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Sorry, Grandma, we're not coming home for the holidays

Sunny Hayes
Nov. 2, 2018

We’ve all heard the old adage: There’s no place like home for the holidays. But let’s face it, it’s not always true. Whether it’s avoiding family drama or simply saving funds, I’ve learned that taking care of myself sometimes means staying put and skipping the yuletide cheer. Sure, mom missed me when I chose a fun getaway over flying home as a college student — but she understood. Still, now that I’m married with a baby, not going home for the holidays has become a much bigger deal.

The decision whether or not to go home for the holidays can be a tough one for new parents especially, says Veronica Bojerski, child and family psychotherapist, licensed professional clinical counselor and owner of Season’s Practice in Broadview Heights, Ohio. By the time the kids are reaching 2 and 3 years old, Bojerski says, parents often feel the need to create their own traditions at home and want to avoid the high cost and major hassle of traveling or dealing with dysfunctional extended families during the holidays with kids. 

“While you may be scared of not meeting your parents’ expectations of a holiday, you’re the adult, and as an adult child, you are not responsible for meeting your parents’ emotional needs,” Bojerski says.

Below, parents reflect on seven common reasons we stay put instead of traveling home for the holidays, while Bojerski provides actionable tips on how to tell Grandma and Grandpa ”no.”

1. The problem: It’s too expensive

’Tis the season when plane, train and bus tickets are at their most expensive. For Priscilla Blossom, a mom from Denver, Colorado, the high cost makes traveling at the holidays not worth it. 

“If I were flying solo, that's one thing,” Blossom says. “But three round-trip flights from Denver to Miami in December will cost you near or more than $1,000.”

The solution: Travel during alternate dates or at another time of the year.

“Coming up with creative strategies and solutions are acts of kindness,” says Bojerski. “Relationships need to be flexible!”

2. The problem: Travel is a hassle

The thought of negotiating icy roads with a cranky toddler in tow can make a white Christmas sound a little less magical — and for families that already travel a lot, the obvious answer to long-distance invitations is “no thanks.”

“We’re a military family. My husband is on active duty,” says Sheila Nichols, from Washington, D.C. “If we're lucky enough to be together for the holidays, we do our own thing.”

The solution: Get together virtually. Thanks to technology, we can all be together without leaving home. Bojerski suggests families connect over an app like Skype or FaceTime.

“Have the kids send homemade gifts that everyone opens together,” she says.

3. The problem: The holidays are stressful

The holidays are supposed to be a relaxing and joyful time, but according to the Mayo Clinic, the dizzying demands of the holiday season — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, just to name a few — can lead to stress and depression.

New Orleans mom Sarah Netter drew the line when her son was 2. Rather than feeling frenzied by the hustle, bustle and drama, Netter says, “Christmas is about my son.”

The solution: Make them come to you.

“Going home can trigger old roles,” says Bojerski. “We feel safer in our own space.”

4. The problem: You have scheduling dilemmas

Having time off is an important highlight of the holidays, but not getting time off far enough in advance or having to work on the big day can put a kink in travel plans.

“I’d love to go home for the holidays, but my son's school schedule doesn't allow it,” says Sandra Grauschopf, of Washington, D.C.

The solution: Fly solo.

“If child care’s not an issue — and you really want to see your parents, you might consider visiting by yourself,” Bojerski says.

But if you can’t go, Bojerski adds, that’s really OK, too.

5. The problem: You’re splitting time between in-laws

You get it: Your kids are sweet as pumpkin pie and everyone wants a piece (and not some other time of year).

Because their family lives close by, Washington, D.C., mom Jessica Sillers and her husband felt obligated to visit both sets on inlaws on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We spent so much time driving and counting minutes wherever we were that we decided never again,” Sillers says.

The solution: Create a rotating schedule.

“You can ask for people’s input, but it might not be possible to make everyone happy,” Bojerski says.

6. The problem: It’s an unsafe environment

There’s no reason to feel obligated to return to environments where you or your children will be physically or psychologically unsafe.

“My mom and stepdad smoke in their house,” says Kristin Collins, from Reston, Virginia. 

The rest of her family doesn’t see what the big deal is, she says, but Collins is adamant.

“I absolutely refuse to bring my children into that house, particularly because I have a preemie who is only 2 months old now,” she says.

The solution: You don’t need an excuse. When it comes to issues of health or safety, Bojerski says, be clear and no nonsense. If anyone pushes back, Bojerski says, “Keep interactions short and sweet. Less is better. Send a card.”

7. The problem: You’d rather stay home

For many, home is less the house we grew up in and more the one we’ve created for ourselves as adults.

Kelsey Miller, from Seattle, Washington, says she put an end to going back when her son was 3 for of various reasons — “the cost of flying, the terror of icy road conditions if driving, the hassle of moving sleeping locations, among others.” But the most important reason, Miller, says: “That place 800 miles away is no longer home.”

“When it's just our little family in our own house for a relaxing week, we actually enjoy the holidays,” Miller says.  

The solution: Be honest (but stay kind!).

“Cite some of the nicer reasons, like weather,” Bojerski says.

The bottom line:

Whether you’ve established new traditions as a nuclear family, want to save a little cash or would simply prefer to use your time off to actually relax, you have permission to turn down holiday invitations.

Even if your family is disappointed, Bojerski says, stick to your plans and don’t feel guilty.

“It’s important to take charge of your household when the kids are small,” she says. “Do what feels happy and right for your household.”

Read next: 101 holiday activities for kids

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