Cancelling Christmas? How to tell your family you won't be seeing them this year

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Christmas for one?
Christmas for one?

Christmas family gatherings: for many, this sums up a happy time of family, love and togetherness. 

For others, though, it can be a stressful, unhappy time and with the Covid-19 pandemic still a concern, some may be choosing to use fear of infection as an excuse to avoid the mandatory Christmas get-together. 

But how to tell your family? If you already have a strained relationship, admitting that you're not joining in this year could be difficult, or risk further conflict. 

We asked Enzo Sinisi, a Cape Town based Psychologist and Psychoanalyst, for advice for those who have decided not to attend family gatherings this year. 

Whether you're worried about Covid-19 or you just don't want to see your family, he has some advise and support to guide you in this sensitive conversation. 

Relationship preservation 

"If you are planning to cancel Christmas, use telling people as an opportunity to practice assertiveness, tactful honesty and relationship preservation," Sinisi says.

"The idea here is to be honest in a way that also builds your relationships. Be clear about your decision and reasons while stressing the value and importance of being together," he adds. 

He suggests using a phrase like this to make yourself understood: " I love you and would love nothing more than to spend Christmas together. It’s because of this reason, and my wish for us to have many more such opportunities, that this year I don’t want to meet in person for Christmas." 

Willing to connect

Mention how you are willing to connect, for example try saying "Before we have our special lunch at home we can pray together, or share the entire lunch connected via Zoom, or meet on Zoom in the evening for a family game?"

Sinisi suggests that you consider discussing setting time aside to plan to make next Christmas extra special.

An honest but loving approach is usually best, he says.

"Both because it allows you to declare who you are in an open and confident way and because it protects you from getting in a tangle around not getting caught out or landing in commitments you don’t want to keep."

He adds that humour can help navigate challenging conversations: " At least you won't need to feed me!"  or " We are introverts, think of this as a blessing".

But cancelling Christmas is no small matter, he warns, so expect people to be upset. 

For introverts

Sinisi tells Parent24 that interestingly, he had thought that introverted clients would do better during this time, but this isn’t necessarily proving to be so.

"Based on observations from my practice, some introverts struggle more," he reveals. 

"Sure, they did well in the beginning. The struggle grew from their turning increasingly inwards while lacking the drive that pulls more extroverted people back out of the cave. Although introverts don’t especially love socialising, they are still social animals with social needs," he says.

Introverts risk feeling low, demoralised and isolated when they are not part of something, and, unfortunately, introverted people sometimes fail to see the connection between their mood and the degree to which they are socially involved.

"This can leave some less inclined to set up a social world in the absence of structures (like the workplace) which provide this automatically," he says.

So perhaps spending a bit of (safely physically distanced) time with the fam isn't the worst idea?

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