Ask Alice: Advice for Life at Home

Alice, Do I Have to Go Home for the Holidays?

updated May 4, 2019
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Dear Alice,

The holidays are coming up and I’m wondering—do I have to go home to visit family? I’d really rather travel, or even just stay home and catch up on sleep and see friends. Would this be rude? I’ve never not gone home for Christmas before and I’m afraid my parents and siblings are going to be sad or even, possibly, mad. Is there some sort of compromise I can come up with to make everyone happy? If I decide not to go home, do you have ideas for how to tell my family?

Happily Home Alone

Dear Home Alone,

Traditions around the holidays are wonderful…until you want to break one. While doing the same things every year with the same people can be a comfort, families can get so entrenched in putting their holidays on “repeat” and freak out when someone—you, in this case—wants to do something different. I’ve received several letters this season asking essentially the same question—do I have to go home?—and I think it’s safe to guess this is on a lot of people’s minds.

Of course you don’t have to get home, but don’t expect that you won’t hurt some feelings by doing so. And that’s okay.

There are plenty of good reasons why one might not want to return to the family nest for the holidays. Underneath the veneer of eggnog and good cheer there are often stressful family dynamics that you just don’t want to deal with (and, somehow, hashing these things out at “the most wonderful time of the year” always seems like a bad idea). Or perhaps you have very little time off from your job to do the things you want to do and you resent giving up this time for others.

The thing about families is it’s very hard to break out of your role. Mothers can’t stop mothering, dad’s can’t stop doling out dad advice, and kids can’t stop being kids. But there comes a time when you have to be a grownup and do what’s best for you, what’s healthiest for you, what will make you happiest. And if skipping the holiday festivities at home is what’s best, do it.

How to break the news to your folks? Ideally you’d do it early, like earlier than now. Perhaps you go this year and tell them, “This is so great, but I wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to travel next year.” If you’re intent on skipping out this year, tell them soon and state it as fact, a done deal. Don’t give them room to talk you out of it. Will they be surprised and hurt? Probably. Will they try to give you a guilt trip? Maybe. Breaking tradition is hardest the first time, but who knows, you may be loosening the first thread that frees up everyone in your family to spend the day how they want.


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