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

Distressed man on the phone

Verywel / Madelyn Goodnight

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

Just talking about the holidays in general can be fraught with emotion. While it may be tempting to put off telling them until the last minute, you should talk to your family sooner rather than later. If you aren't sure where to begin, try these suggestions to help you get the conversation started.

Give Yourself Permission to Stay Home

One of the most important aspects about communicating your plans to stay home is first being secure in your decision. If you aren't completely confident, you're more likely to waver, make excuses, or allow yourself to be talked into something you're not comfortable with.

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

Give yourself permission to do what you think is right. Of course it hurts to not be with relatives during the holidays, but if that's what is best for you and your family, you need to be comfortable with that.

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 (like FaceTime or Zoom calls), you're still building and nurturing your relationships. Celebrating the holidays in different way doesn't mean you love your family members any less.

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. Once you've made a decision, 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 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 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 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 your mental or physical health will be compromised by traveling, 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 due to other pressing issues, let them know.

There are countless valid reasons for not spending the holidays with family members, from travel logistics to expenses to other conflicts and obligations. So share your concerns succinctly 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, 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. Allow them to share how they feel, and be empathetic as you respond.

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 make you a horrible person and you haven't done anything wrong. Besides, you are not responsible for other people's 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 from afar. You just need to get creative.

  • Arrange a FaceTime or Zoom call with the entire family.
  • Watch a favorite holiday movie together while on FaceTime. Some providers, like Amazon and Sling, even allow you to hold a watch party.
  • Plan a cookie swap and ship the cookies in advance or drop them off 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. Then listen to them together.
  • Tell jokes together, because humor is great medicine.
  • Deliver or ship care packages with ingredients for favorite family recipes.

Things that cost little 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.

A Word From Verywell

Holiday celebrations may be disappointing if you are not able to spend time with the people you love. But trying to please everyone is never healthy. Make the decision that is right for you and your household and be comfortable with it. With a little creativity and effort, you can still connect with one another and build different memories and traditions.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.