“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…” So begins one of the Christmas songs that is incessantly on the radio this time of year. The song celebrates the holiday fantasy of a happy family going on a sleigh ride, enjoying themselves around a table laden with holiday foods or gathering around a warm, homey fire. The strong cultural mandate to go “home” is hard to resist. But there are good reasons for staying put in the new home you’ve made.

It’s hard to disappoint the people who will be disappointed, but maybe the healthiest thing you can do for you and yours is to take a bye this year.

Below are five reasons not to go home:

  1. You have young children.
    With three children under 6, my client, Claudia, sees Christmas as an exhausting marathon. There’s Christmas Eve at her father’s. Christmas morning is at the home of her mother and her second husband. Then it’s on to an afternoon visit with her beloved grandmother in a nursing home and to her husband’s family’s house for Christmas dinner that evening. By the end of the day, the kids are overtired and misbehaving. The adults are equally exhausted and not at their best either. Yet they’ve kept it up for years.

    For most young families, it eventually becomes clear that trying to fit in visits to everybody on the actual day of Christmas is just plain too hard. The traveling and general disruption of family routines leave everyone cranky when they so want to be having a good time.

    This may be the year that you, like Claudia, rethink the schedule. Maybe you announce that anyone who wants to come is welcome to be at your home this year. Or maybe you can spread the holiday out over a week or two so the kids don’t get overstimulated and overwhelmed. Remind yourself and others that it isn’t the day that’s important, it’s the getting together.

  2. You have a child with special needs.
    For years a friend of mine tried to take her son with autism “home” for the holidays. He’d last for maybe an hour and then would have a major meltdown. The unfamiliar place and the general hubbub caused by multiple cousins was more than he could handle. The situation was made worse for my friend because there were relatives who wouldn’t or couldn’t understand the special challenges for her little boy. They were vocal in their opinion that he just needed more discipline.

    The couple decided that managing the visits just wasn’t worth the stress. Instead of going “home,” they now arrange for various members of the family to come to see them during Christmas week. By maintaining the boy’s regular schedule and limiting the number of people who come on a given day, they keep him calm. Best of all, family members get to see him at his best. My friend hopes things may be different when her son gets older, but for now she and her husband are taking their cues from him.

  3. Family members are aging.
    Another life change occurs when the older generation is getting too tired or too frail to maintain traditions. As much as they want to see you, as much as they would like to do what they have always done, it’s just getting too much.

    This is a transition that takes more than a little tact. You don’t want them to feel abandoned or like they are letting you down. Still, the most loving thing adult children can do is to adjust the holidays so it is manageable for the old folks. Talk it over far enough in advance so they participate in the decision about changes and have time to get used to the idea. You may find they are relieved to be given a way out from hosting the whole gang all at once or from cooking for 15.

  4. The family is toxic.
    For some people, home has never been a homey place. Returning every year is an exercise in disappointment, conflict and pain. If home is where the heart is, home is anywhere but there. Maybe this year will be different, but probably not.

    Nowhere is it written that people who get emotionally abused every time they go “home” have to keep going. Sadly, there are families where get-togethers are a rerun of toxic interactions. Regardless of good intentions, the old dynamics of criticism, competitiveness, put-downs and hurtful comments surface within hours, even minutes. Every year I work for weeks with clients who struggle with guilt and regrets as they make the decision to limit or eliminate the obligatory holiday visits with people who make Christmas anything but merry.

  5. You are in recovery.
    If you are in recovery from alcohol abuse, drug abuse or an eating disorder, and the rest of the family doesn’t respect your efforts, it’s simply not a good idea to go “home.” Especially in the early stages of recovery, resolve can be fragile. Being invited, even pushed, to have “just one” because “after all, it’s a holiday,” isn’t helpful to your sobriety. If you are dealing with food issues, being urged to have another Christmas cookie or being told that you are getting too fat or too thin can be a trigger for shame, anger and self-blame.

    If you are far enough into recovery to stay grounded, fine. Go “home” and laugh off well-intended (or not so well-intended) efforts to get you to indulge in whatever you have vowed not to indulge in. But if you have doubts, take a pass and visit when you can do so on terms that support your recovery.

Changing how and where you celebrate the holidays doesn’t have to be cause for an explosion. With forethought, tact, and maybe some creativity, where you spend the last week of December can usually be negotiated. Yes, sometimes there’s no place like “home” for the holidays. But sometimes home is where you are, not a place to return to.

Children at Christmas photo available from Shutterstock