My folks guilt-trip me into spending the holidays with them. I'm over it! : Life Kit Between long-held traditions, unfair expectations and clashing personalities, the holidays can be a perfect storm for conflict. Therapist John Kim helps untangle three holiday conundrums.

Dear Life Kit: My folks guilt-trip me into spending the holidays with them

Dear Life Kit: My folks guilt-trip me into spending the holidays with them

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Photograph by HuntImages/Getty; Collage by NPR
Close-up photograph of a frowny face drawn in the snow. The image symbolizes the drama and conflict that can arise around the holidays with family and friends.
Photograph by HuntImages/Getty; Collage by NPR

Need some really good advice? Look no further than Dear Life Kit. In each episode, we pose one of your most pressing questions to an expert. This question was answered by John Kim, a therapist, life coach and host of The Angry Therapist, a podcast he uses to deliver what he calls "self-help in a shot glass." This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Won't be home for Christmas

Dear Life Kit,

I'm single and my parents keep guilt-tripping me into using all my vacation time to visit them for the holidays. 

I love my parents, but my only vacation time is Christmas and New Year's and I have other things I want to do with my time off. Of course, my married brother isn't expected to come by for more than a day. How do I visit them without getting stuck? — Need space

John Kim is a therapist, host of The Angry Therapist Podcast and the co-author of It's Not Me, It's You: Break the Blame Cycle. Relationship Better and several other books. Photograph by Sarah Williams; Collage by NPR hide caption

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Photograph by Sarah Williams; Collage by NPR

[Whether you're] single or in a relationship, none of that has to do with [how flexible you should have to be with your time]. Single people are some of the busiest people I know. They're out building a new life, they're out traveling.

You have to draw boundaries. If you want to do something else for the holidays, that's OK. People's feelings are going to get hurt. You're going to feel guilty. [And it will be on you] to work through that guilt. But your parents are not going to disown you because you didn't come home for Christmas.

Don't set boundaries without communicating. Be honest and say, "Hey, this is what I think I need. I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings." And the way they take it is on them. But you've got to give yourself permission to give yourself that space. No one else is going to do it for you.

A gift-giving tradition gone too far

Dear Life Kit,

Our group of close friends have been getting each other gifts for years. But the gifts we get tend to be bad. We live in different cities and don't know each another's tastes anymore. We mean well, but we've all changed a lot. At this point, I'd rather they keep their money and treat themselves to something nice instead. Do we have to keep doing this every year? — Friendly finances

This is a great exercise for you to actually express your truth.

Be open and communicate with your friends. Say, "I'm not feeling this anymore. Let's do something different." Or you might say, "Let's switch it up and come up with some kind of game where it becomes fun again." Maybe your spending limit is $10.

You may be surprised that everyone else feels the same way but is just scared to stop this tradition.

Dealing with tough family members

Dear Life Kit,

For the last few years, a family member has been making hurtful comments during family gatherings. They make comments about someone's outfit or activities they don't want to do. Once it escalated when they loudly expressed annoyance at another family member's disability.

I'm not sure how to handle it. Firing back with matching snark seems like it would only escalate things, but ignoring or deflecting these comments leaves me feeling like I'm being bullied. What should I do? – Had enough

I would be more curious. I would say, "That hurt my feelings. Why did you say that?" Most people don't do this. They fight back with another snarky comment and nothing gets resolved and feelings are hurt. And the other person might be reactive and explosive.

You have to decide what kind of space you want [to be in] for the holidays. If things get too toxic or mean-spirited, and [you're not the host], then you should excuse yourself.

If [you're the host], you should set the tone and let people know the rules. You might say to everyone, "Hey, we're not going to do things that hurt people's feelings. We're going to have a good time."

Listen to John Kim's full response in the audio at the top of the page or on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Have a question for Dear Life Kit? Share it anonymously here.

Dear Life Kit is hosted by Andee Tagle and produced by Beck Harlan and Sylvie Douglis with help from our intern Jamal Michel. Bronson Arcuri is the managing producer and Meghan Keane is the supervising editor. Alicia Zheng produces the Dear Life Kit video series for Instagram.

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