Question: My husband, kids and I split Thanksgiving and Christmas between the two sides of our families. This year, Christmas is with his family.

My family lives many states away, and holidays involve people coming from all over. It's loud and crazy and we all love it (especially my husband). We see them two or three times a year.

My in-laws live about an hour away; we see them once a month. At holidays, they generally have one small dinner. We have tried to liven it up, but they prefer their quiet meal.

We've tried sleeping over, and it doesn't go well. The house is not set up for kids, and my in-laws quickly hit their limit with toddlers. Because of this, we always drive home to sleep, including Christmas. We start in our own home, drive over by lunch to spend the rest of the day, drive home after dinner.

My mother-in-law has expressed frustration that this isn't "fair." Since my family gets to wake with the kids Christmas mornings, they should too. I suspect this has more to do with what her friends think.

We have zero desire to do this, but my husband feels she has a point about the "fairness." Having all of us miserable Christmas Eve/morning every other year is last on my list. Thoughts?

Answer: You can shut down "fair" with one fact: They get 12 visits to your parents' three.

Don't start there, though. Maybe this is just about your mother-in-law and the clucking of friends, but when your husband even tentatively sided with her, this became an important issue in your marriage. Please treat it as such and approach it not as a narrow what-to-do-about-Mother question, but a question of no less importance than What Is This Family About.

Are you in this to serve your parents; suit your tastes; teach your children the meaning of family; maintain a broad and varied "village" for them (and you); balance things in your marriage; re-create (or revise) your childhoods? Some combination thereof?

Talk about this. You don't want to be chasing elves and turkeys all over your family's map just because that's what people do. Stop, think, find commonality in your purpose. Then revisit plans.

Approaching it this way isn't just about getting to the right answer now. Your plans will need to change as your children grow and circumstances shift, so focusing on (or just renewing) your ability to make decisions as a team, regardless of where that takes you this time, will serve you well beyond this December.

Should you choose as a couple to refuse these overnights, please don't be afraid just to talk to your mother-in-law. "I'd love that, but it's too stressful in a house that isn't childproofed." Preferably uttered by their son, as a preface to inviting them to bunk with you Christmas Eve, to witness the morning that way. Logical and low-drama - as long as you and he agree.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.