The first year my husband and I were married we went to both of our parents’ homes for the holidays – on opposite coasts.
We were lucky that he had 2 weeks of leave and I was telecommuting, so it was doable…on paper, but to be honest, in real life, it was exhausting.
With 12+ hours of travel and splitting precious time, it wasn’t fair to them or us. That year we decided that in the future we’d alternate every year. While we told everyone our plan, it’s still difficult every year to tell the other side that no, we really won’t be there.
My warning: it is never an easy conversation, but here are 4 tips on how to have that difficult discussion and 3 ways to survive the time apart from loved ones, whatever your reason.
4 Tips for Telling Your Extended Family You Won’t Be Home for the Holidays
1. Manage Expectations
As soon as you’re even thinking about not going home, let your parents know. Next time you talk mention that you may be staying put for the holidays because [insert your reason here]. Explain that for financial/personal/service member obligations (yes, they really are doing a training exercise up until 3 days before Christmas or starting one 2 days after, or you can’t take time off of work) and that you really can’t make the trip work.
If things change and you’re able to go home – everyone will be happy – but the earlier you can tell them that it might not be a possibility, the better.
Military life means that you’re used to some surprises in your schedule and while you may be the king or queen of flexibility, don’t expect the same from everyone else in your life. Give your family the courtesy of planning out as far in advance as possible.
2. Tell Them ASAP
Once you know that you won’t be home from the holidays, confirm this information with your extended family.
You don’t want your parents or in-laws planning for your trip, when you drop your holiday no-travel bomb, “Sorry, we won’t be there.” As soon as you know, make sure that they know.
3. Be Honest
Make sure that you tell your family why you can’t be there, whether it’s work, the year for the in-laws or plane tickets are too expensive. You and they may be sad, and that’s OK, but your parents will understand that you didn’t make the decision lightly.
4. Offer to Host
If you’re willing to host, mention that you’d love if they could come visit you instead. After enduring 2 (yes 2) PCSes this year, we invited our families to join us at our new duty station months ago. Not all of them are able to make it, but they loved the invite and chance to see our new home.
No you all won’t be able to go to your local religious services or drive up your favorite street at home to check out the amazing decorations or eat at your favorite diner, but you can make new memories with your parents at your current duty station. Making new memories can be fun at the holidays and you can still spend time together, which for me is what the holiday season is all about.
3 Ways to Thrive During the Holidays When You Can’t Be with Your Extended Family
1. Offer to Skype or Facetime During Your Favorite Family Traditions
Is the best part of your holiday opening presents?
Or is it the lighting of the menorah?
Or something else?
A Skype or Facetime date during that special moment could be just what the doctor ordered. If your family has a tradition that means a lot to you, try to call or video chat during that time – no, it’s not the same as being there in person, but you can be a part of that special time with your loved ones.
2. Celebrate Your Family Traditions at Your Home
Is there one moment that you love and your holidays wouldn’t be the same without it? Maybe it’s eating a specific food or saying a certain prayer.
Ask your family for the instructions (if you don’t have them) and do it at your house. This will help make the holidays feel the same while being a little different (or at least different location-wise).
These touches of home will help you feel a bit less homesick and make your parents glad that you’re carrying on the tradition even if you’re thousands of miles away.
3. Make New Traditions
Yes, there is something special about old traditions – but why not make some new ones too?
The first year that my husband and I spent the holidays together away from our families we missed the big gatherings of extended family, but we started doing things together – like visiting the local light display and perfecting our holiday Pandora station.
Maybe you want to volunteer at the local soup kitchen or your church.
Maybe your neighbors or friends host a big party every year. Now is your chance to go and form great bonds with them.
And who doesn’t love a good Friendsgiving?
Whatever it is, these new traditions can help make the holidays away from family a bit easier to bear. And check out these tips to make the most out of the holidays no matter where you are.