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How to Tell Your Family You’re Not Coming Home for Christmas Due to COVID-19

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Christmas. It can be the most wonderful, magical time of year. Or it can be just another obligation. Whether you’d normally be looking forward to Christmas or would be dreading the holiday season, this year we’ve all been thrown a curveball.

I’ve stayed at home for the past few Christmases and have had this conversation (although, not the pandemic aspect), so I know it is hard to know what to say when you can’t make it to see family.

COVID-19 hasn’t just been a piece of our world this year. It has been the world this year. It has consumed us, and for many families, it has destroyed and bulldozed the world they knew. And it is not done yet. The pandemic is still here with us, meaning Christmas is not quite what we imagined it to be. And in many ways that is devastating. I know that for so many people Christmas was a lifeline. Waiting for that time to be together was the finishing goal. But the truth is we just haven’t made it to that finish line.

So, once you’ve decided (for any reason) that visiting family this year is a no-go, how do you tell them that part, and what do you say? Your family may well be expecting it, but it doesn’t make it easier to discuss. There are, however, a few ways to make the discussion more comfortable.

1. Make a Plan

You know your reasoning for postponing this year’s Christmas visit, but what went into making that choice? Put it all together, whether as notes, pro and con lists, or just scribbles, it helps to have a reference to go back to when you need it.

2. Choose How to Communicate

Communication is key, and that means the method of communication is really important. Decide whether you’ll have the easiest time with a phone call, video chat, text, email or another method, and take it from there.

Remember to consider how your family communicates best too. If you have relatives with a disability then consider their needs and what they might require to understand the conversation properly. Would a video call work best so they can see your face? Or would a typed message work so they can read it instead?

3. Take Your Time

It’s natural to want to rush through telling your family you won’t be coming home. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. But by taking it slowly, you’ll be able to explain your reasons with clarity and calmness. That helps to show thought has gone into your decision.

4. Breathe

In an ideal world, every family would understand why we can’t see them this year. With the whole globe trembling under the strain of the pandemic, this isn’t a position anybody wanted to be in.

But, as with everything, there will always be families who won’t accept this news, and react harshly, manipulatively, emotionally or otherwise. To them, the benefits will always outweigh the risks.

The best thing to do here is breathe. Don’t argue it. If it is a text message, walk away for half an hour; if it is a call, phone back. Press pause and gather yourself, because answering a family member’s emotion-provoking questions with emotionally-charged answers is not ideal.

5. Know Your Lines

Whether it’s the truth, a convenient excuse, a bare-faced lie or some concoction of the above, it is always worth knowing what you’re going to say before you start that conversation. Play the conversation out in your head a couple of times, and see where it could lead you.

Nobody knows your family the way you do, so only you know how best to approach them. I don’t advocate lying, but, in tense family situations or when it will avoid seriously complex emotional situations, then I think it can be necessary.

Finally, not sure what to say? Articulating your decision not to come home for the holidays can be difficult to put it into words, especially if there are no “official” reasons preventing your trip. Sometimes we’re going through a situation and don’t know quite how to put it into words.

I’ve put below a little list of things to consider when you’re planning. They’re all circumstances that could impact your ability to go home and could be useful when you’re a little lost for where to start. The best thing you can do here in most cases is to be honest. I do appreciate this won’t always go down well, and it is good to have a list of facts, figures and extra excuses to back up your reasoning.

  • Consider all the facts before you start that conversation and work out the best track. If you think honesty about your feelings is the best policy, lay it on them. Whether that is facts about COVID-19, travel safety, increased risk to the medically vulnerable, and risk of lockdowns, etc., or whether honesty means just telling them the reality. You are afraid, there’s risk to you and to them. That’s scary. We are all a little bit scared. If you think they’ll be open to your emotions, then tell them how you’re feeling. Explain that for yours and their safety, you’ll be skipping the festivities this year.
  • However, if emotional honesty is really not the best policy, then you could be better off placing the weight of your argument on cold, hard, fact. Emotions are so easy to dismiss and in some situations even ridiculed. If you know your family isn’t necessarily the most supportive, then play it safe and stick to the unarguable truth. Lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, fines. There’s a lot being put in place to encourage us to stay at home. Take advantage of that info, and you can make the health advisers the scapegoats if needed!

Truthfully though, my favorite answer is always simply, “No.” No, I won’t be coming home.

I’ve always felt the worst guilt for saying no to people. Whether I’m saying “no thanks” to a cup of coffee or “No, sorry, I won’t be home for Christmas.” The guilt is real. You feel like you’ve let someone down. But the truth is, you don’t owe Christmas to anyone. It is yours. Own it.

Someone once told me that “saying no is a complete sentence. Sometimes nothing else is needed.” And after that, the guilt started to fade. The over-explanations waned. I took ownership of my decisions and took ownership of the word no. No is not a dirty word; when used right, it’s your fire.

For the people who won’t be joining us at our dinner tables this year. For the loved
ones we’ve lost and will continue to lose. Use your fire; and have the confidence to say no.

Originally published: December 15, 2020
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