Why I’m Avoiding Family This Christmas

Learn why it's acceptable to avoid family during holidays to protect your emotional and mental health.

I’m not going home for the holidays.

And this year it’s not because I can’t afford a flight home. Well, honestly, I can’t afford it, but my family generously offered to pay for my trip to limit my excuses. 

At first, I reluctantly obliged their offer. I felt out of place and a bit disrespectful saying “no” to my parent’s request to see me. But then I quickly remembered why my knee-jerk reaction was to protect myself and stay where I am. 

After several one-sided discussions — ranging from unresolved issues from Christmas last year to my flight times — I noticed how burdened I was by the idea of being home this holiday season. With all of my family’s different personalities, viewpoints, and varying affinities for unnecessary confrontation, I was already looking forward to getting the holidays over with.

I remember having this feeling of hesitation last year, too. I stood my ground in November and stayed at my home, but the guilt of saying “no” tore at me so much by December that I folded. At the very least, I thought, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see my sisters. Our schedules rarely allowed us time together. 

To make a long story short, my time spent with everyone was not particularly stress-free or comfortable. When I finally arrived back at my home, I remember sprinting up to my apartment, going inside, closing my door, and being grateful for the ability to have my own space to return to. 

That experience helped me realize that spending time with loved ones should not make me feel drained and defeated. Leaving loved ones should feel like a mixture of emotions. It’s always nice to go back to your own home and sleep in your own bed, but there should be some feeling of sadness about having to separate from loved ones. You shouldn’t be feverishly counting down the hours until you leave your family.

“Home” should be a place to run to, not from. 

In my own home here, I have created a comfortable space of inclusion and peacefulness. My home is a place to retreat from all of life’s messiness and uncertainties. For me, for all who are invited, and for my loved ones who use their emergency keys when they invite themselves over, it is a space to be welcomed, acknowledged, and thoroughly considered. 

If your family’s home is not a place to run to, and if you know that visiting family will bring you more mental and emotional harm than good, it is perfectly logical to forego going home for the holidays.

At the core of this conversation is the reminder to always protect your physical and emotional boundaries. You always have the right to enforce them, no matter whom they are restricting — even family (sometimes, especially family!). You shouldn’t allow guilt to outweigh your boundaries.

And while enforcing boundaries is healthy and should be prioritized, there is a cost. You may miss out on perceived fun because of them. 

In my case, yes, there were moments when I glanced at social media and saw the pictures and hilarious Instagram videos of families and felt a bit of a void. I wish I could be enjoying my family, I thought. I allowed those feelings to flow through me, but then quickly reminded myself of how unrealistic that possibility was at that time. 

In some ways, it’s a no-win situation: if I don’t go, I’m missing out on positive experiences; if I do go, I’m in the middle of a mess of negativity. In either scenario, I’m not happy or at peace. So which expectations should I disappoint? The ones where I hope to have fun, which isn’t likely? Or the ones where I know I’m putting myself in harm’s way?

I’m in control of my life, so I get to exercise the choice to spend my time in a way that’s best for me. Hopefully in the future, my family’s home will become more inviting. But until then, I do not have to subject myself to a hostile environment year after year. I, too, deserve to fully enjoy the holidays.

There are other means of celebrating this season! You can build a sense of “home” anywhere. 

For example, a couple of years ago, I skipped two major “family” holidays to travel — once with a friend and the other time solo. Both trips were unforgettably incredible. 

I spent last Thanksgiving with friends. We got up early to cook. Well, my friends did as I laid in bed listening to them bustling about in the kitchen. Eventually they wondered about me, so I laid on the couch instead, providing moral support and laughs. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. 

This holiday I’ll spend time with my best friend, who enlisted her lovely mother to host me in their home. My best friend promises to help me pack for the trip, show me around her city, and make sure I eat entirely too much! While visiting, I still plan to incorporate my favorite family traditions, and of course add some of my own touches. 

I’ll still celebrate with family in some capacity, too! Technology has advanced in ways that allow you to be present even though you’re hundreds of miles away. I’ll include myself in their celebration by calling, sending texts, or by mailing their gifts ahead and FaceTiming in as they’re opened. I’ll feel included — yet still be safe at home, sipping wine with my best friend.

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