It was early December when my husband, then a business school student, broke the news to me. Over the upcoming winter break, he wanted to travel overseas to do some field research for his company. And he wasn't going to be able to return home until after Christmas.
Needless to say, I was not happy about this turn of events. We barely saw each other while he was taking classes--and now he was going to be gone for one of the most important days of the year.
For me, his time off was supposed to be about us reconnecting. For him, it was the perfect time to focus on his budding business.
We argued. I cried. There were hurt feelings on both sides.
Looking back, I see what a poor job we both did of talking through a tough issue. There were things we should have said but didn't, and things we said but shouldn't have.
If you find yourself having to break the news to your loved ones that you need to work or travel over the holidays, here is a far healthier and more loving way to do it:
1. Notify your family as early as possible.
While it can be tempting to procrastinate the sharing of bad news, it will be better for everyone to have more time to process and prepare if you tell them as soon as you know.
2. Communicate not just the what, but the why.
Your significant other will be really helped by knowing why you need to work over the holidays. Is there a business deal that has to close before the end of the year? Is there an urgent product issue that has to be addressed as soon as possible? This helps him or her to see that you're not making a random or impulsive decision but a deliberate, well-reasoned choice.
3. Be as specific as possible about your work schedule.
Instead of offering a vague "I need to work" or "I'll be busy," tell your spouse and kids the exact days and, if possible, the hours that you will be working. This will set realistic expectations and help them to plan around your work schedule.
4. Recognize how this may impact your family, logistically and emotionally.
Though you can't avoid causing some measure of disappointment, you can help mitigate your loved ones' hurt feelings by acknowledging how your choice is affecting them. Tell them that you know you're going to miss a family meal or a holiday party; express your regret for disappointing them. This helps your family know that you see them and are thinking of them, despite your busyness.
5. Set a date to make it up to your loved ones--and make sure to honor that commitment.
This is essential to letting your family know that they are still a priority for you. You may not be able to be with them on a particular day, but you still want to be with them. Once you pick a date, keep that reserved on your calendar and commit to giving your loved ones your full and undivided attention at that time.
If you follow the above, you may still experience arguments and tears with your spouse or kids. But, hopefully, you will be able to alleviate some resentment and bitterness, and pave the way for greater understanding and empathy among your family.