Q: Each Christmas we travel about 250 miles to spend the holiday with both sets of parents. They live in the same town, about three miles apart.

And every year it gets harder to juggle their demands. My husband and I are exhausted throughout the holiday, running back and forth, trying to divide visiting time equally.

It will be even harder this year since we now have two sons: a 3 1/2-year-old and a 3-month-old. This means both kids will have their naps and their feeding routines disrupted. I also nurse the baby and need extra rest.

My mother is the one who gives us the most grief. She actually keeps track of the number of hours we spend at each house and deducts naptime! Because of her hurt feelings we end up sleeping at her house and spending more time there. This is obviously unfair to my husband's parents, who are much more understanding.

I am not looking forward to this holiday, which I used to love. We've already stopped going home for Thanksgiving, although we've given them other reasons.

A: Both you and your husband obviously have loving, caring parents and want your children to know them. And they should. Grandparents add an extra dimension to a child's life and give it a special continuity.

But this shouldn't be had at the expense of your own honesty or it will sour your relationship with them.

When you pretend to enjoy the frantic hops, skips and jumps of your holiday -- and yet seethe inside -- you're sure to send out mixed signals. Already the pretense has turned to tension for you and probably has your mother more anxious and more in need of reassurance than ever.

It's time to be true to yourself. If you don't tell your mother how you really feel, every new encounter will be a painful reminder of all the unhappy ones that have gone before. She has been writing the rules of the game, but you don't have to play it.

You can redefine your relationship and put it on an adult-to-adult level, as it should be, and yet still be thoughtful and generous.

You can begin by writing identical letters to both sets of parents, explaining your dilemma.

Tell them you're really not going home for Thanksgiving because it is so stressful. And that the Christmas visit, which means so much to you, is getting more difficult every year.

Ask them to decide how you and your husband and the children can spend equal time with each family in the most simplified way, and without any counting of hours. If the letter is full of love, not accusations, they'll be able to handle it.

Once everyone has a chance to get used to this new independence, you may find that they're all rather relieved, particularly if you ask them for suggestions and make it clear that you are willing to make adjustments too. There has never been a host who didn't want a houseguest to act a little differently, even one's own child.

As tough as these visits are on you, they're likely to be tougher on people who are nearly twice your age and who aren't used to having little children around.

At first they may insist that everything has been just great, but when they know you really want to be accommodating too, they'll be more candid.

If the grandparents can't work out these arrangements, however, make them yourself. Tell them you'll spend an equal number of days with each family, flipping a coin to decide where you'll spend Christmas this year and switching the schedule in '88.

It won't be perfect, of course. The children won't stay on quite the same nap and feeding schedule, but you can make this a real holiday, if you ask the grandparents to do some baby-sitting for you.

If one of the grandmothers -- the one in whose home you're not staying -- can fetch your older son for an hour or two a day, you and the baby can get some extra rest. And if each family sits for a few hours, you and your husband can go out to see old friends. Either leave a bottle of breast milk for the baby or take him along, but do give yourself some breaks. The powerful biological changes after pregnancy, combined with fatigue, sleeplessness and the need to be Supermom, put any new mother at risk for postpartum depression.

If you can work out a comfortable way to visit, perhaps you can go home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas next year, when you're not so tired.

This possibility will give them an added incentive to make Christmas more comfortable for you, although perhaps not for the reason you think. As special as your children are to their grandparents, you and your husband are even more special to them, for you are still their children, no matter how old you are.

You'll understand their needs better -- and they'll understand yours -- if all of you read Between Parents and Grandparents, by Dr. Arthur Kornhaber (St. Martin's; $12.95). A good relationship is worth working for.

Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.

Worth Noting

The Parent Connection in Bethesda matches families with similar day-care needs so they can hire a good day-care person together. Call 320-2321 or 229-2989.