No matter how old you get, there’s some news that’s hard to break to your parents. Nobody ever wants to trigger another “we’re not mad, we’re just disappointed” situation. The holidays especially hold a lot of emotional weight, so making plans can get complicated, especially when you’ve got ... other plans. And telling your mom you’re not going to make it home at all feels like a big deal.
A lot of my friends are having to do this whole song and dance with their parents this year. There are so many moving parts these days: new jobs, new relationships, marriages, babies, aging and ailing parents, siblings with kids, close friends scattered in different cities, etc. etc.. Which means you likely can’t get to all the places you’d like to. You may worry that ditching your folks this year will inevitably yield catastrophic results, but the best advice I can give you is don’t be afraid: Just tell Mom or Dad or whoever what your alternate plans are, and roll with it, and ask them to do the same. They may take it better than you anticipated.
I had to deliver the news to my own mom recently, and she was actually pretty chill about the whole thing. I don’t know what I was expecting: a passive-aggressive shitstorm of guilt, maybe? I didn’t give her enough credit, because it was nothing like that. I told her I wasn’t coming home for the holidays, and explained why, and offered up some dates after Christmas when maybe she could come up to New York and see me. Case (mostly) closed. I was expecting some big and tough conversation, but it was nothing like that.
Another thing: If you can deliver the news in person, do that. Considering it’s already December, that’s probably not possible. But in most situations, in-person conversations make communication a lot easier. Explain yourself as best you can; anticipate that they might not like it, but keep in mind that you’re just getting older, and so are they, and things just change. It’s likely to be more uncomfortable in person, but this way you’ll work through that discomfort immediately, and together, rather than letting it linger. Plus, you know, there’s always next year.
Why is stuff like this hard? Because the holidays rip open a lot of emotions that aren’t at the forefront during much of the rest of the year. It’s so much about FAMILY and FRIENDSHIP and CHEER and JOY and TOGETHERNESS that if those things aren’t there in perfect order, it stings a bit. Nothing is ever just one-sided either, and so your alternate plans will affect you as well. Even if it’s your own preference not to be home, waking up somewhere different on Christmas morning will probably feel a little different, no matter how old you are. Be prepared to be a little bit sad, even if your other plans are for the best.
There’s another component to all this: Once you hit a certain age, the scales tip in your relationship with your parents. There’s a role reversal coming: In many cases, you might feel like you’re the parent. This can manifest itself in a number of ways. You could see your parents making rash decisions you don’t agree with. You could suddenly be put in a position where a parent falls ill, and you have to make decisions about his or her health. Or you just might feel more responsible for Mom and Dad as they get up there in age. That’s normal. That’s the cycle of life. The other thing? At some point you realize your Mom and Dad are cool and interesting, and you really like hanging out with them. You may separate from them one year and realize you never want to do that again.
Until a few years ago, my mother—I mean Santa Claus—was still delivering me and my grown siblings and their spouses and their kids matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. We’d wake up Christmas morning and wait at the top of the stairs until we were given word that we could come down and see what was under the tree. This is not normal. Traditions are traditions, though, and changing them brings growing pains if not actual emotional pains, and sometimes thinking about delivering sensitive news is worse than actually delivering it. So go for it. Your parents might not even care, in which case maybe you’ve got even bigger problems.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.