Sparksals, we actually haven't spent one holiday with my side of the family since DH and I engaged and DH never has. And my parents live on the other coast and they know we aren't comfortable traveling at holiday times. Even in getting in a phone call to my parents can be tough with the holiday schedules that we are expected to follow lol.
My family is different in that the holidays aren't that big of a deal, come if you can make it, call if you can't -- but have a good day no matter what you do. They aren't upset about not seeing us at holidays however they do notice the kids attitudes towards gifts lately.
To be honest, the more this goes on the more it feels like a competition.
Even though you aren't comfortable traveling at holiday time, is it possible for you to go to your family this year or next year? MIL sounds controlling enough that she'll probably still have a meltdown, but any normal person will accept, "I haven't spent the holidays with my family in ten years" as a pretty good reason for missing one Christmas celebration. That would give you the clean break I think you're looking for. I think it would be a nice memory for both your kids and your parents to spend at least one Christmas together.
And even though your family is laid-back about the holidays, I'd bet that they'd be delighted to see you for Christmas, even if it's just once.
I'm starting not to like your MIL. It seems like none of the in-laws ever get to spend the holidays with their families. And you have a hard time finding a moment to call your parents on Christmas Day? Seriously, this is not normal. MIL must have a very tight grip on her children for them to allow this level of control to continue.
Most of the adult siblings like this, a lot. Any deviation that another in law brings up results in massive meltdowns, not just from MIL.
Some of the siblings in laws celebrate on another day with their family or one set is able to do every other year, but that's ok with MIL b/c they live out of state. Which is why I don't think it'll make a difference if we do visit my family this year. She'll get upset about it, we'll have to deal with that and next year she'll expect us right back and gives us grief about that. She always organizes another Xmas with the one set of in laws that go out of town and everyone must come to that too. It just never stoooooooops.
That's why I'm just leaning towards a flat out NO b/c going anywhere, doing anything to stop this train this year won't stop the train for the upcoming years. We just need to put the brakes on. Now that's easier said than done lol. DH and I have been talking about how to approach this, what to do when the meltdowns happen etc. I think we've come to the agreement that we are just not going to engage, the guilt trips start...we leave.