Holidays can be difficult for people who are estranged from their families—especially holidays where families seem to be the centerpiece, such as Thanksgiving. It can make you feel adrift, an island of your own, lost and alone.
But for anyone choosing not to be with their family this Thanksgiving, I hope you know this: You are not alone.
On holidays like this, we’re made to believe that if we don’t have a family to spend it with, then we don’t have anybody—but that’s just blatantly untrue. As cliche as it may sound, we get to choose our own families. Sometimes that’s the people we were born connected to, and sometimes that’s the people we meet along the way—but the most important thing to remember is that you get to choose. No one is entitled to a place in your heart or in your life.
The truth is, if you’re choosing not to be with family this Thanksgiving, there’s probably a reason, and it’s probably valid. So often people will tell us to bury our own feelings for the sake of everyone else; so often we let ourselves believe that they’re right. But family doesn’t get a free pass to treat us badly, and we don’t have to put up with specific behaviors just to appease others. Others may tell you otherwise, but I’m telling you this now: It’s okay to put yourself first.
But just know it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel like you’re missing out on something. It’s okay to mourn that space in your heart that feels empty, abandoned. It’s even okay to miss your family, even if you know you’re better off away from them. Life is too messy to fit perfectly into one box—you can feel resentful and sad and relieved and heartbroken and nostalgic all at once. And no matter what anyone tells you, there’s nothing wrong with that.
So grieve if you must. But I hope you also remember to be proud of yourself—for choosing to uphold your own boundaries, for doing what is necessary to protect your own peace. You might be criticized for your choices (both from people who know the situation and from those who don’t), but the truth is that no one can ever truly understand until they’re the ones in the situation. At the end of the day, you’re doing the best you can with the resources that you have, and you absolutely have to do what you believe is best for you.
So maybe you won’t be spending this Thanksgiving with the people others expect you to. Maybe you don’t have plans at all. Maybe this holiday season won’t go the way you hoped it might. But just because you may not have plans with loved ones on this specific day doesn’t mean you don’t have loved ones to spend your time with on all the other days of the year. Those moments are important, too; those people are precious to you, even if they aren’t blood-related, so hold onto them dearly.
And if you’re choosing not to be with family this Thanksgiving, remember this: This is just one day of the year. It will pass. There are better days waiting for you in the future.