How To Say ‘No’ To Family Functions Without Feeling Guilty

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In a large family, there’s always an event. Whether it’s a birthday, barbecue or baptism, my relatives like to celebrate together. We all live within three hours each other and most of us are in the same city. And this includes both mine and my husband’s extended family. In general, we see at least one family, if not both, every weekend. We never go more than two weeks without getting together. It is a whole lot of family involvement.

I think that all our time spent with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins is good for our daughter. She has a large, extended family and she knows how much everyone loves each other. As an only child, it gives her playmates close to her age that she sees on a regular basis. Both of our parents help us frequently, picking my daughter up from daycare if I have to work late or pulling a babysitting shift when we need a dinner out. We’re thankful to have so much love and support from our families.

Honestly, it’s wonderful to feel so involved and connected. But that doesn’t mean we stop needing alone time. Every once in a while, as I’m trying to throw together some pasta salad to take to my in-laws, I wish that we could stay home for a while. Sometimes, when I get home from a long day, I want to throw my cell phone into a closet so that no one can call and invite us to go out. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets these inclinations, but there are days when I just want to be alone.

The problem with having a family so wonderfully close is that I feel pretty intensely guilty missing out on all those memories. I mean, they show up for every birthday, to celebrate every promotion and to cheer on every recital. How can I miss those  events for them? But at some point in time, I have to acknowledge that my family and I have limitations.

So, my husband and I decided to start scheduling our personal time. I used to laugh at advice columns that suggested “schedule some ‘you’ time.” As if anyone follows my schedule! I laughed until all of a sudden, it became necessary. This week, my husband and I sat down with my day planner and blocked off entire “Family Days” into the book. Our first scheduled day is Monday, Labor Day. Since we’ve agreed to keep this day for ourselves, we’ve had four invitations to do other things. For some reason saying, “We have other plans,” doesn’t provoke nearly the guilt that I get from saying, “We need some time at home.” Even if that’s all we’re doing, it’s a plan. It’s in the book.

Actually blocking out the time and agreeing that it’s necessary feels wonderful. It’s relieved a lot of scheduling stress and it makes me more excited for the events we’re actually committed to going to. I may still get overwhelmed by everything we have to do, but at least I see an end in sight. I see a day just for my family and I to relax and bond and maybe even get a little bored. And hey, if we’re never away from our family, how can we miss them, right?


  1. Leisha Young

    March 24, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    What annoys me, and what I find the hardest to deal with, is that I have a pushy cousin who is always having family things at her house and expects everyone to attend; if you don’t? She gets angry. She pushes you to attend things you don’t want to and then you just end up attending under sufferance and just keep counting the hours until you can leave.

    As they don’t have a particularly busy social life/life in general they use family occasions as their social time; my husband and I don’t have that problem…in fact at certain times of the year it’s difficult to get a free weekend with all of the stuff we have to attend.

    I’m starting to resent her for it, and when I’m around her I just get annoyed. She acts as though she has a self-ordained right to boss the rest of the family around at her leisure. Why does she insist on making people do what they don’t want to do? Why does she lack any kind of understanding about how busy some people’s lives can be, and how much they need a break from family ‘obligation’? How do you deal with someone like that?

    We are planning on moving an hour away from the family just to get some peace, but I’m guessing she will still expect us to make the hour long trip to family functions even though she knows how much of an impost it is.

    I’m getting to my wits end and don’t know how to handle the situation. Any pointers?

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