Growing up, we always had family dinners to celebrate birthdays and similar events like Mother's Day, Father's Day, and some other things that are personal to our family. These traditions have been continued in the years since I've moved out, with the addition of Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years all as times I, and other siblings, are expected to go back to our parent's house. Given the size of the family, the number of birthdays, and the other miscellaneous events, this totals to 13-15 times a year.

My youngest siblings are still at home, though the majority of us have moved out. And at this point, I don't see a reason to reconvene so often as a whole family, especially since we don't all live in the same city any more (college and work for us older ones). Frankly, its exhausting and I'd rather see the family shift to 3-4 quality things a year (which I assumed would happen naturally, but its not), rather then try to continue doing all of the 13-15 we did growing up.

So I've decided that I, at least, will cut back on these events. How can I convince my parents that I won't be coming to every single dinner any more, and how can I do it without causing hard feelings? My mother doesn't do well with conflict or rejection and would probably take it personally. My father would understand, but try to convince me to continue on for my mother's sake. I'm not afraid to say "no", but I'm worried if it gets to that point, there will be hard feelings.

5 Answers 5


My mother-in-law is of the same mindset. "We need to get together for Christmas/Easter/Thanksgiving/Arbor Day/May Day. Can you come?" And then the guilt follows when the answer is "no".

We eventually decided that we would set up a rule for ourselves: we don't travel for holidays. It was too exhausting and conflicted with our schedules too much.

It took several years for MIL to accept that. But it was preferable to explaining why we couldn't make it. "We have to work" "Well, call in sick" "We don't want to pack up the kids" "I never get to see the grandkids" "Can you make it after work?" "No, that would put us there at 10 at night" ad nauseum. Hence "the rule": we don't travel for holidays. No, we're not explaining it. That's the rule for us.

We worry too much about hard feelings. Feelings are important, but I think we believe people are more sensitive than they actually are. If our parents love us, they'll be happy to see us when we can make it and they will understand that we have our own lives to live. Being the first is hardest, but if it's hard for you, it's equally hard for others who will follow your lead as well.

I'd also add one thing: offer to visit at a time you choose. Don't cut off contact; merely make it so that you can visit at a time that works for your schedule. then you show that you want to visit but need to do at a different time. You don't need to visit 13 times a year, but once or twice should get the point across.


I have found that the thing that works for me is to decide what is best for me, commit to doing what is best for me, and then letting others know what I will do. The difference is really just acknowledging that their feelings are their own and you do not make them feel a certain way. You don't need to try to change their feelings, just let them know what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Since your problem is that these dinners are high effort and low reward, I would just say that:

I have to drive a long way, I'm only here for a few hours, I'm exhausted, and it doesn't feel like quality time, so I don't enjoy it as much as I used to. I'd prefer to just come when I can enjoy a quality visit.

Perhaps you can enlist some agreement from your siblings who are like-minded and get some support beforehand. Suggest some specific days/weekends that would be preferred and begin planning.

Worst case scenario, nothing changes but your presence and you have less stress and your absences are understood if not fully appreciated.


If I understand correctly, you have not yet cut back on visits, and so you have not yet experienced conflict as a result. But your prior experience is supporting your expectation of a certain response, and conflict, when you bring this new behavior.

I will try to stick to your specific question, but I am not sure it is possible to do anything that will actually prevent hard feelings. Instead, you might have to be okay with those hard feelings happening, and then respond to them appropriately, in a way that helps your mom deal with them, and together actively resolve any conflict between you.

But on another note, although it's okay to have a certain expectation, you might be surprised. Maybe your mom (and dad) will be relieved. Maybe they are worried that you and your siblings will be offended if they say they don't want to host so many gatherings (I know, doubtful, but still a good mental exercise in conflict).

Most important, it is not unreasonable for you to want to make fewer trips, and so it is reasonable to be honest. If your mom expresses that she is upset, then you can respond by letting her know that you very much value your time with your parents and siblings, but that you have a lot more responsibilities now and need more time to yourself.

If she seems upset by this, then kick into basic counseling mode: something like

It seems like what I have told you has made you upset. Can we talk about it?


When you say I am an ungrateful child it makes me feel pretty crappy and I wish you would understand that I love spending time with everyone.

If this doesn't shift the conversation and feelings, and the conflict continues, then you try identifying the two different goals you both have. You want more time to yourself, your mom wants all the usual gatherings. How can the two of you resolve that conflict of goals? Compromise is often the route to conflict resolution, so you should have an idea in advance of what you would be willing to do. Maybe this year you agree to the big holidays but not birthdays, or vice-versa.

I think the key to working with any hurt feelings is to let your mom know you value her, your siblings, and the family, and that you will help her work through whatever impact your decision is having on her.


I would just be honest. It seems like you want to devise a solution to your dilemma so you can avoid unpleasant resistance in the future. But that never works in issues of this sort. They are solved slowly, as families and their members grow, mature and change, and circumstances change.

How we communicate with our family members regarding such changes will shape the future. There are no shortcuts other than cutting yourselves off. In the case of telemarketers, it might be OK to adopt a rule never to give money or purchase anything by phone. Then, you simply state the rule, and the call is over.

But I disagree with doing that among family members. It won't be long before the rule must be set aside, and it serves only to avoid unpleasant interaction on the subject.

I would handle each invitation on it's own, individually, and navigate it as it goes. If your mother will not hear your 'no', you can tell her she has no respect for her own child and what he has to say. That she's only concerned about what she wants! When she is willing to step out of herself and consider the needs and desires of others, you'd be willing to discuss it again.

Until that time comes, you've said all you have to say, and you can't make it. But also keep in mind that every kindness done for a parent bears untold rewards from heaven.

I was always forbearing and obedient to my father, even when he wanted me to do something that would make my life difficult. I have always gone out of my way for him. I became an engineer because he wanted me to.

Sometimes I hated him, but I was always faithful. No one in my family realized how well my fathers investments had done over the years, because he lives below his means.

He drives his cars until they rot 15-20 years. He has never made an interest payment except for housing. He did all his own home repair and auto work.

Because of my devotion to my parent, he has willed to me multiple tens of millions of dollars. Not so with my siblings who never had time for him. Filial piety is one of the greatest virtues and bears great rewards.

  • 2
    This is great background and story. For you. But I don't read from OP that they're willing to do what you* did. I'm not sure that this is a wrong frame challenge though ...
    – OldPadawan
    May 2, 2018 at 20:30
  • @OlodPadawan It states exactly how I would handle the problem of communicating that I don't want to visit parents as often. It also states background information, and the possible advantages of filial piety, which is integral to the question. Now that I've had some experience with your comments, are you sure you're part of the solution here? Most of it seems nit picky.
    – Awesome
    May 2, 2018 at 20:48
  • 1
    "It states exactly how ..." Does it really? I'm seeing how not to treat it like turning down a telemarketer, and to treat each invitation separately but I don't feel like you explained how to handle that separate invitation. So how does this answer the question "How to say no without causing hard feelings?"
    – Imus
    May 3, 2018 at 13:23

As much as it is true that our parents would want us to stay happy and healthy, but we also cannot deny that they will feel lonely most of the time despite having their SO besides them.

That being said, we have our life to lead as we begin our new chapter. Keeping all those in mind, be truthful and explain your concerns to your mum - in person (preferably) or otherwise through the phone call.

You mentioned that you have a youngest sibling who is still staying at home. How's the relationship between your sibling and you? You might also want to share your circumstances with your youngest sibling and he/she will need to understand it. Let him/her know that there will be a time when is his/her turn to leave the home, and imagine the same scenario on him (that being said, do emphasize the importance of a family).

Why is that important? When physical contacts are being greatly reduced, there will be bound of some misunderstanding just arose from parents. There will be thoughts like, "oh, our children have changed so much that they don't care about us anymore", "if only our children were here now" and so on. Your youngest sibling who is staying home will likely be the one noticing all those, and could help to try to explain on behalf of you all.

Despite all that, your mum probably might still find it hard to accept, and like you said, she probably will feel rejected. I think this is expected and reasonable, and I think it will takes time.

So next would be of post-actions. Mark and set reminders of your parents birthday or all other events. Always give a call and check out upon them. Leverage on the current technology, for example, having a Skype video call once a month or so (depending on your preference). Don't forget about your youngest sibling as well, who also could be a reliable source of information on checking out your parents being.

After all, she is your mum. So maybe have some faith in her?

(Just a gentle reminder) And I think most would have know, but as we are growing old, so does our parents. So be there for their side when they need us, for it might be too late when they are not around anymore.

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