Christmas can be tricky – it can be a magical time of year to spend with family, or one full of passive aggressive arguments round the dinner table.
And this year, thanks to Covid, there are health reasons to consider too; you might not feel comfortable travelling to be with another household, even with some restrictions being eased. Staying put might just make more sense this December.
Clair MacKenzie, certified life coach and the founder of thebestyou.coach, shares her advice for gently breaking the news to your family that you’ll be spending Christmas Day elsewhere…
1. Write down your reasons
First up, MacKenzie says it can be helpful to collect your thoughts on paper ahead of having The Conversation. She suggests making a note of all the reasons why you’ve decided to change your plans this year, but keep the tone light and neutral.
“Be honest and clear with yourself about your reasons for not wanting to go home, and why they are important to you,” she says. “Perhaps you have health worries or maybe you want to have a romantic break with your spouse. Either way, jotting down your ideas can help you clearly structure your reasoning and present your thoughts in a way that might help your family better understand how you feel.”
2. Re-think your stance
It can be hard to stand your ground if you enter a discussion already feeling like the guilty party. While it’s natural to feel a bit bad in these situations, it’s important to prioritise your wellbeing, and setting healthy boundaries can help you maintain a good relationship with your family during the rest of the year.
“Ask yourself how you feel when you think about telling them,” says MacKenzie. “It’s important to tell yourself that guilt is an optional feeling and to recognise that you feeling bad won’t change how they feel.”
3. Be honest
Whether it’s a broken down car or a set of stubborn children, it’s easy to place the blame elsewhere and tell a white lie to get out of Christmas duties.
“It’s important to be honest, and don’t make excuses,” says MacKenzie.
The important thing about changing Christmas plans is to do it as early as possible, so your family have time to adjust to the idea and make alternative arrangements if necessary. Explain all the reasons why you love their Christmases, but be firm in your decision to miss this year’s festivities.
“It may be a matter of letting them know you love them, but that you want to do something else for Christmas this year,” says MacKenzie. “You can give them more details and explain if you want to, but you don’t necessarily need to. Also, don’t assume that if you do explain, your family will understand.”
4. Accept how they feel
“If your parents are upset or disappointed, allow that to be okay and give them time,” says MacKenzie. “In the same way that you get to choose if you go home or not, they get to choose how they think, feel and act in response to you deciding not to.”
To help ease their upset, you could perhaps offer some alternatives, such as a Zoom call on Christmas Day, or a meet-up at the start of January. “Be prepared to accept their response whatever it is and love them anyway,” says MacKenzie.
5. Avoid arguments
After the initial cooling off period, your family might still harbour some resentment over your new style of Christmas. At this point, MacKenzie says it’s easy for heated arguments to erupt over text or email, especially if your family try to pick apart your reasoning.
“Decide that you don’t need to be right about anything,” says MacKenzie. “This immediately removes the need for you to feel you need to defend yourself.”
If you do find yourself rising to their comments, distract yourself by making plans. Perhaps you’ve always loved the idea of going on a Christmas morning hike? Or maybe you’re excited about having an all-day movie marathon.
Either way, plotting your perfect Christmas Day will help you see the bigger picture and avoid getting embroiled in a family row.