I live in New York and my parents live in Michigan. I haven’t seen them since before the pandemic, so it’s a big deal that we’re gathering again this Christmas. The thing is, I’m not really looking forward to it — my family is sort of stressful, and while I love them, they aren’t easy to spend time with. (I’m gay, and even though I came out to them years ago, they are still awkward about it. This is something I’ve come to terms with, but it adds to the general holiday anxiety.)
I also started graduate school last fall, so money has also gotten a lot tighter. Plane tickets are always expensive during the holidays, and they’re even crazier this year. I can technically afford to fly home, but it’ll impact my finances a lot. My parents are definitely in a better financial position than I am, and it would set them back a lot less if they bought my plane ticket. It would also make me feel better about going someplace that would not otherwise be my first choice of location for the holidays. How do I ask them in a way that isn’t awkward?
It sounds like you want your parents to buy your plane ticket not only because it’s expensive, but also to offset the emotional cost of spending time with them. That’s understandable, but it’s pretty loaded, too. Before you ask them, it’s worth thinking more about the outcome you’re hoping for. Is there an implicit threat that you won’t go if they don’t buy your ticket? Or will you still go, but be even more disappointed in your family than usual?
Of course, paying a lot of money to be with people who cause you stress is … not a great way to spend Christmas. I wish more people were open about the financial strain of holiday travel, and how it can create or compound resentments toward the loved ones they’re making such an effort to see. Most families do (or should) talk about this, so I get where you’re coming from. But I also think you need to separate the financial component from the emotional one.
“Before you look at the financial aspect, you need to grapple with whether or not you do, in fact, want to spend this kind of time with your family right now,” says Matt Lundquist, the founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy. “This is a pretty brutal question, and much harder to answer than who should buy your plane ticket. I would encourage you to not conflate those two things.”
You mentioned you’ve “come to terms” with your family’s awkwardness around you being gay, but that still sounds like a pretty big deal — and no amount of money or free flights will make it easier to cope with. “Think about the non-financial conditions that would make you feel better about this trip,” Lundquist advises. “For example, could your family express more acceptance of who you are, and commit to working on that? Could they apologize for hurting you in the past?”
This is heavy stuff, and you may not be ready to confront your parents about it right now. Obviously, that’s fine. I also don’t want to read into your question too much — maybe you’re just never going to be very close with your parents, and that’s okay too. But I do think that before you ask anyone for monetary support, you should think about how it might affect your relationship with that person, and what kind of relationship you want to have with them going forward.
Which brings us back to your original question: How can you delicately propose that your parents foot the bill for your trip? “I think it’s easiest if you state it as a financial fact,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist who often works with families. She suggests saying something like, “Hey, I would love to spend the holidays with you. Plane tickets are really expensive this year, and I’m putting more of my money toward graduate school. So I would love to be home, but it would really help me out if you would pay for my flight.” Call it your Christmas present. Done.
It will, of course, be a little awkward, especially if they say no. But if you’ve already figured out what you’ll do if they decline (go versus stay), then it takes pressure off the outcome. Based on your letter, it sounds like you’re willing to go anyway. But if you’re not, you should probably explain that up front. Try saying something like, ”In order to make this work with my budget this year, I really need some help paying for my plane ticket. Is this something you’d consider?”
On the flip side, I also think there’s an upside to you buying your own ticket, or at least a portion of it. If your parents pay, it creates a level of obligation that’s hard to wiggle out of. Whereas if you do it yourself, you keep more control. (It’s also worth mentioning that plenty of parents pay for their kids’ stuff as a substitute for showing up when they can’t do so emotionally, and that’s not a great dynamic either.)
Note that if you do decide to talk to your parents about how they can support you more generally, you should avoid lumping it into the same conversation when you ask about the plane ticket. “I don’t advise bringing up emotional factors when you’re asking about the flight,” says Clayman. “You run the risk of seeming transactional, or at least confusing your parents a lot.”
Ultimately, I hope your parents lighten the financial load of your visit and work on strengthening their relationship with you. Both are very reasonable things to ask for! I also encourage you to allow room for your parents to surprise you. Family relationships are not static, and especially after you’ve been apart for so long, it’s important to know how to ask your loved ones for what you need.