Seeing family does not have to be a tug of war.

How to Divide Up Time With Families as a Married Couple

by Christopher L. Smith

When it is not possible to visit your family and your husband's family at key events during the year, significant stress can occur in your relationship. This was probably not a problem when you were single and may have been somewhat of a problem once you were married. However, once you have children, the existence of grandchildren makes the stakes even higher. Thus, it is important for you to come up with a plan that will be fair.

Family Closeness

Often married couples will try to spend half of key times with each set of grandparent in order to be fair. However, if your family and your husband's family are of different degrees of closeness, this solution may not be fair and may add stress to your situation. For example, if, when your husband was single, he visited his family only once a year for Christmas, and you visited your family at least once every two months, a fair plan may involve you going less frequently to your husband's family than to your family.

Focus on Meaningful Times

In addition to looking at frequency of visits, it is also important to think about when you are visiting each set of grandparents. While a plan that spends holidays with each set of grandparents in alternate years may seem fair, it may be a better solution to spend a particular holiday with the same set of grandparents each year. Clearly, if you and your spouse have different religious traditions, it would make sense to spend religious holidays such as Christmas or Passover with the grandparents who celebrate that religious holiday. If one set of grandparents focuses only on coming together to get presents from Santa, if you visit that set of grandparents each year on Christmas, you may be able to visit the other set of grandparents for more of the remaining holidays. This can help keep both families happy without you having to travel for every holiday.

Alternatives to Going to Grandparents

While traditionally, as a parent you would take your kids to see the grandparents several times a year, there are other ways of doing it. One way to do this is to invite the grandparents to come to see the kids at your place. You could also consider going on a vacation as a family, which would create different sorts of memories. If both sets of grandparents get along, you could vacation as a group and see both sets of grandparents at the same time.

Don't Forget Your Family

As you and your husband create a plan, remember to consider a third family as you divide time: your family. It is important to be able to visit grandparents, but you also need to create memories for your family too. While it may not initially be easy telling the grandparents, there is nothing wrong with deciding that there is a holiday (such as Christmas) that you want to spend at your home. You do not have to travel every time that you have the opportunity.


While the above sections have dealt with practical ways to divide time between families, the real key is not about what you decide to do. The real key is communication. You and your husband need to have clear and open communication as you decide what you are going to do. Then, you need to communicate it clearly to each of your parents and, when it is age appropriate, to your children.


  • Journal of Marriage and Family; Family Contingencies Across the Generations: Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships in Holistic Perspective; Margaret Mueller et. al.
  • Family Matters; Relationships Between Grandparents and Grandchildren; Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu
  • Fodor's: 4 Essential Tips for Vacationing With the Grandparents

About the Author

Based in New York City, Christopher L. Smith has been writing since the 1998 publication of "Honest Talk About Serious Mental Illness." Smith brings professional experience in education, religion/spirituality and mental health, including as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Among Smith's graduate degrees is a M.Div. from Yale.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images