How do I deal with this morass of feelings re: holidays, travel, family
October 29, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I am the only one that moved away from my extended family. I'm dealing with some built up anger/stress about always being responsible for going "home" to see my family. How did you stop feeling guilty, obligated, or responsible for visiting?

More details:

- I am 29 and just got married last year, though these issues have bugged me before the marriage so that's not causing it.

-"Family" includes mom, only sibling, grandparents, aunts/uncles... they all live where I grew up

- I left "home" six years ago, but three of those were spent in grad school... I feel like my family thought of that as still being "away for school" and not "an actual adult living on her own"

- during this time I/ wife and I have always flown there to visit, once during the holiday season and almost always, once in the summer. Since we got engaged we've rotated holidays with my in-laws. We also have a dog, so on top of the plane tickets we have to pay a dog sitter while we're gone. So I/we have bought two flights a year, every year.

- I feel like they rarely express gratitude or even acknowledgment for the visits. I think part of this is Midwestern stoicism, but I feel like they just expect us to "come home" by now and rarely act excited or grateful. It's getting to the point where I feel like all of our visits are just tinged by more sadness that we don't live there, we hardly ever visit, than being happy that we ARE there now.

-We don't really do anything when we visit. I'm not expecting a red carpet, and I know the point is just to catch up, but boy is it rough to visit the Midwest in the WINTER and not have your own car and try to suggest things to do while you're there for 5+ days and everybody's just like "ehhhh" and so you eat leftovers and watch TV. That's fine for a day or two, but if that's most of the trip... I don't really look forward to it. And if you do take the car and go somewhere you feel guilty for not spending time with them, which was the whole point of the trip.

- I don't really feel like it will help to talk this out with my family, because again with the stoicism, and they will just say that it's easier for me to come there because everyone else is there, and it's too hard for them to travel ,or too expensive, or Tradition, or whatever.

- My wedding was long distance for my family, and they did come out for that.

-.... which proves that it is not literally impossible for any of them to afford to or plan to visit. My mom has been on a tight income for many years, and I get that, but I bought two plane tickets every year on a GRAD STUDENT STIPEND. I wouldn't have expected her to afford every year, but I know she could have budgeted a trip or two if she planned it out.

- I have tried to suggest that people come visit us and this is either completely brushed off/ignored or excuses are made. I have offered (and maybe I need to be more blunt) to buy them tickets TO VISIT US.

- I don't think they even deliberately mean to, but there are now years worth of "guilts" that I moved away that are just eating at me. (For example, a family member sent us an anniversary card that literally said "wish you lived closer so we could see you more often".... after frequent mopey remarks about how short our visits are when we DO come out) I don't think it's deliberate... but.... it rankles me to get that after six years of visits that were all planned by me.

- So now this is built up to the point where every time we plan a trip to see my family, of course I'm happy to see them, but I'm also resentful and angry that once again we are taking the time/effort/money to visit and I don't feel like they're even cognizant that we shoulder all the effort. Plus the lack of enthusiasm for planning anything to do, even at our suggestion. Plus the moping (that maybe I have unfairly internalized) that we don't visit more, our visits are so short, etc etc.

This is coming to a head because it's our rotation to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and a bigger part of me than usual just wants to stay home. We would be happy to host visitors if anyone wants to come visit US, but that will never happen.

So how do I get over all this? Am I being selfish? Is there a way to work on my own feelings without having to have "a talk" with them, which I think will probably be fruitless? How do I get better at accepting that they may never visit us, and dealing with my feelings of guilt/obligation to visit them? Will this just get better with time? (Kids are not in the immediate future, so that won't be a reason to change our visiting dynamic). How do I deal with the inevitable, if subtle, guilt trip that we're visiting my in laws for Christmas, so we "owe" Thanksgiving to them?

I love them, and I want to see them, and it sucks that instead of being happy to plan visits I have all these gross feelings about it.
posted by nakedmolerats to Human Relations (36 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Why are you making all these trips home? By which I mean, are they asking you to, or do you just feel like you "should"? Doing things because of an unspoken feeling that you're supposed to, rather than because you want to, is never going to lead to anything but resentment.

I've lived far away from my family since I left college. I go back when I want to. For a long time that wasn't very often, especially when I was younger and didn't have any money. Now that my sister has kids, I want to visit more frequently, so I do. But for major holidays? It's a rare occasion. Flying at Thanksgiving and Christmas is miserable. I have a husband and house and pets of my own, and so do you, and it's okay to spend your holidays with your immediate family in your own space. We do go back for Christmas on occasion, but only when the timing works out and - again - when we want to. If this bothers our families they keep it to themselves for the most part.

Ultimately the answer here is to stop doing things unless you want to do them. If your family is upset about this, well, there isn't anything you can do about that. Keep making it clear that you love them and you miss them, but the financial and emotional stress takes its toll and you really want to spend Thanksgiving in your own house with your own little family. Any reasonable person would have to understand that. I do understand that when it comes to family obligations people have a tendency to throw reason out the window, but you don't have to accept that kind of illogical guilt trip as something that has to influence your decisions. You can say no. You can control your own life. They'll get used to it.
posted by something something at 10:18 AM on October 29, 2014 [18 favorites]

Hi, I went through this. I didn't have quite so far to travel, but there IS no good public transit option for people trying to get to Cape Cod in the winter; which is where my parents now live, and my brother's family also now lives. I don't even have the "out" of going to hang with my high school friends, because my parents no longer live in the town where I grew up, so the only people I know are my parents and my brother's family.

I think what may help me help you is if you clarify - you say you haven't ever had a super-effusive welcome, but what kind of sense do you have of how they'd react if you didn't come? Something that helped me was knowing that if I did one year just say "you know what, I just can't make it, I want to do something else instead," my parents would miss me, but largely be okay. There would not actually be any tearful "how DARE you!" screaming on the phone or anything if I said that. My mom even flat-out told me once that "we love to have you, but please feel free to stay home if you really feel like it at any time."

And that helped a lot when I was trying to cope with the "man, schlepping all that way sucks absolute ass" feelings - was reminding myself that "you know, NOT doing this is an option and it would totally be okay," and....sort of knowing I had that option if I really wanted to pull that trigger helped me suck it up and say "eh, fuck it, I'll suck it up and deal another year." That kind of made the travel itself the lone problem, rather than the sense that I was Obligated To Do This on top of it.

Also - my father has been quietly refunding me the cost of my train fare for my visits every year since I was in my 20's. I put up a token refusal for dignity's sake, but I always take it. And that also helps, I tell you what. Is it possible that you could plead financial hardship and maybe ask for a bit of monetary help?

And also, picking and choosing when to go has also helped. I also get invited home for Easter every year, and I've been telling the polite lie that gosh, I'd have a hard time getting off work the next day, so I guess I can't make it, sorry....but really it's because of "god, one or two trips is enough, and Easter is a comparatively minor holiday in my family so fuck it." I send cute cards to my niece and nephew, catch up with my mom on the phone that evening, and call it a day.

Also, making the visits short helps a lot - for the holidays I'm there, I'm usually staying with my parents, and we do the big family thing the day of whatever holiday with my brother's family, and then the day after my parents and I go see a movie, and then...usually by that time, both they AND me are looking at our watches all, "uh, you wanna see if we can get you onto an earlier train?" We love each other, but we have a very healthy feeling about not wanting to always be in each others' pockets for too long. Usually I make it home by the Saturday after whatever holiday, and that gives me Sunday at home to decompress. (that is actually in itself a good idea.)

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Separate visiting them from the holidays.

Decide how often you want to visit them, and can afford to visit them, and do that. Decide how you want to spend your holidays, with whom, and how often, and do that.
posted by jaguar at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Keeping up a relationship is more than just visiting in person. Do they call you? Skype? Do they send birthday cards? If they are making an effort to call and be in touch, then maybe you can remember that, and it might reduce your resentment about being the only one who travels.

As for the little guilt trips... they are only guilt trips if they make you feel guilty. My family drops these too... some of them feel sincere (I do wish I lived closer) and other more pointed 'hints' I just file under "mom making her wishes known" which I may or may not fulfill depending on how my vacation plans go that year. So just remember that it's a clumsy attempt on behalf of the other person to say they want to see you (which is kind of nice, in the end, no?).

Finally what I've had to realize about family is that they really don't fulfill all the things you need... you're just a jumble of people trying to get along. You pick your friends & partners because you share common values; family is a crapshoot. So it's ok to bumble along the best you can with these folks. It doesn't have to be perfect.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:29 AM on October 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

Do they take vacations? Planning a once-a-year joint family get-together in some cheap-but-lovely, geographically-intermediate location might (a) remove your resentment at always having to come to them; (b) make visits more fun for you; and (c) somewhat lessen the bellyaching about never seeing you, since you won't be interacting on their native turf where they can think how nice it'd be if you were thereall the time. You could frame it as a positive thing ("Mom, Grandma, I found this amazing cheap cabin in the Rockies, and I really want us all to get together there this summer!!") and offer to pay more than your share if finances are an issue.

Also, Skype Skype Skype. Phone calls are really not the same. It's amazing how much of the emotional pressure of long separation can be bled away by the experience of frequent Skyping in between visits.
posted by Bardolph at 10:30 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also live a long way away from my parents and sibling, as well as from my parents in law (both on different continents than us), so I get the whole traveling every year obligation. Although to be fair, in our case, we don't have the guilt tripping you describe. Anyway - things that have worked for me:

- Suggest activities that everyone (or a subset) can do during your visit during the planning phase . i.e. - when you're talking about an upcoming trip, drop in "Oh, and I saw that a new mini-golf place (or whatever) has just opened in town - let's all go play a round on the Saturday". Or "(spouse name) has recently discovered a love for fishing - I think we should go see what (s)he can catch while we're there". That way, it's a part of the trip before you even get there, and you're making suggestions that other people can be involved in should they choose.
- Not travel during holidays - it's cheaper, less fraught with tension, and you get to chose. start a thanksgiving tradition in your own home, for example, and then that becomes a holiday you don't travel for - but you can visit in the summer when it's nicer, so they still get to see you

I have no suggestions on how to get them to come to you, other than to plant the seed now, and build it up slowly.
posted by darsh at 10:31 AM on October 29, 2014

So, I have totally dealt with this, and it sucks, but it's just kind of the natural consequence of moving away from your family (and guess what, friends do it too if you move away from a large cohesive group of friends!).

They are not going to come visit you, so let go of that.

They are not going to start planning fun things for you to do when you visit, so let go of that. If you want to do something, make your own plans; if you need a car, rent a car. I know it's even more expense. But it is worth it for your sanity.

They are going to continue to guilt trip you because most people who have lived in the same place all their lives genuinely don't understand the dilemma you're in.

All you can change is your own thoughts and behaviors. Stop hoping for them to do something different. It would be great if your family were different people who wanted to come visit you and planned fun stuff when you visited and never guilt tripped you. But they're not.
posted by mskyle at 10:32 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Since you're newly married, you have the perfect excuse to start establishing your own family traditions. If I were you, I would just start going for one enjoyable visit in the summer when the weather's nice. Also, rent a car so you have some freedom; you'll spend less time total with your family but it'll be happier time together. I would tell your families that you're worn out by the stress and expense of holiday travel and that you're looking forward to seeing them in the summer. Also, you'd welcome visitors any time. Sometimes, I think, you just have to decide what's best for you and not spend time ruminating over what other people's objections might be.
posted by carolr at 10:33 AM on October 29, 2014 [14 favorites]

It's hard to train yourself out of the guilt-trip's desired response. Who better to know which strings to pull than the people who tied them there, right? But, with these situations, take a step back and remind yourself to read them less as a demand to visit more, and more as a wistful expression of missing you.

We moved cross-country from my parents and my husband's parents and have a fairly similar experience when visiting my husband's parents in the midwest for the holidays. We have dogs too, but I swear we aren't you. After one last visit where we left feeling upset that nobody seemed to actually actively want us there, we've just resolved not to visit for Thanksgiving/Christmas.

We visit the upper Midwest in the summer/spring when it's beautiful, and having to schedule around us in a non-traditional-family-holiday time period makes them a bit more actively engaged with our visit. Perhaps you can get/bring a car and hotel and bring the dogs instead of having to board them.

It shouldn't become a contest about how many "family holidays" each side gets. Hold the line about how you know they'd love you to be there but it won't work out this year, then remind them about your visit next year to do $AWESOME-FUN-THING.

Commiserate, sure, and tell them that you miss them and are thinking of them, but part of being an adult with your own family now is that you can visit when you actually want to, rather than when you feel contractually obligated to by being family.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:34 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm staring at a 6-hour flight with two kids during the holidays that I still haven't booked because the idea makes me break out in a cold sweat, so I hear you. Travel sucks. But it sucks a lot less if you can do the following:

1) Decide what you want to accomplish. Who do you want to see? If it's the whole family, then you're going to have to go fly there, but it doesn't have to be during the holidays. If it's just your parents and your sibling, try for a family trip somewhere.

2) Once you're clear on what you want, ask for it. Give them some time adjust; if you don't want to go home for the holidays this year, tell them now.

That's it. They're probably going to be disappointed, but they'll deal. Things change, and you've got your own family now.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:37 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh - and if you need some kind of a good laugh, get a copy of the movie Home For The Holidays and watch it. It does a fantastic job of catching both the "god my family are freaks and visiting them is so surreal" feelings and the "but god I love them" feelings.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're a married adult who is, presumably, financially self-sustaining. As a practical matter, you and you alone get to decide when and how to spend your time and money. (New rule: if they're not paying, then they don't get to weigh in on your personal choices.)

It sucks to fly to the Midwest in November. It double sucks to fly on any major holiday. Don't do it! Start your own traditions at home.

"I feel like they rarely express gratitude or even acknowledgment for the visits. I think part of this is Midwestern stoicism, but I feel like they just expect us to "come home" by now and rarely act excited or grateful."

Maybe deep down they are getting that you are not enjoying these visits, and that this whole thing has become a big ol' chore.

Don't discuss it, just stop coming. Find other ways to connect with family that don't involve awful, Midwestern freezing weather conditions and the worst po$$ible time of year for plane travel. And, no matter when you come (Spring/Summer) always rent a car!
posted by hush at 10:41 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

My experience is that the first year of not going home is the hardest. People's feathers will be ruffled, you'll feel guilty, everyone has to come up with new traditions, etc. But, it gets WAY easier the next year, when you can say "oh yeah, like last year, ms. nakedmolerats can't really afford the vacation time around then so we're going to stay put" or whatever. There will be fewer ruffled feathers, people will remember the world didn't cave in the previous year, and life will go on.

For us, at some point we decided that we would just never travel at Thanksgiving, ever. Too busy at work that time of year, and too much travel craziness that weekend. We got the word out to our families, and now we just alternate the December holidays between the families. Yes, there was some quiet bitching and moaning, and some guilt tripping, but that first Thanksgiving of no travel sold us for life.

You can do this! Let go all the stuff in the past about them not appreciating you & what you've put in to make the trips home work up to now. You have to take control of what you do and what you want, and they will adjust.
posted by msbubbaclees at 10:42 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a few ways for it to get better with time, but the only way you have control over, is to start cutting back on your visits.

If your family doesn't know much about your finances, I recommend taking the "we are so sorry, we just can't afford it" tack. If your family comes to accept this, they really might eventually take the initiative to visit you. Right now they don't because you still show up, and they get to see you.

My mother still mopes around when my siblings can't come in for holidays, but she does understand that money is money and rent is rent, and rent comes before plane tickets. She also used to say she couldn't afford to travel. But now that she Knows my brother, for example, just cannot possibly afford to visit, and absolutely will not be budged, she somehow manages to save up the money and budget a couple of visits per year.

Alternately, if what you need is just a greater acknowledgment of the sacrifice you make to visit, well...sometimes you just kind of have to ask for that and let the chips fall.

I recently asked my mother to recognize how hard it is for me to get to her house. She'll invite me over on the spur of the moment and guilt at me if I say no. Because to her "it's just dinner, what is the big deal, you can't spare a few minutes to have dinner??" But to me it's **six hours** on trains and buses, just to eat a meal. It's my whole weekend. And I do it sometimes, because I love her, but I really needed her to recognize that "come to dinner" is actually a really big ask! I think she is still a little sore but she has been better about it.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:43 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're looking for tips on how to make the transition into NOT going to visit family (alternating yours and hers) every summer, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas. From my experience, it was a slow transition, tinged with guilt and soul-searching. It was interesting to me to figure out what I wanted, what a holiday means to me, what I want a holiday to mean. Start making plans that over the next couple of years, you'll celebrate at least one holiday (a) at your own home without other relatives, celebrating your loving family of two, (b) hosting relatives visiting your house from farther away, and (c) taking a vacation to some place that is not "home". These are all things that you are actively doing, as opposed to letting "not coming home this year" be the thing that you're actively doing, if that makes any sense.
posted by aimedwander at 10:45 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

In addition to the suggestions above for how to frame not visiting so often (and especially not in the winter), I think it is essential that when you do go to visit you have a schedule already set. Things to do, people to see, there is no reason that can't be arranged in advance. At the very least you can decide to show your spouse the sights of your home town.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:54 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're a grown woman and you should spend your holidays however you want to spend them and with whoever you want. As someone who lives farther away, it's easier for you to say you just can't come. One of the many reasons I wish I had moved away a while ago.

I wish you luck on your feeling with this, because I know it can cause some guilt. Sometimes, you just have to put you and your husband first.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 11:00 AM on October 29, 2014

You're adults. Do what you want to do. If you want to go for Christmas, go for Christmas. Circulate a plan: "On tuesday we'll be going ice skating, and on Wednesday we're going to this mulled wine carol thing if anyone wants to join us."

In summer do what you want to do and invite people to join your vacation.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:06 AM on October 29, 2014

I have been on both sides of this as the "home" family and the "away" family, and as time goes on, things will definitely change. People get married, they have kids, they get busy/demanding jobs that don't let them take a lot of time off, etc.

You could set up a schedule where you alternate traveling so one year you go home for Thanksgiving and then the next you go home for Christmas. Or you could say that you're just doing Thanksgiving at home by yourselves from now on and you will alternate Christmases with your family and your wife's family from now on.

Traveling during the holidays sucks and I think people who don't travel for them don't always know how awful it is. I've been stuck in an airport trying to get home for Thanksgiving with thousands of other pissed-off passengers; stuck in horrible nightmarish traffic on the GW bridge; driven through foot-high snowbanks on the Merritt Parkway in CT; and suffered through two (TWO) kids getting car sick like three times each on the Jersey Turnpike. It sucks!

If you want to stay home, stay home. Tell them you'll visit in the summer when the weather is better and everyone's in a good mood.
posted by sutel at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2014

You just got married -- this is the PERFECT excuse to change the pattern. "Spouse and I are interested in creating our own [holiday] traditions, now that we're married. But don't worry, we'll Skype/Facetime on the day of and we'll plan a visit to see everyone at another time when travel can be both more relaxing and more affordable." If you want to have kids eventually, you can add that these new "family traditions" are something you want to start now and carry on when you have kids.

My husband and I used this excuse with great success. Let me tell you, I am a huge fan of holidays and love my mom's holiday meals and seeing my nephews. But really, there is nothing better than a quiet Christmas morning, lazily drinking coffee and opening presents with no one other than your spouse.

If you can find a cheap flight at a later time, great, plan a visit. Otherwise, keep pushing it forward with non-concrete plans. Not having someone to watch the dog is another great excuse (we use this, as well as the expense of dog sitting to justify fewer trips).

In my experience though, no matter how much time one spends with ones parents, they always think "you never visit and your visits are so short." My brother lives FIVE MINUTES away from my parents, my mom babysits my nephew twice per week, and she STILL thinks she doesn't see them enough. So, you're going to have to just learn to ignore those comments.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think they even deliberately mean to, but there are now years worth of "guilts" that I moved away that are just eating at me. (For example, a family member sent us an anniversary card that literally said "wish you lived closer so we could see you more often".... after frequent mopey remarks about how short our visits are when we DO come out) I don't think it's deliberate... but.... it rankles me to get that after six years of visits that were all planned by me

See, to me, this sounds like a not very sophisticated expression of some vague awareness that real relationships take a lot more time together than a few days, twice a year. It sounds to me like an expression of "I wish I knew you better, because you are a blood relative and I feel an obligation here and I actually like you, but, honestly, you are kind of a stranger and I don't know what to talk about with you because of it."

Distance and health issues and life getting in the way helped eventually get me off the hook for going home regularly. With time, I and everyone just accepted the new status quo of phone calls and emails and that plane tickets were just not in the budget.

Maybe it would help soften the blow to say "Hey, I can't afford plane tickets and (something else). Since I am not coming to visit, I spent a portion of the plane ticket money on extra nice Xmas gifts for you (in addition to the Something Else that you need money for)."

The reality is that an intimate relationship takes many hours every week to sustain. The fact that you used to know these people well does not mean you still know them well now. You need to accept that you de facto no longer have that and wishing doesn't make it so and it's okay to mourn and move on and they will still have a special place in your life, even if you aren't really truly close anymore, but you don't need to pretend to be close and jump through hoops to make a show of being close.
posted by Michele in California at 11:15 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your family, if it's like mine, will never express gratitude for the enormous effort, inconvenience, and expense it takes to visit them. They will probably always view visiting "home" as your obligation, and won't make anywhere near the effort to visit you, and when they do oh my god it will be SUCH a big deal and you damn well better make them feel appreciated for going all that way.

When I went through this, I decided to accept this as a cost of moving away from home and being blissfully free from constant interaction with my family all of the time. I also remind myself that we were the ones who decided to move away from home, so the responsibility for making spending time together expensive and inconvenient falls more on us than it does our families. That helps me not get irritated about this like I used to.

The practical thing that helped me the most about this was to stop traveling home at the holidays. We didn't explain this or rationalize this, we just did it: "Mom, we're staying put this year at Thanksgiving." What we did instead was to plan times to visit at other times of the year that better suited our budget and work schedules and allowed our time home to be altogether more enjoyable because we weren't rushing from one holiday gathering to the next.

Our families still tell us how much they miss us at Christmas, and we lie and tell them that we wish we were home to see them, and then we talk about how much we can't wait to see them in April, and how nice it was to see them in September, and we hope they can come out sometime and see us, too.

The few times my family has sort of tried to guilt trip about this, I didn't snap, and I listened, and I said something like, "I miss you, too," but I didn't change from the plan. After the first few years, it was never an issue anymore and the expectation was always that we would not see them at the holidays.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:20 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hi. I've been married almost four years now. I am 35 and my wife is 29. We still struggle with this. Neither of us have family or many friends in the state where we live.

The Cliffs Notes version of this: It has taken more time than I'd like, and my parents are just starting to come around. I think parents in general always see their children as subservient to them and do-what-we-say because of the nature of parent/child relationships, and it takes effort on their part to realize their grown children are adults with their own lives and shouldn't be expected to travel all the time or at the very least the favor ought to be returned with visits.

The Extended version:

I have lived away from my family since I graduated from college -- first in Massachusetts, and now in Maryland. My extended family lives on Long Island. My parents EXPECT me to be there for Christmas, and this has been stated many times. While I don't have far to go, driving up the New Jersey Turnpike during the holiday season is positively awful.

I've always had a rocky relationship with my parents. When I was single, it was a bit easier for me to go up and visit during the holidays. My relationship with my parents became even more strained when I got married. One, I don't think they approve of my wife. Two, my wife's parents are divorced -- my mother-in-law lives in Connecticut (with her husband and my siblings-in-law), and my father-in-law lives in North Carolina with his wife. All three families EXPECT us to visit for the holidays. The good news is that I enjoy visiting both sets of in-laws. They do things. My family just does the sit-around-and-chat that you've described. I feel awkward there and my wife feels even more awkward there.

I've got limited time off from work during the holidays. It's a lot of driving, and gas money, and toll money -- plus I'm already paying off mountains of debt from our wedding (this should improve in less than a year when loans will be paid off). We have three dogs, none of whom do well in boarding, and so we take them with (luckily, everyone's usually okay with that, though my mom yells at our dogs and my wife and I are not comfortable with that).

There was a long time after I got married where my parents pissed me off to the point where I wasn't speaking to them, and things are just starting to be repaired from that. I'd gotten used to visiting two sets of in-laws during the holidays and now we're adding a third family (my parents) to the mix.

We go up and down to visit all three families at various points during the year, too. My wife has extended family overseas, and we can't afford to visit them at this time (though we are saving up). Often, some of the overseas relatives will travel to the US, usually to my mother-in-law's house in CT -- so we still have to travel to see them. This seems to happen at random times during the year, probably when flights to the US are cheapest.

I've FINALLY got my parents to come down to visit us (they're coming to visit just before Thanksgiving this year), but this took A LOT of my telling them it was a lot of effort for us to travel and I felt like it was on us all the time and the least they could do was return the favor by visiting us once in a while. My wife, similarly, had the same problem with both of her parents, though they have visited us more often and seem more willing to visit us.

My parents have both said to me "when you're married, you alternate years visiting your parents and your wife's parents for Christmas." Fine. Do you realize that my wife has two sets of parents, so that would be a three year cycle instead of merely alternate years? My parents never used to seem very thankful that I visited, though they are coming around -- slowly.

I still, however, feel guilty for not visiting, and I feel a sense of obligation to travel to see all three families. It's hard to tell myself I shouldn't feel guilty. I resent that it has taken so long for travel to be reciprocated.

Keep working on your family. They will come around. I don't have an answer for the guilt you feel; I feel it too.
posted by tckma at 11:26 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all the answers and the reassurances that I am not being a selfish, spoiled diva.

To answer a few questions:

Why are you making all these trips home? By which I mean, are they asking you to, or do you just feel like you "should"? Doing things because of an unspoken feeling that you're supposed to, rather than because you want to, is never going to lead to anything but resentment.

This is a good point. My mom usually asks, around the holidays, if/when we are coming, and usually asks in the spring if we are coming in the summer. I think my mom would be disappointed and sad, but would understand if we just couldn't do every holiday. So yeah, I have definitely contributed to the feeling that I'm "supposed" to. When I was a student, it made sense to do a holiday visit + summer visit, and I've guilted myself into feeling like even that isn't very much, so of course I can't do even less than that!

I think what may help me help you is if you clarify - you say you haven't ever had a super-effusive welcome, but what kind of sense do you have of how they'd react if you didn't come?

I think my mom would accept it, but she'd be sad and I would make myself feel guilty about that. So that's definitely part of the problem. My grandpa would be especially sad -I think he is the saddest that I don't live there anymore. With him, I do often feel like he's sadder seeing me than not seeing me, and that's hard.

Is it possible that you could plead financial hardship and maybe ask for a bit of monetary help?

I've thought about this, but the issue there is that we like and budget our money to go on nice vacations, and then I feel like I have to downplay or not talk about them, because how could I spend so much money on vacation and not visit my own family? I don't really mind spending the money to visit - I just hate feeling increasingly like it's a responsibility.

Keeping up a relationship is more than just visiting in person. Do they call you? Skype? Do they send birthday cards? If they are making an effort to call and be in touch, then maybe you can remember that, and it might reduce your resentment about being the only one who travels.

This is probably its own question. I will say that this is likely built up resentment in my head too - but no, I frequently feel like it's my responsibility to keep in touch period. I probably call my mom about 70% of the time. My grandpa calls me once or twice a year, and vice versa (he always wants to hear from me more, yet doesn't call me more, and I have never heard a reason he would be unable to call... I frankly am just not a phone person with anyone) They do send cards. I tried to introduce Skype once , but no one is very techy so it fizzled out.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:30 AM on October 29, 2014

- I don't think they even deliberately mean to, but there are now years worth of "guilts" that I moved away that are just eating at me. (For example, a family member sent us an anniversary card that literally said "wish you lived closer so we could see you more often".... after frequent mopey remarks about how short our visits are when we DO come out) I don't think it's deliberate... but.... it rankles me to get that after six years of visits that were all planned by me.

FWIW, these are not guilt trips--not even midwestern passive-aggressive ones. (Though, having been there, I totally understand how it can feel that way.) These are just boilerplate pleasantries people say to visitors to be polite. "Oh, it's a shame you couldn't stay longer," that sort of thing. Don't take too much stock in them. Say, "I wish could too, it was lovely to see you, yada yada yada, hope to see you again real soon," then honk goodbye before peeling out.

We would be happy to host visitors if anyone wants to come visit US, but that will never happen.

Have you actually told them this--actually invited them to an actual thing? Showing up randomly out of the blue uninvited isn't the done thing.

- I have tried to suggest that people come visit us and this is either completely brushed off/ignored or excuses are made. I have offered (and maybe I need to be more blunt) to buy them tickets TO VISIT US.

"Tried to suggest"? Make them an offer they can't refuse. Actually buy the tickets. Maybe a year in advance so they have time to plan, get days off, etc., and don't have any excuses. It's a pushy move, but in the case of "Oh I couldn't possibly"/"No, really, I insist" stalemates, pushy gets results.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

It took about 30 years and a death in the family for my mom's relatives to visit us . We always had to go visit them in their home state. Even the prospect of free tickets out here didn't work. I'm mentioning that just to say that you shouldn't count on them ever changing their behavior and coming to visit you. You can try, and maybe succeed, but figure out ways to be happy that aren't based on your family changing their behavior.

As for the other issues, consider comparing "I feel like they rarely express gratitude or even acknowledgment for the visits" and "frequent mopey remarks about how short our visits are when we DO come out." These people love you and love that you visit them. They are just horrible at expressing that to you. Again, that probably won't change.

As for the guilt, I don't have a good answer, but I suspect that's the key.
posted by Area Man at 11:39 AM on October 29, 2014

Lots of better advice above, but I did want to pick up on one thing -- if long visits with no plans is an issue, consider visiting for a shorter time -- say, 3-4 days around Christmas, so that you're there for some prep, some holiday fun, a little winding down, then make an exit. I used to "go home" for a couple of weeks at Christmas, and even before I had a family I got sick of certain kinds of unpleasantnes, and just decided that I was cutting my visits in half. Now we make grandparents visit their grandkid if they want to spend Christmas, so that we can have our own traditions, but we still alternate Thanksgivings in ancestral households because it's still the older generation nucleating the gatherings...

Good luck. All of these larger life adjustments are a hassle; you'll find some solution you can live with.
posted by acm at 11:53 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound odd, but please give it a try: you deal with this by going to DWIL (the Dealing with In-Laws and Families of Origin board at and reading the threads there. This will let you see how incredibly common this is, and give you ways to mentally reframe what is going on. To use some DWIL language, the people who live in the midwest that you go visit are not your family, they are your extended family. You are an adult, not a child, and your immediate family now is your spouse. Your home is not in the midwest, your home is where you live with your wife. The guilt trips are not your responsibility. Keeping up family relationships is not your responsibility. It's time to start your own family traditions and let go of the guilt.
posted by medusa at 11:58 AM on October 29, 2014 [13 favorites]

"wish you lived closer so we could see you more often".... after frequent mopey remarks about how short our visits are when we DO come out

Well, these are much nicer thoughts than if they were glad about how short your visits were and happy that you lived so far away!

They are expressing that they like you. Maybe they aren't saying this exactly how you would like to hear it, but it's meant as a positive sentiment. It doesn't literally mean they want you to live in their neighborhood and be around all the time.
posted by yohko at 12:10 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agree with trying to plan a family vacation at a "neutral" site. If that is not acceptable to your family, then they simply just EXPECT you to be there. Concretely, what is going on is:

They are HOME. You left HOME. Who doesn't periodically come HOME?

They are FAMILY. You"left" the FAMILY. Who doesn't visit their FAMILY?
posted by teg4rvn at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2014

you're there for 5+ days

That seems ... excessive. My visits aren't that long even with close friends -- certainly not without independent transportation and plans. My parental visits got way easier once I started limiting them to three nights max. Ironically but desirably, I'll often find myself agreeing that it's too bad I couldn't have stayed longer.

(It helped that I could cite my grandfather, who always used to say: "Fish and visitors stink in three days.")
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:42 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Just echoing aimedwanderer that we've had success making this transition post-marriage, and we started by tackling the idea that we were "supposed" to switch our holidays between sets of parents only. We introduced the idea that no, the options we'd be altering between were a holiday with his parents, a holiday with my parents, and a holiday with just the two of us so we could start building some of our own holiday memories and traditions. Setting that expectation in both our own minds and our families' has gone a long way towards reducing the set of Expected Family Gatherings, especially now that we've been married 6 years.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:14 PM on October 29, 2014

Husbunny and I do not live near either of our families. Husbunny couldn't get out of Appalachia fast enough, and I think two states is an ideal distance from my folks. Doesn't mean we don't love them, we just want different things for ourselves than they want for themselves.

We have proscribed visits to my in-laws and we rarely stay longer than a day. That makes it manageable. It's not like there's anything to do there. We visit and we have a couple of nice meals and then we head straight home. We call every week and keep in touch on Facebook.

As for MY parents...oh gosh. They don't want to visit us here in Atlanta, we don't want to go to Texas. We plan little visits in a third city. We've been to Las Vegas, San Francisco and Philly with my folks. Next spring we'll meet them in Florida. This way it doesn't feel like it's drag to hang out and watch TV with the family. I speak to my mother a couple times a week, and that's good.

How about visiting some neighboring state, the Wisconsin Dells, or a lake house some place within a day's drive of your parent's home. Or meeting everyone at Disney or something like that. That way, you can all hang together and catch up, while still seeing a new place and getting that vacation feeling.

Any way you slice it, it's hard. We make it work, and no one is 100% happy, but because we're family and we love each other we put the effort in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've lived on my own for about 12 years. For 10 of those years, I was in a marriage and for 8 of those years we lived in another state. For none of those years did I have Christmas in my own home, and typically not Thanksgiving either. Sometimes I flew, sometimes I drove the 1500 miles it took to get there. I have two dogs, some severe back problems, and the trips are harder every year.

There's nothing wrong with having a sense of obligation and making sacrifices for family. It sounds you like you have more or less a healthy relationship with them, right? There's no big reason not to see them, like a history of abuse or extreme dysfunction? Just a couple whiny postcards, it sounds like. So I don't think you're selfish, in fact you need to think about yourself a little more - Do you want to see them or don't you? If you don't then stop going, if you do then make the trip and let the guilt trips go. Like water off a duck's back. It's just the way some people communicate. You can't let it eat at you, because it's family and you're stuck with them unless you cut them off completely.

That being said, they should act excited when you get there. My family, and my spouse's family, always act like it's a big fucking deal when I/we come to visit. There's shit to do every day. Maybe you should plan a big dinner or something while you're there? Send them a shopping list, invite the neighbors, make it a party. There's ways to get them off their collective asses, you just have to work at it. Or maybe not and just you two will have all the fun. But you don't have to sit inside all day, just because it's cold. Maybe an uncle will take you ice fishing or something?

But to answer your question: How did you stop feeling guilty, obligated, or responsible for visiting?

Honestly? I didn't. I do feel obligated to visit. They sure as hell aren't all coming to me. They're old, we are young. Go, and suffer the hardship because pretty soon they're going to start dying off. And stiff upper lip about the guilt stuff, ol' chap.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 4:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

but boy is it rough to visit the Midwest in the WINTER and not have your own car and try to suggest things to do while you're there for 5+ days and everybody's just like "ehhhh" and so you eat leftovers and watch TV.

I moved away after college and no one else did. My family wasn't super close but I had divorced parents so two sets of people to visit. My SO was from a big midwestern family that was like this. They would sort of ... make remarks when we couldn't come for the holidays (even though we were seeing my family, I was always livid) and then when we would get together it was like no big deal and we'd just puppy pile and watch TV or whatever and listen to his folks talk about Barry Goldwater, and everyone would drink (I am not much of a drinker. I hated it. So, a few things happened

- I stopped going (this turned out to be the harbinger of the end of my relationship but whatever, that wasn't totally related) more than once a year and tried to set expectations for one out of three trips because that was fair.
- I set up better traditions that included my sibling but not the family puppy pile thing and sometimes we'd all go on a trip (is anyone else itching to get out of this, do you think) and we'd all go to Alaska or something
- I would always rent a car when I visited my new SOs family and we'd spend some of that time doing something special for US that was just us seeing the place. We'd also offer to do errands and all the rest

And yeah, I re-centered my expectations somewhat too. They're going to make weird comments, let 'em. Make sure you and your wife are a team and you have debrief time during these visits to chitchat and get your own space ("Can you BELIEVE what your mom said?? I KNOW..."). And I think some of it is messaging. Even if you don't feel it totally, being more like "Hey sorry but we can't make it this year, have to dig a giant hole in the backyard instead" and then not make it a thing. Learning to deal with the in-law pressure and finding your own space as a family is a great thing to get under control early. You and your wife are on TEAM YOU which doesn't have to be subserviant to TEAM BIG FAMILY unless you play it that way. Find ways to make the arrangement work better for you and try to untangle if your own attempts to please people are winding up pleasing no one.
posted by jessamyn at 5:38 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

How did your family relate before you moved away? Did you do activities together, or was there a lot of tv-watching and slothing around? I ask because I'm wondering if your expectations of what you will do together have changed, while they are just sort of maintaining the status quo. If that's what's happened, you'll need to sell them on the changes you have in mind.
posted by vignettist at 8:12 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older LA DWP refuses to refund security deposit.   |   Help Save This Internship (I am the Supervisor) Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.