If you’re like most families, annual vacations often include a visit with the in-laws. And for many, the time together is more headache than relaxation. So what can you do to make family get-togethers refreshing?

Plan ahead. When you and your spouse agree on things in advance, there are fewer surprises. Take time each January to plan the year ahead: everything from finances, career goals, social events and intellectual pursuits to spiritual and family development. Be proactive. Call your parents once you have your annual plan and suggest dates for getting together. When you initiate, you’ll feel more control over the outcome. If your families are plane flights away, suggest the time of year you’d like to visit. That allows you to determine how long, or short, you’ll be together. It allows you to coordinate your trip with the other activities on your calendar: If your in-laws live near the ocean, visit them during beach season and invite them to visit you when the weather turns cold.

Be the fun captain. Instead of just showing up for a visit with a list of expectations that are likely to go unmet, develop a “cruise director” mentality. Get online and research the fun family activities in your parents’ hometown — and nearby towns. When you approach a town like a tourist, you’ll find all kinds of things you may have missed if and when you were a resident (minor league baseball games, museums, aquariums, outdoor symphony performances, farmers markets, etc.).

Call ahead for ticket information. Suggest a schedule to everyone who will be there for the visit. It’s not uncommon for a trip to feel like it was time wasted when all you did was sit around the house during the day and catch the local buffet for dinner!

Get input. Suggest some activities and ask other family members what they think would be fun. Then send an e-mail in advance of your visit with the week’s proposed schedule. Everyone has the ability to “opt-out” of activities that don’t suit the age of their children, are too expensive or simply don’t sound fun. But for the most part, participation will be high because they’ve had a hand in the planning.

Change the venue. If you always visit your in-laws for vacation, why not invite them to visit you? Hosting them in your home will create a whole new slate of activities to experience together, and they’ll get a chance to see you in your day-to-day environment. Instead of eating all your husband’s childhood favorites, you can choose the menu and demonstrate your gifts in the kitchen (assuming you can cook — if not, you can introduce them to your favorite restaurants!). Rather than looking at the same scrapbooks with photos of hubby as a chubby-cheeked toddler, you can share pictures of your life together since the wedding.

If grandkids are involved, it’s even better. Grandma and Grandpa will experience your children’s lives in real time: see their bedrooms, visit their schoolrooms, pick them up from Sunday school and more. Sure, pictures are worth a thousand words, but seeing things in person just can’t be beat.

Make and keep traditions. Whether visiting or hosting your in-laws, if time together includes a holiday, it’s important to share traditions. Allow both families to contribute to the list of traditions you will observe.

Be sure to ask for and give grace when traditions contradict or overlap. For example, you and your spouse go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve and open presents Christmas morning, but your spouse’s family does just the opposite: Agree to follow the traditions of the family doing the hosting.

Take time apart. It’s tempting to spend every minute together when you’re visiting with out-of-town relatives. We’re together so little and came so far to be with them, you reason, that it can seem downright selfish to take a few hours to be alone with your spouse. But a little breathing room goes a long way toward sweetening your time with extended family. Even if the in-laws don’t understand why you’d want to “sneak off” for a meal without them, it’s worth it to gently explain that you need some time to recharge and refresh. After all, if you lived down the street from one another, you’d never think of being together 24/7.

When you and your parents live far away from each other and your time together is limited, the more — and the better — you can love each other when you’re together. The goal is good memories and stronger relationships. And with a little planning, it is possible to enjoy each other, even when your differences are as great as the distance you travel to be together.

Copyright © 2003 Celia Thomas. Used by permission.

Originally seen at TroubledWith.

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