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How to Survive a Family Holiday with the In-Laws

By Neil Wilkie

Summer Holidays are a hugely symbolic occasion for most of us with hopes of joy, connection and relaxation.  It is also a time where missed expectations and spending time with loved and less loved relatives can create dissonance.

This is particularly heightened this summer, when the choices of where we can go are limited, and we are faced with overpriced and overcrowded staycations.  A 2 bedroom caravan in Newquay at £3850 for a week could create a huge difference between cost and benefit!

If you are going on holiday with your in-laws then this could be wonderful or awful; you can choose!

Here are twelve tips to make this a great Summer Holiday for you, your children and your in-laws.


What is the purpose of the holiday?

Make sure everyone is clear about this before you go.  If your intention is to have a wonderful, fun relaxing time, then this is a more likely outcome than if you are thinking it will be miserable.

Here is one exercise to help in this:

  • Think through what the attributes of a perfect Summer Holiday will be for you
  • Focus particularly on the feelings that you will be having
  • Then rate your last Summer Holiday out of 10 for each of these attributes
  • Ask yourself what you would need this year to do to get to 10 on each of these
  • Get each of your family to do the same and see what is the same and what is similar
  • Maybe even get everyone to draw a picture of their ideal Summer holiday and share and compare.
  • Co-create the perfect Summer Holiday

Why are your In-Laws Coming?

If you all like them and want them to come, that is a great start.

If you don’t get on but are just allowing them to come as free babysitters, that is not fair on anyone.

If they are coming because your partner insists on this, then you need to have a calm conversation with your partner to understand their feelings and reasons.

Whatever your feelings; if they are coming you have the responsibility of making it a good holiday for everyone!

Close the old door

Lockdown has been a long and draining time. The end is now in sight and your summer holiday is a great way of taking the first step into a new world.

Make sure that you leave the worries and the past behind otherwise they will cast a shadow over everyone else and the holiday. When you shut the front door of your own house take a deep breath and as you breathe gently out just get a sense of all those cares being left behind. You don’t need them, they won’t help.

Open a new door

When you get to your hotel or holiday house realise that this is a different place. This is a break for you, your partner, your children and your in-laws. Before you walk in the front door take a deep breath in and get a sense of the enjoyment that you will all be having in the next few days. See if that has a metaphorical shape, size or a colour and allow that feeling of happiness to fill you completely. Maybe get your partner to do the same. Then open the door with a smile and walk into this new future.

When your children are toddlers or babies, then they do a brilliant job of modelling your behaviour. Happiness is wonderfully infectious!

Set Boundaries

Boundaries can take several forms including:

What behaviour is acceptable (for example setting a no-moan zone)

What can be talked about and what should be avoided (for example Politics and Football)

What language is acceptable (for example, swearing)

Times for breakfast, lunch and bed

And, if you are self-catering, the vexed questions of who does the cooking, clearing and cleaning.

Unleash the child within

What were the best holidays you had as a child, what did you really enjoy about them? This is a wonderful opportunity to relive the joys of childhood again. So, unleash the child within and have fun; do silly things, act young, be carefree and laugh until you think you’re going to cry

Device free zones

To really enjoy your holiday, you need to be fully present with your partner, family and in-laws. If you or your children are hooked on your electronic devices you need to set part of the day as well as mealtimes where devices are switched off or on silent and out of sight.  If you do that there is a real danger that that you may all have interesting conversations!

Create ‘Us’ time

The in-laws may welcome the time to play, unsupervised, with their grandchildren. Create some ‘us’ time for just you and your partner to have fun and be romantic together.

Pause Arguments

Summer Holidays can be a tense time, sometimes fuelled by having a bit too much to drink and being trapped with people that you may not normally spend much time with. 

It is a great opportunity to say the things you have always wanted to say.  If those are loving words, great.  If they are criticisms, then it is best to leave these to another time or, better still let the bad feelings go.

Arguments can quickly escalate and each of you get activated and move into primeval fight, flight or freeze mode. When this happens adrenaline will flood your body, heartrate rises, and the brain and hearing go into lockdown.  This means arguments will get nowhere, as you won’t be heard.  Pause, go and do something else for at least 20 minutes and then come back and discuss the issue at a convenient time.

Regular check ins

At the end of each day, share 3 good things that each of you have noticed.

At the beginning of every day ask everyone these three clean setup questions, so that everyone has a voice and their needs and feelings considered:

  • For this day to go the way I would like it to, it will be like X
  • For this day to be like X, I would like to be like Y
  • For this day to be like X and me to be like Y, I would like you all to be like Z

If you feel that things are not going right during the day with your in-laws, partner or children ask them, at an appropriate time ‘how are you feeling now?’ It is possible that you could be reading the situation wrongly or it will give them a great opportunity to express their true feelings.

Get in touch with nature

You are in a different physical place. It is lovely if the sun is shining and even if it is pouring with rain you can pause, connect with nature and see, feel and hear many different things.  Every day look for a new or different experience, learn something about our planet and find what you can do to make this world a better place.  A long walk is also a great way of cooling off if you are feeling wound up by your in-laws.

Talk, listen, share

During Summer Holidays there is often a lot of talking but not much real communication.  What would it be like if all of you got to really know each other and what each of you are feeling?  There are many questions that you could use to facilitate these; for example, each of you to tell two truths and a lie about your past. Or each of you to draw a picture representing life as it is, right now, for you and another picture representing your ideal life in the future. Share, explain and discuss.

Bring back with you happy memories, a happy partner and a happy family.

Neil Wilkie is a Relationship Expert, Psychotherapist, author of the Relationship Paradigm Series of Books and creator of online couples therapy, The Relationship Paradigm®. Find out more here.