I can’t imagine not coming home for Christmas, if only because it’s also my niece’s birthday and I love my mommy. But not everyone feels the warm fuzzies for their family members, and even if they do, that $1,000 roundtrip plane ticket home can really test the limits of our genetic bonds.
Often, the hardest part of doing so isn’t making the decision to skip, or the sense of FOMO from being absent for these fleeting familial moments, but simply telling everyone else you won’t be there. The potential for disappointment or anger is enough to make someone want to ghost their family entirely. But while your goal might be to get through breaking the news without conflict, family therapist Kevin Petersen says that the key is simply to communicate — even if the response isn’t pleasant.
“It’s important to speak to them and explain where you’re coming from and why,” he says. “Try to get them to understand why you made that decision and that you didn’t make it lightly.” And although your job is to try to get your family to understand, Petersen warns that you shouldn’t necessarily expect them to. “One of the most important things I tell my clients is, don’t have the expectation that they’re going to understand or agree with you. But do take the time to explain yourself and hope they’ll be respectful. They might not like it, but see if you can get to the point where you respect each other’s choices.”
And if they don’t respect it? Well, that’s just further evidence to support your decision. “If someone’s going to react negatively or be angry, that probably explains why you’re not going home. It demonstrates that there’s something wrong with the family culture and a lot of heavy expectations and obligations, and you’re stepping out of that,” Petersen explains.
If this is the case, it’s also perfectly fine to hang up the phone. “It’s okay to say, ‘If you’re going to insult me or try to make me feel bad about my choice, I’ve gotta go. Nice talking to you,’” says Petersen.
Regardless of whether you decide to skip out on the family holiday festivities or not, it’s important to set boundaries. “It’s about taking care of yourself,’” reasons Petersen. “It’s about making sure your needs are met, and you’re not going to get hurt. I don’t mean for that to sound selfish, or that it should come at someone else’s expense, but if the family system is dysfunctional, you’re probably making the right choice. It’s about being true to yourself.”
In situations where someone decides not to go home for the holidays because of familial abuse, admitting it can be the first step toward change. “Any time someone stands up and starts saying something, it’s going to force the entire family to at least acknowledge it,” says Petersen. “Who knows — generally, if that’s what’s going on, there’s going to be other people thinking the same thing. Sometimes it just takes one person to say, ‘I’m not comfortable coming home,’ and you never know who else will come along for the ride. But it takes that first person to stand up and say something.”
Basically, if you aren’t going home for the holidays for financial or emotional reasons, the key is to accept that you’ve gotta do you: You don’t have to make yourself miserable to appease your toxic family members. If you aren’t going home just because you plain old don’t feel like it, well, you’re probably the toxic family member, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future will be visiting you shortly.