How to Tell Your Family You’re Not Coming Home for the Holidays

Woman holding plane tickets with tree in background

Ivan-Balvan / iStockphoto

If you're like most people, you break out in a cold sweat or get a pit of anxiety in your stomach at the thought of telling your parents, your in-laws, or even your siblings that you won't be spending the holidays with them this year.

Just talking about the holidays in general can be super fraught with emotion. When you add in a pandemic that has heightened everyone's anxiety and fears, it's understandable if you're dreading the conversation.

While it may be tempting to put off talking until the last minute, you really should talk to your family sooner rather than later, especially if you already know you won't be together for the holidays. If you aren't sure where to begin, here are some tips to help you get the conversation started.

Give Yourself Permission to Stay Home

One of the most important aspects about communicating your decision to stay home is first being comfortable and confident in your decision.

If you are feeling guilty about not having people over, or extra weepy about not flying home to see your family, come to terms with your own emotions before having a conversation with your loved ones.

If you aren't completely confident with your decision, you're more likely to waver, make excuses, or allow yourself to be talked into something you're not comfortable with.

Likewise, you don't want to risk waffling on your decision or stretch the truth in the process. So, be sure you have come to terms with your emotions so that you are authentic with your family members.

Give yourself permission to do what you think is right. Of course it hurts to not be with your family members this holiday season, but if that's what is best for you and your family, you need to be comfortable with that.

Remind yourself that you're living through a pandemic and you shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to keep yourself and your family members safe.

Remember, one holiday season is just a blip on the radar of a person's life. As long as you're making efforts to connect in other ways, you're still building and nurturing your relationship. Yes, it's just going to look a little different this year, but that doesn't mean you love them any less.

Instead of gathering around the table together, you may be gathered around the computer instead on a FaceTime or Zoom call. But making a few sacrifices now may mean many more holidays to come with the people you love most.

Have the Conversation Soon

Any etiquette book will tell you that you need to let people know in advance if you're not able to attend a celebration. The same holds true for family holiday gatherings. Consequently, you need to tell your loved ones as soon as possible that you won't be attending the annual holiday celebration.

Having the conversation early not only demonstrates your love and respect for them, but it also allows them the flexibility to make alternate plans. Likewise, it keeps them from having to put in a lot of extra work and expense into creating a celebration for people who won't be there.

Imagine how you would feel discovering your mom has spent weeks making candy or cookies for a crowd of people who don't even plan to be there. Don't set your family up for a disappointment like that.

Remember, the longer you delay talking with family members, the harder it will be on them. Having the conversation early allows them some time to come to terms with what the holiday might look like for them this year. Delaying the conversation can create a lot more heartache and anger than is necessary.

Be Honest and Kind

When it comes to talking to your family members about the holidays, be direct, honest, and kind. In other words, get straight to the point, but do so without steamrolling them.

For instance, start with something like "I've been thinking about the holidays and I've decided that we're going to stay in our home this year and not travel." From there, you can go into your reasons, but don't make this part terribly long. Resist the urge to throw your partner under the bus. Take ownership for your choices and don't make excuses.

If you're not comfortable combining households during the pandemic, say that. If you have been working non-stop and just need a day to unwind, say that. Or, if you know you won't be able to fully relax and enjoy yourself without worrying about the virus, then say that.

There are countless valid reasons for not spending the holidays with family members during the surge in COVID-19 cases. From having to quarantine before and after to coordinating testing or travel logistics for the holidays, spending time together is not an easy prospect. So share your concerns and leave it at that.

Whatever you do, don't make up a reason. Your family deserves the respect that comes with being honest, even if it's hard to break the news.

For example, resist the urge to say that you don't have the money to travel if that truly is not the issue. If you do that, you run the risk that your family members will splurge for a plane ticket or offer to pay your expenses. Be honest upfront and you won't have any awkward conversations later.

Allow Room for Their Emotions

As you prepare to talk with your family members, you need to recognize that it's completely normal for them to feel a little hurt and disappointed that you won't be spending the holidays together this year. As a result, you need to not only allow them to share how they feel; you need to be empathetic.

Be understanding that this isn't the holiday that they envisioned for themselves and resist the urge to try to talk them out of feeling upset. Instead, validate their feelings and allow them to air how disappointed they are.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you have to subject yourself to unneeded criticisms should the conversation head in that direction. Choosing to spend the holidays at home does not not make you a horrible person and you haven't done anything wrong. Besides, you are not responsible for their emotions.

Yes, you should be understanding, but you are not in charge of making them feel better. With time, they will come to accept your decision and may even embrace having a holiday that looks a little different this year—especially if it means less work or less rushing around.

Offer Alternatives

While nothing beats in-person visits and a hug at the holidays, there are a number of alternatives for bonding with your family while in separate houses. You just need to get creative. Here are a few ideas in case your mind is drawing a blank:

  • Arrange a FaceTime or Zoom call with the entire family.
  • Watch a favorite holiday movie together while on FaceTime. Some providers, like Amazon or Sling, even allow you to hold a watch party.
  • Drive by their home if you live in the same town and say hello from the car.
  • Plan a cookie swap and ship the cookies in advance or leave them on their porch if you live close by.
  • Organize a tree trimming party via FaceTime or Zoom.
  • Play online games like board games, racing games, or trivia games together.
  • Write heartfelt letters letting your family members know how much they mean to you and drop them in the mail.
  • Send photos and videos via text or email. You could even do a photo for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah or the 12 days of Christmas.
  • Make recordings of favorite holiday memories and traditions by asking older family members to record themselves talking about family traditions when they were growing up and then listen to them together.
  • Tell jokes together, because humor is great medicine.
  • Deliver or ship care packages to family members with ingredients for favorite family recipes.

Things that cost nothing more than time and energy go a long way toward soothing hurt feelings. Plus, who knows? You may create some new family traditions along the way. At the very least, this holiday season is sure to be one your family will not forget.

A Word From Verywell

There is no doubt that this year's holiday celebrations are going to be disappointing for most people, especially if they are not able to spend time with the people they love. Just remember that trying to please everyone is never healthy. For this reason, you need to make the decision that is right for you and your household and be comfortable with it, no matter how hard it is.

In the meantime, recognize that it's completely normal for your family members to feel sad and disappointed, but it's not your job to manage their emotions. Be empathetic and listen to them but also allow them to come to terms with what the holidays will look like this year. With a little creativity and effort, you can still connect with one another and build different memories and traditions.

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