Newlyweds discuss navigating whose family to join for the holidays

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Many American families gather together to enjoy food and build relationships with each other on Thanksgiving. The holiday season often forces newly weds to face the challenge of balancing two families. (Unsplash/Jed Owen).

Married students Lydia Gardner, JT Gardner and Harrison Morford said they face many challenges in deciding which side of the family to visit each year for Thanksgiving.

Lydia Gardner, from Parma, Idaho, said it is tricky to find a good schedule to rotate which holidays they spend with each side of the family.

“We try to rotate Christmas and Thanksgiving,” Gardner said. “So Thanksgiving one year with one family, and Christmas with the other family because our families aren’t in the same spot.”

Gardner said they chose to make this schedule because her older siblings did it and they wanted to be able to see them on the holidays.

“I saw that example, so I just assumed that we’d try to do the same thing,” Gardner said.

People travel to spend time with family for the holidays because they want to be together. However, they often feel stress or conflict trying to plan it. (Made in Canva by Hannah LeSueur).

Lydia Gardner’s husband, JT Gardner from Lindon, Utah, said coordinating with other family members can be a big mess.

“No one told me when I was getting ready to get married about this dynamic,” JT said. “It’s sometimes a point of tension between both families because you’re trying to balance who gets what, and people can get offended.”

Harrison Morford, from Saratoga Springs, UT, said he and his wife have a unique situation because their families live close by each other and their mothers are best friends.

Morford said that because they live so close, they usually try to split their time up with each family throughout the holiday.

“In past years, having everyone close by and each of them doing separate events has put a little bit of a strain,” Morford said. “It means you need to have early Thanksgiving with one family and then go have pie with the next.”

Morford said It would be easier to just stay in one place instead of having to travel from house to house. However, this year they invited both families to be together because their parents are friends.

“This Thanksgiving we’re actually going to get together because my family’s not getting together with my extended family,” Morford said. “Having everyone together will be great.”

Lydia Gardner said that having her family far apart from each other has made it easier for them to focus on one family at a time.

“In some ways, it is a blessing because then we’re not trying to do splits with half here and half there,” she said. “We can really just enjoy the time that we’re spending with that family.”

JT Gardner said that because Lydia’s family lives farther away, he tries to be sensitive to how they can spend more time with her family even outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving.

“It can be easy for me to forget that she’s missing her family,” he said. “Sometimes I think Lydia doesn’t even recognize that she’s missing her family.”

JT Gardner said they talk about it often and make sure they don’t harbor hard feelings toward the other person’s family.

“It’s been a continuous conversation of how we are feeling,” he said. “We set a goal every week as a couple on how we’re gonna to nurture our family.”

Morford said that although he is easygoing, he and his wife choose where they are going and plan ahead.

“We see our families every week anyways,” Morford said. “A lot of it comes down to what Emily wants to do unless extended family is involved that we don’t see often, and then I have an opinion.”

JT Gardner said not every family is the same, and there is not a perfect way to do the holidays.

“Be present with and love the family you are with.”

Lydia Gardner

“Welcome to the world of unanswered questions,” JT said. “No one has been able to figure it out.”

He also said a lot of couples think their spouse or the other family hates them for not visiting, but that it is never good to go down that path.

“Don’t let yourself tell stories,” JT Gardner said. “It can be easy to be offended by your own interpretation or story that we tell.”

Lydia said they try to strengthen their relationships with their family all year long so that missing a Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t ruin their connection.

“We’ve also tried to be peacemakers and be flexible,” Lydia said. “When we found out that (JT’s) sister and brother-in-law won’t be with us on Christmas, we tried to not to add to the drama but decrease it if possible — which isn’t always possible.”

Lydia said they also try to call the other family on the holiday so they know they are thinking of them. They have seen positive results from reaching out when they are away.

“My holidays have been happy, memorable, joyful and family-centered and I just hope I can keep it that way,” Lydia said. “Be present with and love the family you are with.”

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