, politics, work, or anything else that you don't want happening there. Just make sure you set that boundary at the start of the visit. 

Focus on the Good

You now have an extra pair of hands! If you have little ones, you now have someone else for those small hands to grab when they want to go on an adventure. Pick their brains about a particular house project they've surely experienced so they can offer a little advice — whether you take it is up to you. 

Have a Plan

Do you have different bedtimes, waking times, or working-on-the-crossword times? If they're early risers, have the coffee ready, so you don't need to get up at dawn. Not making them feel like an intrusion or that they need to hunt down where things are goes a long way. 

Create Safe Zones

Create safe zones for everyone in the house where they can go and not be bothered by everyone else. Set an agreement at the start of the visit that when someone is in their safe zone, they're taking some personal time and shouldn't be disturbed.

Tips for Staying at Your In-Laws During the Holidays

If your in-laws are the ones hosting you, it can feel difficult not to have a space to retreat to if you're starting to reach zero on your social meter. These hacks can help you through it. 

Couple preparing for a travel

Stay Busy

If you're lurking in the corner, time will crawl very slowly. But if you're staying busy as the dishwasher, the one in charge of setting the table, or helping with consolidating dishes in the kitchen, the time will pass more quickly.

Bring a Puzzle

No, seriously, bring a puzzle! The conversation isn't the main focus. Instead, the puzzle is the focus, and conversation is secondary. It's perfect for introverts and extroverts alike. Plus, it's an easy way to be present without having to carry on conversations.

Stay Nearby

One of the easiest ways to stay sane when visiting in-laws during the holidays is to not stay in their house. Get a short-term rental or a nearby hotel. That way, you can pick and choose the activities you engage in, and you have a place for everyone to retreat when they need a little breathing space. 

Respect Their Boundaries, Too

Just like you want them to respect boundaries when staying with you, respect their space, too. Sure, you're curious about why that wing of the house is off-limits, but don't go exploring. If they've said they don't want to hear your opinions about whether Rogue One or Solo are good movies, don't push it. 

@millennialmatleave Having a Safe Word isnt just a strategy for people who are into 50 shades of Grey activities  #safeword #boundaries #marriage #holidaygatherings #extendedfamily #toxicfamily #inlaws #communicationstrategy  original sound - Janelle Marie

Can You Avoid Your In-Laws During the Holidays? 

As we step into our Dear Abby power suit, we can answer this question with yes and no. Yes, you certainly can avoid them. But think about the long term. Consider how your spouse would feel. Unless your spouse also wants to cut ties, put your best foot forward. 

If you truly, absolutely cannot spend time with them for a good reason, have a calm and logical chat with your significant other. There's a chance they'll give you their blessing to skip the holidays. But open communication is essential — don't wait until the night before to spring this on them. 

Navigating the Holidays With Success and Grace

The holidays come but once a year. So, in the grand scheme of things, it's one week out of 52, seven days out of 365. Just 10,000 of 525,600 minutes. That's not even 2% of your year. If 2% milk can call itself milk, you can get through this with grace, dignity, and ease. We believe in you. 

Holidays With the In-Laws Survival Guide: 19 Tips to Stay Sane