Holiday dilemmas: How to deal with family issues

Dec 08, 2011

Whether it's deciding how many gifts to give children or figuring out how to mesh Christmas and Hanukkah, today's guests are here to answer your questions.

Hi everybody,

Parenting experts Margerite Kelly of The Post and Meghan Leahy of Positively Parenting are here to help us navigate holiday parenting issues.

I'm here too, but more as a student than anything else.

Let's ask away,

Janice D'Arcy


Welcome to our 2 o'clock chat.  With three of us here today, we can field a lot of questions, so keep them coming, please.


Hello everyone!  Thrilled to be here, and I look forward to working with my esteemed colleagues to help with holiday dilemmas.

How do you avoid your older kids spoiling the wonder of Santa for the little ones who still believe?

This is a case where the parents, no matter what, keep the wonder and belief alive.  Don't try too hard with the older kids with getting them to act one way or another...they are their own people, too, and don't have to pretend if they don't want to.  I would pick a message and stick to it!  Be excited to make the lists with the little ones and mail them.  Be enthusiastic to go for the Santa photo, and definitely make the cookies!  Read The Night Before Christmas, full of wonder and and magic.  Sure, the older kids may shrug it off, but I have found that they love to believe, too.  It makes them feel safe.  And all kids, big and little, feel secure when there parents are steadfast in their positive messages.  So, unabashedly celebrate Santa and create the wonder in your home!

My son is 5, and we're Jewish. He's starting to ask why Santa doesn't come to our house and why we don't have a tree. I try to explain that we celebrate different holidays, but that's just not cutting it. Any tips?

While you may feel challenged by the Santa machine and how to explain it, this is an amazing opportunity to experience the Jewish faith and all its beautiful traditions.  I say "experience," because 5 year olds are going to tune out talking pretty quickly.  So find ways that your son can actively do things.  Go to your local library (with son) and find some resources!  For instance, preparation of the traditional foods like latkes and Sufganiyot can be fun with a five year old, as well as the games and songs associated with the dreidel.  Embracing your own traditions with enthusiasm and curiosity is a way to help children feel special and allay the "where is my tree" worries.

How do you tactfully handle grandparents who disagree with how you are parenting? For example, you may handle a tantrum at Christmas dinner and they disagree with how you are doing it. Thanks!

Tactfully is a good word for this dilemma!  The big Christmas dinner is never the time to explain your parenting choices (arguably, there may never be a good time to explain your parenting choices), so there is a two-prong approach to this issue.  Training: You want to prepare the kids for this big dinner!  Mock up a big fancy meal at home and practice, practice, practice.  Make it fun, make it light, but make the rules clear.  The second prong is how YOU are going to handle the criticism.  I suggest removing the child from the table, and have all discussions with the child not in the public audience of family.  And then you need to train yourself to not argue, justify, overly-apologize, or become incensed.  I always have a handful of go-to topics to keep the conversation moving and away from the parenting.  Weather, hobbies, recent trips, noticing a new brooch, dish, whatever.  Keep it light, keep smiling, and then schedule a massage for the next day.

Hello. My sister-in-law has five children and my husband normally gives them cash for the holidays. This year the children range in age from 10 to 20. My husband favors the oldest child and gives him more money than his siblings. For example, he gives the oldest $100 and then $40 for the other four children. I feel he should give all the children the same amount of money or give their mother the money to divide up. We fight about this every year. He tells me he can do what he wants, however I feel it is so unfair to the other children and puts the oldest one in an awkward situation.

Perhaps your husband is looking at his nephew's age rather than showing favoritism.  A 20-year-old certainly has a greater need for money than a 10-year-old.  Whatever his reason, please remember that the giver has the right to choose the gifts he gives, just as the getter has the right to decide what to do with it.   If you're still annoyed, do your best to buy something extra for the four younger children or make something for them or offer to let them invite a bunch of friends over to your house for a party.


It is Christmas morning. You have more than three kids. They are all excited. Some believe in Santa, some want to believe. Do you let them tear into their presents or open them one at a time so everyone can see what they got? The parents disagree about this and have decided at this point to give them some to tear into and others to politely wait their turn to open.

This dilemma calls for a family meeting!  I would gather everyone in the family together and say, "Christmas Morning is so fun, and I have noticed that is getting a little chaotic.  Let's develop a plan so that we know what we are doing when we wake up!  It is a new ________ Family Tradition!" This meeting can include when/how/what time to open gifts, as well as meal planning and execution.  Have everyone get involved in the solution-creation and keep it positive.  This way, everyone has a voice and a real compromise can be reached.

Long story short, I just found out my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer several months ago after my family has been insisting the whole time that he was fine. I specifically asked both my grandma and mom if the tumor he had removed was cancerous and they both lied and told me no. They said they didn't want me to worry, but now I feel like I can't trust my family to be honest with me. I'm nearly 30 so it's not like I'm some little kid who has never heard of cancer before. I will see my family for the holidays and want to be supportive for my grandpa, but at the same time I feel like the issue of trust needs to be resolved.

People do the damndest things but almost always out of love, not meanness, and also out of a need to protect themselves.  Your grandmother may be losing her husband; your mom may be losing her dad.  They may not have been ready to talk about it.  I'd tell your grandpa about it and tell him that you are sorry you didn't know he had cancer and ask him to let you know his latest medical news and whether he wants to talk about it or not.  Skype with him too and maybe bring home a terrific new book called It's Between You and Me, which will help the family plan 'the aging years', so everyone will know what your grandfather really wants.

A friend of my m-I-l sends us a food present each year. This year they mailed a ham that says "keep refrigerated" on it in a regular cardboard box wrapped in bubble wrap. It was mailed from Arkansas on the 2nd but didnt get here til late on the 5th. It did not feel cold at all. What should I do? Toss it? I'm afraid it will make us sick. How do I allude to the poor shipping in a thank-you note so it doesnt happen again? (Last years ham came in much colder weather and had ice packs so it was still pretty cold.)

Write a thank you for the generous gift and  toss the ham!


I feel like the holidays are a great time to remind kids about those less fortunate than ourselves. Any tips on truly impactful activities -- volunteering, donating, etc. -- for kids?

Volunteer Match is a great resource for this -- On their web site you can enter your address and the ages/interests of your kids and it will find local groups that need help.

My ex-husband and I are about to spend our first Christmas post-divorce. We are amicable and plan to spend Christmas morning together with our 5-year old daughter. Does this send the wrong message to her? We probably won't always spend the holidays together, but we want to do so while we can.

Firstly, kudos to having an amicable relationship with your ex-husband.  I am hard-pressed to think of a reason that it would ever be a bad idea to celebrate holidays together!  I understand your worry about confusing her, but as long as you and your ex have boundaries, I think this is great!  What I mean by boundaries is that you do not send mixed signals about your relationship.  You and your spouse are friendly, but not overly affectionate.  And you keep your focus on the holiday and the child, not your relationship.  If you do that, you giving your child a wonderful gift!

My sister often stays with us over the holidays. She and I have VERY different approaches when it comes to setting limits and discipline for our kids. How do I answer my kids when they ask why it is okay for their cousins to get away with bad behavior that we don't find okay in our house?

This can be tough, especially in close quarters!  I would make sure that your "house rules" are posted so that everyone can see them.  They should say things like "no hitting, no hurting the house, no teasing" etc.  ("n0 ______" is CLEAR and DEFINITIVE language; good for kids and adults alike!)  Then, when the behavior occurs, it is helpful to point to the list and say, "In this house, we don't tease each other.  It hurts feelings."  You hold your boundary and keep restating the rules.  I am not necessarily advocating that you discipline your nieces and nephews, but by posting the "house rules", it helps everyone have responsibility, and gives you a proactive way of addressing misbehaviors!  And, it is always helpful to remember that your kids will not be ruined by the bad behaviors.  Kids adapt, and they also know what is okay for their house and what isn't.  Help them advocate for the rules in the house, and unless the behavior is egregious or dangerous, try not to worry too much. 

Want to highlight a point from one of the parenting experts in today's Local Living story on her advice about how to honor bothe holidays in a Christian & Jewish family.

D.C. therapist Jen Kogan's advice was excerpted. One aspect that was left out and that she thought was crucial was this:

"One way to clarify matters is to note that Chanukah is actually not a major holiday in the Jewish religion like Christmas is in Christianity. Keeping this in mind can help parents see that while the two holidays are not equal, they can still each be honored in their own way.


Although the scope and holiday stories are different, parents can talk with their kids about common religious principles or themes."

My husband is upset because I didn't buy a present for his stepmom's brother. While the dad has been married to her for about 25 years, they were married when my husband was 15 and besides seeing this guy every now and then back then, there has been little to no contact in the last five years. I made an exception in 2010 as we were down in Florida and saw them the weekend before Christmas, so we got a small present for the couple and one for each of the kids. But we haven't spoken to them since we left last year. I say why bother getting, wrapping and mailing to folks we haven't even talked to once in a year.

The question isn't whether you should give a present to him or not but why haven't you been in touch for a year?  When you come right down to it, the family is the essence of your life, with all its quirks, eccentricities and downright nuttiness that every family has in greater or lesser degree.  So give a present here, a present there and a phone call once in a while.  It won't hurt and it may even heal what must surely be an uncomfortable breach in the family.  And if you still don't want to do that, your husband can send those gifts instead.  But don't let the family slip away from you, however goofy it is.

Not a question but a comment: I don't have kids because I'm single, but I do have a niece and a nephew. In addition, I'm Jewish, so I celebrate Hanukkah. With respect to giving my niece and nephew a Hanukkah present, for the past several years I've been giving them iTunes gift cards or Best Buy gift cards because they're teens and they know better than me about what they want for themselves for this holiday. One other comment: Consider asking your relatives what they want for either Christmas or Hanukkah, and try to get it for them, in whatever color, style or size they prefer.

I have a mother-in-law that makes everything I do with my young children a competition. For example, my 2-year-old dislikes carrots. My mother-in-law tells me while I am out my 2-year-old loves carrots when she feeds them to her. Or, she wipes children's hand better than I after play time. Silly stuff that lasts the entire visit. How do I politely put a stop to this constant aggravation?

I think your MIL is looking for a way to belong and I would try to give her some leeway.  If she says "the kid loves carrots with me!" Try saying, "Great, what is your technique?"  I have found that when you bring someone into the fold, rather than view everything as a potential fight, that person will suddenly soften.  Also, since MIL is so helpful, give her some jobs!  Say, "Can you help me think of ways to help Jimmy find his shoes?"  I bet your MIL will have a million ideas, and one might even help you.  Point is: as annoying as it can be sometimes, try to be inclusive and kind.  I am thinking she might resoond, in kind.

It's hard to know what to say about estranged and/or alienated kids, teens and young adults. Their absence is noted and very profound in the nuclear family, but difficult to explain or discuss with extended family and friends over the holidays. It always hurts. This month, it sears.

Be truthful.  Tell the extended that those kids just needed to take a break from the family for a while but  it makes you sad to talk about it, so you'd rather talk about something else.  And then immediately ask about them and their children which theywill answer  because people would really rather talk about themselves than about you anyway.

My parents handled it this way: There is 10 years between my younger sister and my youngest sister. Us older two were explained that our parents pretended to be Santa and once you hit a certain age you are old enough to be in charge of the big surprise / secret. We became Santa for our sister. We got a kick out of it. Finding the right present, hiding the present and keeping the secret. We even helped dad get rid of the cookies and milk. Dad always wrote back and dripped water and red food coloring on the thank you note. (It was Santa red coat that dripped on the note.) It can be done if you include the older kids. My kids believed until around fourth grade. (My daughter's teacher even kept it up even though she was the only kid that believed in his room.)

I think this is great.  What a lovely example of including the creativity of older kids!

Family of 25 flooding the area for EIGHT days. Me? Mom of only two young kids in this large family. DH doesn't get that working, picking up kids and keeping them out past bedtime for even two nights in a row is asking for overtired, overstimulated, potentially sick kids for Christmas. MIL is overbearing, pressuring type who won't take no for an answer. Her son feels pressured and torn between his own mom and the mom of his kids. Shouldnt the kids' best interest be first and foremost? And why can't MIL schedule events at a kid friendly/earlier time? Makes for a very stressful holiday that looks nothing like a Christmas card.

Meredith Gelman is a Fairfax family therapist who offered advice in today's Local Living story on holiday dilemmas. I've posed similar questions to her for The Post's On Parenting blog and she always come back with the same answer: communicate.

These issues are best worked out in a frank conversation (or conversations) with your spouse beforehand. When the general boundaries are decided between the two of you (for insatnce, the children have to be in bed by 8pm every night) then the two of you can talk with relatives about your family's needs.

This isn't you against your husband's family, this is you, your husband and your kids as one unit celebrating the holidays with relatives.

My family is gathering for what will likely be my dad's last Christmas. (He is not elderly; he is ill). We are all very close and it's going to be tough emotionally. There is only one grandchild (7 years old) and I don't want it to be a depressing holiday for her, espcially since she will be the only kid there. Any advice on how to keep everyone's spirits up when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry?

Could you ask her to interview her grandfather with a tape recorder and help her prepare questions she can ask him?  Can you ask her to sing for him or recite a poem that she has memorized.  Can you watch a favorite old movie together or ask him about his favorite family memories?  Death is a part of life and a child really shouldn't be shielded from the leaving of it because it can make the death itself more heartbreaking for her and make her wish that she had used the time she had with him in a more meaningful way. 

Father in-law coming this year. Like him, but he is FAR right and will start in with the "War On Christmas" nonsense within one hour of arriving and will demand feedback. Help.

I find the useful tool in my box is the concerned face and the concerned "yeah, hmmm, uh huh...."  The holidays are often NOT the time to talk about politics (well, with those that it will become WWIII), so I really believe in allowing the person some air-time, and then get busy.  Find a turkey to roast, an emergency in the bathroom, help a child, walk a dog, etc. and get away from the talk.  If you are trapped at the table, just smile and say something like "Wow, you have some strong convictions!  Hey, have I asked you about your trip to the midwest since I have seen you last?"  No one is going to change anyone, so just move the night along!

I still haven't figured out the Christmas celebration dilemma. Husband and I decided to switch holidays each year, spending Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with my family, then switching the following year. I feel bad when it's Christmas away from my family because, unlike my husband's folks who are still together and have other kids in the area plus another kid who always visits for the holiday, my folks are divorced. When we go out of town to visit my husband's folks, this means my folks are usually alone. Dad and Mom have siblings in town, but I don't think they usually spend holidays with them. I know at some level it's not my responsibility to make sure they have something to do at Christmas, but I always feel bad because I think they feel sad about this.

There are many ways to handle the Christmas dilemma and none of them are perfect.  You'll probably feel better about it though if you talk with each of your parents and let them know that it makes you feel bad that they're alone at Christmas and if they have any idea of something you could do that would make it better for them?  Just knowing how you feel should help them more than you know.

Hi, ladies. Great idea for a chat! My husband's sister has three kids: 5.5, 3 and 2. We live pretty far away from them, so we don't see them a lot. Our oldest nephew spends a lot of time at my in-laws, and no one disciplines him. Don't get me wrong. He's not a bad kid. He mostly doesn't share with his siblings (and will take the toys they are playing with), doesn't listen to my in-laws or his mom when instructed to do something (whether to share or to sit at the table when it's dinner time) and refuses to call us "uncle" and "aunt." He is not just acting up because we are there. My husband's cousins, who the kids see much more, say that our nephew is the same way. My husband and I are both on the same page here. He needs to listen to adults, and he needs to call us "uncle" and "aunt" instead of by our first name. Any suggestions on how to get our nephew to address us properly and how to help our nephew to behave without making him hate us for being "mean"?

You are on a great track with understanding that this nephew is not a "bad kid."  Rather than trying to make him act in a manner that suits you, I would concentrate on spending some time with him where he shines.  Does he like sports?  Legos?  Get out in the yard or down on the floor and really have fun.  Children respond to positivity with positivity, and you want to be the Aunt and the Uncle who love him and accept, not point out his flaws.  And don't think your positive influence isn't is!

If things are going well, you can say "Hey buddy, I would really love to be called Uncle Pete.  Thanks for understanding."  But don't fight for it...because it's really not that big of a deal (at least in the long run).

Spend some one on one time with him where he is not a problem to be fixed, rather he is a great kid, waiting to shine.

Hi, Meghan. I actually know you from high school (madrigals, woo!). Just wanted to say congrats on the parent coaching business.

Hello!  This time about a million years ago, we were singing at Holiday Parties!  Thanks for chiming in....

Really, how can we tactfully but convincingly tell others in our family not to give us a gift this Christmas? What are the words that don't hurt them. We are all older and really have everything we need. I would like to suggest that we give to a charity instead , or promise a favor that would be acted on sometime during the year. But what are the words to say?

How about letting them know that your family plans to celebrate a scaled back Christmas this year and that you'd like to throw out there that, given the state of the economy, that you all celebrate without gifts. Perhaps a Skype call instead? Or you can ask for specific homemade treats, like Aunt Norine's famous cookies.

If this a group that enjoys buying gifts, perhaps you can suggest a "secret Santa" approach where every adult chooses a single person to buy for (this helped my family transition from mass purchases.)

Also, it might be worth allowing older relatives to buy presents for you, (as long as no one is blowing their budget.) Many people derive real joy out of buying gifts for others. Accepting them in that spirit is a way to honor the person.


We'll be spending Christmas with relatives -- at peak, 10 adults / young adults and three children (plus a dog), representing three generations, in a house built for a family of four (albeit generous space for four!). I appreciate the generosity of my sibling in hosting, but think that the close quarters and less-than-optimal sleeping arrangements will be somewhat stressful. My sister is urging us to stay more than the three nights I'd planned, but it just feels like too much togetherness to me. Would you think it too rude to suggest that we (husband and myself) stay in a hotel for at least the couple of nights when the house is most full? We would still count on using the house as a daytime gathering place, but at least then we could get a good night's sleep.

Hotels may be the single best invention for family unity. 

Thank the sister profusely and book the hotel. 

My mom has invited herself to our house for Christmas again this year. Booked a flight without checking if it was a good time for us, etc. This is nothing new. She has done it in years past. My immediate family has become very stressed when she comes to visit and makes Christmas very unpleasant. I'm planning on telling her to stay with my brother who lives an hour away until after Christmas. I am not sure how to tell her: Phone or e-mail? Thoughts?

If it's in the budget, can you splurge on a hotel room for her?


My mother gives my nieces and nephews gifts that she thinks they should want rather than what they actually want. And then every year fumes when she finds out that my sisters let their kids exchange the gifts for something more to their taste. The kids are 8,9 and 13. I figure that at least at some level she should cut the kids some slack. It's Christmas, and they are kids. And, sometimes her gifts are aren't even in the same universe of things the children would want, no matter how much my mother wishes these kids had different tastes. Particularly with one of my sister's kids, where the budgets are really tight and the kids don't have a lot, I don't see the harm in letting them have what they actually want. If she starts in this year after the holidays (and she will, I already saw what she's giving them and no 8 year old wants it) I'm not sure if I can bite my tongue anymore, especially because their is a tactic criticism of her grandchildren's tastes and likes/dislikes in the way she gives gifts. This happens every year on birthdays and holidays.

Your mom is being passive-aggressive, which is a pity, because sooner or later this approach always backfires.  Why not talk with your mom before Christmas and offer to go through some catalogs with her, so she will know what her grandchildren want.  And if she won't do that, or says that she has already bought their gifts, tell her not to be shocked if they exchange them, because conformity is king at this age and every child wants to look just like their friends.  Just make sure that that the children write proper--and immediate--thank you notes to their grandmother and tell her if he had to exchange a gift to get the right size or she had to find a sweater to match the color of her eyes and how exciting it is to pick out her own clothes sometimes.   Your mom will grouse but you don't have to engage.  Think of grousing as one-handed verbal clapping.  It can't be done for long or with any hope of resounding success.

If complaining were an Olympic sport, my family would be a strong medal contender almost every year. Some members are more vocal than others, sharing their money woes and various complaints very loudly. They just want to talk and for people to validate their points, which is difficult for many of us because the complain-y relatives are usually wrong. (They complain about their economic status, for example, when there is strong evidence of a series of poor decisions that led to their current situation.) Do you have any advice on surefire ways to redirect the conversation?

Firstly, you have a great sense of humor, which is 99% of the battle.  Seriously.  I would maybe develop some kind of tallying game and place some bets on complaints per night.  Put some $$$ on this! 

But seriously, find the safest topics you can and keep them in your back pocket.  Weather?  Trips?  School stuff?  Recent events?  Memories are also nice, so some "remember when..." stories can go a long way. 

At some point (when your blood starts to boil), you need an exit strategy.  Walking dogs, kitchen duty, childcare, etc.  Just get out of the room until you can face the complaining again.

How do you host a caroling party for pre-teens and teens and make sure the parenst stay so that you are not handling out of control hormones alone? Last year was a disaster. Several parents dropped their kids, though the invitation clearly stated it was a family caroling party.

This year, send the invitations to the parents and make it clear it is an adult party where kids are welcome. Also, keeping the hours short  will make it far less likely parents will use the party as a stand-in for an evening babysitter.

Perhaps call it an "open house"  where the adults can drop by between 3 & 5  with caroling to begin at 4:30. Children welcome.



Before throwing out the ham, I'd check to see whether the company that sent it guarantees satisfaction. (You could check the company's Web site.) If the delivery was three days late, and the product was supposed to be kept refrigerated, they might send a free replacement. (Of course, if the donor bought and packed it directly, that wouldn't work.)

Hello. My husband's family has been thrust into turmoil right in the midst of the holidays. Our main concern is how we handle this related to our toddler. The gist of the issue is that my father-in-law has never really taken to one of my sister-in-law's husbands. Now he has really crossed the line. He is convinced that my brother-in-law wants to have sex with my mother-in-law and has forbiddon my brother-in-law from setting foot in their house. It's completely in his head. Completely. My problem is that, while my sister-in-law has approached her father and told him she's upset, no one seems concerned about thi mental health in the sense that anyone is willing to approach him about it and try to get the man some help. So, now that brother-in-law is excluded, how do we explain this to our child now and in the future? My toddler is incredibly perceptive for his age, and I'm guessing that will only increase in the future. My husband and I are of the mindset that we do not attend family gatherings at my in-laws house, as my sister-in-law's family will be excluded. I understand there are larger issues here, but how can we make sure my son doesn't grow up jaded (as my husband did), since this is merely the latest in a long string of craziness from my father-in-law that has wreaked havoc on the family my husband's entire life?

Don't worry about your toddler, as smart as he is.When children, even toddlers, have a question they infer the answer according to what they see and hear, without asking anyone for more information.  Worry more about your father-in-law and the toll he is taking on the family.  Your husband should call his doctor, tell him that he is acting irrationally and ask him to call his dad to come in for his annual physical.  If he agrees, the doctor can give him a full workup and maybe prescribe a mild drug to ease his anger.  Long shots are worth taking, if only because you'd feel so guilty if he got sicker and you hadn't done anything at all.

I think I need to just accept this/get over myself, but if you have other suggestions (or a mental technique for truly accepting it), please let me know. I love Christmas and I love being a hostess. I love to cook and bake and have a very merry feel to the whole event. Every other year, we host my in-laws (parents and brother) for Christmas. (We see them weekly throughout the year.) The problem is that my in-laws lack what I consider your standrard social graces. I cook everything. I bake their favorites. I pick up after everyone. (My husband is helpful, but not a cook.) We pay for everything. The problem? They NEVER say "thank you!" or "this is delicious!" or "can I do anything to help?" Just nothing. Nothing at all. They're not rude to me and they technically like me, but this lack of gratitude or praise or helpfulness makes me really resentful. I know that makes me sound terrible. I don't want to trim back the amount of things I do because I LIKE doing them. I don't know how to address this in the moment without causing awkwardness at the worst time of the year, so I think my only option is to TRULY find a way to not let this get to me. But I don't know how to do that. I've tried before, and I'm not successful.

You are a aver self-aware person, and I think you are the brink of something here, but we don't know what.  You love the hostessing.  Got it.  You seem to understand that your in-laws are not into showing gratitude (or help or anything else that speaks to proper manners in 2011).  You say you do all of this because you love it, not for their show of appreciation.  Okay.  Yet....something bothers you.  So, that says to me that, yes, you love the celebration, but you are also looking for some thankfulness you will simply never get.

Is it a power struggle?  "I am going to MAKE them love this!"

Is it a insecurity issue?  "I am never enough...why can't they see what I am doing?"

Is it a lack of support from spouse?

You say you love this hostessing, but something is amiss.  Start to answer these questions to get to the bottom of it.

Good luck!

How do you keep a foster child's spirit up especially when their parents break their promises to see him (he's 17), and how do you keep the holiday inclusive with the other kids in the house?

So, thank you for the work you do in being a presence in the life of a foster child.

Allow this young man to have his feelings...and don't try to sugar coat it.  Just sit with him, go for walks, go get some food...just being a positive and listening presence is enough.  Really.

And then you give the responsibilities and the joys that come with being in your home for the holidays!  Don't overthink it!

Essentially, my in-laws are users and takers, and I am pretty much fed up with it. This year, I would like to forgo the gift-giving charade because they put no thought into it and I am tired of spending time to purchase thoughtful things only to have, for example, my MIL give my 3-year-old daughter a pair of pajamas sized for a 12-year-old, without tags so that it cannot be returned. (And this is the most thoughtful of the recent gifts she has given her grandchild.) I personally do not want gifts from them. My husband is welcome to do the gift purchasing if he wishes, but he never takes the time. So this year, I told him that I am not buying his family gifts, and he can either do it himself or tell them that we do not expect to exchange gifts this year. Am I being a grinch?

You are actually asking two different questions: How to handle your own disappointment at being given poorly chosen gifts AND how to buy for in-laws that you resent.

It might be worth it to think about what you value about gift exchanges. Do you find it fun to choose and buy gifts? Or do you find it an expensive hassle.

You're clearly not enjoying the current one-sided dynamic. Instead, how about changing your side of the equation -- not out of resentment but out of desire. Maybe you'd rather spend less time and money on the process. Inexpensive gift cards can be purchased in one fell swoop.

In the meantime, forget the in-law gifts. Accept them with gratitude, they are gifts after all, and remember that your daughter will one day by 12,

I am in a blended family, we have six children among us. My new in-law family is very generous with gifts for my children, to the point that I need to clean out their rooms to make way for all of the gifts they get for Christmas. They are very generous to my husband's children, too. Unfortunately, my oldest two stepchildren are older. They are in college. My family sends Christmas gifts to my three children, and my stepdaughter. She is 13. However, they do not send gifts to my oldest two stepchildren. How should I handle this? Sit akwardly Christmas morning while my stepdaughter opens her gifts from my family, and offer some sort of apology to the older two stepchildren? Offend my family and ask them to send more gifts for the older two? Or buy gifts for the older two and say they are from my family? (The last idea, I think is the most practicle.)

You might ask your family to spend less on the four younger children so they could buy presents for the two older ones, or you might just tell the two older children that your family doesn't give presents to kids if they don't know them well or if they are older, or you can simply say, "Aren't my folks being impossible?"  It's better to be honest than to buy gifts for them and pretend that they're from your family. 

Thank you so much for writing in today!  It was pleasure to "talk" to you.  Have a wonderful and safe holiday.

It's time for us to check out but I hope you had as much fun today as we did!

Thanks for a great discussion, everyone. Can any readers help Post reporter Michelle Boorstein? Here's what she's looking for:

Does your family put on its own Christmas show or have some other elaborate tradition for the holidays? We are looking for people in the D.C. area who mark the holidays in unique ways. It might be a musical show by the grandkids, a storytelling or cooking competition, a comedy skit -- something other than the usual dinner and gift exchange. We're just looking for people who seriously plan for the holidays! And people who don't mind talking with a Post reporter and possibly letting us photo or video. Please send tips to: Religion reporter Michelle Boorstein,

In This Chat
Janice D'Arcy
Janice D'Arcy writes On Parenting, a blog on news and events for parents in the Washington area. Read her story on holiday advice for families.
Marguerite Kelly
Marguerite Kelly has written the syndicated column Family Almanac since 1979. She is the author of several books, including "Marguerite Kelly's Family Almanac" and "The Mother's Almanac." Read her advice on helping kids think outside the box during the holidays.
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach.
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