Choosing to Spend the Holidays Away From Family Can Be an Act of Love

Some of us are devising strategies on how to survive the holidays without harming a family member or two. But some of us aren't, because for various reasons we've chosen to holiday away from home. It's not a bad thing.

Since leaving home for college, I've spent most holidays away from my family, which is relatively small (no siblings, no nieces/nephews/others). It's not because I don't love them—I do—we just get along better when we see each other in small doses. The reasons for this are numerous, but one part of it is that they live in a house that's pretty isolated and in a small town, and when I visit there's nothing to do to distract us from the past, old baggage, and other bullshit. The setup I've chosen isn't perfect, but works OK: My parents and I talk on the phone for a while, wish each other Happy Whatever, hang up, and then go about our days. They get to enjoy time to themselves, and I get to collect experiences: traveling (before the Great Recession hit, and money became nonexistent); sharing meals with bosses, other "orphans," and the families of friends and boyfriends; and serving food to the homeless.

Maybe my choice all sounds compartmentalized or selfish—especially for those of you who regard a visit with the sibs and the 'rents as a necessary and wonderful thing, because somehow you all ended up on the same page of life, and share lots of interests in common, and create joy together. It happens! And when it does, it's an amazing and beautiful thing to watch. But many people don't have that, and so holidays come with a little (or a lot) of dread. What to do: go home and risk a blow-up, misunderstandings, and piled-on resentments, or choose an alternate path that doesn't involve all that?

Deciding the latter eliminates the dread.

Sometimes it's hard to reconcile one's duty to family with the feeling that holidaying without them is best for everyone involved. There's a lot of attention and pressure placed on holidays to become magical experiences with harmony and perfect food and everyone coming away with love and warmth in their hearts. And also a lot of obligation assigned to familial relationships. Deciding not to buy that train ticket to Homesville can feel a bit alienating or even wrong—it stirs up feelings of anxiety, guilt, and a sense of fear.

This contributor to the anonymous blog Fearless Blogging captures the stew of emotions well:

I guess this will somehow make me feel better. I don't want to go home for the Holidays...my husband and I can spend $900 bucks to fly home only to see family who don't try and visit us at all during the year...not to mention they hate that we bring our dog(he is 10 and our only child)...and we have to hear complaining of how one part of the family is better than the other(divorced family)...on top of that, we feel like my family makes us feel guilty if we spend 1 eve. with one parent, one with the other...all a viscous cycle that I really did not mind while my Grandparents were alive but...now, I just feel distant, and I resent the fact NO ONE EVER COMES TO VISIT US...my Dad barely pays attention to us, my Mom complains about having extra play money but is too lazy to go get a part-time job...Just Sounds Fun doesn't it?

Sounds like this person's not going to be happy if they go home—they're just going to end up disappointed. Maybe they don't know how to untangle what's going on with their family. So why should they willingly subject themselves to more disappointments? Because some sort of Scrooge-like epiphany will happen? How often does that really occur outside of movies and television shows? Sometimes it's just healthier and more loving to let everyone have their space, until a better time comes for sharing one space. But making that decision requires letting go of "what others might say," which can be difficult.

It's frustrating, but in some families compromise isn't possible, because one person isn't ready or willing to bend or give up old grudges and baggage. For those of us who are in the position of going home, instead of having the home to go to, we have to make a choice: deal with the reality, or hope that things will be different this time around. But if change is impossible at the present moment—sometimes it's not hard to tell when it is—then it's important to acknowledge that somehow and not feel like a failure about it. Or wrong.

This Thanksgiving-related column is a little icy, but it sums up where some of us holiday orphans-by-choice are coming from:

Millions of people move so far away from home that they feel they have to fly back for the holidays, but they should remember why they moved away in the first place. Most likely, they wanted to get away from those people with whom they couldn’t be in the same room without disagreeing, arguing and stomping out in opposite directions. Now, they arrive home from thousands of miles away for the holidays, everyone gets hugged, and minutes later they’re fighting again. They actually start looking forward to the flight home, as an escaped prisoner at a festive holiday family argument might miss the tranquility of death row.

My advice to those who live far from home: Stay home over the holidays and start your own Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. Have some neighbors over. Send your loved ones an e-mail and tell them you’ll be home next summer.

I know my parents would love to see me come home for the holidays. Alternatively, I'd love to see them visit me for the holidays. My city, which they've never visited, offers many more diversions than theirs. We could go walk around neighborhoods and focus on things besides the past. But this year it's not happening. Maybe next summer.

Stay home, don't go home for holidays [Whidbey News-Times]

Photo Klaus-Peter Adler/via Shutterstock