The holidays are hard for many reasons, including the decision of whether or not to visit family. For some, holidays with family may mean navigating past hurts and current mistreatment, which also requires figuring out the conditions under which you will (or won’t) spend time together. Drawing on his expertise as a family therapist, our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist explores how these decisions can have emotional costs beyond the financial burden of traveling during the holidays in The Cut.
In “Can I Ask My Parents to Pay for My Plane Ticket Home for Christmas?” Matt helps answer a reader’s question on how to approach their parents about paying for travel while on a tight budget. Beyond financial worries, the reader mentions their family is “sort of stressful” and “not easy to spend time with,” explaining their parents never quite accepted them after they came out as gay, which “adds to the general holiday anxiety.”
Though the majority of the reader’s question concerns finances, Matt encourages the reader “not to conflate” the financial question with the emotional decisions around their relationship with family, especially since there seems to be pain regarding the lack of acceptance of their sexuality. He says, “Before you look at the financial aspect, you need to grapple with whether or not you do, in fact, want to spend this kind of time with your family right now.” Granted, the focus on money is understandable. We have a tendency to take an issue that’s complex and concentrate instead on an aspect of it that’s more straightforward and solvable such as the question of paying for a ticket. If Mom and Dad can afford a ticket and are willing, problem solved. In contrast, negotiating historical hurts, mistreatment, a lack of parental acceptance, the possibility of repair, or perhaps a shared decision to deny this is infinitely harder, but essential.
When the money is set aside (and the question needs to be asked: At what price would you be okay with mistreatment?), it allows for other, harder issues to be addressed. While we can only speculate what these may be for The Cut’s reader, each person needs to decide for themselves: Is the family togetherness I want over the holidays real or is it an idea/wish? Is it real but does it come with a cost, a sacrifice of a part of myself that’s too important? Am I okay with some number of unkind statements? Or if we “just don’t talk about it,” does that work for me? It’s crucial to note that these answers may change over time—it may be that you do the trip and agree, say, to ignore the hurt from the past, but then discover that it doesn’t feel right, or is fine or preferable to not going altogether.
It’s also important to, Matt observes, “think about the non-financial conditions that would make you feel better about the trip.” For instance, he suggests: “Could your family express more acceptance of who you are, and commit to working on that? Could they apologize for hurting you in the past?” If the answer is yes, consider having a conversation with family members about it. This may look like saying: “Mom and Dad, I’d like to come home, but I need to talk about some hurt feelings first or ask for certain conditions so that I can feel good being there.”
Ultimately, whether or not you decide to visit family during the holidays, a larger question may need to be confronted as well: What kind of relationship can you have with parents or family members where there’s been mistreatment or a lack of acceptance of something like, for instance, sexuality? As Matt acknowledges in The Cut, “This is a pretty brutal question, and much harder to answer than who should buy your plane ticket.” Sometimes adult children need to set pretty heavy limits on family members or even consider ending the relationship. That’s always painful and often comes with a choice between two tough options (tolerating some degree of mistreatment versus limiting or ending the relationship).
It may also be the case that you may want to be a part of a family holiday to share and enjoy in togetherness, even while trying to make longer-term decisions about what kind of relationship you want to have with family members. Can you be in the process of trying to sort out these tough questions, but decide to spend a holiday together as a short-term plan? The answer is yes, that’s possible. It may go badly, but that might be okay. Having the holiday go poorly might be what helps you decide what you want to do.