How To Break It To Your Family That You're Skipping A Holiday

You couldn't get time off. The plane tickets cost an arm and a leg. You're actually going to your in-laws' this year. You just don't want to. There are plenty of reasons that could keep you from going home for the holidays. No matter what yours is, the time will come when you'll have to give your parents a heads up.

Before you break out into a cold sweat, hear us out: Announcing that you won't be at the big family dinner doesn't have to end in hurt feelings or a shouting match. We spoke with Aarti Gupta, PsyD, founder and clinical director at TherapyNest, about how to break the news to your fam gently and tactfully.

Read on for four tips that will help you tackle this tricky convo well before the holidays.

Don't put it off.

It might be difficult to come right out and tell your family you're skipping a big holiday, but it's better to bring it up before they have to wrestle the news out of you. "Be proactive," Dr. Gupta says. "Give them plenty of time to absorb the news and accept your absence." By "plenty of time," she means you should tell them as soon as you have more than a vague feeling you won't be attending. "That way, if you can make it after all, they’ll be pleasantly surprised, but if you cannot, they’ll be able to manage their expectations."
Use your voice.

Time is of the essence, but that doesn't mean you should shoot your announcement off in a group text. "How and when you tell them are equally essential," Dr. Gupta says. Calling, FaceTiming, or talking in person are all preferable to any form of writing. If your family can hear your voice, it's less likely they'll misinterpret your tone.
Be honest — but sensitive.

Be direct and tell your family why you aren't coming (again, proactivity is key). Keeping your reason from them can add unnecessary tension, so even if it might be hurtful, give them the whole truth when you break the news. Laying it all out there will give your family a chance to ask questions and even see things from your perspective: Plane tickets are expensive this time of year; work really is busy right now.

And, Dr. Gupta adds, it won't hurt to say right off the bat that you understand if they're hurt by your change of plans. Doing so may "allow for a more empathic conversation," she says.
Only make promises you can keep.

Offering something in exchange can feel like an easy way to avoid immediate conflict, but it isn't worth it if you can't keep your promise when the time comes. Instead, Dr. Gupta says to wait until you know your own limits and schedule before making any additional plans. If you find that you can visit in the springtime, make a plan to see them then.

Or, if traveling isn't an option for you, Dr. Gupta suggests sending flowers or putting aside time for a video call while they're carving the turkey. "Sometimes the most difficult part of a child not being home for the holidays is that they’ll miss out on family traditions and memories," she says. Finding a small way to be present, if only for an hour or two, might mean a lot to your family.