By Steve Tamayo

When “Home for Christmas” Is Hard

Going home for the holidays can be more complicated than you’d expect. On the surface, it sounds simple. You’re from there. How hard can it be to just go back?

But you’ve changed.

You aren’t the same person you were just a few months ago. School and work and life and ministry and God have done their work on you. Which is what you’ve been wanting. Growth. Development. Transformation.

And I’ve got news for you. While you’ve been changing, your home has been in flux too. Your old house and your old room—they will probably feel familiar. But small things will feel out of place. While you’ve been off changing and growing, other people have been living in your house.

Those “other people”—you know, your family—can make it complicated to go home. In some ways, they’re exactly the same. They’ll push the same buttons they’ve always pushed. They’ll make you laugh with the same old jokes that have always made you laugh. But they’ll have expectations of you as well. They’ll have expectations for when you wake up and what you like to eat and what you do for fun and what you believe about life’s most important questions.

And with you not being just the same “you” anymore, some of those expectations will no longer fit. Maybe you’ve taken up new hobbies. Maybe you’ve developed new habits. Maybe you’ve embraced a new faith. You are the same “you” and also the new “you” at the same time. And this makes going home much, much, much, much, much more complicated.

I learned this lesson in a painful and much more profound way.

Each year, when I returned home from college, I carried home with me the consequences of all-you-can-eat on-campus buffets and lifting weights four times a week in the gym. A line graph of my body size in college trended up and to the right. I changed and I guess I grew. But my family didn’t know. Christmas and birthdays brought generous presents of clothing. Everyone bought me the same sized clothes I usually wore, but everything felt tight. And I felt silly.

Over time, those feelings of silliness morphed into feelings of shame. I started to resent and get angry with my family for not keeping up with my physical fluctuations. I started to accuse them of trying to embarrass me and of not listening to me or paying attention to me. I felt like my family didn’t know me.

If my family couldn’t keep track of my T-shirt size, how could they keep track of what was going on in the rest of my life?

They couldn’t.

At least, not without some help.

So, how can you help your family—and help yourself—navigate your visit home?

  • Clearly communicate when you sense expectations from others that no longer apply. (Use words.)
  • Don’t expect everyone to already know how you’ve changed. (They weren’t there.)
  • Don’t exaggerate your change. (You’re still “you.”)
  • Abandon your change if it was unhealthy. (Home gives you perspective.)
  • Stay connected with your community. (You’re going home, not to another planet—unless you’re from another planet, in which case, watch out for data charges if you try to access the InterVarsity blog on your iPhone.)
  • Think strategically about how you connect with your family. (Don’t settle for the passive connection of a shared GPS location.)
  • Listen for and pay attention to the ways your family may have changed. (You aren’t the only one who’s been under the influence of life’s powerful shaping forces.)
  • “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (That’s not an original idea from me. Find it by reading the epistle of James in the Bible. Don’t stop when you find the quote, though. Keep reading.)
  • Look for an opportunity to love. (God placed you with these people for a reason.)

And then share your insights in the comments. I can’t be the only one who’s ever run into complications going home. Let’s help each other.

For more help navigating relationships at home, check out these resources:

What to Expect When You Return Home


Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet

How InterVarsity Influenced My Son—and Me

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Steve Tamayo is a strategist serving with InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship (LaFe), Creative Labs, and Multiethnic Initiatives. You can can support his ministry using this link:

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