can I ask my boss to deny my vacation request so I don’t have to go home for Christmas?

A reader writes:

I recently graduated from college and moved out of a fairly precarious home situation into an awesome apartment in a neighboring state and a perfect first job.

The holidays are approaching and I have Monday and Tuesday of Christmas week off but not the rest of the week. I’ll go home for that long weekend, but my parents expect me to request the rest of the week off (I have a very good PTO package so I’ll have the days available). However, I want to be back in town right away due to the aforementioned rocky home situation. They’ll try to make the unilateral decision about my vacation time so I can’t really just flat-out refuse to stay home if it’s an option. I don’t want to lie to my parents (tell them my vacation request was denied if I haven’t asked/was given a go-ahead), but can I get my boss to refuse to give me that time off?

Note: I know this home situation may raise some red flags, but my question is more focused on the vacation requests with my boss, not those issues.

Well … in theory you can ask your boss to do that, but you shouldn’t.

If you do explain the situation to your boss and ask her to deny your vacation request, a lot of bosses would say something like, “Feel free to say we needed you here if you want to.”

But you’re going to make yourself look a lot more like a kid to your boss if you do this, and you don’t want that. You want your boss to think of you as an adult (which you are!).

Plus, if your goal is to not lie to your parents, this isn’t going to accomplish that. Even if your boss does what you’re asking, that’s not a real vacation denial. It’s a charade that you requested. So if you then tell your parents that you couldn’t get the time off, it’s still going to be a lie — even if your boss went through the motions of denying the time off at your request. (That’s actually part of the reason that this will make you look less mature to your boss — because it’s an odd sort of game-playing.)

But if you don’t want to spend that whole week at home and you don’t want to have to debate it with your parents, you’re allowed to just tell them that you can’t get the whole week off, without involving your boss at all. “I can’t get those days off” is a time-honored way of getting out of plans that people don’t want to make. And yes, it’s better if you can be honest and up-front with your parents, but it’s really common to have family dynamics that make that tough to do. And people who try to unilaterally control other adults’ vacation time forfeit their right to honest, forthright answers.

Hopefully at some point in the future you’ll feel comfortable asserting yourself with your family about this kind of thing — and hopefully you’ve resolved to get yourself to the point in the future — but if you’re not there right now, you’re allowed to use the “have to work” white lie.

{ 732 comments… read them below }

    1. Cocobean*

      This. I would be annoyed to be roped into whatever family drama you were having. You are an adult. Adults do not ask their bosses to lie to their parents for them. If you do this, your boss will never take you seriously again.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Agreed, definitely don’t get your boss involved. “I can’t get the time off” is all you need to say, and your family doesn’t need to know that the reason you can’t get it off is because you never requested it in the first place. Alison is right that people who try to control your time like this are not entitled to full honesty from you in response.

      I hope your home situation improves soon; and by that I mean I hope you’re able to use and enjoy this awesome distance you’ve created for yourself. I think it’ll get a lot easier with practice. Good luck!

      1. Bostonian*

        “I can’t get the time off” is all you need to say, and your family doesn’t need to know that the reason you can’t get it off is because you never requested it in the first place.

        This is perfect. OP, “I can’t get the time off” is equally a lie whether you asked your boss for the time off (and asked Boss to deny it) or you didn’t ask at all, so save yourself the risk (which is very high!) of appearing to be immature/having bad judgement/etc.

        1. Bunny*

          Or, if you don’t want to lie:

          “I don’t have that time off.”

          What happened?

          “Luck of the draw!”

      2. Callie*

        Yep, just say “I can’t get time off.” Frankly I tell these kind of lies to my mother all the time. She does not understand that as a college professor, just because I don’t have a class doesn’t mean it’s “free time” and she will pester me endlessly about “why can’t you just….” when she wants me to do something I don’t have time for. So I just tell her I have a class/meeting/workshop during whatever time she wants me to do some ridiculous thing (like play piano for her ladies’ flower club luncheon, for free–nope) and that’s the end of it.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          Telling people I’m on call and have to be at work within two hours if need be and therefore can’t go to $family_event is also very useful.

          1. copy run start*

            You just reminded me that being on call was my excuse last year, and now I no longer participate in the rotation….* Crudcrudcrud, what’s my excuse this year!?

            *Through a cruel twist of fate, my fake excuse became real last year. Need to be careful what I wish for.

        2. Salamander*

          Yup. I work for myself, and family tends to think that means I have endless and flexible free time to visit. I’ve had to be very firm about establishing boundaries: “I can’t. I have a deadline.” “I’m working.” Had to tell my dad this just this past weekend. I told them that I couldn’t come because I was working, but added on a cheery “have fun at the party!” at the end.

          1. seejay*

            I’ve been working on a masters degree for the past three years, along with working full time, and it’s not only sucked out most of my free time, but it’s pretty much drained any major income I’ve had for traveling. Going to visit my family usually costs me $1000-1200 a pop (since they live 3000 miles away). I used to visit them three to four times a year at least and now it’s dropped to once a year, usually xmas. Even that changed due to immigration issues. My mom’s been having fits over it even though I legally *can’t* visit sometimes. I’ve been trying when I can but it’s a huge drain, financially, mentally and emotionally and every six months or so, she lays a huge guilt trip on me for not visiting (and once a year, a guilt trip about not moving back). So obviously it just makes me even *less likely* to want to be around them.

            Work, grad school, distance, immigration issues, and now my company’s financial instability and having to job search in the middle of all of it is giving me a lot of excuses to just stay put and not visit, that’s for sure, even if I can drum up the emotional/mental energy to manage it.

          2. Liane*

            “I’ll be working” is very good and can truthfully apply to many non-office things, from perfecting your bubble-bath soaking technique to binge-watching [your favorite TV series] to taste-testing every hot cocoa recipe you can Google.
            Same with “Deadlines.”

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Or “I have obligations.” If they try to pry further, sidestep into “I guess this is what being an adult is about, am I right?”

                1. KMB213*

                  I often use “plans” when my boss wants to do a happy hour after work or when I feel like I can’t escape his office on my way out (only with personal discussions, I’ll stay late for work-related reasons). He doesn’t need to know that my “plan” is to watch TV while my SO plays video games.

          3. Also Self Employed-eating bonbons watching TV*

            Three times last week, I had to tell my Dad that he could not come to my office…at least he asked first. He used to just show up. Just because his work is slow doesn’t mean mine is. I cannot get it through to my family that weekends and nights are the best time for socialization. It has been a 25 year struggle at every job. They are getting better, just in time to retire! *shudder*

            1. Samata*

              Oh lord, if I wasnt’ an old child I’d think we had the same parent. My dad is 1,000 miles away so he doesn’t drop in but as a realtor it’s not unusual to get a call from him at 1:00 in the afternoon to chat. “What are you doing?”….”ummm….working, is everything ok?”….”Sure, I just wanted to call and see how your weekend was…..” ARGH!

              1. Monsters of Men*

                The texts during the day are almost as aggravating. I’m a school speech therapist. If you text me between 7 AM and 5 PM, I am with patients. Who will see me pull out my smartphone and the whole session will get derailed because they’re more in tune with games on their iPads then they are on the task at hand. I WILL NOT BE TEXTING YOU BACK. DO NOT GET MAD ABOUT IT.

                … woooof. sorry.

            2. AKchic*

              My GRANDPA used to show up at my office with food from his latest grocery shopping trip. He grew up during the Depression and after retirement, he started grocery shopping DAILY because he was bored. Everything he bought was “a good deal” and “on sale”. Well, he’d buy too much for just him and my grandma, so he’d have to get rid of some of it because their pantry, guest bedroom, and shed were overflowing with “good deals”. We’re not even going to discuss the extra chest freezers.

              So, my mom, uncle and I got a lot of food. He wouldn’t drive to my mom’s place of employment (downtown parking was PAY PARKING and he was a penny-pincher about that), wouldn’t go to my uncle’s place of employment because you don’t bother a MAN at work (even if he didn’t think my uncle had a manly job, working as an electronics salesman), but me? Oh, I was fair game. Young, single mother of three, how were my kids going to eat dessert every night if he didn’t bring me another 6 cartons of ice cream this week RIGHTNOW? Let’s ignore the fact that I already have a chest freezer with 5 cartons we haven’t eaten yet, plus other desserts and snack foods…

              I loved my grandpa, but wow… food overload. When he died, we cleaned out the house of all of the excess food. We had 14 jars of caramel sauce for his strawberry ice cream. One jar was from the 90’s. I found a can of soup that had expired in 1987 (the year my sister was born). Had we kept the ice cream, we still would be eating it, 10 years later.

          4. Paquita*

            My brother works for himself. He can work anywhere he has his phone. My dad thought that meant he was available anytime of the day or night. Literally! Like 2 am come help me get up because I fell. Nope! Now brother puts the phone on silent when he goes to bed.

            1. Max from St. Mary's*

              Ummm, I’d put my dad calling in the middle of the night to say that he fell and needs help as a reasonable/oh hell yes phone call, assuming that dad really needs help and isn’t just calling to say he’s drunk and can’t seem to stand up.

              1. the gold digger*

                If dad falls repeatedly because he’s drunk – then can you ignore the call?

                PS For what it’s worth, getting someone up who fell appears to be something that Medicare covers. Even if the person keeps falling because he’s drunk.

                1. Max from St. Mary's*

                  Fair enough, though if dad was relatively young and otherwise health, I’d be a bit irritated by frequent 2am drunk calls.
                  And glad to hear about Medicare being willing to help, I didn’t live near my parents the last few years of their lives and it was scary not to be easily available to them for help.

            2. Princess Cimorene*

              okay… is this facetious? Because an older parent falling in the middle of the night and needing help is actually a big deal…

              I use DND disturb also, but certain numbers are set as favorites and bypass the feature and every other call will ring through on it’s second attempt so if it’s an emergency I won’t miss it.

              But being self-employed as well, I also run into my time being free to everyone else all the time and it’s been a real exercise in learning how to say no without feeling guilty or getting annoyed.

              “Sorry, I have to work” works and it’s not a lie.

              OP can say this “Sorry I have to work” because you do.

        3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          “I have a meeting” (with myself and the article I’m writing/lecture I’m preparing/stack of essays I’m grading) = perfectly valid, IMO.

    3. Snark*

      This. I would be outright irritated. Mmmmmno, I don’t want to be your outsourced interpersonal boundaries with your family, please make whatever plans you need to make without roping me into the dramas.

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        As a boss, if the request required this much explaining, I would worry about getting a call from an angry parent, which I super do not want.

        1. Lady Blerd*

          This would be my worry because we know those people exist. I would tell OP to put on their grown up panties and tell their parents they would not be staying after the holidays.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            You’re really lucky if you think this kind of issue is about putting on grown up panties.

            1. Anion*

              Sorry, but if your issue is that you’re asking your boss to lie to your parents for you because you don’t want to lie to them yourself, it kind of is.

              I understand that the rest of it might not necessarily be, but this particular thing? It is.

              1. aebhel*

                This. OP’s situation sounds awful and stressful, but there is no way that asking their boss to go through this farce so they don’t have to lie to their parents is going to reflect well on them as an adult and as a professional.

                It’ll burn a whole lot of credibility, and in the OP’s shoes, I’d save that credibility for something more dire than avoiding family drama. Especially since it’s perfectly possible to cut out the middleman and just lie to them directly.

            2. Amy*


              People having stressful, difficult families is very much a real thing. It’s a serious struggle for many people.

              But people finding ways to handle the difficult parts of their personal lives without pulling their boss into it is very much a ‘put on your grown up panties and get over it’ deal. That’s just not an appropriate avenue for making your own life easier. Your boss is there to manage your work, not your personal life.

              1. Mackayla*

                But in school and all through college we are taught to ask a teacher/adult for help if we’re having serious issues and we can’t talk to your parents… Which is what OP seems to have. I don’t think it makes OP weak or childish to ask for help if he/she doesn’t feel comfortable lying to her parents… Bosses are sort of like teachers and it’s not like OP is requesting a lot – boss just has to deny her request (wink wink) that’s all, OP doesn’t have to lie to her parents which can definitely get her in trouble and Boss doesn’t have to be involved in specific drama!

                1. Phy*

                  But the OP is not in school or college. She is the adult and professional and it absolutely does make her look childish to ask her boss to do this.

                2. Annonymouse*

                  Those issues are things like abuse, bullying and other personal problems that teachers (at least where I’m from) have a duty to report and stop becausethe student is too young or powerless to stop it.

                  This is completely different.

                  This is an adult bringing their personal life/problem to work and making their manager solve it.

                  At best your boss is going to go along with it but question your home situation. All the time

                  Or question your judgement and ability to do your job/problem solving skills.

                  As a manager I’d also be annoyed. If you didn’t want the time off why did you ask for it off then?

                  Or if you do want it off why do you want me to lie?

                  Just tell your family “sorry, I can’t.”

          2. Anna*

            How about we not get involved with how the OP is currently dealing with her own difficult family? Of course it’s easy for you to imagine it’s simply a matter of putting on their “grown up panties” but you don’t actually know what the dynamic is or why the OP is choosing this route and not another.

              1. Anna*

                Well, not really. She’s asking if this particular method would be okay and Alison is giving her some alternatives. Telling her it’s time to grow up is not helpful and pretty easy to do from the backseat when someone else is driving the car.

          3. NaoNao*

            You know, it’s really easy to give one line, flippant advice to people on the internet like “what *I* would do is…” Well, okay.

            Do you personally have a pushy, emotionally needy, manipulative family that you want to avoid hurting and getting into drama with? Have you ever outright “told” someone that you “wouldn’t be doing [x]” without softening it in the least or trying to come up with a solution that avoids the issue altogether? I mean, if you have, I guess good for you?

            For the majority of people, harsh boundaries that seemingly come out of “nowhere” to their difficult family aren’t really an option due to the fallout and their own desire not to do it or conduct themselves that way. This type of “I *I* were the protagonist/boss in question” advice is not very helpful.

            Also, plenty of grown up panty-wear-er-s DREAD difficult conversations and try to find ways out of them.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Well, asking for advice on the internet is worth what you paid for it. Some won’t personally have similar experience or context for a situation like this. And some of us will, including some who are farther along (years, decades) in that experience of becoming an adult, moving out, how family dynamics must change due to that, and asserting boundaries to toxic family members and their enablers. (We also know that it’s not easy, and that the difficulty ultimately doesn’t change the need to assert boundaries to those specific people who violate them. There is no other solution that works.) The nice thing about advice is that you can take it or leave it. The complicated thing about asking for it is that you now have to determine for yourself what’s helpful and worth following.

              1. Anna*

                Telling someone to “put on their grown up panties” and have an imaginary conversation with no consequences is not actually advice, though, so…still doesn’t work in this situation.

                1. Annonymouse*

                  I think the way a lot of us are looking at this is:

                  Trying to solve the family problem this way = risking job

                  Risking job/getting fired = most likely moving back home

                  Moving back home = worst thing for OP.

                  So we see the choices as:

                  Lie or not be truthful to family but keep your job and independence


                  Pull your boss into personal situations and possibly end up trapped in said situation you’re trying to avoid

            2. Tony*

              It is still being a grown up to not involve your boss in dealing with your issues. It may be hard but taking it on yourself rather than pushing on others in such situations is part of growing up.

              And I have been physically and emotionally abused by my mother.

        2. Julia*

          Oh, that’s what’s bugging me about this.
          If OP uses the white lie that he can’t get time off… and boss gets a call from an angry parent when boss didn’t even know about this…
          Of course, maybe OPs mom wouldn’t call. If there’s the slightest possibility she might, I wouldn’t do it.
          I know it can be hard to work up the nerve, and he’ll probably catch a lot of grief, but OP could just say “I’m not staying longer than the weekend” without giving a reason.
          Or say he has to go back for social plans or something like that…

          1. Happy Lurker*

            I thought about mentioning holiday office coverage or new person gets the holiday shift, but that could backfire the following year. In the short term the OP needs to tell their parents they cannot make it. In the long term OP needs to begin building bigger walls between family. However they may wish to do that, therapy, great friends.
            Good luck OP – I feel your pain. I really do.

          2. Koko*

            If there’s any chance these parents are so boundary-violating that a call to the boss is possible, then I think the best option might be for OP is to give boss a very brief heads-up: “Hey boss, my relationship with my family is a bit strained and I’m worried they might call you with questions about my PTO [possibly adding: after I tell them I won’t be home for Christmas]. I’m embarrassed this is even a possibility and I know you would never discuss my PTO with someone outside the company, but I wanted to apologize in advance in case it happens and make it clear that I of course don’t expect you to take their call or discuss my job with them.”

            I’m thinking this does a good job of making it clear that OP is not encouraging this behavior from her parents and understands professional norms, and also preps Boss a little so that he isn’t caught by surprise and doesn’t off-handedly say anything that would contradict what OP told her family. But I would only say this if I really thought my parents were highly likely to call because even saying this much has a whiff of potential drama coming down the pike.

            What do others think?

            1. she was a fast machine*

              This is a beautiful script to address the potential for meddling helicopter parents.

            2. Emma the Strange*

              I agree. Ideally, you would try to keep your boss from getting dragged into this, but some people have parents that would take that choice out of their hands.

            3. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived*

              If I was a boss I’d never judge my employees for their family members, only their own actions.

          3. Indoor Cat*

            Yeah, my first impulse was the lie shouldn’t be work-related. “I can only stay for two days because on the 23rd I promised an old friend of mine [made up person? college friend?] I’d catch up with him over the holiday. I promised ages ago, can’t back out now, sorry!”

            I’m not sure what else would seem valid to OP’s family. Er, medical stuff? But that might involve more than one lie, because then they might press for details.

            In a functional family, saying, “Hey, listen, I’m cool with being here for a day, I love seeing you all, but then I need to get back home to work on stuff,” is met with understanding. In a dysfunctional or abusive family, that could be met with hostility, verbal abuse, gaslighting, or worse.

            It’s still something a person could potentially say in that context. A person could, in theory, say that right before they leave, mentally shut-out the yelling, keep their phone off and make a quick exit. And then figure out how to deal with any fallout later. (Is someone going to cut off contact? Is someone going to blow up my phone with mean texts? Is someone going to lie about me to other friends and extended family, trying to sabotage my relationships because I offended them so badly by leaving early?)
            But, it is so much harder to do. It’s hard to push away the guilt or hurt when you’ve been taught that you can “solve” the problem by doing exactly what they want. And then you feel good instead of hurt, for a while.

            So, you know. Lying is part of building the strength to do that. But, it shouldn’t involve OP’s boss at all.

        3. Doreen*

          The first thing I thought upon seeing the headline was that the parents were going to demand proof that the boss denied the request – and those are exactly the parents who would call the boss. OP , “ I can’t take that week off” covers enough reasons that it isnt even a lie. It covers “the boss denied my request”, “my workload won’t allow it “ and even “I want to take some other week to do something else and I can’t take both”

          Involving your boss has no real upside.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, this would make almost any boss downgrade you significantly, if they were thinking of giving you more responsibility or autonomy at any point in the future. “Please play the role of my even meaner parent as a check on my mean parent” is not something you should say at work. Or anywhere, but really especially at work.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          OP, you have my empathy. I haven’t seen many comments from the manager’s perspective, so here’s one: not only do you have every right to keep your work life separate from your personal life, most managers also want to be separated from any issues in your personal life that do not directly impact work. I recommend you tell your manager “Sorry, but my parents can overstep boundaries. If they should ever try to contact you, please simply tell them you cannot discuss my job.” This shows you are in control and are trying to keep the manager away from drama. No manager I know would think poorly of you for trying to reduce the drama in his/her life.

    4. Fiennes*

      The word “accessory” seems more than a little harsh. There are plenty of valid reasons not to want to be with your family for an extended period of time; it’s hardly a crime.

      That said, I agree with Alison’s advice. There’s no point in bringing your boss in when the “no time off” thing will be a white lie regardless. The only time I could ever see the need to involve a boss in a lie about whereabouts/availability would be when actual safety was on the line, which it presumably isn’t here. That still wouldn’t be great, necessarily, but certain circumstances could merit doing that. Just not these.

      1. Murphy*

        I don’t think the word “accessory” implies that there’s not a valid reason for OP to avoid their family. It’s just involving your boss in family drama they really don’t need to be involved in.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Somewhere, there is a boss who wishes she had more drama in her life, and would be pleased that her new employee was willing to provide it.

          Don’t assume that’s your boss. There are very few office cultures where “needs more drama, with third parties” is a goal, and the usual advice if you find yourself in one is to flee.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Somewhere, there is a boss who wishes she had more drama in her life, and would be pleased that her new employee was willing to provide it.

            And if you find yourself working for her, RUN.

          2. Close Bracket*

            > Somewhere, there is a boss who wishes she had more drama in her life

            You can find her in the archives :-)

        2. Fiennes*

          The definition of “accessory” is someone who assists in or covers up a crime. (Or a lovely scarf, but that’s different semantics altogether.) Probably the poster didn’t mean it that harshly, but yeah, it implies the LW is doing something very wrong by not going home and/or not being 100% honest about the reasons why. That I don’t agree with. Not ever involving your boss in stuff except in the extraordinarily rare/scary circumstance that you or your office may otherwise be in danger? Total agreement.

          1. Blossom*

            I took the “crime” to be the charade itself, not the not going to visit family. It’s just a way of saying “don’t ask me to be an active participant in your drama”.

      2. Troutwaxer*

        If you think your boss might get a call from your parents maybe you should let the boss know. “I didn’t want to go home from Xmas because my family situation is difficult. FYI, my parents might call you, sorry about any drama.”

        Maybe someone has a better script than mine.

        1. FunnyMonkey*

          Unless the OP has reason to think their mother might call the boss, I would not do that. You just don’t want to be associated with crazy.

          Does the office have a receptionist? You could tell that person “My mother has a hard time understanding that I’m an adult. If she ever calls for anyone but me, please take a message and throw it away.”

          I would make sure my mother did not know my boss’ name, if I were in the OP’s shoes. If my mother called the boss, I would apologize profusely and then tell my mother if she ever did that again, we would no longer have contact. There is absolutely no reason, ever, for a parent to call an adult child’s boss.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Exception: “(Your employee/my child) has had an accident and is unconscious in the hospital. She/he will not be coming in to work today.” Accept sympathy, end the phone call.

          2. Dweali*

            If I had a report who had narcissistic/abusive/helicopter parents I would appreciate a head’s up. With this type of parent the “crazy” is more than likely to come up at some point anyways. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of details but a general parents don’t accept boundaries type convo.

        2. Agatha_31*

          I was thinking this myself. It’s hard to tell from OP’s language but it kiiiiiiind of sounds like they might be the type to do that. In which case a heads up to the boss of “I’m going home for Christmas but don’t want to stay the whole week so I’m going to use work as an excuse to get back”? I dunno. The people saying that businesses don’t want to get roped into drama have a point but man, if you’ve got one of *those* families it might be impossible to keep them from reacting in that sort of way no matter what OP wants.

          Also not here but I want to point it out because I’m seeing both the phrase and the attitude of OP needing “big kid undies” and I think it’s really… quite demeaning to someone seeking a solution to what can be a genuine, serious problem for many people.

          OP, I am sorry you have to deal with a family who are putting so much pressure on you that you feel you *have* to lie to take care of you. Depending on how severe it is, and/or if your benefits are as great as they sound, do you have access to see a therapist? They can sometimes help you loosen some of the more strangling bits of those family ties. There’s nothing wrong with that, btw. Saying “no thanks”, setting boundaries, not falling for “but faaaaaamily!” are all okay and even healthy things to say and do. Because when you think about it, if “but faaaaamily!” was an actual argument, it would be equally acceptable for you to use it back in ANY situation where “but faaaaamily!” is used against you (e.g. if they think you should spend a week with them because they’re YOUR family and you should totally love them enough to do that, then they should also be willing to conceded that you should get to spend a couple days and then go home when you want to because you’re THEIR family and they should totally love you enough to accept that.)

          Also totally recommend reading through Captain Awkward’s archives for scripts on saying “no” and setting boundaries with people who push on them, family or otherwise. Good luck and hope you get a chance to enjoy the holidays the way YOU want to!

        3. LBK*

          I agree with this – it does feel to me that the OP is worried the family might somehow contact her boss to confirm the scenario. As a boss, I’d think the only thing worse than getting roped into someone’s family drama would be getting roped into it without warning.

    5. HRM*

      100%. Why are people so unable and/or unwilling to constructively confront their own life challenges, both big and small? OP: I mean this in the kindest, “tough love,” way: You sound smart and thoughtful; It’s time to grow up.

      1. Juli G.*

        I think this is a little harsh. We have very little info about her circumstances at home. We don’t know if these are overbearing parents or abusive parents.

      2. Matilda Jefferies*

        Why are people so unable and/or unwilling to constructively confront their own life challenges…

        I would expect because they’ve never been taught to, or had the opportunity to. And based on OP’s limited description of their family, my guess is that they have been actively discouraged from separating or acting independently. Everybody encounters these things at different points in their life, and it’s not OP’s fault if this is the first time they have been in this position.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right. People who grow up with controlling parents generally have been raised believe they need to accept that control; that’s what controlling parents do and it’s why it’s generally so hard for people in that situation to break away from it, especially when they’re still in young adulthood.

          1. seejay*

            Yep, I let my mom run my wedding plans when I was 24 because it was too hard to push back and was going to cause so much drama otherwise. Fortunately the wedding was called off 6 months before it happened, but she still proceeded to push her opinion on subsequent relationships I had afterwards, causing huge amounts of drama in them.

            It’s taken years to set up boundaries and slowly extricate myself from the control, and it’s *hard*, and I knew she had too much, but it’s exhausting and sometimes it’s just easier to let the controlling parent get their way instead of fighting all the time. I’m in my 40s now and it took moving 3000 miles away to cut most of the ties. She still tries (as evidenced by the arguments over demands to visit and even move back… just two days ago she suggested that if I didn’t find a job soon, I should keep in mind that Toronto put a bid in for a new Amazon centre and I could apply there and move back, basically abandoning the life I’ve built here for 10 years).

            A controlling parent is not easily shaken off. Sometimes impossible.

              1. NaoNao*

                No contact is the nuclear option. For many of us, that’s an absolute last resort that’s more for things like outright abuse, or continued unmanaged addiction or other life-threatening things that are “above your paygrade.”
                Again, it really bothers me to see these one-line advice tidbits thrown around like they’re ground-breaking. “No contact.” Really? Wow. Thanks.
                My mom and I talked every couple days for about 15 years in my adult life. The last 3, she’s become increasingly religious and it’s very painful. So on top of her difficult personality, she’s now religious and for complex reasons, it’s hard to deal with.
                “No contact” is not an option. This woman took excellent care of me and has been there for me through some of the most difficult moments in my life. She loves me unconditionally. Harm reduction is more the idea, as it is with the majority of people.
                Cutting off contact with a parent is incredibly painful for most and it *really* bothers me to see that advice thrown out there so casually.

                1. LGH*

                  It really bothers me to see people insisting that “life threatening things” are the only reason to restrict contact with family members. You are an individual person and you do not owe anyone your presence or attention if they behave in a way that makes you feel threatened, if it is life threatening or not. There’s a social contract for all relationships, and if someone in the relationship doesn’t wish to abide by the social contract, that’s their own crap to figure out and you are not obligated to do so.

                  I’m glad you feel like it isn’t a possibility for you, because you’re right in that it is difficult, but many small boundary stomps are just as draining and damaging in a lot of ways and should be reacted to appropriately, not “oh no one’s killing or abusing me so its fine!”

              2. Jadelyn*

                That is harder than you may think, and extremely painful even when you reach the point where it’s become necessary.

                I went no-contact with my dad four years ago, after a decade of trying every harm-reduction strategy I could find or come up with. But when you’re dealing with a lifelong alcoholic and abuser, there’s…really only so much you can do. Eventually, for my own mental health and safety, I had to cut off contact.

                I still hurt from it. There’s still a half-healed wound in my heart that flares up every year around Father’s Day, his birthday, my birthday, the holidays, when I see sailboats on the bay, and when I see touching father-child moments on TV. Not to mention, having to defend and explain my situation to people or just deal with them scolding me about “What if he died tomorrow?” etc. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it can be hard to stick to – about once a year, I start thinking about maybe reaching out to see if we can build a healthy relationship now. I don’t do it, because I have a wonderful partner who’s seen me through all of these and reminds me of how bad my father was and what it would do to me if I got back in touch only to find that he hasn’t changed – but the temptation is there.

                Going no-contact with a family member, especially an immediate one like a parent, is hard. Really hard. Not something you just advise random strangers on the internet to do.

                1. Specialk9*

                  That sounds so hard. For what it’s worth, here is a total stranger who says you’re doing exactly the right thing, as bad as it feels, and that I admire your strength and dedication to your own health and wellness.

                2. whingedrinking*

                  Going no-contact with a family member, especially an immediate one like a parent, is hard. Really hard. Not something you just advise random strangers on the internet to do.
                  With respect, it can be. Because it’s something that a lot of people don’t realize is within their power to do. I have had discussions with people my own age (early thirties) who were shocked and astonished that I didn’t always answer the phone when my parents called, and that as an adult I have the right to a measure of control within our relationship. One acquaintance insisted that choosing not to have children is something you’re *not allowed to do* if your parents want grandchildren. There really are people for whom the idea that you could end a relationship with your parents is as unthinkable as murdering them. For those people, it’s important to let them know that this is a thing you *can* do and survive – not that they have to, but that it’s an option.

                1. aa*

                  In reply to this comment and to other comments, I mentioned the no contact option because many previous posters were discussing how hard it is to deal with problematic parents, almost implying (it seemed to me) that it’s an obligation.

                  I would never recommend anyone I don’t know (much less a stranger on the Internet) to go no contact with their family. I’m just mentioning that there is the option of having no contact, or a low contact, with your family, which is often something that doesn’t even occur to people with abusive families.

            1. LGH*

              Three days before my wedding my mother was pitching full blown, profanity ridden, hysterical fits about the venue. the venue. that had been booked nine months ago. this was after nine months of telling her it wasn’t going to change and she needed to get on board or get off the wedding train.

              we’re now no contact because we don’t need that kind of ridiculous in our lives, but boy, when we went NC I had to have the most embarrassing conversation with my employment about the harrassment and how if anyone called with any change in job status apart from me or the hospital, i was to be informed and it wswas to be confirmed with me face to face, etc. Though they were awesome, it was awful to have to say , basically, that yes I’m a grown up in a job where I’m in charge of a lot of other grown ups, and my family still thinks they can call up and tell you what and how to pay me.

              1. seejay*

                I actually did wind up changing the date of my wedding because my mom blew a fit because her sister’s stepson set his wedding date (after me) for the same day. I shrugged and said I didn’t care because I originally wasn’t going to invite that aunt *anyway* (she wound up on the guest list because my mom had argued with me about who was going to be invited and I wound up changing it to get her to stop fighting with me about it). It essentially boiled down to: “Aunt C will go to her stepson’s wedding over yours and if she doesn’t go, then Aunt D and Aunt F won’t go because all three of them attend together and they don’t show up, that’s $300 worth of gifts you won’t get.”

                I literally jaw-dropped over it. So it boiled down to: if these three aunts didn’t go, who weren’t on *my* original list anyway, I wouldn’t get gifts from them. Which, by the way, I didn’t care about in the first place.

                It had become such a huge ordeal though, I changed the date. When my fiance asked me why, I yelled “BECAUSE IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EFFIN’ PRESENTS AND THAT’S ALL THAT COUNTS AT THIS POINT AND I DON’T CARE ANYMORE.” I was seriously at the end of my sanity and I couldn’t fight about it anymore, it had become that ridiculous. I’d changed the a bunch of things to appease her, then guest list… now it was the date and it had boiled down to “money and presents”. Might as well give up.

          2. RabbitRabbit*

            I heard elsewhere a comment to the effect of, “Parents are so good at pushing your buttons because they installed them.”

            On a similar note, my husband didn’t realize it wasn’t just on TV/movies that kids eagerly awaited their dad coming home (rather than hiding and hoping he didn’t pick you as a target for his rage) until he was in college.

            1. Specialk9*

              That makes me so sad and furious. No kid should have to live like that. I hope you give him an extra sweet hug on my behalf for that scared little kid.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Exactly this. As someone who grew up with controlling parents with no healthy understanding of boundaries, it took me a while to realize I could blow them off. For me that happened around 13, but I have a lot of friends who are just learning this in their 20s/30s (usually in late college or well after they graduate).

            My mother, who is the queen of crossing boundaries, is just now realizing in her late 50s that she does this because her parents did the same to her and that it’s not appropriate. Having controlling parents is similar to working at a Toxic Workplace—it skews your perception of what’s normal, and it makes it harder to take a step back and go, “Hey, I have agency in this situation. This sounds insane.”

          4. INTP*

            This. And OP IS seeking out options and trying to figure out what is appropriate. She should be commended for that, not criticized for not intuitively knowing everything she needs to know in her situation. “Grow up” would be an appropriate response for someone that had demanded their boss lie and gotten mad when the boss wouldn’t, but not for someone that wants to behave appropriately and is trying to figure out what that means.

            Also, people can have reasons for wanting to go along with their controlling parents and not set firm boundaries even if it looks like immaturity or a passiveness to outsiders. I have siblings 7 and 10 years younger than me that I would have been estranged from if I didn’t deal with my parents’ BS in college, but everyone I spoke to seemed to have the same sentiment, that I should just grow up and refuse to go visit my parents and sacrifice having any relationship with my brothers in the name of being mature and independent.

          5. Jessen*

            There’s also what I call, from experience, the “problem-solving problem.” That’s where, when you have a family where you give an excuse like that, they go into problem-solving mode where they’re going to help you figure out how to get the time off you deserve from the mean nasty boss who’s keeping you from seeing them! In order to do this, they need to know exactly what you’re doing that’s keeping you so busy and why someone else can’t do it and why you can’t do it from home and what exactly your boss said and, well, you get the idea. Making excuses can get exhausting because they have to be so very perfect.

        2. Blue Anne*

          Yes. It took me a good six or seven years after moving out of my mother’s house to another country to realize just how under her thumb she’d had me. It is really hard to realize and confront these things when you’ve been taught that it is normal literally from birth.

        3. Not My Circus Monkeys*

          Most of us are not taught to confront, especially family. Confronting is also hard when you are financially dependent on said family. Once you’re independent, the habits are so ingrained it can still be tough. The OP may have a good question for Captain Awkward in setting boundaries with her family whether directing or being okay with the occasional white lie to protect themselves.

          For the business/manager question, Allison is spot on as usual. Though I will admit to asking if (begging even) there is OT available when I know my In Laws are scheduled to visit.

          1. Kalamet*

            I was hoping someone brought up CA – OP, if you haven’t visited Captain Awkward, please do! She has great scripts for setting boundaries with toxic and controlling family members.

            1. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

              Same here. OP, please spend some time browsing Captain Awkward’s archives, both to get scripts you can use, and to read the stories of others. You will undoubtedly find at least a few letters in which you may recognize your parents’ own behavior. It will help you realize how dysfunctional their behavior really is, and that you are not the one doing anything wrong. Good luck on your journey to full independence!

            2. Marillenbaum*

              Seconding/thirding this recommendation. CA helped me realize that even if my stepmother didn’t technically meet some pure standard of abusive behavior, I still didn’t have to just accept it. That community also encouraged me to go to therapy, and to basically take myself and my wants/needs seriously.

            3. Viva*

              Another comment encouraging OP to visit the Captain Awkward site. Her scripts for “life stuff” are just as grounded and useful as Alison’s are for work stuff.

              (Both Alison and Jennifer at CA have been like virtual therapists for me – and I’m not exaggerating when I say that. So thank you both!! Very sincerely.)

        4. Lady Blerd*

          I’m now reconsidering my answer above. I can now imagine scenarios as for why OP can’t just tell their parents off.

        5. Kalamet*

          When your childhood authority figures are abusive, you learn to freeze and comply to avoid punishment. You learn to rope other people (teachers, friends, employers) into your life because then *it’s not your fault* if something happens your abuser does not like. This is not a rational response, it’s a defense mechanism.

          1. OP*

            After reading other answers, I actually sat back and thought “huh. Why did I even want to involve my boss in this in the first place? I agree, it does seem extra immature”. You’re so right – this is exactly what I did.

            1. Rainy*

              OP, a lot of us have been there. I left home at 17 and endured some years of very precarious housing and financial situations in order to not be in that place anymore, and some of the terrible patterns persisted for a decade or more, because when you grow up in suboptimal conditions, the coping mechanisms you develop to get through it alive are often suboptimal themselves.

              1. Alli525*

                I have been there too. Breaking the cycle of the abusive-parent dynamic is not easy, especially if it took you a while to figure out that what you experienced was Not Normal. I was lucky and caught on quickly, at the outset of my teen years, so I mentally prepared and learned to grey-rock and build external support networks.

            2. Not a Morning Person*

              Sometimes we just need to hear it from someone else to recognize what we are doing. It is hard to see other options when we are so close to a situation. Best of luck to you and I wish you success in keeping your boundaries!

            3. Jesmlet*

              Been there, felt alllll of that. Trust me, don’t rope your boss into this because at best, they’ll think you less mature than I’m sure you are. It’s like saying to them “I’m afraid to lie so can you help me turn this lie into a semi-truth?”

              When you’ve got such screwed up “authority figures” growing up, it’s hard as an adult to finally accept your own position of authority over your own life. Embrace your agency and try not to let them scare you into backpedaling because from what it seems, you’re in a pretty good, independent place in your life now.

            4. stk*

              It’s really hard to get out of these sorts of patterns! Extra hard if you can’t even see the pattern because it’s so ingrained. Good luck, OP.

              (And my suggestion was going to be saying “I didn’t get those days off”, silently adding “…because I never asked for them” in your head, if that’s a thing you can do. Or just “sorry, I gotta be back in [town]”: you don’t need to tell anyone if the reason you need to be back is so you can Not Be There, or to spend a day in your pyjamas, or whatever.)

              1. Future Analyst*

                To add to this, OP, I hope you consider taking time off after your visit. Idk about you, but I always find it necessary to decompress from the stress after being around family, and time in my apartment by myself can go a long way in undoing the knots of stress/anxiety I build up while visiting. Take care of yourself, hope you know you’re not alone in this.

            5. Catherine*

              Good for you, OP!

              As I read your original question, I was imagining myself in the boss’s position, and I thought that if an employee had submitted a time off request and then asked me to deny it (for whatever reason), I would have asked the employee just to go back and cancel the request.

            6. Not So NewReader*

              OP, be gentle with you, okay? If a person is drowning in the middle of an ocean anything can look like a life preserver. Likewise with invasive family, any non-family can look like a rescuer. Some people don’t want that job. But good news side, there are over 600 comments here from people who ARE willing to help. We don’t get to pick who will help. People just volunteer.

          2. she was a fast machine*

            Yes, yes, yes. You drag anyone you possibly can find to throw them between you and the abuser in the hope that maybe once the abuser won’t take it out on you. I understand the knee-jerk reaction, but an important part of separating yourself from the abuse is examining your reactions for places where you can adapt to a new abuse-free environment(assuming that’s the case).

        6. Hibiscus*

          Yup. It’s hard to get away on an invisible leash. LW, it’s therapy time. A good therapist will help you shore up your boundaries and validate that if you don’t want to spend time with your family now because they are mean, abusive, mentally ill, drunk, or just not your thing, that’s okay. Might change in the future, might not.

        7. Bunjeesaysjump*

          Plus as a child/young adult they may have been brought up to have to explain and justify everything. So over-explaining is something they do by nature because they have been taught that the are accountable for their reasoning, not just for their decisions.

      3. LadyL*

        I don’t know the severity of OP’s situation, but if you’ve lived a lifetime of abuse it’s not so easy to just “grow up”. If people have spent 18+ years conditioning you to be terrified of their disapproval (knowing that their unhappiness with you means your physical or emotional safety is in jeopardy) it’s going to take a lot of time and intensive work to break free from that. Obviously the end goal is to not be frightened by the abusers anymore, and it’s definitely not helping to try to rope others into a charade, but if this was OP’s situation then I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for why they might not be ready yet.

      4. Temperance*

        When you grow up in a dysfunctional, abusive, or authoritarian household, the rules are different. It’s not about being unable to “constructively confront their own life challenges”, it’s about learning to walk on eggshells in an environment where the rules constantly change, and violating these unspoken, unknown rules brings you a world of hurt. You’re taught to fear angering your parents, and the things that will anger them are flat-out ridiculous to other people, so people like you will judge and condemn without ever having the experience.

        Abuse conditions you to fear. So while you are apparently seeing someone who is inept at adulting, I see a person who is taking their first steps away from authoritarianism and abuse.

        1. Mary*

          Yep, if you come from that kind of situation, *recognising* that it’s not a great situation and that not staying home for the whole week is an option is a big achievement.

          Go you, OP – I hope “can’t get the time off, sorry!” works for you. It is TOTALLY OK to save those leave days for something that will bring you joy and energise you. (Maybe it’d even help to think of it that way: the first year of a new job is tiring, and you owe it to your job (and, technically more importantly, to yourself!) not to spend them somewhere exhausting and stressful!)

        2. PlainJane*

          This is so well said. Thank you. “The things that will anger them are flat-out ridiculous to other people” – that resonated especially. You do what you can to stay below the radar, because the alternative is usually pretty unpleasant.

      5. Rainy*

        It’s lovely that you (I assume, based on your dismissive comment) don’t come from a controlling, toxic, and/or abusive family of origin, but please don’t bash the people who do and are trying to make their first steps toward getting out from under the parental boot, hey? Boundaries are super hard for a lot of people for very good reasons, and LW did the right thing by asking a trusted source of information for how to effect her desired outcome.

        1. Amazed*

          I’m having trouble seeing how someone using the phrasing ‘OP: I mean this in the kindest, “tough love,” way’ is “bashing” them.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            I think it’s more the first part: “Why are people so unable and/or unwilling to constructively confront their own life challenges, both big and small?”

            It feels dismissive of the fact that many people have life challenges that are very difficult or impossible to confront.

          2. Delphine*

            Also, “it’s time to grow up” implies that they are asking this question because they are immature. I’m a grown woman, I still have trouble navigating my relationship with my parents after growing up in a controlling, authoritarian environment. I still struggle with a fear of angering them. Grow up is dismissive and unhelpful advice.

            1. Snark*

              All that is true, but “Can I get my boss to be the fall guy so I can have one thin technicality between myself and a lie to my parents” is pretty immature thinking, as OP admits above.

              1. Rainy*

                Sure, but a controlling (at best) set of parents doesn’t really equip you to be mature about conflict or how you relate to authority, whether official or implied. A lot of the techniques and coping mechanisms that keep you safe as a child of controlling parents are *not* mature–and they take time and understanding to reverse, because they stop being choices you make knowingly, if they ever were, and become reflex actions to minimize danger.

                And first of all, you have to grasp that how you grew up wasn’t normal or healthy. This also takes time.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                It is not instructive advice, it does not tell the OP what to do. Additionally, it’s very similar to the way an adult talks to a child.

          3. Jadelyn*

            Saying you mean something “in the kindest way” doesn’t inherently render it a kind statement to make. Expecting it to means prioritizing the intent of the speaker over the actual impact their words have on others, which isn’t fair to those others.

            “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.
            If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.
            If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.”

            You can mean something in the kindest way and still be stepping on someone’s foot by saying it.

      6. LizB*

        Because childhood experiences shape our self image, decision-making skills, and understanding of how the world works in incredibly profound ways, and relearning how to function after 18+ years of being taught the wrong way is not a simple task that can be accomplished with a little tough love. I recommend looking up the research that’s been done on Adverse Childhood Experiences (and yes, having authoritarian or emotionally abusive parents counts as an adverse experience) or the work of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

        1. HRM*

          Well aware of the research, but thank you. In the OP’s case, I would consider it constructive if she simply directly told her parents she could not make it for the entire week. At least with that response she’s owning it herself rather than looking for an out from her boss, which is a crummy thing to ask of the boss.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            While it might be constructive to be forthright, it might not be worth the weeks and possibly months of P/A behaviors, threats, sobbing and other manipulation that would follow. This plan here allows OP to win the immediate battle but the war rages on and on…

            1. the gold digger*

              “Your mother is threatening suicide because you’re not coming home for Christmas.”

              “We feel abandoned.”

              “You are a bad son.”

              All direct quotations from my husband’s parents the year we – who were in our 40s at the time – did not go to his parents’ place for Christmas.

              On Christmas day, his mom sent him an email saying, “Everything sucks and I get despondent.”

              Until I met my husband, I had no idea there were parents like that.

      7. Optimistic Prime*

        This is her first job out of college. Even if she had a totally normal and accepting home life, it’s still hard to break free of the belief that you need to listen to your parents and cater to their whims. I have friends in their 30s with children who *still* go their parents’ for the holidays even when they don’t really want to.

        1. Mel*

          I am 40, I have been at least 8 hours away from my parents for 9 years. I am moving across the country the week before Christmas. I am getting so much passive aggressive crap from my dad about missing Christmas again this year that it is borderline aggressive-aggressive. I figured 3 months advance notice would suffice. It is exhausting.

        2. Kelly*

          Certain members of my dad’s family had the same mindset of expecting others to follow “tradition” also knowing as catering to their whims. He’s now in his early 60s and he never was able to break away from the family Christmas at his mother’s house the weekend before Xmas. Both my sister and I broke away during college because it usually conflicted with our final exams, and even if we didn’t have finals, we didn’t have any problems finding something to keep ourselves occupied.

          Now the problem is him breaking away from going to his sister’s for Thanksgiving. His sister is an awful cook who inherited her mother’s ability to give you food poisoning from her cooking. He got sick multiple times from eating his mom’s pies, probably because she used outdated and expired ingredients. The last year my mom went before she passed away last year, her and my sister got sick from eating her undercooked turkey. No one wants to be the mean one and tell my aunt she’s an awful cook because she would claim that we are mistaken and it’s just in our heads. It’s not in your head when you have to spend quality time on the toilet after eating her lasagna.

          My sister and I will probably go with him this year just because he needs some continuity after my mom’s passing. I’m not sure we’ll eat much other than mashed potatoes and other foods that can’t be screwed up like bread. I’m fully expecting to have a couple gloriously greasy pizzas delivered that evening when we get home so we can get something to eat.

      8. M is for Mulder*

        Among other reasons: because they are not always the only victims. I didn’t start to push back on controlling parental behavior until my sister was also out of the house, because my parents would take out their frustration on my attempts to break free by cracking down harder on her.

      9. Anna*

        Please stop telling people who are figuring out how to deal with their family the way they choose to do it any given scenario is not “grown up.” You don’t actually know what they’re facing.

      10. Jadelyn*

        “Tough love” rarely is. Especially when applied to a stranger on the internet. This was needlessly cruel, especially with the drive-by jab at anyone else in similar situations about people “unable and/or unwilling to constructively confront their own life challenges”.

        You don’t know what OP’s been through. You don’t know what their family is like. And as someone with Family Issues I can tell you, it leaves scars and warps your perceptions of reasonable behavior and how to handle situations for YEARS AFTERWARD.

        A potentially abusive family is not just a “life challenge” that everyone should be “constructively confronting”. To tell someone struggling with how to deal with a family that’s controlling at best, potentially abusive at worst, to “just grow up” is breathtakingly callous and dismissive of their very real struggles and pain.

    6. kittymommy*

      Yeah, definitely don’t did this. It’s not going to look well on you. This type of game-playing runs the risk of infantilizing you in your boss’s eyes.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      Agreed. I’d be annoyed by that also. I’d feel as though OP is asking me to be the bad guy and lie so she doesn’t have to lie and can have a clean conscience.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        She’s not allowed a clean conscience at home. I do understand that it’s not up the boss/random person to help OP with this, but I also understand that this is a struggle to survive on the most basic level.
        And, FWIW, OP, nothing allows us a clean conscience. We have to grant that to ourselves.

    8. Emily W*

      Because I have been in OP’s situation myself,
      I wouldn’t be miffed at all. I understand perfectly how uncomfortable their situation is.
      I can see why others would feel that way at first, but I hope if someone came to you and asked this, it would be sufficiently out of ordinary enough to provoke concern, not irritation.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’ve seen what overbearing parenting did to a friend of mine and how long it took him to set appropriate boundaries. It doesn’t happen overnight. When I was his roommate, I was his ‘excuse’ for avoiding some family stuff a couple times. I was happy to help while he was still figuring out how to set boundaries with his parents.

        If one of my reports asked me to serve as the excuse, I’d be concerned, not miffed. Of course I don’t want to get involved in their families’ drama. But I also want happy, productive team members.

      2. Amazed*

        I would definitely ask them what could prompt such a request, and that would lead to the heart of the matter in the way you speak of. But it doesn’t change the fact that the originally proposed approach is among the worst ways to go about it.

      3. Zinnia*

        Yup. I’d also be empathetic rather than annoyed. I’d first set my own boundary by refusing their request to falsely deny the vacation days. And then I’d put on my mentor hat and coach them on setting boundaries.

    9. zsuzsanna*

      Me, too. And as Alison mentioned, I’d also see her as less than mature.
      Why not just go the Miss Manners route – say, I’m afraid I have commitments at home. No details necessary. And if she wants to push it, say, if you’re going to continue atto argue with me about this, I won’t come at all. I hope that’s not your choice, since I’d like to spend Christmas day with you, but it is your choice.

      1. Youve Never Met My Mother*

        I was going to be quiet when it was just me being told I’m apparently a willing victim but, as this is your advice all around, I need to point out that escalating to threats to not come at all will not just exacerbate the original problem, it puts the threatener in a much more difficult position if they have to follow through. “Make the situation worse” especially to the point of forcing an entire family to take sides, is never going to be a good solution to boundary issues.

        OP is not in a position to walk out on their family. Nor am I. It is not helpful to suggest that we put ourselves in the position where we would have to.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. Now that my grandmother has passed my family isn’t toxic to quite this level anymore, but when I was a kid either of my parents mentioning that they might decide not to come would have basically nuked their family relationships from orbit. Even the suggestion would have led to a scorched earth policy that would have cut us off from everyone.

          Rational statements only work with rational people. Often times, there’s no point trying to apply polite advice to toxic families (like mine, yours, or the OP’s).

    10. ProximaCentauri*

      As a boss, I wouldn’t be miffed. I’d probably give the same advice Alison did (and not require her to work). With my new to working employees, I often expect to offer this type of mentoring. I try not to read too much into situations that may seem obvious to me. As long as they learn from the feedback and make changes, I’m not concerned.

      I would also direct the person to our EAP.

  1. JulieBulie*

    OP, I agree you can just tell your parents that you need to be at work. It’s not even a lie. It’s a roundabout way of saying “I need to not be at your house.”

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Whoops, should have read this before I posted a nearly word-for-word suggestion. Sorry!

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      The great thing is that an excuse need not actually be a lie, so long as it’s vague enough. So yes, “I need to be at work” (with the unspoken clause “because I need to not be at your house”) is perfectly true, as is “I can’t get those days off” (“because I’ve decided not to ask for to” or “because I would prefer to save them for literally anything else, including a root canal” or “because I sure to heck don’t need to be at your house”).

      See? All true. If you need to get out of this parental “requirement” and don’t want to lie, you can do that! It’s a valuable life skill.

      1. Jaydee*

        A significant part of my ability to survive teenagedom was my ability to tell the truth, but not the whole truth. I am a terrible liar, especially to my mom. But I am very good at telling the truth in a way that is open to multiple interpretations.

        “I can’t stay the whole week, I have to work Tuesday through Friday.” (Do you have to work because your boss is a jerk and didn’t give you the days off? Or because you didn’t ask? Impossible to know.)
        “No, I didn’t get those days off.” (Again, parents will believe you asked, even if you didn’t…)
        “You know how it is at the holidays – everyone wants the same days off. And I’m at the bottom of the seniority list.” (Both true statements. Not strictly relevant here. But true.)

        1. Video Gamer Lurker*

          Building in that last suggestion –
          “It’s my first year, I want to show that I am a hardworking employee, and taking an entire week may or may not influence that reputation.”
          Technically true, not suggesting that your boss is to blame, and places you to a position to show how you are an adult, doing adult things like working.

          I don’t have painfully controlling parents, but being at home with them is stressful (has gotten better), so I have been lucky that my college and work breaks don’t line up (public school employee) so I generally go over for thanksgiving and they come over to me for our summer (quarter, classes on campus) birthdays, and Christmas.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            I like being home at Christmas, and I never have had controlling parents, but I dislike traveling at Christmas. So until I developed the…let’s call it “maturity”…to say “Sorry, folks, but Christmas travel is not for me,” I used the “It’s hard for me to take extra days off them” reason a *lot*.

          2. Cactus*

            You could also state you are trying to get your roots in your new city, insert new hobby, activity etc… not lying

        2. Gadget Hackwrench*

          I volunteer to work Thanksgiving every year. Every year “I have work that day.” No need to involve the boss at all. If they call to ask if I’m on the schedule for Thanksgiving, yes I am. If they asked my boss if I asked for vacation time off, he’d probably think they were nutty and not answer them. Harm-reduction at it’s finest. (The other trick I’ve found is that meeting my family at restaurants is a good idea, because they are to image conscious to do anything overt in public, and also when the meal is done… the meal is done. “Happy Birthday. I’m picking up the bill. Bye! Nice Seeing you!” Exit pursued by a bear.)

      2. Kelly*

        I got out of my late grandmother’s 90th birthday party that was the weekend of family Xmas by claiming I had to work at my on campus job all weekend. I had volunteered to cover for the Saturday person so she could leave early and were closed for winter break starting Sunday. I was so lucky my dad didn’t figure out that I was lying because he trusted me enough to not google the library to see that we closed. To this day, he still doesn’t know I lied to him to get out of his irritating mother’s birthday party.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, that’s what I was going to say — if you’re worried about lying outright, go with “I have to work those days,” not, “The time off was denied.”

      1. Anonymoose*

        Because you can totally be ‘working’, just maybe working at your own home on your own hobby or learning to day drink. Just…really analyze how you want to view the word ‘work’ in this particular scenario. And then omit the hell out of it. Voila! Welcome to your early adult years! ;)

    4. AMPG*

      I was just coming in to say this. For your own well-being, you need to be at work for the rest of the week. If they give you a hard time, you can say, “I’m just trying to set myself up for a good future.” That future is one where you’re an emotionally healthy and independent adult, but you don’t need to say that.

      1. Anonymoose*

        Or do. Because at some point it WILL come out, and probably at a forced holiday dinner filled with second cousins that you actually can’t stand and then you’ll may look like an a-hole to the uninvolved parties.

        Holidays. Ugh.

    5. starsaphire*

      Yes! “I am scheduled to work on Wednesday” is not a lie. It is not even a bending of the truth; it is the literal truth.

      Lather, rinse, repeat. “I have to be at work Wednesday at 8 sharp.” “I need to head home early so I can be up Wednesday morning to catch the train.”

      Practice this in the mirror a few times; it sounds silly but it really does help.

      – Been There, Done That

    6. Bob*

      I hate going home for Xmas and prefer to chill out by myself. I always used to volunteer to be on-call over Xmas and then told my parents I need to stay near work because I’m on-call. Now everyone meets at my brother’s house 8 hours a way so I just say that’s too far for my dog to travel.

    7. Changed*

      I generally go with “A lot of the folks on the team have kids, so I volunteered to work so they could take the time off”.

      I don’t have a family situation like the OPs (at least on the side of the family I speak to or would spend Christmas with), but I’m super-intorverted and 4 or 5 hours with them is my limit. At that point I generally make an excuse about getting home before it’s too dark, and spend a few hours on my motorbike enjoying the empty roads. I always work both before and after the day so I have an excuse not to stay the night.

      1. Anonymoose*

        That’s a lovely idea (the before and after). I’ve always just procrastinated until I’m 20 minutes late for dinner and then make up some excuse of not feeling well and then scram the hell out of there. Maybe I should just be saving my PTO instead since I’m probably just lying on the couch watching Outlander.


  2. Anonymous Poster*

    There’s no reason to involve your boss in this. Just don’t put in for the time off and say to your parents that you have to be at work. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

    I’m assuming your parents don’t somehow have access to your boss or someone else that could verify the truth of such a story. If they do, that’s a larger problem, but what will they do? They’d be in a sort of politeness box. If they voice their doubt in that, they’re implying that you aren’t trustworthy, and I doubt they’d want to do that. So they’re left with the only option of, you just can’t make it because of work.

    1. OP*

      I should clarify – that’s exactly what I’m worried about. While I do live in a different state, my mom once ran into my boss while she was visiting me and talked to her socially about my job. I guess what I’m terrified of is my mom seeing my boss again and saying “wow, it’s too bad you couldn’t give OP those days off” and my boss not seeing it as a intrusive comment, instinctively answering “huh, she never asked me about that”. I know there’s really no solution to this issue, beyond asking my boss to refrain from discussing my work with my parents, which will also lead to her viewing me as immature.

      1. Snark*

        Which is why I advocate for “I need to work that week” on repeat. It’s not a lie, it’s not a complete justification, it’s just what it is. You need to work that week.

        1. NicoleT*

          Exactly. You need to work that week so you don’t kill your parents or lose your mind. They don’t need to be told your REASON, they just need to know you need to work.

        2. Else*

          Yeah – you need to work that week, because it gets the work done; because you need to spend some time learning something for work; to save time for a later longer trip (somewhere without your parents); for money reasons; because your co-workers can’t do it as easily for whatever reason; because you want to make a good impression as a new person; anything. It doesn’t have to be because your boss would not approve it. Sometimes you can get time off but it’s not good for your work or personal goals to take it.

        3. Anonymoose*

          Yes but how likely is Mom going to still be holding a grudge during the next visit? How soon is her next visit? And is it possible that Mom no longer visits you at work because it’s ‘not how the culture there is’ or something? Really your mom should just say that she’s delighted that you work there and you love the layout of the office and that’s about it. If she starts getting personal….it may be time to take it to the family counseling level because that is fairly intrusive.

          1. Anonymoose*

            ” and you love the layout of the office” should read ‘and that SHE loves the layout of the office’ in a ‘Gee, I’m being impersonally polite’ normal sort of way.

      2. caryatis*

        What if you said something like “I’m too busy at work” rather than “Boss won’t give me the time off”? That way, there’d be no conflict between your story and boss’s.

        (Of course, ideally you’d be able to say “I have other plans” without involving work at all, but it sounds like you’re not ready for that.)

        1. Steph B*

          This is what I would say. I would also maybe go further and give your boss a heads up that while you certainly don’t expect it or condone it, your parents are pushing you on the holidays and might get noisy about why you aren’t spending time with them. Since your manager might see them socially, she might want the heads up.

          My experience has been that my managers have always commiserated about overbearing parents (or in-laws), though.

        2. Anonymoose*

          ‘I have other plans’ usually only works if you have a spouse/partner with another location to go to. Brushing off parents to play bar trivia all week usually doesn’t promote the best reaction from ‘rents. In my experience.

          1. Emac*

            “‘I have other plans’ usually only works if you have a spouse/partner with another location to go to.”

            Oh, god, yes! This was drilled into me – on holidays when my mother knew I didn’t have to work, the only acceptable things to do besides spend time with her & my father & sister would have been to spend time with my own family (i.e. I’d have to be married and ideally have a child). I’d still have to spend part of the time with them, but seeing in-laws would have been the only thing that wouldn’t start an argument.

            I finally learned to just say “I have other plans” on repeat. It’s still uncomfortable, and she still wants to argue because she knows I don’t have a spouse or child so whatever the plans are aren’t acceptable to her, but if all I say is “I have other plans” and refuse to get drawn into giving details, eventually she lets it drop.

      3. Lilac*

        OP, you could also frame it as that since this is your big first job, you wanted to be a star in the office by being available that week, and you chose to not take the extra days as a way to show your commitment to the job. That way you end up looking pretty stellar to your boss, and your folks can’t really argue with “I’m doing this as an investment in my own future/reputation.”

        1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          This could be a good choice and/or also that you don’t want to use all your PTO when you’re so new to the job. You could need it later.

        2. Else*

          I like this too, but there’s also the possibility that they would take the information that OP might have more days later or be able to take next year, and clasp onto that knowledge to pressure OP into visiting them. OP does NOT want to end up with the parents thinking they have some kind of ownership over any of OP’s vacation – what if they start planning and talking about OP using an entire 2 weeks in the summer or something? My parents are less controlling than theirs sound to be, but I (in the US) had so little vacation my first job that I ended up spending all of it with them, and never any on myself, because they wanted me to visit them. It wasn’t good for me.

          1. Video Gamer Lurker*

            Could say “I have a small, limited number of PTO days, I want to make sure that I can make it last in case of emergencies like my car breaking down.”

            1. Amazed*

              And now they latch onto the car situation. I think the point here is that if you give them X as an excuse, they’ll try to take command of X and made it not an excuse anymore.

          2. Anonymoose*

            Yes but if they are actively monitoring how she uses and accrues her PTO, there is a much larger issue.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          Oh no, that doesn’t work with controllers. “What, you’re putting work before faaaaamily?”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Strong agree. I think it’s easier for OP to say they’re not able to come home, and leave the explanation out. That way it’s vague enough that OP isn’t lying, but it also lets OP do what they want to do (not go to their parents’ home).

            In controlling families, once you introduce an explanation, they’ll spend all their time guilting or gaslighting you about why your explanation is wrong/stupid/deficient, etc.

            1. OP*

              Funny you bring up the word “gaslighting” – a few months ago I finally got the courage to tell my mom that’s what she’d been doing to me. She took it to heart (I thought), until the next time I talked to her, when she said “wow, I thought more about what you were talking about with that word ‘gaslighting’. Given that definition, it seems like that’s what you’ve been doing to me.”
              The good thing about time and distance is it helps you understand how irrational statements like that are.

              1. Close Bracket*

                That is some professional level gaslighting there.

                Do you know about Captain Awkward’s blog? She has a lot of advice for setting boundaries with toxic families.

                1. A. Non*

                  Stopping in to second Cap’s blog, OP. It sounds like you’ve got a family problem, and the scripts there are the best present you can give yourself.

              2. OhNo*

                Ah, the old, “I’m not abusing you, you’re abusing me!” trick. It seems to be a big favorite of problematic families – everyone I know with toxic family members seems to have that pulled on them at least once.

                I’m sorry you’re dealing with that, OP. I know from personal experience how hard that kind of thing can hit you, even if you think you’re prepared for it. Take care of yourself while you’re working your way through the family minefield!

                1. Anonymoose*

                  Yes, my mother used to do this in her menopausal years. She became very controlling and wanted input on every single decision I made. I could stand it until I hit 24 and was a state away from her and over the phone told her that I had had it. We didn’t speak for SIX MONTHS. After that, however, she never tried to make my decisions for me again. Hardest thing I had to do as a young adult who was raised in a toxic family, but occasionally we did some stuff right.

                  OP, as a young adult these conversations will soon become instrumental in your productivity and happiness. I suggest thickening your skin and being prepared to hurt their feelings to get what you want. (and also saving your cash if you’re financially supported by them in any way, because controllers like to pull that card a lot, too). Sticking up for yourself will be hard the first couple of times, but it gets easier with practice. Good luck!

                2. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  I used “the a word” once in an argument. My mother promptly demanded that we see a family therapist. The first one we only saw once, because she said she was sure mom would have done things differently if she knew how badly she was hurting me, and I knew that was bullshit, but to drive it home mom also chewed her out for “putting words in [her] mouth,” and proceeded to explain why she would do everything exactly the same all over again, and the problem was me. I got lucky with the second one, who realized right away that a) directly addressing mom’s behavior in session would only end in her stalking out and b) trying to help me ‘feel’ how much mom loved me wasn’t going to do me any favors because she doesn’t. She wound up seeing us separately and I don’t doubt that to some degree she played both sides (i.e. sympathized with mom’s inexcusable behavior when I was not present) but whatever she did on mom’s side, over on mine it was like, “I’m not saying your mom is a narcissist. but I would recommend this book on dealing with narcissistic mothers.”

              3. Not So NewReader*

                “Well then, mom, if you think I am gaslighting you then that would be another good reason for me to stay here over the holidays.”

                I see what you are fighting here, you won’t win. If you make it out with all your body parts (figuratively speaking) that would be what success looks like.

                I hope you are slowly seeing no rationale will stick, whatever you come up with will eventually be unraveled and used against you.

              4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                OP, I totally made a “contempt” face (aimed at your mom) in response to this anecdote. I’m so glad you have time and distance and space to recognize that she’s being manipulative.

                I remember my sister once confronted my mom about her behavior when we were kids, and she started crying because she “didn’t remember” it but it made her feel bad to think she’d done something hurtful. I’m sorry, but you don’t get to be awful to someone and then expect them to comfort you for your bad behavior. It sounds like your mom is doing a variation of the same, and I’m really sorry, because it’s really really shitty behavior (as Close Bracket notes, it’s “professional level” gaslighting).

              5. Rainy*

                That’s a classic abuser tactic, OP, it’s called “DARVO”–Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.

            2. GreyjoyGardens*

              There’s a *reason* that children of controlling or narcissistic families are told not to JADE – Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain. That results in having to defend yourself and listen to “But Why Don’t You Just…” and so on.

              It’s so much easier to say, “I can’t come home. I didn’t get the time off.” and leave out any explanation or justification.

      4. Amtelope*

        I think this is a case where the truth is your best option. “Hey, boss, could I ask you not to let my family know my schedule if they run into you or call you? I’m dealing with a situation where it’s a problem for my family to know that information.”

        1. Amtelope*

          Or just tell your parents you’re busy at work, as others suggest. But you know your parents, and if there’s a good chance that they will call or otherwise pump your boss for information, you may want to get ahead of that by talking to your boss in advance.

        2. Snark*

          I like this. Or even just, “Not to rope you into my personal issues, but my parents tend to make my business their business, and if we run into them, I’d really appreciate if you didn’t discuss specifics of my schedule and time off with them.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            One place I worked this was a standard for anyone who was not employee who asked. We did not give out schedules or talk about number of hours, etc. For this reason here. There is no way to know what goes on in families. If the employee wants the family to know, then the employee will inform them.

        3. Kira*

          I agree. Unlike fake vacation denials, asking your workplace to not disclose work-related things to your family is pretty reasonable.

          Also, any chance you can avoid letting your family mingle with your work life when they visit?

        4. Amazed*

          This isn’t just reasonable, it’s been the norm at every workplace I can remember working at, all the way back to fast food. The only one allowed to release employee schedule info to a third party is the employee themselves.

          So no, this isn’t going to make the OP look immature (short of dysfunctional workplaces, but at that point all bets are off anyway).

        5. SusanIvanova*

          Yeah, if I were the boss, I’d rather hear “my parents have no sense of boundaries, they may call you, please don’t talk to them” than “please lie to my parents for me”. The first case is one that’s unfortunately common with family and ex-significant others; a request like that says you know it’s outside your control but you’re doing your best to contain it.

      5. Helpful Curmudgeon*

        I get that fear. I do. But ask yourself this question: If it happens, what then? What’s the worst possible outcome of that convo between Boss and Mom? Be honest with yourself about what you think might reasonably happen. I feel that, in most cases, the boss would be confused but shrug it off. And if she did feel like mentioning it to you, your explanation of “I would just rather work than deal with family; hope you don’t mind” will be all the explanation she needs. Wanting to cut short family drama time at the holidays is an EXCEEDINGLY normal thing to do.

        Don’t hold yourself responsible for managing all the tiny nuances of perception at work. It’s exhausting. Make your decision, stick to it, and give your boss an adult explanation if it ever comes up.

        1. Spotsylvania*

          I mean, the worst possible outcome is that Mom is the one who’s upset, not boss. I don’t know OP’s mom, but she could be abusive and physically hurt OP over it.

          1. OP*

            ^^ exactly. It’s the mom situation, not the boss situation. (And I’m lucky that it wouldn’t be something that could lead to physical abuse, but would be effectively emotional abuse).

            1. SirenSong*

              If your mom is emotionally abusive, you do not owe it to her to be honest and upfront about your life as an adult. She’s proven that she can’t handle hearing the truth without hurting you, and it’s important that you do what you need to in order to protect yourself, including learning to lie to her.

              1. Parenthetically*

                +1. Just to repeat, OP: you DO NOT OWE transparency to people who will weaponize that transparency against you.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  OP, this stuff here is so valuable, frame it and hang it on a wall some where.

                  Relationships of any type are a gift not an obligation. We have to keep earning the gift of people’s relationships with us. This means we have to work at our relationships. Working at our relationships does not mean beating other people over the head with clubs or as you have here beating you over the head with words.

              2. tigerStripes*

                “If your mom is emotionally abusive, you do not owe it to her to be honest and upfront about your life as an adult.” This!

      6. Observer*

        Actually, telling your boss “My parents have a something of a habit of trying to get overly involved in my stuff, so I would appreciate if you just didn’t discuss my work or schedule with them.” won’t make you look immature at all. It’s not a cure all, but reasonable bosses do understand that healthy young adults want to maintain healthy boundaries.

        The key is to be matter of fact, low key and non-demanding, but clear.

        1. EddieSherbert*


          I don’t at all see how asking your boss not to discuss work with your parents would make you seem immature.

          … also, I’m getting a bit of -track, but how does your mother even know what your boss looks like? How on earth could she just “run into” your boss while she’s visiting from a state away? No offense, but if seriously was random and you didn’t introduce them, she probably came across REALLY weird to your boss.

          (I’m imagining her running up to her in a grocery store or something like “Hi! You don’t know me, but I’m OP’s mom! I crept on you online so I know what you look like!”)

          1. The Other Dawn*

            “I don’t at all see how asking your boss not to discuss work with your parents would make you seem immature.”

            Yes! If an employee said that to me, I’d think she’s mature, not immature.

          2. OP*

            It was a really weird situation, and funnily enough not something my mom even constructed on her own. She happened to be walking past my workplace around lunchtime, recognized my boss leaving the office from the company website, and went up to her.

            1. Rainy*

              …your mother reads the company website often enough to know what your boss looks like, and then approached her out of the blue?

              You realize this is weird, right? Like, this is a weird thing for your mum to do.

              1. Rando*

                Just another data point to be helpful – my mother would not look at my co-workers pictures on the website, or walk up to my boss and chat without knowing that boss ahead of time. Your mom is being very strange.

                1. EddieSherbert*

                  Thanks for filling us in, OP!

                  But yeah, I’m adding my voice to everyone saying that your mom went pretty far outside the “social norms” here, and your boss probably thought it was weird.

                  Soooo they’d probably take you at your word if you used Observer’s script (My parents have a something of a habit of trying to get overly involved in my stuff, so I would appreciate if you just didn’t discuss my work or schedule with them).

              2. Justme*

                My mom has met my boss and still doesn’t remember what she looks like. To be fair, I have met her boss and don’t remember what he looks like.

              3. Gail Davidson-Durst*

                Yeah, I couldn’t pick my *husband’s* boss out of a line-up, never mind our parents knowing what our bosses look like.

                OP, it sounds like your mom is generally pretty intrusive and monitoring, and that’s become the wallpaper of your life – I’m sorry. And I STRONGLY recommend Captain Awkward!

              4. Anonymoose*

                Ya….that’s a bit more compelling in the ‘my mom is a control freak’ than anything else I’ve read so far. I would be living several states away by now with – maybe – annual visits. OP, bless your patience!

            2. Luna*

              Are you sure she didn’t construct that on her own? Because it kind of sounds like she could have. Why is she looking at the company website so often that she remembers what your boss looks like?

              1. Hibiscus*

                Yeah, another outsider not believing that. I can see a controlling, emotionally enmeshed mom who feels her control slipping trying to befriend your boss and turn her into your ally. That’s stalking, and I’ve know people with family who would do it.

            3. FYI*

              Uh, your mom did construct that. Just to let you know. Not every mom knows what their kid’s boss looks like from a company website, and not every mom would walk up to said boss to chat.

              1. Jaydee, who is very good at staying on the right side of the line*

                Even the type of mom who would check out the company website to see what their child’s boss and coworkers look like would not necessarily approach the boss and strike up a convo while walking near the workplace over lunch. I would totally visit the website – I like having an accurate picture in my mind when I hear enough stories about a person, so I would be curious about what Jane and Fergus look like. I would not, however, “just happen” to be taking a walk near the office at lunchtime and “just happen” to spot Jane and “just spontaneously decide” to talk to her. Because that crosses the line from weird curiosity to stalkerish tendencies.

                1. Marmite*

                  I agree, I’ve looked at my brother’s company website to see what his picture looks like (because a photo of my rebellious baby brother doing his best to look serious in a suit and tie is always good for a giggle!). The way the site is laid out his co-workers and boss are pictured right next to him so if I were better at remembering faces it’s feasible I could recognise them if I went to meet my brother at his office.

                  I don’t think that’s weird but approaching them and striking up conversation does seem like it would cross that boundary.

            4. Jesmlet*

              Obviously we defer to your judgment but this does not sound like a coincidence. I’ve shown both my parents group photos of me and my coworkers together and there’s very little chance they could pick them out of a line up even if they were walking past the office.

            5. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

              I could see my mother doing something like this. Actually, I know for a fact that anytime she comes into contact with anyone wearing a work badge from my employer she asks if they know me. If it was my boss, who knows what she’d say. I’d hate to imagine.

              However, it comes off really, really, really weird to the people she’s doing this to. Seriously, very weird. It’s hard to see when that’s been normal behavior your whole life, so I wanted to highlight for you that your boss most likely already found this behavior not normal. I’d be more likely to believe that your boss would shut down any conversation that your mom tried to initiate because of the oddness of being approached by someone they didn’t know already than to believe your boss would willingly share with her that you never asked for time off.

              1. Anonymoose*

                That’s actually an excellent point. Boss may have already noticed that Mom doesn’t respect personal or professional boundaries. So if OP then said ‘hey my mom is intrusive, please feel free to not ever discuss me and my work here’, Boss would likely be relieved that her instincts were correct and pleased that her employee is trying to be proactive in dealing with it.

            6. Myrin*

              I agree with others here – your mum might not have constructed that scenario on her own insofar as she probably didn’t lie in wait in the bushes opposite your workplace to jump at your boss as soon as she stepped her foot out the door. (Although… is there a chance that she did? Minus the lying in the bushes, maybe?)

              However, she very much shaped the situation in that she actually went up and talked to your boss. (I’d also say that she additionally shaped it by studying your company website so closely that she was able to recognise your boss immediately, but I’ll concede that some people just have a freakishly good memory for faces and others look exactly the same on photos as IRL, so your mum only gets a half point from me here.)

              That being said, I’ll tell something about my very awesome mum I have a very good relationship with, just for contrast: I’ve shown her pictures of my doctoral advisor; she actually saw him once when we were together and I pointed him out to her as he was walking by; he looks reasonably eccentric and has a haircut and demeanour that makes him at least somewhat outstanding, visually speaking; my mum has a really good memory for faces.
              Now, with that info in mind: I’m almost sure she wouldn’t recognise him if she walked past him in front of the uni I work at. I’m 100% sure she wouldn’t go up and talk to him.

              1. Anonymoose*

                Now I’m totally picturing Mom in safari gear watching the front doors like a hawk via binoculars until she can pounce on her ‘totally random’ lunchtime prey.

            7. Anonymous Poster*

              That’s really bizarre. It’s the sort of stuff my father in law would do – which is part of the reason my wife and I are very particular about when we’re willing to interact with him.

              I’m hoping you don’t get to that same point, and this sounds like something that was horribly awkward for your boss. Asking your boss to not talk to your mom about your work stuff would probably be a relief at this point, since most people would be very put off by such a ‘coincidence’.

              “You looked at my website? And were just here? And started talking about my employee with me…?”

            8. Matilda Jefferies*

              Adding my voice to the chorus of “nope” going on here. It’s not that we disbelieve *you,* OP, but that we disbelieve your mother when she says it was a complete coincidence. That’s a whole lot of coincidence going on there, that she “just happened” to know what your boss looks like from the website, and then “just happened” to be walking past your workplace at lunchtime, and the boss just happened to be coming out the door at the exact same time your mother was walking by. I mean, it’s possible, but…

              (Also note this: funnily enough not something my mom even constructed on her own – if this is expected behaviour from your mom, it’s a pretty good bet that she did construct this one as well. I’m sorry.)

              The good news is, if you do decide to talk to your boss and say “my parents have some boundary issues, I’d appreciate if you don’t talk to them about me,” I expect your boss would understand based on her earlier encounter with your mother. Good luck, and please keep us posted.

              1. Matilda Jefferies*

                Argh, forgot to close my italics. OP’s words end with “on her own” and mine begin with “if this is expected behaviour.”

            9. hbc*

              My mom kind of stalks her children and in-laws vicariously. When I mentioned my husband had a student defending a thesis, she correctly (on the fly) named the two people in his lab who it could be, based on reading his lab’s website. *I* didn’t even know their names well enough to say which one it was. She has also visited our area a lot over the past ten years.

              And she has never “accidentally” bumped into a coworker, student, or boss of ours, recognized them, and started a conversation. I am confident saying that your emotionally abusive mother did not just happen to be wandering by at the perfect time to see and chat with your boss.

            10. Tobias Funke*

              Yup, mom made this happen. And I completely understand how mom pitched it with all this plausible deniability. I’m such a good mother that I was looking up the website! And then I happened to be there! And oh golly gosh geez, isn’t that my daughter’s boss right over there?!?

              I say this not to pile on or to make you doubt your own perceptions, but to add to the chorus of people unrelated to you and un-enmeshed in this situation who want the best for you. My family of origin is very difficult in a similar way, and it took the entirety of my 20s to set boundaries. I wish you all the best, OP.

            11. Jules the 3rd*

              Ok, given this, you really should have a low-key conversation with your boss. This is Really Weird behavior, and the boss may actually be weirded out by it – I would be! Your mom did not ‘happen to be walking past your workplace around lunchtime’, she was hanging out there. Maybe just hoping to see you, but going up to your boss? That’s weird and intrusive. I’d figured she met you there for lunch and you introduced them.

              Sometime in a casual conversation, use Observer’s script. It will make you look better to your manager. Recognizing a problem, owning it, suggesting solutions. It’s magic.

            12. Observer*

              So, I’m going to agree with the others that even if your mother did not completely set up the situation, she set up a lot of it, since it really is really untypical for your mother to know the faces of your bosses so well that could recognize them off the bat.

              Beyond that, I’m betting that going to your boss and telling her that your mother sometimes oversteps, and you would be appreciative if she therefore didn’t discuss your work, schedule or anything else related to you and work with Mom would actually go over very well. If nothing else, it tells your boss that you know that your mother’s behavior is not within professional norms.

            13. AKchic*

              Yeah… that’s more than weird.
              The only reason my mother knew what my last boss looked like was because my last “boss” was the CEO and was on the news a lot. She didn’t know what my direct supervisor looked like, but she knew my grandboss as my “boss” because that’s who I talked about most, and considered her my “boss”, and recognized her on television. My family doesn’t recognize any of my coworkers or bosses unless they see us on tv, for whatever reason.
              I have one MIL who checks a group website, but only for the event photos to see if my son (her grandson) has photos up. That’s it. Otherwise, everyone’s a stranger, and generally, she’d rather me go through the thousands of photos and send her the pertinent ones.

              Your mom’s scouring of the website to figure out your boss’s appearance is stalkerish, and just “happened” to be there? That was a manufactured meet.

            14. Princess Cimorene*

              hmm… that your mother would conveniently be near your job with a mental image of your boss, around the time most people leave for lunch really doesn’t sound coincidental to me. You agree mom is manipulative. I think you’re giving mom way too much credit that this was happenstance. I think it was calculated.

            15. Fafaflunkie*

              Ugh. That’s a sure sign of helicopter parents to the max. I’m sorry about your situation.

              Your best response is exactly what was said upthread: ask your boss to not discuss your work affairs to your mother should she call, and let you deal with whatever trauma that ensues. You’re an adult now, and it’s about time your mother treats you like one.

          3. Kathleen*

            +1 to the “your boss thought it was weird.” I work at the library my family has been going to since I was four, and we have a fairly small staff. When my (generally awesome) mother came in to use the library, she would tell my coworkers that she’s my mother and that I’m awesome. She mostly knew them (see, more than twenty-five years of being at this library), and they still thought it was strange, and she wasn’t even really discussing me besides general mom-bragging.

            This is way more out of your mom’s way than that situation. Your boss definitely thought it was weird.

        2. LizB*

          Yep! Especially now, with horror stories about extreme helicopter parents all over the place*, I think any reasonable boss would be fine with a young professional being proactive about having good work-family boundaries.

          *Disclaimer that I don’t have any data about if extreme helicopter parents are actually all over the place, but the horror stories sure seem to be.

      7. Interviewer*

        I wouldn’t involve your boss or the status of a vacation request or anything – that way, the story doesn’t ever come back to haunt you. Instead, let them know you have stuff to do at work, that you made plans with friends who will be in town, or that you’ll need to get back because you have tickets to a special concert/play/sporting event. Something that requires your presence – maybe you could actively look for something between now and then, if you really want to commit to this path and you don’t want to get talked into anything else. Be sympathetic to their complaints about your early departure, but firm in your resolve to leave on your schedule, as well as your excitement about your upcoming plans.

        Just enjoy your holiday week the way that you want to spend it. Don’t let them dictate what your holiday plans need to be or how long you need to stay. Good luck.

        Someone who is getting the courage to put her foot down, too.

      8. Elsewhere1010*

        Not sure that asking your boss to refrain from discussing your work with any of your relatives is immature; even bosses can have relatives with whom they’d prefer not to share their work experiences.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*


          And a part of the key is saying it in a matter-of-fact way. I recently had an experience where, as a result of my (volunteer) leadership with a separate organization, I had to do something that might have resulted in my organization being attacked (online troll stuff, doxxing, etc.). Thankfully, nothing happened to me, but I did give my boss (and our IT team) a heads up in advance: “I wanted to give you a heads up that, because of my work with Volunteer Organization, I might be taking some flak online and that might affect Employer. Let’s talk about what we need to do to protect ourselves.”

          It was potentially embarrassing, but by addressing it head on I was able to get the message across that:

          1) I had things under control, as much as was possible, and that involving my employer was a part of getting things under control.
          2) This was something that was happening TO me, not something I was doing. And, relatedly,
          3) My employer and I were on the same side. That is, I wasn’t the problem here; both my employer and I were (potential) victims.

      9. Amadeo*

        I don’t know, I think it might be fair to ask your boss not to discuss your work with your parents, why do your parents need to know about your work? You’re an adult and it’s none of their business, really.

        1. Birch*

          Yeah, this. It’s so hard when you’ve been socialized to be controlled by other people, and that’s sort of OP’s dilemma–the parents know too much, so OP is basically put in the situation of starting a fight or lying, both of which could go badly. Part of growing up and distancing yourself from that kind of home situation is realizing that you don’t owe those people information about your life. You can feed them the boring basics, but the less they know, the less involved they’ll be and the less they will demand of you. It’s a different situation if they then try to contact your boss, but hopefully you’d have a responsible boss who understands your boundaries with them. And that would be a learning experience for how much is too much information to give the family next time.

          1. Anonymoose*

            “but the less they know, the less involved they’ll be and the less they will demand of you. ”

            Hmm, not necessarily. If OP doesn’t directly approach the issue, Mom may actually start spinning like a top trying to get even more information any way she can – including totally inappropriate avenues for a mother of a professional young adult.

            But I do agree that now is the perfect time to start experimenting with how little OP can get away with before there are noticeable behavior changes in Mom.

        2. JessaB*

          That does not mean the OPs parents are not the type to call the boss and go “how dare you not give precious sweetums the day off you evil boss person you?” Some people are just not reasonable. Alison has a metric tonne of articles about hovercraft parents who don’t let go and call schools and jobs on behalf of adult children who would rather they just shut up and leave them alone.

          Also in some smaller towns/smaller companies it’s possible that the parents know the boss by name or on sight anyway and would get up in their space and ask them rude questions because they’re nosey and have to be in charge. I know what Mr B’s boss looks like, never met them but saw him say hi to them when I dropped him off once and he said “yeah that person is my boss.” I wouldn’t bother them but it’s not outrageous that the parents know what the boss looks like and could see them in the grocery store.

          1. Amazed*

            Very true. If the mom is willing to use that kind of approach, or push leverage, then all bets are off the table.

            OP, you asked for an evaluation of the work situation and not the home situation. I’m not sure the distinction exists here anymore, I’m sorry to say. Other folks have recommended Captain Awkward, and I’ll stand by that. Give her a look, she’s a lot more eloquent and insightful about how to navigate dysfunctional situations than most.

            One thing she stresses, though, which I think bears stating up front, is that even the best response will come with some strife. There’s no magic bullet, only a best-going-forward approach.

          2. Amadeo*

            Anything the OP does in this situation is almost a no-win for her. I cannot say that I know what I would do in her situation, because I’ve not been in it. I’m quite lucky to have a reasonable family who wouldn’t do this to me.

            I still think it’d be fair to warn the boss “My mother may call. Please don’t discuss work with her, and if she yells at you, just hang up”. I saw upthread that OP’s mom only knows what the boss looks like through the company website and managed to ‘just happen’ to be outside the company when boss left one day for lunch and so walked up to her to chat.

          3. Anonymoose*

            That is my greatest fear for OP, that mom will actually call Boss because ‘they hit it off so well’ or whatever delusional excuse Mom makes to control the situation even tighter.

        3. Grapey*

          “why do your parents need to know about your work”

          They don’t NEED to, but it sure is a focal point for busybody controlling parents if they don’t like an aspect of your work environment.

          I had an identical case to OP’s a few years ago. I used a “I’m working that week” ‘excuse’ (which was true simply because I didn’t ask for time off, so I worked normal hours.)

          For years, even now, my dad goes “What a terrible job you have where they don’t even let you have the holidays off! Sounds like a shitty place to work.” (It’s not.) This is where eye rolls and subject changes come in.

          1. NaoNao*

            *Totally*. My well meaning parents have said all kinds of stuff, mostly sympathetic or trying to be “They should x, y, and unreasonable z!” (for my snowflake baby!) Or gumption advice, or clueless things about the corporate politics that they themselves have *both* failed miserably at. (#blesstheirhearts). My dad is an independent contributer/consultant, and my mom has been in the same job for 17 years, with only COL and other small raises partly due to a complete inability and desire to climb the ladder and play the game/understand politics.

      10. Just Another Techie*

        Oh OP, I sympathize with this so much. My parents were like this, and as a self-defense mechanism, I literally moved around the world, to the geographic point on the planet furthest from my parents, in a country where my parents don’t speak the local language and where most locals avoided English at all costs, to avoid exactly this sort of thing.

        But still. You can’t ask your boss to play games like this. It’s going to affect your reputation and standing, and your parents will still be unhappy and likely to direct any expressions of that unhappiness at you.

        I know it’s hard to believe now, but I promise you, it will get easier to tell your parents no with time.

        1. CanCan*

          Part of a boss’s job is avoiding telling the wrong things to the wrong people. For example, if an employee tells the boss about something in their personal life which they expect the boss to hold in confidence, the boss would have to hold it in confidence (e.g. from other employees – other than if anybody actually needs to know). That could be tricky, but that’s part of the qualifications of a manager – to be able to deal with tricky things like that.

          Same if the parents asked the boss questions like How is the OP doing? What could she improve on? How likely is it that she would be promoted? Why didn’t she get a raise? – all questions the boss should politely decline to answer. The OP would just be reminding him that vacation time is such a subject. His response could be blunt: Sorry, can’t discus. Or vague: Yes, we’re in a busy time … appreciating OP’s commitment … and what are your plans for the holidays?

      11. INTP*

        What about focusing on the fact that you are new so taking time off right away isn’t a great idea? “I keep reading that you shouldn’t request vacation outside of emergencies in the first six months of a job, and I want to prove my work ethic because I really like this job. I’m so disappointed that the timing worked out this way, but I do think this is the best decision for my career. Maybe next Christmas!” (You would then be able to point your parents to plenty of articles saying it’s a bad idea to request a week of vacation in the first six months of a job, if they do challenge you. Pretending that you do want to go home but can’t is a key part of the script for appeasing controlling parents in my experience, because that way they feel reassured that they do have some hold on you.)

        1. JessaB*

          The problem with that is next year come holidays the OP won’t have the “new to job” excuse. They need to do something that lets them out of having to deal with this again and again. Because the parents are not going to stop.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            Next Christmas is a whole year away, with a whole year’s worth of growth and development and planning. It’s fine for OP to use the ‘so new’ excuse now and then next year, maybe they will have developed new scripts or techniques for getting out of this.

            1. Hrovitnir*

              It’s almost certainly a better idea not to give them anything to sink their arguing teeth into. With controlling parents, the only thing that can chip away at the behaviour is iron boundaries so starting with minimal excuse this year will only be helpful.

              It depends on the specifics of the relationship, but the words “emotional abuse” have been mentioned by the OP upthread, so I think “reasons are for reasonable people” applies here.

          2. INTP*

            The goal would be that next year, OP will be more comfortable standing up to her parents about spending the vacation the way she wishes. It sounds like this year she just doesn’t have the confidence (or possibly the ability, if she’s still receiving some financial support while getting on her feet) to handle the entire situation in one fell swoop. If OP thinks she might cave if her parents start freaking out and “hoovering,” then it’s fine to throw in a few little details to placate them imo. I wouldn’t say this if, say, OP had been dealing with the same toxic dynamic for 10 years without breaking free, I’d say “now or never,” but OP has just moved out and I think it’s better to take baby steps than none at all.

        2. LA*

          Problem is, this just kicks the issue down the road for OP to deal with next year, so it doesn’t really solve anything. For some people, it makes the whole thing even worse, because now you have a year to worry about how to get out of next year’s Christmas, and you’ve lost the “well I’m new” excuse.

          1. Troutwaxer*

            Hopefully next year the OP will have her own insurance and maybe gotten that first raise, then if she needs to raise a little hell with her parents she’ll be better positioned for it.

        3. YuliaC*

          This sounds great to me, but I imagine super controlling parents will not take that line of reasoning well. I’ve seen some mothers respond with a barrage of guilt tripping about how the child doesn’t love them enough, etc.

        4. Blossom*

          Hmm, my experience with controlling people is different – bringing up advice heard elsewhere just gives them something to argue against (“That’s nonsense! Let me tell you how it really is!”). Then you have to defend not only your holiday plans, but also the merits of the advice you’re quoting, not to mention your intelligence and intellectual autonomy. I’d worry that I’d be setting myself up for an emotionally draining battle over something I don’t even care about, and end up more likely to capitulate over the real issue.

        5. nonegiven*

          I wouldn’t even lie about being disappointed.

          If you’re lying, say, “Isn’t it great I got x time off to come back for the holiday? Some people don’t get to see family at all during Christmas”

      12. Temperance*

        What I would do in your situation is go with the white lie, and say nothing to your boss. This situation is so remote and likely won’t happen.

      13. Anonymeuse*

        There’s also always the option of a vague half-truth like “I have so much on my plate right now, I just can’t take that much time away”

        1. Anonymous Poster*

          Yes, I think this is also a superb excuse. And it could be true, the holidays are the perfect time to work on those finicky quality-of-life projects that require a lot of concentration because it tends to be quieter. Those sorts of projects that you wouldn’t do normally, but now can tackle – like that awkward spreadsheet, or that horribly designed checklist, or that document that’s a giant kludge and really needs someone to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

          You can find something that will make your coworkers so happy you took the time. And it’s something on your plate!

      14. INTP*

        Also, FWIW, I don’t think that “Would you mind not discussing my work with my mom if you run into her again? I know this is a weird request, but she has some boundary issues and I’m trying to keep the two separate” would come across as being immature like a request to lie about vacation time. In that case, you’ve done the work and set the boundary, and you’re just asking the boss to help you not compromise it. The phony vacation request comes across like you want work to participate in a ruse to help you get *out* of setting boundaries with your parents.

      15. Cyrus*

        This makes things more complicated and should have been mentioned in your email. Still sounds kind of weird. Your mom was visiting you, just happened to run into your boss, and you’re worried about them making contact again? Did they exchange phone numbers in a 5-minute chat? Is your boss in a very public-facing role? Either your living or working situation is weird, or your mom has stalkerish tendencies, or you’re being paranoid. Of course, either of the first two situations are very plausible, you’d know better than I would, but right now it sounds like there’s at least some slight chance of the third.

        Assuming it is reasonably likely that they’ll see each other again, or that your mom will seek your boss out, I think your best script for your boss is something like this: “I feel weird asking this, but if you bump into my mother again, could you not talk to her about my work life? In particular, don’t mention plans for the holidays, or just say that I really need to work during that period? I’m going through some tough times with my family and I think it would be helpful to keep my family life and my work life separate. Thanks for understanding.”

        Your script with your mother is the same as Alison said: a white lie. If she presses for details, they’re none of her business. If your lie gets found out despite your best efforts, the reason is because you wanted to avoid your family, for reasons she’s presumably familiar with. Not ideal, but sounds like the least bad reason at this point.

        1. OP*

          Honestly, I’d agree that I’m being at least a little paranoid, but the severity of the negative effects that would come from this (even implausible) scenario is so huge that it’s so hard to not be paranoid.

          1. AMPG*

            I hear where you’re coming from with this, and I want to echo everyone else who’s recommended Captain Awkward for advice and scripts. But I also wanted to say that it’s almost certainly going to get worse before it gets better, as your parents realize you’re slipping out of their control and they try to hold on tighter. I say that mainly so you can steel yourself for what’s to come – if you can hold your ground, it really does get better, one way or another, but you have to power through the worst part first.

            1. ket*

              Yes, if your paranoia is based on previous experiences and you start standing up to your parents now (or just slipping away quietly) you may want to search for terms like “extinction burst narcissism” and prepare yourself for some bad behavior. Good news: plenty of people can move on to healthier relationships.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              Yeah – AMPG’s right. Make sure that saving up an emergency fund over this next year is a high priority, in case you need to pick up your health insurance or other costs. *Consider* going home for the longer time if you can’t afford the $$ impact, but:
              – It’s easiest to start as you mean to go on
              – It’s easier to get away from controlling people if you limit their information. Try “I just can’t get away for longer than x days” without explaining why, and repeating “I just can’t, I have to get back here + [new subject]”.
              – Make it boring for her: “I can be there these days + [subject change]”

              Good luck. You’ll get there eventually, one way or the other.

          2. anon for this*

            It sounds like your parents have you trained to manage their feelings on a hair trigger. I totally understand how hard it is to break out of that (came from a deeply emotionally abusive home myself), but now might be a good time to start practicing not doing this.

            You talk about the severity of the negative reaction – but you have a choice as to whether you engage with that or not. You’re an adult and I really strongly believe that you can survive your parents’ displeasure. So many adults survive having no relationship or a terrible relationship with their parents and it gets easier with practice.

            Instead of feeling guilty and horrible. about yourself for whatever your mother is going to feel, how about framing it as her having an unreasonable reaction to your own reasonable behaviour, which is not your responsibility to deal with or manage or even hear about. What would happen if you let her be mad, and took an attitude of “well, it’s a shame that she feels like that in response to my reasonable desires, but that’s really her problem to deal with”?

            It’s going to feel terrible at first because you’re deeply conditioned to feel terrible when your mother wants to manipulate you, but you can survive that feeling. It won’t kill you and it won’t kill her, and honestly I think it’s one of the best ways of getting free from this kind of abuse.

            1. Natalie*

              I really strongly believe that you can survive your parents’ displeasure.

              In my experience, the first time is *always* the hardest, because that’s how these kinds of parents exert control – by conditioning you to strongly fear their reaction, no matter what that reaction actually is and whether or not it is objectively frightening.

              Good luck, OP. You’re getting there!

              1. One of the Sarahs*

                OP, the first time you do this, it could feel horrible – but you feel horrible a lot of the time now anyway, and sound stressed about all of this. Better to take that hit of horribleness, and get it over with, than live with the low-level horrible.

                Does your work have any kind of access to therapy that you could use to help you come up with scripts and help you build your confidence?

                I’m sure you will be awesome. You’ve got this, you’ll have a fantastic holiday.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Actually, OP, you have been surviving your mother’s displeasure all these years. This is just one more thing in a long line of things. What I want you to see is that you are a survivor and you will survive.

            2. PlainJane*

              “What would happen if you let her be mad, and took an attitude of ‘well, it’s a shame that she feels like that in response to my reasonable desires, but that’s really her problem to deal with’?” This. I’ll build on this advice, speaking from my own experience with my dad. A person can’t hurt you emotionally if you don’t love them and don’t care what they think. Yeah, I know – that sounds really harsh. But it’s true. You may not be ready to cut all emotional ties with your mother, but know that it’s possible to do that, and doing it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes the parent easier to tolerate once you can see them as a mere annoyance you put up with for the sake of family harmony rather than someone whose opinion you value or someone for whom you feel any affection.

          3. a different Vicki*

            It’s not paranoia if you aren’t delusional, and the fear is proportional to the actual situation. That’s true even if an outsider, with different assumptions or less information, doesn’t see the danger.

        2. Elder Dog*

          Op’s mom shows up to take OP out for lunch. OP’s boss is leaving for lunch at the same time. OP’s boss says “OP have a nice lunch.” and OP’s mom says “I’m OP’s mom who are you?” This kind of thing requires no stalkerish tendencies on Mom’s part.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            That’s a ton of assumptions to make to try to find the one conceivable way to take it in a non-negative light.

      16. Rusty Shackelford*

        I know there’s really no solution to this issue, beyond asking my boss to refrain from discussing my work with my parents, which will also lead to her viewing me as immature.

        Telling your boss that your parents are intrusive and will ask inappropriate questions, and you’d prefer she not discuss your work or schedule with them, doesn’t make you look immature.

        Your idea of asking your boss to deny your vacation, because you cannot say “no” to your parents? THAT makes you look immature. I mean, I understand why it’s difficult to say no. I’m just saying, asking your boss to lie, instead of asking your boss to stay uninvolved, is not the better choice. At all.

      17. paul*

        I feel like *most* supervisors might view that a bit different than being asked to actively lie/cover up for you.

      18. AKchic*

        Even a “I’m the low man on the totem pole and others have expressed plans for taking time off, to include fun time with their own kids. I’m not going to be a jerk and put a leave request in, knowing that I’d be taking fun away from a little kid”. Flip the guilt script a bit. You’ve had YEARS of listening to guilt trips, turn it back around if you’re so inclined.

      19. Kalamet*

        There isn’t a great answer to this, unfortunately. I don’t know your situation, but I’d recommend you read some Captain Awkward and see if one of the parent scripts works for you (I believe she has a few that are holiday-specific).

        It sounds like you are really searching for an explanation as to why you aren’t staying the whole week. Do you think it would work to simply say “I’m busy” or “I’m not available.”? How would they respond if you said “I just need some me time to decompress from work”?

        I do want to say that you don’t *owe* them an explanation, OP. It may feel like you do, they may wheedle and cajole you for one, but “Sorry, I can’t stay” is a complete answer. How you decide to handle this is dependent on what you want your relationship to look like, though. Just remember: if your parents pitch a fit over their kid deciding how to spend her own Christmas, they are being unreasonable, not you.

        I wish you luck.

      20. JamieS*

        You could just tell your parents you plan to only be home the weekend. End of discussion.

        Yes I know it might be hard to do but you’ve got to start asserting yourself at some point and it’s not going to get easier the longer you walk on eggshells around your parents.

      21. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a bridge that may never appear, so there is no need to risk embarrassing yourself at work by pre-emptively crossing it.

        If your mom drags that bridge into place (or tells you she’s going to), then you give your boss one serious, mortified apology for mom roping boss into family drama. And tell your mom not to discuss your work with anyone you work with–if she starts violating that boundary in any context beyond “Visiting OP, ran into boss at restaurant” you really, really need to set it. But it’s conceivable it doesn’t come up, and your parents gradually adjust to the new normal.

      22. Jesmlet*

        If you just told them “I’m unable to stay longer, I have other things going on” or something equally vague, would they continue to pry? In lieu of that, I agree with everyone else that if you discuss boundaries with your boss, it should be fine and I don’t think it’d reflect negatively.

      23. Augusta Sugarbean*

        I actually think letting your boss know you are trying to extricate yourself from your parents’ control is a sign of maturity. Immaturity would be sitting back and wanting to let this continue. And reading the comments, there are plenty of people who have had to do the same. You know your boss best; s/he might have had the exact same experience and be understanding. Good luck. You are not being a bad son/daughter just because you want to live your own independent life.

      24. Jules the 3rd*

        Actually, asking your boss not to discuss work with your family is not immature. You have a couple of choices on how to play it with your boss:
        Humor (anytime): ‘my parents! SOOOO much drama! I try not to feed the drama llama by not talking over my schedule with them.’ (Good bosses will pick up on the implication that they shouldn’t either)
        Matter-of-fact (sometime when your mom is scheduled): ‘By the way, my parents are fine people, but still struggling with the fact I’m now an adult. Mom’s visiting, and if you run into her, can you not talk about my work or schedule? She may bring up Christmas, when I didn’t spend as much time as she wanted, but while I understand that has nothing to do with you, I still have to get *her* to understand that.’

        Personal conversations don’t lead to ‘OP is immature’ if you, OP, show some awareness of the problem, some ownership, and provide concrete actions the boss can follow. That’s actually very mature, and useful in business projects too. (I manage upwards a *lot* these days)

        I fourth the Captain Awkward recommendation on how to deal with your family. The scripts and thoughts behind them are great. A therapist can also help, and CA’s got links to inexpensive options in many areas.

      25. seejay*

        I don’t know what type of work you do, but for what I do, there’s always the option of extra working from home to enhance my career in the form of studying, extra projects, extra work, etc. While it might be fudging the truth, you could always say you were doing something along those lines in order to advance your career or help the company.

        One of the defense mechanisms I learned as a teenager was being able to lie with a straight face to my mom. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to do, but it made some of the things I needed to manage in life *way* more tolerable. I’m not saying everyone should subscribe to it, but it was one of my coping mechanisms and did help when it came to situations like this.

      26. Creag an Tuire*

        I’ll suggest some language and say “I have a lot of work going on, and I wouldn’t be able to relax if I took such a long break.”

        It’s both technically true and avoids arguments over why you don’t just ask your boss for time off, because, gosh, you could ask but even if you got the days off, you just wouldn’t be able to relax for thinking about all that work waiting for you when you got back.

        The fact that this is because spending time with your parents is less relaxing than coming into the office can remain unsaid. :P

      27. JD*

        Ok, so mom is mad. And? Sounds like she is always some form of mad. So, whatever right. People who want to be unhappy will be unhappy regardless.

        1. seejay*

          Do you realize how difficult, emotionally and mentally draining it is to deal with a toxic parent? It’s not just going “oh well, she’ll be mad and unhappy, let her roll with it”. It’s navigating the years of baggage that also comes with it.

          It’s one thing to shake off someone you might barely know who’s always mad and let them be mad, but a whole other kettle of fish if it’s someone who knows how to push your buttons, emotionally manipulate you, and you have an emotional vested interest in (and have had for 20+ years). You can’t just let that go overnight. It’s a minefield that you’ve taken years to navigate through just to survive and it takes years to break out of the habits because they’re so ingrained.

          1. Grapey*

            I half agree with you. It IS difficult to deal with toxic parents, but holding boundaries and flexing your coping mechanisms really is the only way to get out of it (aside from waiting for them to die, but that doesn’t instill coping mechanisms.)

            “Oh boy, Dad’s gonna get pissy!” is exactly how I had to talk myself out of caring about his attitudes. It definitely did take awhile, and it could only happen once I didn’t need him financially, but I had to repeat to myself that dad was just throwing a toddler temper tantrum and needed to vent. Over time my mind just re-learned to look at my parents as a small scared children when they act unreasonably. (Probably why I don’t want kids – I already have them as parents lol.)

          2. PlainJane*

            It definitely takes time, but getting free of the emotional investment is a long-term goal worth pursuing. It’s amazingly liberating to simply not care if a toxic person gets mad about something. You can sit back and watch the performance (that was the advice a friend got from her therapist), or you can walk out or hang up or delete the email or whatever and go on with your life. And–if it’s bad enough–you can boot them out of your life permanently. No, it isn’t easy, but your own sanity and emotional health is worth it.

            1. PlainJane*

              I forgot one other point. Sometimes when you set boundaries and refuse to tolerate the drama and manipulation, the drama and manipulation stops. Example: one holiday I was home from college, and my father was drunk and got mad at me for doing homework instead of paying attention to him (Yes, really. I may be the only teenager in the history of the known universe to get in trouble for writing a paper.). He told me to leave, so I packed my suitcase and walked out. My mother–who had never stood up to him in any meaningful way through the 17 years of my life to date–packed a bag and walked out with me. That was the last argument my father ever had with either of us–and he stopped drinking too. Now I know it doesn’t always work out that way, but setting boundaries is powerful. Many toxic people can control their behavior when that behavior has undesirable consequences.

        2. Just Another Techie*

          This is where I’m at eighteen years after leaving a toxic, abusive home. And it’s incredibly freeing and I very much hope OP gets there faster than I did.

          But those first few years out, man. It’s dang near impossible to have that kind equanimity when you’re only recently fledged from the nest. And OP has mentioned they are still partially dependent on their parents (health insurance) and enmeshed in other tangible ways (cell phone plan, etc.) So the reality is if mom is mad, mom can really impact OP’s quality of life beyond saying mean things. (And the mean things abusive parents say are legitimately tough to deal with on their own!)

      28. Narise*

        If this situation were to occur althought it seems unlikely, I would tell your mom and your boss that a professor gave advice once that you took to heart. The advice was that you should never ask for time off around the holiday’s the first year you work and possibly not even the first few years. Part of paying dues is working at times when others don’t want to or need time off more than you do. You didn’t request the time off because you didn’t think it was professional being so new.

        FYI part of controlling behavior causes you to play out their reaction to every possible scenario. One day when you stop doing this automatically you will realize you are at least partially free of their interference and control.

      29. Safetykats*

        I’m voting for one I haven’t seen suggested – “I really don’t have enough time off to take the rest of the week.” There are so many reasons that is true: because you’re saving paid time off for another vacation; because it’s a really good idea to have at least enough paid time off banked to get you to the start of short-term disability (in case you have to have surgery, or something); or because you really don’t have the vacation days.

        Your boss, unless he/she is some particular kind of clueless or just not quick on her feet, is not going to have some discussion about this with your mom, even if they do end up in the same location – because it’s none of her business. It should be no different then if another employee confronted her about whether or not she had approved your vacation request – the answer should something like “Thanks for your input, but I can’t really discuss that with you.”

        As someone who grew up in a controlling and sometimes abusive environment, I have one more recommendation. Practice saying “I’m sorry you feel that way. Maybe we can talk about this when you’re feeling better.” I spent years saying that and then hanging up the phone, or saying that and walking out the door when necessary. You don’t have to let your parents control you, but it will take some time to convince them to stop trying. Making yourself available to spend time with them, but only when they are treating you reasonably, is really effective behavior modification if you can do it consistently.

        FYI – I now love in the same town with my family. For years I didn’t – and every time I went home for the holidays I actually stayed in a hotel, or with friends. It wasn’t a popular thing with my parents, but the ability to walk out the door all those years might be part of the reason we still have any relationship at all. You might want to think about it.

      30. Princess Cimorene*

        The only time my mother ever even knew who my boss was, was at my first job when I was 13 and that was because she was a relative of a family friend. But I still was responsible more times than not for getting myself to work (city bus) and cashing my paychecks and managing my time.

        Granted not every family situation is the same, I was fiercely independent and due to other family dynamics that weren’t always the best, I was the kid that didn’t need to be worried about as much, so I was also left to do my own thing a bit.

        That being said, and even though my relationship with my parents is pretty good as an adult, they have never been personally involved in work things when I was employed or work things now that I am working for myself. It would seem incredibly weird as an adult for my parent to even know who my boss was enough to “casually” speak about my work with them.

        You have to work on boundaries! You’re an individual and an adult and you are allowed to have those boundaries. If you need to work with someone to help you establish those (for ex: a therapist) I strongly encourage that! That will help you in the long run (including the anxiety of potential situations like this) and for life.

        Best wishes!

      31. Specialk9*

        Would your family let you get away with a vague statement, or will they grill you and pin you down on the details?

      32. SignalLost*

        Mmm. I’ll defer to wiser heads here, but I think you could come up with some phrasing for your boss that tells her your mother’s questions are an intrusion into your adult life. I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss who would find it appropriate to discuss my work life with my parents, not even when I was still living with them. I would actually say your boss violated a boundary there; half credit for effort might be given if she was caught completely flat-footed by your mother’s question, but otherwise no. You might want to look through the archives and see if there’s relevant language you could use or adapt for your boss – I believe there is a family tag, and I’m sure some searching various keywords would also get results.

    2. Youve Never Met My Mother*

      but what will they do? They’d be in a sort of politeness box. If they voice their doubt in that, they’re implying that you aren’t trustworthy, and I doubt they’d want to do that

      Allow to me to point out from personal experience that a determined parent can say a great deal to get what they want without outright calling their child a liar. Such as:
      – I’m not lying, but I’m obviously mistaken so check again
      – I’m not lying, but I’m obviously not trying hard enough so check again
      – I’m not lying but my boss obviously doesn’t grasp how important family time is, so ask again, and maybe the boss will change their mind this time
      – I’m not lying, but don’t I realize how very important this is?

      All on an endless loop, repeated multiple times apiece in daily conversations. I feel for the OP, because to one of my parents I’m never lying – but my word is never, ever good enough to stop the parental whining. “My boss says no and I’m not risking my job over this” is about the only thing that does stop it.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        Also the kinds of parents who inspire this kind of avoidance and aversion in their offspring often aren’t above outright calling their kid a liar either. :-(

        1. Youve Never Met My Mother*

          Oh, I believe you. I was just responding to the original implication that it couldn’t be that bad and parents couldn’t do anything without outright confronting you. The answers are yes, and so much yes and plenty of them won’t have a problem calling you a liar to your face.

          (I’m going to be reading Captain Awkward’s scripts myself before the holidays)

      2. Youve Never Met My Mother*

        To loop back to the OP’s issue, I hadn’t actually asked the boss to do anything. I just said that to end the whining… but then, my mother and my boss would never meet.

      3. Irene*

        And if I was a “grown-up” about stating outright that I preferred to not spend holiday time with my family because I was too stressed and needed quiet time alone, then I was ruining the holiday for everyone and when I do show up for minimal interaction, I get lectured for not being a good sport and other guilt trips (which add to the stress, and then I get scolded for being in a bad mood). (For what it’s worth, I’m on the autistic spectrum and all the turmoil and sensory stimulation in December has always been a bad fit.)

        I used to beg for closing shifts at the mall on Xmas Eve so that I could have a no-arguments excuse to avoid all of that nonsense, and since I had to go to work on Dec 26, everyone let me mostly spend the 25th quietly, since the mall is a hellscape on Boxing Day. too bad I graduated to a professional job… ;)

        Anyway, my advice to OP is to plan a vacation later in the year that requires those PTO hours specifically so they aren’t available to use at Xmas and to find some kind of event or something that week as well to attend. Double reasons to not extend your home visit and backup for your parents.

      4. zsuzsanna*

        Youdon’tknow…. well, that may be the only thing that will stop it, as long as you allow parent to continue to run your life. I know it’s hard, honest. But at some point you have to say, I will not let this person keep manipulating me to get what s/he wants because I’m afraid of a whine-fest. So you say, mom, I’m not able to send the entire week here. I’m sorry that disappoints you. But I need you to let it go, or I will not come at all, and I don’t think either one of us wants that. If she calls and starts to harangue/cry/whatever, say, mom, I’ve told you I don’t respond to this. Let it go or we need to end this conversation. And if she continues, you say, OK, mom, I’m getting off the phone now. Bye! And if she calls again, definitely pick up and talk again – but AGAIN, if she starts, repeat: I am getting off the phone now. Good-bye!
        No one can take advantage of you that way (military dictatorships aside) unless you let them. DON’T let them.

        1. JD*

          This is my point. Why spend any time if it is that bad. Don’t go at all. Block the phone number. Growing, at any stage in life, involves not allowing negative (that you have control over, and you have control over not seeing someone) people in your life. It sucks when it is family, a lot, but not as much as being so distraught you are putting your professional future on the line by having your boss play games. No one has to agree with me, that is fine but this is my opinion. Time to cut the cord. Don’t go at all. Go volunteer those days, do something to help those who are in need, not those who are manipulative.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Although I agree with your overall point, I think it’s important to note that it can take quite a while for a child to break off or limit their relationship with an emotionally abusive parent (I’m using that phrasing because OP suggests that their mother engages in emotionally abusive and manipulative behavior). This is true for other forms of domestic violence, as well—it takes someone multiple attempts to “leave” before they can make a clean break.

            It sounds like OP has taken the first steps toward reinforcing boundaries and extricating themselves from their mother’s twisted universe. I’m inclined to help OP shore up those efforts so that OP has the time and space to determine how much distance OP wants.

      5. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yup. To this day, I will not comment to any parents of teenagers that “oh hai, I saw your daughter at Target yesterday” or whatever. No matter how innocuous it may seem to me, just in case the parents are controlling and the kid is going to be in huge trouble for going to Target. I’m sure that sounds strange to people who didn’t grow up this way, but these offhand comments from casual acquaintances can set off all kinds of sh*tstorms they would never knowingly have created. It’s not that hard to chit-chat about the weather or the new iPhone or literally anything else other than their kid’s whereabouts.

        1. Jana Appleseed*

          Child of controlling parents, I do the same re: my sister. “Oh, looks like Janine had fun on her vacation!” Nope.

          1. the gold digger*

            Me to my sister in law: “Please don’t tell Sly and Doris that Primo and I are in Colorado for my mom’s birthday.”

            How did I know to do this? Because when we went to the funeral of the father of Primo’s best friend, his mom and dad got angry.

            Better just not to tell them things.

        2. Specialk9*

          Thanks for the heads up. My experience with abuse was in marriage, so I had no idea that was a thing with parents. Marking a very strong mental note!

  3. Dawn*

    OP, Captain Awkward has a ton of great scripts for dealing with rocky family situations, and I know Ask a Manager has recommended her site before (and vice-versa!).

    Additionally, you have a great built-in reason for “not being able to take that time off”- you’re a new hire to the company. Plenty of companies do Holiday time off according to seniority, so as one of the newest hires it wouldn’t be odd at all for you to not be granted any Holiday leave.

    1. Murphy*

      This is what I was going to say. Being new makes it more plausible that you really can’t get the time off.

    2. INTP*

      Yep. You can say something like “you can’t request that week as a new hire” and your parents never need to know that you’re speaking in terms of general office norms and not a specific policy at your company. Or “Several people with seniority already have that week off” because that’s almost certainly true.

      (Of course OP CAN say whatever she wants to her family, complete fabrication or lie by omission or anything else, I’m just assuming that she has some sort of mental block against flat-out lying to them to have asked this question in the first place, so a half-truth might be a lot easier to say than a complete lie.)

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        It sounds like not so much as a mental block as a concern that their parents will bump into the boss and mention it. Which apparently has happened before. So they would like to avoid straight-out lying out of fear that later on, their story won’t match the boss’s.

    3. Eva*

      Exactly this. When I first moved away from home, I didn’t want to go home for a long holiday for other reasons (the stress of travel mostly, my family is fine, I was just tired) and to avoid any drama and keep from having to say “you guys are great, just exhausting” I just said I couldn’t get the time off work.

      I have no idea if I could have or not because I didn’t ask, but it was highly likely I couldn’t. I was new, requests were done by seniority, and usually made months in advance so I couldn’t have been at the front of the queue if I’d wanted to because I hadn’t been working there that long. It was very clear from the way people talked that holiday vacation time was at a premium and people would fight over it if it came to that, so I just didn’t get involved.

      Plus it helped me get a longer vacation during a different holiday later, because I could say “hey, I’ve worked X, Y, and Z holidays so far, could I get this one maybe? You know I’ll cover you on the next one.” But then that kind of arrangement works best in retail where people can trade days off with each other without involving management.

    4. MicroManagered*

      you have a great built-in reason for “not being able to take that time off”- you’re a new hire to the company.

      Exactly what I was going to say. I’ve worked plenty of places where people figured out who would get what days off around holidays several months in advance, and when I was new, it was all said and done before I started. Easy, understandable, and very possibly already true but OP doesn’t know it.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes, I was going to say this! In pretty much every office I’ve ever worked in, volunteering to spend even some of the holiday season at work goes down really really well.

      2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        Yes to volunteering. I volunteered for all the holidays before I had my own kids. I always had to work during family events. It was fantastic and it meant that I could get time off that I actually wanted because I had covered all the holidays.

  4. Cait*

    OP, you are an adult and the awesome thing about adulting is you get to make your own decisions, such as how to use your vacation time.

    You CAN refuse to stay at their home. Truly, honestly, can make that decision. You don’t need anyone’s permission except your own.

    Your parents only have the power over you that you give them. You are not a child, you don’t live under their roof, you (I assume) pay your own bills. You can say no. If they throw a tantrum, you hang up / leave / disengage.

    Asking your boss to get in some weird middle ground is an immature avoidance tactic. You need to own your personal life and keep that drama far away from work.

    1. BBBizAnalyst*

      The best part about becoming an adult is making the decision to do what you want when it comes to familial relationships. I realized in my mid-20s that I didn’t have to waste my vacation days and have a terrible time going home for the holidays so now I don’t.

      Hopefully, that happens for you soon OP. Don’t involve your manager in this.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yes, this was so freeing for me – my parents are mostly great, I love them, but even so they’re big on guilt and faaaaaamily at the holidays, and I want to be able to use my vacation time as I see fit. Being able to set boundaries and decide how to use my own time was just so awesome.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          And least in my case it was always funny how they’re so big about faaaaaaamily for the holidays on our end, but suddenly when we start suggesting ways that they could come visit us in our new location there are excuses and reasons why they can’t do that.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            Oh my goodness, this! Drives me and my SO nuts.

            (my parents are excellent with boundaries but I def get crap when I haven’t seen them in a month or so when we live 2 hours apart… you can drive 2 hours too, guys!)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Second half of this:
      “Now, now, don’t start that guilt stuff. If you do I will decide now not to come next year also.”

      OP, the reason she is raining down on you is because you now how power over your own life. Yes, she is going to get worse because she is scared crapless that you will refuse to see her ever. So she is going to make sure she strong arms you into doing what she wants.

      1. Specialk9*

        Some people will gladly choose ‘never’ if they can’t have complete control, and then they’ll revel in their righteous indignation like a dog rolling in a dead squirrel.

  5. MuseumChick*

    No don’t do this! As Alison said, you will make yourself look like a kid. Is there any reason you cannot tell your parents, “Sorry, I’m needed at work. Big project coming down the pipe.”

    Don’t pull other people into your person business (especially your boss!) unless there is some kind of extreme situation where it is unavoidable.

  6. Aphrodite*

    Telling your parents “no” is only hard the first time, OP. It gets easier as you learn to stand up for yourself. You don’t need to lie to them if that is important to you. The most straightforward way is to just say “no” without adding a reason (without, if you will JADEing or justifying, arguing, defending, explaining). It can and is polite and if it is firm they are in the wrong if they continue to push you. The reason not to JADE is that any explanation will, with those who push boundaries, just give them reasons you can do what they want, That’s not best. Don’t leave any negotiating room.

    Once you have said it, however, it will get easier in future years. It really will. Gather up your courage and do it. You have the right to have the holidays be the way YOU want.

    1. Snark*

      And it’s really that simple, in healthy parent-adult child relationships. “Hey, Snark, do you want to do the thing with us?” “Oh, sorry, Mama Snark, I need to work that week, but have lots of fun doing the thing,” and it’s done. You do not need to build a Federal case for needing to work that week.

      “Sorry, nope, need to work.”

      “WHARGARBL don’t you love us it’s the most magical time of the yearrrr”

      “Of course I love you, but I actually need to work that week. I’ll be looking forward to spending the holiday with you? OKAYLOVEYOUBYE.”

      1. Birch*

        Yes, this! and importantly, keep the answer concise and consistent! People (not only naggy parents) will break you down if you present 100 small reasons not to attend the thing. All you need is one reason, even if the naggy people don’t think it’s good enough. You don’t owe them an explanation!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is a good point–nothing shouts “made-up excuse” like having a growing list of unrelated reasons why X isn’t possible, which your opponent seeks to wear down one by one.

        2. Mutt*

          Yup. And just speaking from personal experience, you might find it enlightening to examine all of your relationships across the board to see the dynamics. Even if you are “aware” of the issue, you still may find yourself not even recognizing it happening!

          For example, my first boss was an aggressive boundary-violator, but I didn’t even realize it because that’s just how life was, you know? Looking back, I am gobsmacked at some of the stuff, but I never even batted an eye back then. Then of course, I made excuses for all the red flags my boyfriend/fiancé/husband/ex waved right in my face. Then after I FINALLY got free of him and took 2 years to recover, what’d I do? Go find a boyfriend I’ve been dating for the last 4 months or so…which I’m slowly starting to see…maybe he’s shaking out some red flags too? *sigh*. I think it will be a constant battle for the rest of my life, but once Captain Awkward did such an amazing job explaining things, it’s something I really try to watch for. At least I caught this one in 4 months, instead of the decade w the ex. Ugh.

          All this to say, maybe getting some tools in your bag for how to interact with folks like this will help you not only in your personal life, but also your professional one. Just look at this site for examples of all the coworkers and bosses that violate boundaries without a second thought. Combine that with people like me who have an INCREDIBLY difficult advocating for themselves (Wanna raise? Promotion? Really want to work on ABC Account? Yes? Speak up about it!), and you have a problem.

          Also, if you find yourself having anxiety about this, might try to nip it in the bud now as opposed to later – it can impact your performance at work (ask me how I know). I ended up having to mute any alerts from my ex husband bc he’d trained me to respond the second he yanked on my leash, which took away my ability to focus and ultimately ended up in panic attacks before I gave myself permission to mute all alerts (including vm). Then when you respond, only respond to the nice things you want to, but never JADE (as defined above), as I’m sure you’ve experienced many times before it just doesn’t work with people who are actively looking for ways to tell you you’re wrong and you suck.

          Good luck, OP. You have a bit of a hill to climb here, but it CAN be done, and it can be done respectfully (I truly love my parents and they have given me SO MUCH. It has taken me a very long time to learn how to draw boundaries, and sometimes its still hard, but now I can be loving yet firm in shoring up those boundaries. Funny, my relationship with my family is SO MUCH BETTER now.

          YOU GOT THIS, OP. Read Captain Awkward for some great tools, and make sure to read the comments on her posts for even more.

        3. One of the Sarahs*

          Co-signing this. Keep it simple!

          “I’m sorry, I need to work that week”
          “But WHY?/But surely family is more important?”
          “I need to be in the office”

          If she tries the “I’ll call your boss and explain”, don’t worry about that – go with something like “That won’t make a difference”.

          It might help you to borrow a friend (or better, a therapist if you have access to one) and role-playing how the conversation might go. You can practice being firm, keeping your answers minimal, and importantly, not getting into pretending you wish you could go and so on. Or just practice saying “I need to be in the office that week” out loud, over and over. It’ll make it easier when you’re in the moment.

    2. Specialk9*

      “Telling your parents “no” is only hard the first time, OP.”
      I come from an imperfect but emotionally healthy and loving family… And every ‘no’ and every ‘I’m having feelings about this’ conversation is really hard for me. I have to practice and steel myself up, and gird myself for battle. It’s doable to have those hard conversations, and to set boundaries and defend them like the kingdom is at stake… But it’s never easy for me. So if the OP is more like drying concrete like me, than a suit of armor, that’s ok too. :D

  7. bunniferous*

    Just tell them you need to work. That is not a lie. You need to work because that gets you beck to YOUR apartment sooner (plus there may be coworkers you are covering for.)

    I understand not wanting to get into the argument loop. Those that do not deal with these issues may not realize how totally draining and exhausting these are. But this is good practice for you to learn boundary setting. Trust me , that comes in handy!!!

    1. bunniferous*

      You did not mention this, but it is a best idea to make sure you are in charge of the transportation situation.

      1. Helpful Curmudgeon*

        The transportation thing is a particularly good point. Get ahead of the potential “Well, we can’t drive you, so you’ll just have to stay” argument by lining up backup options ahead of time. Google Map public transit routes to the airport (or whatever). Have both Lyft and Uber fired up and ready to go on your phone. No one can make you stay.

          1. Lance*

            Very much this. OP, if you choose to visit your parents after all (and bear in mind, no matter what they say, you’re under no obligation to one way or another), handle everything yourself. Give them as little control or input over anything as possible, so that you can have your own personal freedom.

          2. Eva*

            YES, this is very important. I know so, so many people who are financially beholden to troublesome parents in one way or another, and that is almost always the main reason they can’t stand up for themselves or break free.

            Don’t let them be financially responsible for your trip in any way if you can help it, because that _does_ give them power (real or perceived) over the planning of the trip. It’s like a wedding that way, or when you live with somebody they can tell you to be home by a certain time. Yeah, it’d be great if adults were better to each other, but the easiest way to cut controlling strings is to make sure you cut all the financial ones first.

            1. Cactus*

              Yes and work on getting financially free from said parents. Although I don’t dislike my parents; I feel I grew up in their eyes when I started paying for my own cell plan, ins etc. You will feel better too!

            2. Chickpea*

              Oh my goodness, THIS.

              There is not enough money in the world to make it worth giving a boundary violator that much control.

        1. Rainy*

          I figured out pretty quickly to never, never let anyone else be in charge of my transpo when I was visiting my parents. My mother is considerably worse-behaved when I’m trapped–she retains a certain amount of of politesse when I have my own transport, because of the time I walked calmly out of their house with just my handbag, got in my car, and drove six hours back to my home. When I got a voicemail about the bag I’d left there I told them to throw it away; there was nothing there I couldn’t replace.

    2. Christy*

      Yeah, you need to work because you don’t have leave for those days (because you didn’t request leave).

    3. Steph B*

      Yeah, and I can say from personal experience that setting the boundaries now can help later if/when you have a family and suddenly have to balance in-laws / parents and your family’s interest. I’m dealing with holiday travel planning right now and it is pretty much my least favorite part of this time of year, since boundary lines, when not tended, often can have a tendency to expand like noxious weeds when grandchildren are involved. :|

      1. Snark*

        Yes indeed they can. Just this summer, I found it really hard to say no when my parents were like, “Oh hey you’re going to [city] for wedding, that’s so close to [cool destinations,] let’s all caravan up there and we’ll cover a rental cabin and take care of Snarkling when you’re at the wedding! YAY SO MUCH FUN”

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          It all depends on the families. I would *totally* do that with my folks, but we’ve managed multiple successful vacations in each others’ presence or general vicinity over the years. This past summer we were all in Paris in the same week. We saw each other at least five times including two dinners but didn’t get unhappy that we weren’t in each others’ pockets, and were doing different things some days. It was awesome, but I know it is very very unusual.

          1. Snark*

            Sure, and it was fine, but I could have pushed back against the “oh hey your plans are now our plans” and I didn’t.

      2. Mutt*

        Yeah, boundaries sure would have heled me out when my inlaws came to visit…4 adults and 5 kids, fine. We’d planned on that! …but the other 12 kids (friends of her kids) they brought with them were a bit of a surprise. Literally, my mouth was hanging open as they were emerging from the minivan like it was a clown car. And yes, that was the first I’d head of this. And yes, they planned to stay the night. And no, no one thought about dinner for a dozen extra starving preteens. Or you know, room? (Because it’s kind of a huge jump to go from 11 humans to 23 humans. I’m getting pissed all over again. Argh!)

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          yeah, wow, no. Part of how vacations together can work is to limit surprises, and if you have a surprise, make sure it doesn’t cause more expense or work for the rest of the crew!


          1. Mutt*

            Yes, TWELVE! And they acted like I was the one off base and it was really “not a big deal” to spring 12 extra people on someone for a surprise tween lock-in, basically, and oh yeah have them pay for everything too.

            They had over 12 hours to ASK us since they were driving from Missouri, but knew I’d say no, so they just didn’t ask. And they didn’t ask for forgiveness either.
            I am so, SO glad they are EX-family, bc that was only about a 50% on the bad-boundary-meter.

            1. Mutt*

              Allow me to clarify my entire point here: OP, it sounds like you’re just beginning your journey as an individual (instead of you-are-my-daughter-and-you-will-do-as-I-say).

              Now that you’re “free” of your parents’ constant supervision, you might take some time to develop strategies for when you are faced with the same behavior in others. People like me, who could not say No, are targeted by people who control and take advantage of the targrt’s lack of self-respect, bc that’s what it boils down to in the end. I respected rules others set for me more than I respected myself, because that’s what I was taught from
              birth. You might see many opportunities slip away because you stepped back when someone else pushed a little, you know?

              1. Specialk9*

                “I respected rules others set for me more than I respected myself, because that’s what I was taught from birth.”

                OP, this right here.

                You are the ultimate authority on your life. You get to put your own adult happiness and health above your family’s. It may well take years of therapy and affirmation that you are worthy, and that good people can still say NO… But you can get there. You can build a life in which you set up emotionally healthy frameworks and don’t pass down the dysfunction.

        2. Specialk9*

          I’m laughing helplessly imagining the DOZEN random teenagers emerging from the car (schoolbus? City bus?!) and the adults involved thinking you could feed and accommodate all of them on top of 9 house guests… But it’s a painful and very sympathetic laughter! What on earth did you do?!

  8. TCO*

    “They’ll try to make the unilateral decision about my vacation time so I can’t really just flat-out refuse to stay home if it’s an option.”

    OP, you actually can just flat-out refuse to stay home. You’re an independent adult and you get to do what you want with your time. It doesn’t sound like your family has earned the right for your extra time. Spend four days with them and then save the rest of your vacation time for something you actually want to do.

    It sounds like this is a new phase of your life, and separating from an overbearing family can be really tough. I’d suggest accessing counseling, perhaps through your Employee Assistance Program or your health insurance, to coach you through this transition and help you establish new boundaries as an adult. There is nothing wrong with you at all, but a trained professional can be a really helpful advocate at a time like this. As you set new boundaries your family members are likely to react poorly, and a counselor can help you anticipate and manage their behavior.

    Good luck!

    1. Anonymous and Loving It*

      I think the counseling idea is great. The OP would benefit from some guidance and support around asserting boundaries with her family. After reading her second post, in which she says her mom spoke once with her boss and she’s afraid her mom might do that again, and then about how she’s hesitant to ask her boss not to discuss her work with her mom, it sounds as if she’s pretty confused about this issue. If she comes from an abusive or controlling family, she needs some help developing healthy boundary-setting practices, and some support in dealing with the emotional blow-back she’s likely to get on her first time at bat setting those boundaries. I hope the OP takes your advice. It will make her life easier, not just in this particular situation, but going forward.

      I wish the OP well. OP, you have adult work and life responsibilities now. So I what I wish for you is the ability to insist upon and enjoy the wonderful personal freedom that comes along with those adult responsibilities.

  9. Snark*

    “Please don’t pay attention to how the car was obviously run into a brick wall at speed, I just need suggestions on fixing the annoying rattle from the glove box.”

    Uh, well, OP, okay. I think you need to cancel your PTO request for the whole week, tell your parents that you need to get back and work on an important project, and stick to your guns on that. It’s true as far as it goes, which is true enough for your purposes. You will lose an incredible amount of credibility with your boss if you try to fob off your boundary-setting on them, and they will quite rightly have zero interest in playing the game.

    And at the risk of delving into all that damage to the front end, your parents cannot actually “unilaterally” make the decision that you stay for the whole week. You can, and should, refuse to stay home if that’s what you need to do. You can go home, stay for three days, and then take an Uber back to the airport. That is actually a thing you can reasonably do.

    1. Decimus*

      Yes. You have control of your life, and your parents don’t get a vote.

      This reminds me of something we did when my wife and I married – we really, really didn’t want to travel for Thanksgiving because it’s one of the few holidays my wife has where she gets enough time off to rest. So – we didn’t. We just told our relatives we’d visit them on all OTHER holidays, and they had a permanent invitation (with notice) to visit US for Thanksgiving, but on Thanksgiving we weren’t going anywhere.

      This worked out perfectly fine for us. Apparently my wife mentioned this decision to her co-workers and got back the amazed “You can do that?”

      Yes. Yes you can.

      1. Red 5*

        That’s how we operate. It helps that neither of us really wants to do anything for Thanksgiving in general, but when we got married we decided we just weren’t doing it. So we declared that Thanksgiving was for “our family we’re building together” and that Christmas was for extended family. And we just told everybody that. Our parents understood immediately, because we’ve got good parents. But I’ve had so many co-workers and friends that say they just don’t know how we can do it, they could never do that, etc.

        We just did. We were clear about what we were doing, and we stuck with it. Worked out great. But again, we have great parents.

        1. Anna*

          Yep. We just started saying, “Oh, we’re not traveling for [insert holiday]. We’re going to stay home.” And I like both my family and my husband’s family; I just don’t necessarily want to drive 3 hours one direction or 4 the other direction to spend a holiday with them.

      2. Temperance*

        Booth and I accidentally did this while I was in law school. His parents are divorced, and we had traditionally spent Thanksgiving with his dad’s family. It was a long drive (4.5 hours EACH WAY), and because of family dynamics, my mother would throw a temper tantrum about being “punished because of their divorce” because they apparently got “more” holidays, and my MIL would just decide to reschedule her Thanksgiving for Saturday night.

        The effect of this was that we ended up out of our house from Wednesday through Sunday. We didn’t enjoy it, because everyone was nasty about the fact that we had other places to be (except Booth’s aunt, she’s lovely) and other people wanted to see us. We ended up driving a ton and exhausted after this alleged vacation. I refused during law school because that weekend is prime outlining time.

        It ended up being so much fun for us, that we just opted out altogether.

        1. Kj*

          Yep. The husband and I don’t travel for Thanksgiving. Ever. We are far from your families, flying is terrible then, so we don’t. Everyone is over it by now. It was year of “what do you mean you won’t be here for thanksgiving?” but now we don’t get questions about it. We are talking about kids and at that point, I’m not flying for Christmas either- everyone can come here, or we will see them in the spring or summer.

      3. InfoSec SemiPro*

        Mr. SemiPro and I declared Christmas to be our home holiday, with the open invite for people to come to us.

        December in the Northeast means Christmas is the holiday most likely to result in getting stranded in an airport, the travel is awful at the best of times, and long holiday plans mean we were missing Christmas and New Years with friends. We show up for the big family bashes on thanksgiving and easter. We started by giving lots (a year plus) warning about the change, so that the push back happened absurdly early, when no one believed we would really start *Skipping Christmas?!?!* and by the time the first Christmas in our own home happened, it was ancient news that we weren’t going to make the trek.

        OP, you can do this too. Tell your parents this year that with the new job and travel, you’re planning to try out staying home in 2018. Let them freak out about it while you can say “Let’s really enjoy this year, okay?” and then when we get to Halloween ’18, you just don’t buy any plane tickets and don’t take any time off.

      4. The Other Katie*

        Yup. After a few years of trying to juggle holidays in different countries with a desperate desire to just stay home, I decided unilaterally that plane tickets were far too expensive at Christmas and I couldn’t afford it. So now we stay home. It’s great.

  10. L*

    I think a referral to Captain Awkward is in order — there you’ll find a lot of scripts for setting boundaries and saying no to family members. I agree that’s really what’s needed here. Easier said across the internet than done I know, but there’s no other way that doesn’t involve lying and/or making yourself look immature to your boss. If that’s not possible for some reason, I would say just straight-out lie and say your vacation was denied without actually involving your boss. Think about it this way — how many years will you ask your boss to “deny” your vacation? How would that reflect on you when you hit 25-30?

  11. Christy*

    The thing to remember is that if you’re economically independent, your parents don’t actually have any power here. They certainly had power when you were a kid and when you were in college, but they don’t anymore. They don’t know your boss. They don’t see your leave calendar at work. They have no way of knowing if you actually have off or not.

    And two other small things–you don’t have to go home for Christmas at all do you don’t want to (doesn’t sound like much fun) and I’d recommend telling your parents less in general about your life. Give them shorter answers to questions, and redirect the conversation to them whenever possible. And call the less/answer their calls less. I know what I’m describing probably sounds impossible but I promise you it is.

    1. Lynca*

      Depending on the family situation- might be more fun to stay home. My family goes through huge mental breakdowns during the holidays because of past deaths, their own situations, etc. They literally suck the fun out of the room from November until January.

      I’d rather have a peaceful day to myself than to deal with the drama.

    2. Pearly Girl*

      Yes! OP, you are an adult. You moved to a different state, started a life and a job and presumably manage those things well.

      Now it’s time to slowly but surely assert your adulthood in view of your parents, who are not allowed to make decisions for you anymore. You decide what’s best for you. And you will have to begin communicating that and sticking with it.

      I too recommend Captain Awkward for scripts on this. You can do it — and really, you’ll be so much happier controlling your own life!

    3. Lil Fidget*

      Grown children in families like this remind me of the way we train large animals – they learn as babies that they can’t step over certain barriers, and then they always believe they can’t do it.
      Your parent’s power over you, once you’re an independent adult, is pretty much only in your mind.

      1. PlainJane*

        “Your parent’s power over you, once you’re an independent adult, is pretty much only in your mind.” This should be on a t-shirt, a bumper sticker, and maybe a 10-foot mural in the living room. So many people would be so much happier if they internalized this message.

  12. A person*

    Just tell your parents as the new person at work, you are providing coverage at the office for the holidays so others can take the time off.

    And then work on asserting your independence and setting boundaries with your family over the next year so you don’t have to make up excuses next time.

    1. ket*

      To be really clear, you can volunteer to work. You don’t need to tell your boss why. My spouse has volunteered to cover shifts to get out of sticky family situations.

      Answers to “Can’t he get that time off?”

      “Everyone needs to pay their dues.” “He hasn’t done Christmas in a while and it’s only fair to rotate.” “He’s got to set a good example.” “Sometimes you just get the short end of the stick! So sorry we can’t come!”

      1. Eva*

        Yup, I mentioned this in a comment above, but I’ve done this at a couple jobs in order to avoid extended family functions I didn’t feel like bothering with. It’s great leverage at work for when you do want time off, because in the end, there’s usually somebody who doesn’t celebrate/want to celebrate that holiday so as long as everybody is equitable about it, it works out.

        And “I’m needed at the office” can mean “I’m needed because I told Bob I’d cover those days so he could go visit his out of state relatives because he hasn’t seen them in a while and he’s worked the last three Christmases.” Just with less detail.

        1. ket*

          Exactly — the side benefit is helping out coworkers who do want those days/times off, and building up goodwill and time off for later!

  13. Anon for this one*

    I really fell sorry for you and I can fully understand where you are coming from. If the family is that bad, your mental health is worth lying to your parents. I know it is tough but you can do it. You can say that you have to work. Saying you have to work doesn’t necessarily mean that you couldn’t get the time off. It could mean that you have so much work to do, that you can’t afford to take the time off. Good Luck with it and know that I have a pretty good idea of how you feel.

  14. Namelesscommentator*

    What about saying to your parents “I don’t feel comfortable asking for time off during the holidays when I’m still so new because coverage can be tight. I’ll see you for Christmas but can’t make an extended trip right now.”

    Not as much of a lie, but it doesn’t involve your boss actively participating.

    1. OP*

      Thank you!! I commented above, explaining that I am worried about my parents (socially, so it won’t read to my boss as intrusive) discussing my inability to take those days off. This might be a way I can go.

      1. Eva*

        Are you worried your parents will call up your boss and/or discuss this with him directly? Or that they’ll mention it to their friend A who mentions it to B who is friends with your boss?

        That is a slightly different story, and I can see how that would involve getting caught up in a lie if your parents are willing to go that far or if the social networks are that intertwined. I think that’s actually usually a case for the less detail the better. The more complicated the story, the more weak spots it has. But leaning on being new I think is reasonable, and isn’t a lie at all.

        If you’re worried about your parents actually calling your boss or engaging with somebody you work with, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. But a socially connected rumor mill shouldn’t end up too badly if you just stick with the facts, you’re new, you need to work.

      2. hbc*

        How likely is this to happen again? If the meeting wasn’t a one-off coincidence and your parents are likely to be all “What kind of sweatshop are you running?”, then maybe you actually *do* need to talk to your boss. Not to ask her to go through some fiction and then lie to your mom, but to let her know that you’d appreciate her keeping your schedule private.

        As a manager, there’s a whole lot of things I’d be more comfortable being told to keep private than be willing to actively lie about. No go: “We don’t let new people have time off at the holidays.” Fine: “I don’t go into specifics about requests with anyone but affected employees, but in general I think we have good policies around vacation time.” Definitely don’t make me be the bad guy for someone I know socially.

        Then come up with the most generic and truthful statements you can for your parents. “I talked with her about vacation time, but this is the best schedule for everyone.” “I’d rather let some people who didn’t live with their family so recently get a chance to go home.” “I think it’ll be better for my standing if I just work those days.” Something that, should it come back to your boss from your parents, she wouldn’t feel stuck between lying and outing you.

      3. paul*

        OP, it sounds like you need to work on establishing adult boundaries with your parents. If you were raised in a controlling or presumptive environment–or if you’re just socially anxious–that may take time and professional assistance, but it’s not good to be this worried about this sort of thing. Life gets better when you learn to say no.

      4. Luna*

        I’m still confused about why you are worried about this when you live and work in a different state. If you think your mom will accidentally-on-purpose run into your boss the next time she is visiting you, then you might give your boss a heads up next time she is in town. Not about lying about anything in particular, but just to ask your boss not to discuss work-related issues in general should that situation arise.

      5. Just Another Techie*

        I saw your comments above. I am 99.999999% certain your boss thought that first conversation with your mom was *very weird.* If your mom did try to discuss your inability to take those days off, your boss will almost certainly put two and two together and come up with “absurd controlling helicopter parent.” It would not at all be unreasonable, the next time your mom visits, to matter of factly mention to your boss “My mother is visiting me this week, and she has a bad habit of trying to pry into my work affairs. I just wanted to give you a heads up, in case she runs into you again, that I used work as an excuse for not taking a longer break at Christmas.” Your boss will understand and be sympathetic.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I agree. I see your parents have skewed your perception of what is “normal” and “social,” but trust me, someone you’ve never met walking up to you outside of your workplace and saying “Oh, I’m OP’s mom, and I recognize you as her boss?” No one’s going to consider that a normal social interaction. Your boss probably already realizes how intrusive she is.

      6. Bagpuss*

        The other thing that occurs to me is that even of your mum does speak to your boss, boss wouldn’t necessarily discuss anything with her in any but the most generic terms. If a member of one of my employees’ families spoke to me, I would be polite but I wouldn’t discuss any detail about the employee’s work patterns or time off – and if the family member brought it up, I’d probably stick to very generic comments (e.g. “There’s always a lot of demand for time off around Christmas” rather than “OP didn’t ask for that time”)

        However, I agree with those saying that a conversation with the boss to let her know that your parents may inappropriately try to open conversations about your working patterns / vacations would be fine, and (unlike asking her to lie) wouldn’t make you appear immature or weak.

        Good luck.

      7. Close Bracket*

        OP, while you are rehearsing scripts for your family, also come up with some scripts for the possibility that you tell your boss that your family has poor boundaries and *she* comes back with “But FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMILY!” All sorts of people have poor boundaries, and sometimes those people are bosses.

      8. Not So NewReader*

        OP, I hope you can find a way to turn the tables here.

        I like to do worst case scenario. So let’s think of a situation where mom calls boss, boss explains you have the time off.

        You: Mom, you did what?
        Mom: I called your boss and you have the time off.
        You: Mom that is so far over the line and so unacceptable. I will not be able to join you for the holiday. You are never, ever again under any circumstances to call my boss.
        Mom: but-but-but.
        You: No, Mom, I am now a fellow adult. You have crossed a boundary with a fellow adult. I am hanging up now, mom. Good night.

    2. FYI*

      I totally disagree with the “I’m too new to ask for time off” thing. It doesn’t address the actual problem, which is that OP has the right to do whatever the heck he wants to do with his time. Making excuses just reinforces that he has to somehow account for his whereabouts to his parents. No. Start standing up now. Any excuses just makes it all the more difficult later (plus you have to keep track of your excuses).

      1. Namelesscommentator*

        But this allows her to use the time as she wants – without causing a familial meltdown.

        It’d be great if she could be 100% truthful – but sometimes a small lie keeps the peace. This also does begin to claim her own agency by leaving the possibility that she could ask for the time, but she’s choosing not to. Primes then to see her as an adult who makes her own decisions. Sometimes it’s easier to start with a “work over you” decision before a “me over you” decision.

        1. echidna*

          I’m in the camp with FYI – if the OP’s family is anything like mine was, giving any type of reason (true or otherwise) just invites suspicion. The small lie does not keep the peace. Paraphrasing Captain Awkward: reasons only work with reasonable people. The OP’s mother is not reasonable.

  15. Anon for This*

    There is no need to get your boss involved. Just tell your parents that you can’t get the time off. They don’t need to know that you didn’t even request it off.

    However, I have had my boss involved once in my life. At one point my mother used to call my office on a regular basis asking me to drop everything to either pick her up from an appointment or to babysit her (or whatever stupid reason she came up with next). It was becoming a weekly thing, and while I’d tell my mother no, she would start sharing her pity party with other staff members in the office. It got to be very uncomfortable. My boss did help in that situation. She worked with HR to get our front desk to screen out and block those phone calls.

  16. Anonymous and Loving It*

    “They’ll try to make the unilateral decision about my vacation time so I can’t really just flat-out refuse to stay home if it’s an option.”

    That’s your problem, right there. Regardless of their attempt to make a unilateral decision, you CAN just flat-out refuse to stay home whether it’s an option or not.

    But you don’t have to “flat-out refuse.” You can, of course. But you can also tell your parents you can’t get the time off. You can tell them you’ve already made other plans. You can tell them any number of things that all boil down to you saying you won’t be spending the week with them.

    I want to be clear about one thing: I personally don’t see anything wrong with a social smoother white lie. In some situations, I don’t want to be blunt because I know it will be pointlessly hurtful. So I lie a little: “Sorry, I’ve already made other plans” (those plans may be to stay home and do nothing). “I can’t get the time off from work” (because I haven’t asked for it). Etc.

    You’re an adult now. You are not bound by your parents’ attempts to control your time. Really, you’re not. You have the right to say no, in whatever fashion you think will work best. With practice, it will get easier for you to say no to their control attempts and yes to your own desires. And, with practice, your parents may learn NOT to try to control your time, because they will learn from past experiences with you that such attempts will not work.

    1. MicroManagered*

      So I lie a little: “Sorry, I’ve already made other plans” (those plans may be to stay home and do nothing). “I can’t get the time off from work” (because I haven’t asked for it). Etc.

      These are not lies, though. I think they’re lies if we presuppose that OP must spend the entire week of Christmas at home with her parents unless some “act of god” makes it impossible, then yes, these are lies. I think therein lies the problem. That’s what she thinks. Probably because her parents taught her that thinking. The lie is in that thinking.

      OP needs to recognize that not wanting to spend the entire week (and the following weekend, I’m sure!) at home is reason enough. “I can’t” because “I don’t want to” is just as valid as “I can’t” because “my boss won’t let me!”

      But to your larger point–I agree. I am not against a lie-of-omission when the truth is unnecessarily hurtful. It’s not necessary to put in “because I absolutely can’t stand the idea of spending that much time with you” and is probably likely to inflame whatever caused OP to feel that way in the first place!

      1. Specialk9*

        You hit on something really important here.

        The important lie in this scenario is not OP making vacation excuses, the lie is in the lifelong control and manipulation by the parents.

        That’s powerful. There’s something very freeing for you in that, OP.

  17. Bibliovore*

    I get that the home situation is complicated. This is not a work thing. This is a life thing. Do not involve your supervisor.
    State to your family the days that you will be home.
    All responses to Why can’t you stay longer should be met with.
    These are the days I will be home.
    These are the days I have available to be home.
    Why don’t you ask? It doesn’t hurt to ask?
    These are the days I will be home.
    These are the days I have available to be home.
    No is a complete sentence.
    And if you are going to take a few more days off, being in your own home is your right as a human being.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      And if they give you a hard time, then maybe you say, “I’m sorry, did I say four days? I meant three days.” And enforce by getting there one day later, even if you have to stay at the airport hotel.

  18. The IT Manager*

    Do not do what you are asking. You will look childish, immature, and dishonest. You are asking your boss to be complicit in your lie to your parents. There’s no good reason for him to deny your request.

    Frankly the fact that you’re asking someone else to lie (he wouldn’t normally deny your request) so you can “HONESTLY” say your PTO request was denied is splitting hairs. You didn’t want to take PTO; you prevented it from being approved. As your boss, tt would make me wonder what other kind of shenanigans you might engage to mislead people at work while you pat yourself on the back for being “honest.”

    Plus he’d be smart not to participate in the charade because it is possible you could claim later that he did not deny PTO on your request. Or it may simply be policy that he can’t deny PTO requests without a legitimate work reason.

    Your family life sounds tough, but your plan to completely unprofessional and really leaves a bad impression making you seem dishonest and untrustworthy and immature.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Ooh this is a good point; this may give the boss the impression that you’re somebody whose go-to technique is a lie. You don’t want your boss thinking, “is OP going to lie to me too, the next time she has something to say that I might not want to hear? And then create an elaborate coverup with third parties?” That’s why I think the earlier suggestion just to ask your boss not to discuss your time off with your parents is a better way to frame it with a supervisor.

    2. gmg*

      Sheesh. Given the already lengthy discussion above about the perils of this ideas, this just seems like the kind of piling on that is not helpful, to say the least. The OP is already in a difficult time of life and trying to assert individuality from a difficult family situation. The advice not to ask Boss to help OP cover up her real reason for not wanting to go home is excellent. The litany of terrible personal qualities you seem to believe doing this would reveal about the OP is, um, unnecessary.

      Surely we can warn the OP off this course of action (and in fact OP’s comments throughout this discussion have made clear this has sunk in) without minimizing the emotional struggle here and/or making him/her feel like a spineless, lying jerk for even considering it?

      1. The IT Manager*

        I stand by my comment. It makes the LW look bad to her boss in several negative ways which could impact his opinion if her.

        And the “already lengthy discussion above” was a grand total of one comment when I started typing my own response. Because of how the comments nest, all but one of the comments above mine weren’t there when I posted so I most definitely wasn’t joining in a pile on.

        Sheesh, gmg.

      2. Specialk9*

        I think it’s highly relevant, and a point I haven’t seen above. Most people focus on the maturity perception/ professional norms, and abusive family dynamics. This is a good point: Don’t show your boss that you go to elaborate lengths to lie with the teeeeechnical truth. It could well plant suspicion in boss’ head about your integrity.

  19. Dani X*

    If it makes you feel better can you take your vacation days before Christmas? Then it really isn’t a lie – you don’t have those days to take off.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      There you go, OP. Sign up for vacation days and then tell your parents that you already have your vacation days picked out and approved.

  20. CatCat*

    “They’ll try to make the unilateral decision about my vacation time so I can’t really just flat-out refuse to stay home if it’s an option.”

    Yes, you can. This is something you need to adjust in your own mind. You can do whatever you want. And it’s something you don’t have to negotiate.

    I definitely echo others’ recommendation of Captain Awkward.

    1. CatCat*

      If your company has an EAP, I’d also recommend looking into that for counseling assistance with navigating how to cope with difficult family situations.

  21. High Score!*

    Once upon a time when I was young, I had very loving grandparents who CONTROLLED the whole family. I was the only one who stood up to them. While it caused some arguments and tons of tension for a short while, in the long run, I was the only person in the family they respected and the favorite. Even if it hadn’t turned out that way, I would still take charge of my own life. Plz be strong. Make your own decisions and take responsibility for them. Teach others to respect you and your time. Good luck!

  22. Ruth Zardo is F.I.N.E.*

    OP you definitely need to set some boundaries with your parents. I’m sure that sounds terrifying, because overbearing parents train their children to fear their disapproval. But I promise you, you can survive their displeasure. Telling them “I have to work those days” is fine. If they push back, you could even offer up the seniority excuse. “I’m a new hire, they grant holiday leave requests in order of seniority.” As others have mentioned, the archives at Captain Awkward have some excellent posts about setting boundaries with overbearing parents and other difficult family members. Read up and practice, practice, practice. It will get easier the more you do it. Good luck!

    1. Myrin*

      People who set boundaries with their overbearing parents are amongst those whose stories I value most during the open thread here on AAM. I remember one poster in particular, a long-time reader who’d often talk about her horrible mother and enabler father, and you could tell she was afraid and didn’t dare do anything to defy them but the readers here cheered her on because she wanted to do it, it was just really hard and she was scared and couldn’t bring herself to do it at first. And then sometime during the last year (I think?) she actually ceased contact with her parents and you can tell from everything she posts how happy and free she’s feeling now. I’m still so glad we got to share that journey of hers.

      1. Carmen Sandiego JD*

        @Myrin thanks for listening if you’re referring to what I think you are ;) I went from living with my parents/getting locked out, to an apartment, and her 32+ texts and mud slinging at my phone. She would try ripping/yanking off my clothes if she didn’t approve of what I wore. Then I left the family plan and got my own phone. She hated my SO because she knew she couldn’t control SO. And all her attempts to divide me and SO are all for naught. I ceased most contact June of this year. Our last convo, she said she hated my engagement ring choice and told me I sure lowered my standards when I met SO (yeesh), then reamed me out for SO’s supposed failings. (SO and I are good citizens, nice people, and decently sociable and smart). Part of me is sad it had to come to this (and me trying to find a wedding planner on my own and planners turning me down because I offer up less $ than counterparts who are fully-parentally-funded. But honestly, I couldn’t be happier :) I’m finally free, and SO and I can finally live our lives without eggshells. It also took 4 years of support, friends, online help.

        1. Myrin*

          You are indeed who I thought of, I just didn’t want to name names in case you’re uncomfortable with that. :) Yours was by far the story I know the most of but I remember other commenters speaking of similar experiences and it’s such a joy to have them come back later with a happier ending.

        2. Hrovitnir*

          Congratulations! It’s so, so hard to escape from this kind of behaviour. It’s nice to see positive conclusions. :)

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Way to go, Carmen.
          It’s already going full circle for you, now you are telling the OP about your experiences.
          Rock on, Friend. I am so glad to see you chime in here, we really need your inputs.

          OP, Carmen had one hellified time. You can go back through the archives and get her story in her own words.
          One day she decided, this isn’t love, this is not what love looks like. Love hurts when people get sick or when people die, but real love does not hurt like this.

  23. jstarr*

    Hey OP,

    I had a similar situation in college where I’d have extra time off after exams but really really really didn’t want to go back to my parents’ place due to my own sanity. It’s okay to be unsure of how to handle this. Several people recommended Captain Awkward and I’ll second that.

    My folks could hold my car title over me and I was still on their medical insurance, so I get it. Don’t get your boss involved if at all possible. This is your thing. “I have to go to work that day, sorry. I’m new at the job”. Work with that and best of luck!

    1. OP*

      Exactly – I’m still on their medical insurance and owe them money from my college tuition, so I have to stay connected to them for at least a while longer, complicating everything else.

      1. Observer*

        Get onto your own insurance ASAP. Not just because you need your independence, although that’s a real issue. But also, because people who think it’s ok to make unilateral decisions for adult children also tend to think it’s ok to look at their adult child’s confidential medical records. If you are not on their insurance, that becomes much harder.

        And don’t worry about the college money. Start paying them back, and if things do wind up blowing up, which I hope they won’t, don’t worry – as long as you are paying them back it’s going to be hard for them to do much about it. Even if they were to take you to court, if you are paying them back at a reasonable rate, no one is going to push it any further.

          1. Troutwaxer*

            Note that this is the right time. Employee health plan sign-ups generally happen in November, so talk to HR if you’re not getting emails or flyers or whatever and ask when Insurance sign-ups are available. If your job does not have health insurance available to someone at your level then you should start planning your exit (subject to all the usual caveats about waiting a year, etc.,)

        1. NicoleT*

          FWIW – You could probably get a consolidation loan for the full amount of college money you owe them. Then you could cut them a BIG FAT CHECK, and owe the money to someone else (bank, credit union, what have you).

          1. H.C.*

            OP didn’t mention if the parents were co-signers on a student loan, or if they gave her a personal loan to pay for tuition. If co-signed, consolidation is possible but may be tricky to get approved so early in OP’s career (when OP doesn’t have an established credit or work history yet). If it’s a personal loan, then consolidation wouldn’t be an option at all.

            But I agree with trying to pay the parents back as soon as possible just so they have one less thing to leverage on you.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              FWIW, assuming OP owes a huge amount and can’t consolidate, I ended up I ended up striking a deal with my parents who were being controlling about student loan debt (basically, they were threatening to withhold the amount they had agreed to contribute unless I did X and Y thing … and a whole list of other things waiting in the wings, so basically they OWNED MY SOUL FOREVER. For a while this was very effective because I was terrified of the total amount and afraid I would never pay it off myself). Well, I wrote up a payment plan that I could afford – I think it was $120 – and every single month I paid that $120, if it killed me. It wasn’t much money to them and there were definitely months where it was hard for me, but I just kept churning it out – and as long as I was paying it, I didn’t let myself feel bad. I wasn’t going to hear any more about the amount they would or wouldn’t contribute, or what else I was buying myself that should have been going to them, or whatever. All conversation on the topic was referred to the written payment plan. Over time, they got bored holding it over me because I never reacted. I didn’t know if they would end up paying their part or not, I just kind of assumed they wouldn’t and I would be paying the $120 for the rest of my life – and I made peace with it. That $120/month was going to get my soul out of hock.

              1. H.C.*

                That’s another great way to go about it if OP is nowhere close to being able to repay/consolidate those existing loans. Setting out specific terms in writing, continue fulfilling your end of that bargain, and tune out any guilt trip inducing statements they make by repeating “we agreed to these repayment terms and I’m upholding them, so let’s change the subject” ad nauseam.

              2. OP*

                That’s exactly what I’m working on doing with my parents. Part of the issue is they paid for all of college, signing an agreement with me (that included the clause “while all expectations are met”, basically young me signing over my soul without realizing) saying they’d pay for part of it, depending on my grades. Guess what – I got the grades but “didn’t meet their expectations” so now I’m on the hook for literally $200k of loans. I’m hoping to discuss a payment agreement with them so hopefully at least they can’t guilt trip me by saying that I still owe them money – I’m paying it off!

                1. Natalie*

                  Were those expectations laid out in detail in this contract? How old were you when you signed it?

                2. Hrovitnir*

                  Yeeeeeah. This doesn’t sound like you’re describing a legally binding contract. Your situation is obviously very complicated and I sure am not a lawyer, but it’s worth looking into this with someone who is when you have the emotional energy for it.

                3. Interviewer*

                  Holy crap. OP, this is awful. My heart hurts for you so much. Talk to your company’s EAP about some strategies to deal with this type of “parenting” – before your next trip home.

                4. One of the Sarahs*

                  Are there any services in your area that offer free legal advice, or like a Citizens’ Advice Bureau here? Once you’re in a better place, it might be worth working out if there’s a better way to do things. I’m sorry it happened to you.

                5. she was a fast machine*

                  If the loans are completely in their name, I’d tell them I held up my end of the bargain and they can’t go back on their word. But I’ve had to do some serious cutting off from abusive parents, so it’s easier for me to say that. It’s much harder when you’re in the thick of it.

                6. CatCat*

                  With $200k at stake, it might be worth discussing the contract you signed with a lawyer. Just so you can have a clear understanding about what exactly you did sign, what your obligations are, and what your options are. It also gives you someone to turn to to review any repayment plan before you agree to it. If you’ve been strong-armed by your parents throughout your life, you may benefit from the some outside assistance when it comes navigating this significant loan issue.

                7. OP*

                  @Natalie no, not at all. I was 15 and idealistic and the options were agree to this or just have to pay them back all the money so this seemed like the best option.
                  @Hrovitnir, it definitely isn’t legally binding. However, I have no clue how I’d get out of it. My ideal situation is to get myself into a better financial situation then get a bank loan for the rest of it (there’s absolutely no way I could get a bank loan for that amount now) – I’d rather be paying off those loans till I’m 65 than indebted to my parents for all that time.
                  There’s definitely also a weird Stockholm Syndrome situation going on where I’m resistant to anything that would irrevocably sever our emotional connection – somehow I still really love my parents and I would like to work through things as best I can.

                8. Close Bracket*

                  This is advanced level boundary setting, to be attempted once you have successfully gone home for only 4 days:

                  Don’t discuss a payment agreement. Come up with the payment option that works for you, and implement it. Say you can pay $500 per month. Make up some loan coupons of the type that you get with a real loan, and send one with each check. Put the balance of the loan before payment, the payment, and balance of the loan after payment on it. ie,

                  Current balance: $200k
                  This payment: $500
                  New balance: $199,500

                  If you really want to get fancy, include a payment history each time.

                  If you are doing this all electronically, make some kind of electronic version.

                  Good luck.

                9. Myrin*

                  Can you even sign a document like this at 15? I don’t know about the US but I’m positive that’s not legal in my country and as such wouldn’t be effective anyway.

                10. AnotherAlison*

                  Ugh, OP. I don’t the details of the “meets expectations” clause, but with the hindsight of someone who was in a similar family relationship situation 20 years ago, I’d be tempted to make sure I had my insurance situation squared away and then do some really hard thinking about how I wanted to handle my parents. (I personally had a brand new car that was a high school graduation gift. hanging over my head. They bought on the basis of me earning a full ride scholarship. I earned it, and kept the scholarship, but I also had a baby & got married in the middle of college. I felt I had to walk a fine line and do what they wanted because the car was not in my name. Hindsight, I would say go F yourselves and get my own damn $1000 car. I did a lot of things I didn’t agree with to keep them happy.)

                  Anyway, if your parents only want you in their life if you do exactly what they want (meet expectations, come for Christmas on their terms), or hold a 15 y.o. to a promise of repayment of a loan based on some nebulous clause, I don’t think that’s a healthy relationship. I’d keep my $200k and risk cutting them out of life altogether. Or I’d repay what is fair. I have a kid in college, and I’ve actually signed a similar contract with him (after he was 18, though). The difference is it is forward looking. If he doesn’t meet grades or our explicitly detailed expectations (drugs, jail, etc. type things), then we stop paying immediately. We don’t continue to pay and then expect him to pay us back. That’s silly. Honestly, I deal with real contracts enough to have some experience, and there is typically a notice clause for something like that, where you must be informed ahead of time that you weren’t meeting expectations or the other party would be waiving their rights to a claim. I bet you didn’t have that. . .

                11. GreyjoyGardens*

                  If you signed a contract – or at least made an agreement – when you were *fifteen years old*, that is not legally binding in any way as you were a minor, and minors can’t sign contracts.

                  Meaning, if you decided you weren’t going to pay, and the loans are in their name or co-signed, your parents are stuck ducks. That’s not to say they can’t browbeat you and engage in all kinds of emotional blackmail, but legally, I doubt they have a leg to stand on, since parents are responsible for minors.

                  Now if the loans are 100% in your name, taken out when you were an adult, and the plan was for your parents to reimburse you, that’s different. Federal loans, however, have very flexible and generous repayment policies. If your loans are in your name and federal, check out income-sensitive plans.

                  OP, we are all pulling for you. Read the Captain Awkward archives and r/raisedbynarcissists. And get financially independent ASAP! Emotional independence is a process and not nearly as easy as snapping your fingers – it’s OK to start with baby steps!

                  Just don’t try to be Dudley or Darlene Do-Right and think you have some kind of obligation to never lie and always pay debts. It’s *okay* to be selfish and conniving and look out for Number One at least sometimes!

                12. nonegiven*

                  I sure wouldn’t worry about meeting ANY future ‘expectations.’ If they’ve already foreclosed on ‘expectations,’ then what exactly do they ‘expect’ now, that they can hold over your head?

                13. Observer*

                  Don’t cut off contact, but get that payment plan in place.

                  Keep it simple, and if they don’t agree, do it unilaterally. This is one of the very few places where unilateral action is both wise and fair. They have decided that you didn’t live up to the (unstated) expectations? Fine, you’ll pay them $x per month till you’ve given them $200K. There is really is not much they can do about it, since the agreement you signed is not legally binding.

                  Two things – it becomes even more important for you to get on your own medical plan (through your employer, an exchange or even if you are eligible for Medicaid.) Also, please talk to a lawyer to make sure that nothing you put in writing can be used as a legal instrument to actually force you to pay that money. You plan to do it, you want to do it, but you do NOT want your parents to be able to force you to do it.

                14. Umvue*

                  My eyes bugged out of my head just now. OP, I am horrified on your behalf. Your parents sound like they do not have your best interests at heart. I am so sorry.

                15. Escapee from Corporate Management*

                  A $200,000 contract with performance clauses for a high schooler? Judging that you did not “meet their expectations” and assigning you a financial penalty? Holding you emotionally hostage? This is not normal (and I think you know that).

                  OP–please, please, please go see an attorney. See one in your own state without your parents knowing. Have the attorney review the “contract” and handle discussions with your parents. I can assure you the following: NO contract made with a 15-year old is legally-binding. EVER. You may feel a personal obligation to your parents, but you cannot be held legally liable for $200,000 in debt to which you agreed as a minor. An attorney can help you work through this. It’s amazing how much more you can control the situation when you have someone on your side.

                16. RB*

                  Holy shit, $200K as in $200,000? You said you weren’t sure how to get out of it. You get out of it by not paying, since it’s not legally binding. If it DOES turn out to be legally binding, get a lawyer. You’ll still be out way less than $200K. As for the Stockholm Syndrome thing you mentioned, these are not well-intentioned people so you don’t owe them any of your good will. They reneged on their side of the bargain.

                17. The Expendable Redshirt*

                  OP: You’ve said,”It (the loan) definitely isn’t legally binding. However, I have no clue how I’d get out of it. ” I recommend seeing a lawyer, or other legal aid organization. In my Canadian city, we have two legal aid type organizations where people can talk to lawyers for an absurdly low cost. Holding someone responsible for a ” loan contract” signed at age 15…..yeah…..huh….. Go see your friendly neighbourhood legal expert. If you want to repay the loan to your parents and have the means to do so, fantastic. Though be aware that your parents probably have much less control over your life (work/finances) than you think that they do.

                18. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  OP, here’s how you get out of it: Stop paying. The contract is void on its face in all 50 states, and there’s almost no way they can take you to court to enforce it (which is what they’d have to do to try to coerce you into continuing to make payments). Are your names on the loans themselves?

                  The behavior you’re describing is textbook abusive—they’re using everything they can to disrupt your life. As a legal as well as a social matter, you actually don’t owe them anything. I know it’s hard to believe that, or to believe that you can simply stop paying, but I hope you’ll consider all the resources out there about domestic violence and how to “free” yourself from the financial control your parents are trying to exert over you.

                19. Mischa*

                  I am not a lawyer, but that does not strike me as a binding contract. 15-year-olds do not have the legal capacity to sign a contract. Go see an attorney, if possible. Check to see if there’s a law school in your area with a legal aid clinic. They might be able to help if you cannot afford legal counsel. Additionally, if you do end up negotiating a payment plan with your parents, you will absolutely want to involve an attorney. It’s not worth the risk trying to negotiate this on your own. Take care of yourself, OP! You’ve got this!

                20. ronda*

                  you definately need to talk to a lawyer before paying them anything. I think it is pretty likely that a contract entered into when you were not an adult is not binding, but if you start paying it as an adult, you might turn it into that.

                  and financial advice — under no circumstances take out a loan to pay your parents. this is turning an unsecured and possible not valid loan into a certainly valid one and possibly secured.

                  your parents actually owe you to support you until you are 18… that is the contract they made by having you… now exactly what level of support is required is actually pretty low, but to come back later and say you owe them for it is just not true.

                  and children do not actually owe their parents anything.

                  of course your feelings about this are another matter and if you want to pay them something, talk to the lawyer about how to structure it so you dont create a situation where you are legal obligated to do it.

                  I would also suggest therapy to bounce your thinking off of since you have responded to some peoples advice as “I thought this was normal” I think you need a regular outside perspective for what is normal.

                21. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Part of the issue is they paid for all of college, signing an agreement with me (that included the clause “while all expectations are met”, basically young me signing over my soul without realizing) saying they’d pay for part of it, depending on my grades. Guess what – I got the grades but “didn’t meet their expectations”

                  Even if this loan were legally binding – and it sounds like it isn’t – you fulfilled your end of the bargain. If they didn’t tell you what their “expectations” were, and those weren’t written into the agreement, then you cannot be required to uphold them.

                  (Also, I’d tell these two that you’ll be happy to take care of them in their old age, providing they meet your expectations…)

                22. Troutwaxer*

                  I’ve read all the commentary about how you are not legally obligated, and given the professional credentials of the commentators, I have no doubt that they are correct.

                  How you feel your obligations is another matter. It wouldn’t be inappropriate if you felt that you had to pay your parents back, and I can understand the impulse.

                  The REALLY BIG THING here, is that you don’t have to let your parents jerk you around over this loan, or use it to keep you poor. Set up a sane payment schedule, stick to it, and if they complain remind them that a contract signed when you were a minor is not legally valid and you don’t really have to pay at all. You might even have benefits which allow you a free legal consultation. (When you sign up for benefits in November, grab them all, even if they don’t seem immediately useful.)

                  Also note that your parents are legally required to support you until you turn 18. That doesn’t mean paying for college, but you can probably subtract any housing and food money from what you owe them. Once again, CONSULT A LAWYER. And as I wrote elsewhere, take everything one step at a time.

                23. echidna*

                  Your parents made a bargain with you when you were 15. You met the terms of the bargain as you understood it. The undefined “meets expectations” is not reasonable grounds for them to then demand $200k from you because you didn’t meet their unfair bargain. By demanding the money, they have broken their end of the bargain.

                  From what you’ve said, I do not believe that you owe them this money. The deceit that went into this bargain on their part means that they can’t reasonably the emotional and financial fealty that you currently think you owe them.

                24. HA2*

                  Seeing this comment late, after a million years, and it makes my eyes bug out too! This is ridiculous!

                  You should consider yourself “on the hook” for exactly as much as the law says you are, no more no less. Your contract with your parents is likely to mean nothing at all. They decided to go back on it because they said you “didn’t meet their expectations”???? They don’t get to do that. You need to find out what loans you “really” have. According to the USA financial system. What loans do YOU personally owe to third parties. The agreement between a 15-year-old kid and their parents might as well be blank – you can uphold it if and only if you feel like it, pretty sure there’s no way that could be legitimate.

                  Please do NOT take out a huge real bank loan to pay off a fake inter-family loan!

      2. High Score!*

        I know it’s hard, but learning to set limits now will pay off in the long run. Just say, mom dad, I’ll will be home these days and I have my own plans for the rest of my vacation. Even if you owe them money, they don’t own you. If they threaten to withdrawal insurance, call their bluff. Get a roommate and pay for your own. You always have options and if you stand up for yourself, you’ll have more self confidence and feel better about yourself. You don’t owe anyone excuses or lies or reasons or even the truth.

      3. Snark*

        The thing is, that’s a bluff they’ve browbeaten you into never actually calling. Are they going to yank your health insurance and call the tuition bill due if you say “Mom, Dad, I understand you’d really love for me to stay the whole week, but I’ve got some high-priority things I’ll need to do that week when it’s quiet, and as the newest hire, I can’t really take that much time off”?

        They’re not gonna do that. They will wail and gnash their teeth, they will have Many Feelings at you when the uber comes to take you to the airport, they will guilt trip you, but they will not actually do that – if for no other reason than they want the strings to remain attached.

        1. Important Moi*

          Yes, Snark, but that’s the thing, you get browbeaten into believing such things are possible. I’ve been there too.

          I was on my parents health insurance, car insurance and they paid for my college tuition. I had to untangle and set boundaries. It was difficult. (What made it harder was people who didn’t understand such circumstances could exist, but that’s a different topic.)

          1. Snark*

            Sure. Which is why I said that. But if you call their bluff a little bit, they’re not actually going to go there, particularly if you yourself stay reasonable and upbeat. “I know, Mom, and I’ve been lucky to be able to spend lots of time with you over the holidays while I was in school, but now that I’m in the working world, it’s just not going to be possible this year. But I’m so looking forward to the time we will have! ‘Kay, gotta go, I have some errands to run!”

        2. Delphine*

          That’s a big assumption to make. My parents certainly made good on their threats of such a nature. There were always other “strings” for them to use against me. These things always look much simpler from the outside, and I wouldn’t put it all down to “what OP believes may happen”. I didn’t call a bluff until I knew I could make it on my own without them.

        3. tigerlily*

          Unfortunately, I think you’ll very often find parents who says they’ll cut you off WILL cut you off.

        4. Just Another Techie*

          With some parents it isn’t a bluff. When I was in a similar situation I tried calling my parents bluff, and instead ended up taking a semester off of college because they refused to send in their stupid FAFSA paperwork.

          For people who come from normal, or even only slightly helicoptery/authoritarian households, it’s near impossible to understand what flat-out abusive parents are like.

      4. AnotherAlison*

        As another child of overbearing parents, I highly recommend taking care of those things on your own as soon as you are able. (If you can get a personal loan to pay them back the tuition sooner, I would, although I understand that’s a difficult situation if you’re talking about $50k or something.)

        Then, figure out how you will interact with them forever. If you don’t, they will be bothering you when you’re 40. I have so many stories. Even with a year of therapy and 5 years of awareness, I still get tripped up on my boundaries.

        Another point for others here. Keep in mind this is often multi-generational, and birds of a feather flock together. You DO NOT see it because your grandparents and great grandparents and aunts and uncles are the same, and you often have friends who are the same. My spouse was raised in a whole different type of dysfunctional, so the “tight knit” family seemed nice to him, until it wasn’t!

        1. High Score!*

          It can be done. I grew up in a family like this. Maybe my brain didn’t quirk like theirs? I know they loved me, because even though I changed how they interacted, by being independent, by setting limits, by responding to guilt trips with eye rolls… Etc.. I became the favorite. I’m not proud of everything I did and said to set myself free, but I don’t have any regrets and doing that helped me set limits on others aspects of my life too.

      5. Liane*

        In case no one else has mentioned this, it is Open Enrollment season for insurance at most US companies. So you can get that set up now and that will be one less connection/threat you have to deal with in 2018.

        And good luck!

        1. TCO*

          OP, just a note that you can also enroll in your company’s health insurance (or an exchange plan) at any point in the year if you lose your current health insurance–so if your parents forcibly kicked you off, you’d be able to enroll.

      6. jstarr*

        Totally feel you. Go ahead and get ALL your insurance payable doctors visits done as soon as possible. Start a “bye y’all” fund as best you can. It sucks but if you play your cards right, you can get away financially. It took me the better part of three years but I did it.

      7. Natalie*

        I often find myself on the other side of the majority here re: parents, children and money, so this may not be the most popular answer but: you don’t owe your parents anything. If someone is super controlling or abusive to your children, they prevent the child from developing true agency. The child can not act from a position of true choice when borrowing money from the parent, and the parent forfeits the moral right to be paid back. All the more so if you are using this debt as a weapon to force your will on your adult child.

        [None of this is a comment on what legal obligations you may or may not have and what may or may not be enforceable because that is far too dependent on the details of the money giving/lending.]

        Now, you, OP, may still want to pay them back for your own reasons, and that’s perfectly fine. But it still doesn’t give them any kind of control over your day to day life – I owe my bank a lot of money for my house, but as long as they get their check on the agreed upon interval, they don’t actually get any influence in my life. You might not be ready for this yet, but if and when you’re ready to enforce some distance from them don’t let that debt stand in the way. You can send them checks without catching up with them or coming home for Christmas if you want to.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep, yep, yep. Great post, Natalie.

          OP, all they bought was your education, not your soul.
          You can tell them to be nice to you or you will make smaller payments or whatever.
          You do have choices here, they don’t want you to know that. But the truth is you do have choices.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m with you on this 100%, Natalie.

          OP, I have a friend who endured an extreme version of what you’re describing. Her parents sexually trafficked her beginning at the age of 8 (before that, her dad started raping her at the age of 4 to “prepare” her), and the pimping continued even after she was an adult. They bought multiple properties with her money, refused to pay for her care unless she submitted to ongoing abuse/trafficking, and made her sign (at the age of 12) the kind of vague contract your parents made you sign. The day her last tuition payment cleared, she cut them off entirely and has emerged as a nationally-renowned abolitionist.

          Obviously these cases aren’t identical. But a parent who abuses and coerces their child has already destroyed the underlying parent-child relationship. In those situations, the child—even adult children—owes their parent absolutely nothing.

    2. Sunflower*

      I’ve been there too. I’m almost 30 and my mom still thinks it’s ridiculous that I don’t take 7 days off to come on family vacation. Right after college I was still on my parent’s health insurance and my sister actually flat out said ‘you know mom can kick you off insurance for doing this’. It was a terrible awful feeling and luckily, I’ve gotten better at saying no. I’d definitely recommend Captain Awkward or coming back this weekend for the open thread where lots of people have experience in this sort of thing.

      The biggest pro is although it’s been awkward and difficult for me to say no, I’ve been so much happier since I’ve started doing it. Best of luck- I hope you get there sooner rather than later.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        What a sad thing, to reduce love down to health insurance. “I don’t think you love me so I will hold the health insurance over your head to make you tell me you love me.” wow. just wow.

        1. Yup*

          That has literally been my entire life, down to bowls of soup, birthday parties, and basic physical necessities. I have no contact with anyone from my family of origin anymore, and bam- suddenly I’m excelling at work, full ride back to university, married to the man I love, with a cat that is my heart-friend. 23 years of my life wasted appeasing horrible ego driven monsters.

          deal with them ASAP, how ever you choose to do it, OP. the changes you’ll see in your life!

  24. AwkwardAnon*

    If you need more advice on how to deal with a rocky home situation, I recommend going over to and checking out her advice column. Alison is focused on work-issues but Captain Awkward focuses more on the personal issues. She’s had plenty of letter writers who have issues around the holidays with less-than-ideal home situations and you’ll probably be able to find some advice on that portion (or you can write her a letter for more specific advice).

    But, I’ll just echo what everyone else has/will say. You don’t request the time off in the first place and then very truthfully tell your parents that you are scheduled to work. The only reason to loop your boss into this issue is if, for some reason, you think your parents will call your boss and ask why you were “denied” your vacation request. Then you might want to have a conversation with your boss on what you would like her to say in that situation (and why you need her to say it). And then be prepared to confront your parents about how calling your boss is an overreach and will harm your professional reputation.

    1. The IT Manager*

      The boss’s response to a call from an employee’s family member or friend should be “I can’t discuss this with you” because the boss shouldn’t (unless they are arranging PTO while you are incapacitated (and I do mean unable to make the phone call on your own) in the hospital).

      If you think your parent’s might call, you should warn boss that it might happen so he’s prepared because that’s a pretty outrageous breach of professional norms and he might say something simply out of shock.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, you can ask the boss if there is a policy regarding calls from outsiders. I wrote above that one place I worked had that policy but now I realize that actually two places had that policy.

  25. Christi*

    You can tell your parents that the more senior employees get priority over holidays. That is true of most jobs. That you have to be back by so and so. The day you give them, could be the date you are back in your own place, enjoying less stress. If they do not know, they cannot get offended, rather shouldn’t.

    Holidays is a horrible time for a lot of people and it serves as a hot point for many individuals and families. The other writers have great ideas, etc. You may not want to lie, but you may have to, to keep your own sanity, and maintain healthy boundaries. Think of it as “self care.”

  26. anon24*

    I’ve totally lied about working before. One of my extended family members had some party that they were pressuring me to go to. I told them I had to work. They were like “but it’s a Sunday, your business isn’t open Sundays.” I came back with “oh it’s been so busy the boss asked me to come in and help him catch up on stuff we can’t do while we’re open” Total lie, but I didn’t care. They never earned total honesty from me.

    But you don’t even have to get work involved! When I got married we realized we did not want to have to travel home for holidays and have to fight with the families over who got to see us or do the rush around trying to see everyone after driving 100 miles to be there. We told our families that holidays were going to be a private thing for us. The weekend before Christmas we travel down and spend a day with each family but on Christmas (and every other holiday) we spend time together. The first year we got invites (come to thanksgiving, come to Easter dinner) but we firmly said no thanks, we really like our time alone. Now our families make sure we know we can invite ourselves if we want, but they also know we won’t.

    Being an independent adult is great!

    1. Temperance*

      This is such good advice. We wasted far too much time on people who were ungrateful that we made the long drive to visit them because it wasn’t “enough” time and we were spending time with other people, too, that we just opted out.

    2. NicoleT*

      YES TO THIS. We (my husband and I) started spending Christmas Day just us the year before we were married (the “excuse” was that I was finishing my Master’s thesis and needed the time to write). It’s our thing, and it has expanded to Christmas Eve too. SO GLORIOUS to spend the entire day in jammies. Our son loves it because it means we get three Christmas present sessions. :-)

    3. Dust Bunny*

      So have I. Sometimes you just can’t deal.

      Side note: OP, if you don’t want to lie to your parents, it’s totally not fair to essentially ask your boss to do it for you.

    4. anon24*

      Oh, and to add, my mother in law is a super emotionally manipulative woman who believes everything in life is about family and should be done with family. We simply gave her the option “you see us on our terms at a time that works for us or you don’t see us at all, your choice.” This was something we didn’t just start with the holiday thing, we began “training” her to this mindset when we got engaged and she liked to play games to assert her control over her son. It’s not always easy to do, but it is always satisfying (and after enough repetition, there’s no more battle or hard feelings either!)

  27. Temperance*

    LW, I have a similarly rough family life. When I was in high school, I requested to work any Sunday AM shifts available to get out of forced evangelical church attendance. To me, at the time, this was reasonable because church attendance was a forced house rule and work was the only thing that took precedence.

    Your family still sees you as a kid. I encourage you to reframe your thinking, especially if they are authoritarian parents. Your family home is not “home”. Your parents do not control your PTO.

  28. MCL*

    I personally would just take the whole week off anyway, and then just spend the minimum required amount of time with the people I don’t really want to see. YMMV if you’re really uncomfortable straight-up lying to your family.

    I actually have a great relationship with my folks, but my husband isn’t too fond of spending time with his, plus he has a lot of resentments that swell up around holiday expectations that make things tense. We see his family at Thanksgiving, again at a family birthday party in mid-December and then they outright insist that we have to all see each other again at Christmas. They live somewhat close, but not so close that we really want to drive again to see them for the third time in a month. This is the year we’ve just started saying that we aren’t available at Christmas, without actually having our conflicts set up yet. My feeling is that you have to establish boundaries, particularly if you really want to limit time spent with certain people in your life. “Having to work” is a great way to establish that boundary. Good luck, OP!

    1. MCL*

      Forgot to add, YMMV if you’re still dependent on your parents in some way, like financially or through medical insurance. “I have to work” still may be your best option, though! Are your parents the kind of people who would actually call your workplace to verify that you’re working?

        1. MCL*

          I think there is a good script above for a boss convo: “My parents have a something of a habit of trying to get overly involved in my stuff, so I would appreciate if you just didn’t discuss my work or schedule with them.”

          That gives the boss a heads up so they’re not taken by surprise if such a thing happens, and I think isn’t unprofessional if this is indeed something that could conceivably happen.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          OP can say this to the boss: “My parents get wierd about the holidays and I’m a little nervous that they might actually call *you* about it. I hope they don’t. I would hate it if they did. But I wanted to give you a heads-up about it.”

  29. overly prodcued bears*

    There was a time this year when there was a family thing and work was really busy. And if the family thing had included X, Y, and Z, I would have Made It Work and taken the time I had available. But that didn’t happen and so I didn’t take the time. “Work is busy” or “I really need to get stuff done” are still true things, even if they’re not the whole truth. You do need to get stuff done. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done later, but that’s not the important thing. You are going to be seeing family anyway, so I think saying “I had stuff that needed done, sorry I couldn’t take more time” is a perfectly fine way to say it.

    I didn’t overexplain my reasons for not wanting to take the time. If pressed, I just rambled on a lot about all the projects I had going on.

  30. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    You can thread the needle even closer to the truth by saying something like “I’m sorry I can’t stay longer, but I need to be at work that week.” Most folks will hear that as “I have a pressing work responsibility and can’t get the days off,” but you can truthfully say “I need to be at work so I can avoid being at your house.”

  31. theletter*

    My suggestion would be to make some work or a project for yourself – either find a project you can do at work in that week, find some new skill you want to focus on, or even a book to read. Maybe someone has to reorganize the teapot files over the holiday week but hasn’t had time yet? You could try the old “I was going to take that time off but I noticed that this would be the perfect opportunity to clear out the teapot design archive/get a head start on the teapot research project”

    Or you could take the time off and schedule a counseling session for the day you want to go back home (“sorry mom, this was the only time I could do the doctor’s appointment!”). Or buy tickets to a concert you want to see. Sign up for a class that starts at the beginning of 2018 and get a headstart on the reading. Or get a really thick, dense book and say it’s required and you need to finish it at home where you can focus.

    You are financially independent, and you get to decide how to remain that way and how to spend your leisure time. Find something more important to you than spending the extra days with the folks, and commit to it. When you find something you’re really passionate about, it’s easier to tell the truth.

  32. Susanne*

    Is it possible the OP is from a culture where the adult children are still expected to defer to their parents?

    I agree with all the commentary above that OP simply needs to say “I’m sorry, I can only come X days, looking forward to seeing you then”. I would also suggest, OP, that you just matter of factly say that as is. You do not need to “persuade” them that you tried but the boss said no. You can only come for these days; that’s how it goes.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      True, it’s telling that OP feels the need to appeal to a higher authority (their boss) to convince their parents – because OP’s own feelings / wishes / needs don’t hold weight :(

      1. Anonymous and Loving It*


        This is why I think the OP could benefit from counseling. This is bigger than a one-time holiday visit. This is about how the OP views herself, her parents, and where the power (and freedom) lie. Now that she’s an adult, the power to decide how she spends her time, and with whom, lies with her. It doesn’t sound as if she sees it that way yet.

  33. Mes*

    OP, your parents sound like mine. People with normal parents just don’t get it. You might like the /r/raisedbynarcissists subreddit.

    1. Snark*

      Maybe they are narcissists, maybe not, but this is a pretty universally relatable question. Just about everybody has had some level of boundary issues with their parents and had to draw a crisp, hard line at some point, and it’s hardly like only children of narcissists have to deal with the “but whyyyy don’t you want to spend half your PTO coming home for family in the most magical time of the yearrrrr” argument.

      1. music*

        You may not be especially familiar with Reddit, but very few of the people posting in r/raisedbynarcissists were ACTUALLY raised by narcissists. It’s a group to help people find healthy boundaries, not to clinically diagnose their parents.

      2. Delphine*

        It’s much easier to establish boundaries with parents who aren’t narcissists or abusive in other ways.

      3. Red Reader*

        Not gonna lie — as someone who has never had to deal with this from my own parents (but from in-laws, oh yes) — every time I see a post like this one on any blog/forum (or on my own friends’ Facebooks) it makes me want to call my parents and thank them for being gloriously boundary-respecting unicorns.

      4. Mes*

        OP added a lot more detail about their parents in the comments. No way are these people not narcissists or abusers.

        1. Snark*

          You might be right, you might be wrong, but I see a whole lot of people reading a whole lot of their own experiences into minimal detail, and if you think that’s appropriate…..we’re going to have to disagree on that.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Given reddit’s propensity for groupthink, I think that site is singularly unfit for teaching people how to set boundaries.

      1. BostonBaby*

        Delurking to comment.

        Usually I would agree with that assessment of Reddit, however that community and others similar to it helped me gain agency in my life for the first time at 25 years old. As a child confirmed by multiple therapists at this point to be dealing with both NPD and BPD in my life, I say check it out and if you find help there that is great. If not they can probably at least help with sanity checks and helpful resources for what to do next.

  34. nnn*

    Others have mentioned that “I need to work that week” isn’t lying to your parents.

    “I’m not able to get those days off” also isn’t lying to your parents. Simply don’t put in for those days off, and then you’re not able to get them off because you didn’t put in for them.

    (Prepositions are weird)

    1. nnn*

      Also, “I have to be back home for Wednesday” isn’t lying to you parents either. You have to be back home for Wednesday for your own well-being.

      Same with simply “I can visit you on Monday and Tuesday”

  35. stitchinthyme*

    Part of being an adult is owning your choices. That will sometimes mean hurting or angering people you care about. If you can mitigate it with a white lie, great — that’s why they call them white lies, because they’re intended to keep from hurting people.

    When my husband and I first got together, we were trying to decide whose family to spend Thanksgiving with (our families live about 2 hours apart, so “both” was not a feasible answer). After some discussion, we concluded that we really didn’t want to spend it with either of them, so we made a reservation at a bed and breakfast and declared Thanksgiving to be “our” holiday; since then we’ve either traveled or else held “orphans’ Thanksgiving” at our home for all our local friends who don’t have family plans. We didn’t make any excuses to our families, and they didn’t object; 22 years later, they don’t expect to see us on Thanksgiving. (We do go see them at Christmas, but only for one day each — we refer to it as the surgical strike.)

  36. Susanne*

    I also don’t see the problem with little white lies in these situations, personally, if need be. That’s why little white lies were invented.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Sure, but I think by the time OP asks someone else to lie (the boss, no less!) it’s gone beyond a little white lie. Telling your parents you feel like you need to be at work is the little white lie here. Asking your boss to pretend to deny you the leave you requested so “it’s not your fault” is too far IMO.

      1. Susanne*

        Fully agreed. I meant little white lies to the parents (“I couldn’t get time off this week”).

  37. RockyO*

    2 types of people I cannot abide…liars and cowards. I assume most of us, including the OP feel the same way and actively try to avoid relationships with such people. Knowing this, why would you intentionally choose to be both? Choose to be a person of honor and truth. Choose to face your fears and demons head on. It may be hard at first, but in the long run these specific attributes are really what determine our character, both in public and in the mirror.

    1. Momma Said Spock You Out*

      I feel like this is unnecessarily harsh. No, OP shouldn’t involve her boss in her family’s drama, but as OP says above, she is still dependent on her parents for health insurance and she still owes them money for her college tuition. She could be facing very real consequences if she comes across to her parents as being too willful. Calling her a coward and a liar goes a little far when she’s just trying to protect herself (and like I said, using the boss is not the right way to protect herself, but she did ask an advice column if she should do so, and she now knows not to and why).

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        This. People who don’t know OP’s situation have no right to judge. There are worse things than a small lie.

      2. KellyK*

        Yes, I agree. Honesty is certainly a virtue, but controlling people have forfeited the right to full honesty.

    2. fposte*

      Really? I think you’re overextrapolating from yourself. I’m cowardly about a lot of stuff, and so are most people I know. I was even more so when I was 21 and had little life experience. I also agree with Aaron Sorkin that “the truth isn’t this all-fired holy thing,” and that in negotiating complicated dynamics the end can indeed justify the means. (I would much rather you said, “It’s not you, it’s me” than tell me that you finally couldn’t stand my horrible laugh one more day–can you not abide that lie?)

      I think the priority here is the OP dealing professionally with work, then the OP finding a way to not go to her parents’ for Christmas, and way down on the list, if she gets to it, is being truthful with her parents about not wanting to come; if she handles one and two this year, I’ll let her get to three in her own time.

      1. Agatha_31*

        And on top of all your very good points, honesty is earned. If A heaps verbal &/or emotional manipulation &/or abuse on B when B says honestly “I’m going to do X instead of Y this year”, then A has clearly demonstrated that honesty toward A is wasted, and honesty toward A is actively harmful to B’s emotional and mental well being. B is not being a “coward” by deciding that they will not be sharing their honest and rational plans and wishes with A in the future. B is being a normal, reasonable, self-caring person.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      It’s real easy to denounce people anonymously on the internet to boost your own sense of moral rectitude. Especially when all you know about them is a few paragraphs typed out on the inter net in question form. But, you don’t know the OP (or anyone else for that matter) well enough to make such harsh statements.

    4. gmg*

      Good grief. Surely we can give the OP good advice without making him/her feel like a terrible human being for having a confused impulse?

    5. Natalie*

      Nah, I don’t really have any particular hate-on for cowards, and the only people I’ve met who never lie were actually just jerks. YMMV

    6. This Daydreamer*

      That would be a great speech in a movie, but in real life would probably lead to sheer hell for the OP.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      OP has not lied yet. And, sorry but OP is probably one of the braver people among us. She has made it this far dealing with all this crap and she has still launched her own life. Pretty gutsy I think.

  38. Nan*

    Yeah, don’t ask that of your boss. It’s shows lack of adult-ness (that isn’t a word) and ability to make and stand by your own decisions, which you don’t want your boss to see that. You are asking your boss to become involved in family drama, which is not their job.

    As for your parents, you can just go with “I can’t get the time off” which is not a lie. You can’t get it off because you didn’t request it. They just don’t need to know the second part.

  39. Linzava*

    Hi OP,

    I personally have a history of parental interference. When I was 18, I told my mother I couldn’t get time off for a family trip, she went behind my back and arranged it with my boss. There was a surprise involved, but it still bothered me.

    Years later, in my mid twenties, I started seeing a physiologist for anxiety and depression, at the time, I was working for my mother. After starting to push back on her overbearing ways, thanks to my sessions, she sent an 18 page fax to my psychologist. In this fax, she explained that I was a liar, I was insane, and I was not to be trusted. My psychologist immediately told me about it and assured me her behavior was unacceptable.

    I’m telling you this because if you also are dealing with this kind of dynamic, the only way to fight it is to get angry and stand up for yourself. I have never told my mother where I work since, I don’t trust her not to contact my bosses and manipulate my life.

    1. Snark*

      Oh, Christ, that detail about the 18 page fax is just…, so telling. A fax. 18 pages of fax. Ye gods.

    2. OP*

      Yikes, I’m so sorry. That sounds like it’s even worse than what I’m dealing with. I’m glad you got out of that situation.

      1. Linzava*

        Thank you OP,

        It may seem worse if you think about the situation on its own, but the root of the problem might be the same. I lacked the self confidence to make my own decisions and buckled quickly because I felt I had to justify them to my mother. When my therapist pointed out the boundry violation, I realized that my own feelings were valid and my life belonged to me.

        As an adult who supports yourself, you have a lot of power in this situation. I had more power than I realized and when I took that power, my life slowly changed for the better.

        I hope I haven’t overstepped any lines, good luck with your situation.

    3. Anonymous and Loving It*

      Yikes! What a ridiculous thing for your mom to do. However, I’m guessing that ridiculous fax helped your psychologist to better understand just how dire the situation was for you with you parent. Because that’s a truly crazy-pants thing for her to do.

    4. Grapey*

      “the only way to fight it is to get angry and stand up for yourself.”

      When I was buying my house, my dad came up with a lot of reasons why he didn’t like it and he tacked on value judgements for it. “You’re stupid if you like XYZ feature.”

      I cried, but I also got fed up and said “I’m buying the damn house!”

      Funnily enough, once I established my boundaries he shut up and helped me move in with not another grumble. Four years later he said I have a good house. I’m not going to lie and say his validation doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, but I feel better about myself for standing up to him during his super unreasonable outbursts.

    5. Linzava*

      Thanks you all, I am just fine now. My mom still acts like that, I still push back and assert my boundaries. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

    6. This Daydreamer*

      18 page fax?! That’s, um, pretty impressive in a sick way. I bet it told your therapist quite a bit about her and what you were dealing with.

  40. RES ADMIN*

    You are an adult and responsible for yourself. Be self-reliant.

    “No, that doesn’t work for me.” is a perfectly acceptable answer and needs no elaboration. If you need to add “busy” in there to make yourself more comfortable, it doesn’t matter if by “busy” you mean “in my pajamas binge watching my favorite show”.

    As I told my mother years ago: “I can either be unhappy doing this thing I don’t want to do or I can be unhappy because you are trying to make me feel guilty for not do that thing. If I am going to be unhappy either way, it may as well be doing what I want to do.”

    “Family” doesn’t not mean you have to stay in constant contact. Sometimes it works better with less. Calling less often, not answering every time, taking longer to reply–that’s ok. Because, “busy” (see above).

    You have just had a huge shift in family dynamics. Before, they were responsible for you and you were responsible to them. That has shifted now. You are now responsible for yourself and not responsible to them. This happens more naturally in some families than others. Setting new boundaries and new parameters in an established relationship is hard.

  41. Lontra Canadensis*

    OP, hopefully you don’t feel bad for asking AAM – because asking was a smart thing to do! Now in addition to the answer and explanation, you have advice for other approaches, and the support of a lot of people who’ve been in the same boat.

  42. Lisa*

    I believe in the more “proactive strike” way of doing things. Instead of knowing they will want you to take the week off and then coming up with excuses take the first shot. Just say – Hi Mom I’ll be there for Christmas from blank to blank. Then comes the – we want you here the whole week! Then, I know mom but that is when I am coming, can’t wait to see you! Gotta run! Love ya!

  43. Dee-Nice*

    Hey, LW. Some of the comments are more sensitive to this than others, but I wanted to just tease out a point here to acknowledge how hard it is to learn to be an adult around your parents, and how much harder it is when your parents are controlling or otherwise unreasonable. Yes, you are an adult. Yes, you have all the power if you are financially independent. Yes, you are entitled to lie to your parents or tell them the truth and still make your own decisions. BUT if your parents haven’t raised you to be good at making independent decisions, and/or the consequences for displeasing your parents have always been ridiculously punitive, then it’s okay that you aren’t sure how to handle this, and I understand the impulse to involve your boss (even though: don’t do it). It’s okay to be really uncomfortable and uncertain as you navigate this new territory. I wish you so much luck!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Also OP points out that they are on their parent’s insurance and still need to pay back student loans, so it’s more complicated than “just tell them you’re an adult.” But still OP, I hope you can keep taking steps towards getting out from under them. There’s a wonderful world out there where you don’t need *anyone’s* permission or approval to make your own choices, and it is glorious!

    2. Hrovitnir*

      This is a great comment. It is very true that boundaries are incredibly important and the only way to start is to start. It’s also true that it can be more difficult than some people can imagine, and it’s not all internal. The escalation by people who were “not that bad” when you were more cooperative can be shocking even when your expectations are horribly skewed by your upbringing.

  44. Wednesday Mouse*

    I get where you’re going with this OP, but you really can’t involve your boss in this. Just tell your parents you need to work on the 27th December. If they question it, just repeat “I need to be in the office on 27th December. I can’t take the time off. It’s not possible for me to be at home any longer than Tuesday.”

    Your parents don’t need to know that the reason you “need” to be back at work on the 27th is because you don’t want to be at theirs any longer than necessary. They don’t need to know that you can’t take time off because you didn’t request it. If they make home life so difficult, they’re not entitled to anny more of an explanation that “no, sorry, I can’t.”

    (FWIW, I’m doing this too, albeit to get out of being at my inlaws for longer than necessary over Christmas. I absolutely need to be back at work on the 27th. They don’t know that I need to be in because I volunteered to be in.)

  45. I Coulda Been a Lawyer ;)*

    This may sound harsh, but if you are MY employee, I cannot deny your vacation request without specific approval up the chain. If I try to it will auto-generate a union grievance and I face discipline up to dismissal. And no, I’m not contacting a deputy secretary bc you don’t know how to say no; it’s your job to say no to people all the time and you can practice at home. I’d rather face the same restrictions and sanctions to demote you or fire you bc long term it’s easier. Sorry.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah, asking your boss to be the “bad guy” here may have unforeseen consequences, in addition to being kind of cruddy. I like the advice above, where instead you ask your boss not to discuss your vacation with your parents if they ask about it – that sounds much more adult to me, and more reasonable for the boss.

    2. Amazed*

      Holy crap. I knew this kind of request was going to look weird and furtive, even with an explanation afterward, and would be unwarranted in any case, but I hadn’t considered the fact that it might actually cost the boss in some fashion.

  46. Anon for family holiday drama*

    Here’s what I do! Feel free to steal my strategy. I make plans in my home city for the days following the holiday(s). Volunteer at a soup kitchen, buy tickets to a performance, etc. etc. Throw a holiday party for my friends.

    Anything that requires me back on a certain date and time.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Another good one.
      “Sorry folks, gotta work [at my volunteer job at the soup kitchen].”

  47. LaaTeeDah*

    What you’re proposing here – involving your boss to avoid having to stand up against your parents – is very immature. You risk damaging your relationship with your boss and employment because you can’t stand up to your parents and tell them you’re not spending a whole week there? You can’t just tell them “I just started this job and I don’t want to take an entire week off this year, so the visit is only going to be 3 days. ” Any anger expressed from them should be met with “I’m trying to be a responsible worker and establish myself as an adult and I need to set my own times for vacations and such now. I’m sorry this upsets you as that isn’t my intention, but this is how it will be going forward.”

    If you are old enough to work, you are old enough to tell your parents no. Doesn’t mean you have to be rude about it, but part of being an adult is parsing the transition into seeing your parents as people, having them see you as an independent adult that they no longer are able or need to order around, and developing a relationship based off of mutual love and respect instead of control/power.

    If they get angry – that’s THEIR issue, not yours. And if they get so angry that you are uncomfortable going, or know it will mean days of passive aggressive sniping at you… maybe don’t go at all?

    “Mom/dad, I love you, but I have to start standing on my own, and part of that means deciding when I take off from work and how much time I can spend on vacation or visiting with you. I am sorry this is upsetting but I have to do my own thing, and I do hope you can calm down and we can visit/talk in a week or two without this anger and animosity over my decisions.”

    Find your backbone. Stop the parent/child dynamic and politely but firmly start establishing boundaries. The worst they can do is complain at you if you let them – they can’t ground you or take away your car keys. And if they want to yell or order or what-have you… the answer to that is “I’m sorry you feel that way, but my decision is made. If all you want to do is yell at me or tell my why I’m wrong, I don’t think there’s any point in continuing this phone call/conversation, so I’ll leave/get off the phone now.” And then do so. You get to decide what you’re comfortable with dealing with now.

    I would also suggest you do some reading: “Toxic Parents” if the situation is really bad, and “Emotional Blackmail” both by Susan Forward. Even if it isn’t a terrible relationship, you need to see that healthy boundaries and obligations aren’t impossible to establish and maintain with family.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Keep in mind that for many young people, unfortunately, the parents still have control through insurance access and co-signed student loans. One of my friend’s parents kicked them off the family cell phone plan after he displeased them with a similar speech, and just that created a cascade of failures that almost resulted in my friend losing his apartment. I would encourage OP to work to sever each of the connections slowly before pronouncing something like this, because it’s become so difficult for young people to support themselves entirely :(

      1. Natalie*

        For what it’s worth, being a co-signer on a loan doesn’t give the parent any kind of leverage or power, other than emotional influence, which they already have. It actually puts them at a slight disadvantage, because they are just as legally responsible for the debt as the student is, and they generally have more seize-able assets or wages.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          This. I took the OP’s comment to mean that she’s paying her parents back, not that she has actual student loans. Because, as Natalie says, the parents being co-signers on student loans would put *them* in a risky situation, not the OP.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I don’t know the details, but at least one of my friends has a student loan where her parents are paying half and she’s paying half. Sounds great! Except that her parents can threaten to not pay their half any time, and my friend can’t afford to cover the whole bill. True, that would also wreck the parents credit, but I think they know my friend would scramble and get the money somehow.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I suspect that either the parents or your friend are actually responsible for the entire payment, and they have an agreement to each pay half, or your friend and one or both of her parents are all co-borrowers, and are all responsible for the entire payment. I don’t know of any type of loan that would officially have co-borrowers who are each responsible for half of the payment.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Yeah, you must be right. But either way, if my friend wanted to assert their independence, the fact that they desperately needed their parent’s financial support didn’t help :(

                1. Doreen*

                  When you are actually financially dependent on your parents, that gives them all kinds of leverage. By that , I mean that you could not afford to live without them helping you pay the rent and that sort of thing. If your friend is responsible for the loans, and can’t pay them without the parents help, then s/he is financially dependent on the parents. If the OP was currently in school and the parents were paying the tuition, she’d be in that position. But the OP doesn’t sound like she’s in that position, at least not regarding the tuition. The parents paid her tuition, and expect her to repay them based on an agreement she signed when she was 15. She may want to pay them back , she may feel she should pay them back, but there is no way they could sue her for the $200K based on something she signed when she was 15 so she doesn’t need to fear financial ruin if she gets her own health insurance and doesn’t comply with their wishes.
                  OP, I think your issue is that you love your parents and don’t want to sever your emotional connection to them – and they know it. It’s possible that they don’t want to sever that connection either, and asserting your independence will have no downside. It’s also possible that they may sever that connection if you don’t comply with their every demand. But the one thing I am certain of is that if you don’t stand up for yourself, the demands will never end. * You have to think about the future you want- which one is worse? The one where you are estranged from your parents because you wouldn’t allow them to control you or the one where you , your spouse and your children all have to dance to your parents’ tune? It won’t be mentally/emotionally easy to get out of this situation – but it will be easier to do it now than it will be 20 or 30 years from now,

                  * The demands probably won’t end either way, but there’s a huge difference between doing what you want to do in spite of the demands and following the demands.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, more gently stated there are paths:

      Mom: I hate you.
      You: Gee that is too bad. Most people like me.

      Mom: You were my biggest mistake.
      You: You are the only person who thinks that.

      Mom: You are attention seeking and a waste of my time.
      You: So I will be hearing less from you?

      Mom: Go to hell.
      You: Lonely already, mom?


      You know, we keep hanging on hoping they will shape up into our “dream mom”. But they just don’t have it in them. Meanwhile, we miss opportunities with people who are very willing to provide safe, nurturing relationships for us.
      You can do this, OP. Read about toxic relationships. I am not sure if you are female, if yes, there are many good books about motherless daughters. These are women who grew up with a mother who was more of a smother. Knowledge is power. Knowing you are not alone, you are not the first is also empowering.

      Life does not have to be this hard.

    3. Mags*

      Thanks for mentioning the books “Toxic Parents” and “Emotional Blackmail”. Another one (albeit with a religious overtone) is “Boundaries”.

      Sounds like a lot of people here need them too. Shocking how many adults can’t say no to their parents’ manipulation and control.

  48. chica*

    OP, If you are at all worried about being found out in a lie (because you are terrible liar? or because that would cause more drama, hurt feelings & etc than it’s worth I assume?). Then don’t lie. ESPECIALLY if you are a terrible liar (and with overbearing parents who likely make you nervous? you are probably a bad liar?). First — whatever you decide to tell them, make it simple, straightforward, and not up for debate. Don’t offer offer details, additional justifications, or basically any room for them to “but what if you … but why couldn’t you . . . ” Second — believe 100% in whatever you tell them. One of the best suggestions from above? have plans in your city. So, make some plans with a friend! “sorry I already had plans with my friend xxx to do xxx” (preferably with non-refundable tickets! subject closed. If you get pushback: “I would hate to disappoint her and leave her stranded over the holiday!” other options? “I am new at the office and it’s bad form as the new person to request that time off” or “as the newest person in the office I didn’t even consider taking that time off” (this one invites the it never hurts to ask response though, and you want to avoid helpful ‘solutions’ from the parents at all costs!) “I have plans for xxx this spring/summer and am saving that PTO for that trip but I am so glad we have the whole weekend AND monday and tuesday to spend together!” (bonus: you get to plan a trip! don’t have the money for a trip? how about volunteering for habitat for humanity or something like that? who could argue with that?). “well, I would really like to spend a whole week volunteering with xxx this summer and I will need all my days off for that, plus a couple of other little things I have planned, but I am really looking forward to this little holiday break!” Seriously, the trick is to be busy living your own life!

    1. chica*

      Note that it goes without saying that getting your boss involved AT ALL is a terrible idea! Although if you seriously think that your mom is likely to “run into” your boss in a social setting, it is worth mentioning to your boss that you would prefer her not to discuss anything work related with your mom.

      Also — to all the people above who are telling the OP to just stand up to her parents? Not everyone is quite ready to do that, and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can cause lots of drama and hard feelings and for many people (especially people who are anxious about the relationship already or who avoid conflict), it’s just not worth it. Also it’s not necessarily possible if there’s still any financial ties (which OP says there are in one of the responses above).

      I don’t think lying is the answer either, but I think that arranging things your way so you get a convenient excuse to not do what the parents want can be a good way to handle it while keeping everyone (mostly) happy, and also be a way to take small steps towards complete independence.

  49. Detective Charles Boyle*

    I recommend therapy with a good counselor. It takes lots of strategies and help to figure out how to unravel this family dynamic and be able to assert yourself and feel like a ‘grown-up.’ Good luck, OP!

    1. Lady Amalthea*

      I was thinking the same thing. If dealing with your parents involves this much stress then outside help and perspective would likely be really helpful moving forward in life.

  50. Star*

    Some great advice here, but I do find it sad that so many comments seem to lack any sensitivity towards a precarious situation with a potential history of abuse. “Just grow up”, “just grow a backbone”, “just stand up to them” – these are all very easy to say, but can be very difficult to do, especially for the first time. On the surface it’s true, and the LW will most likely benefit hugely from learning to maintain boundaries with her parents, but some people sound pretty harsh.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Also among my friends there are many legitimate reasons why they still need their parent’s support – first time jobs may have crappy benefits, so you need to stay on the family health insurance, and of course you’ve got 100K of student debt (co-signed, perhaps?) on your back, and the starting salary may make things like family plans for car insurance / phones / whatever else a necessity. People who aren’t totally financially independent here need to tiptoe a little while they get their ducks in a row. (But still, involving your boss in the lie is a bad idea OP).

    2. Dee-Nice*

      I think some of those comments are either coming from people who flat-out don’t get it, or who have traversed their own path to independence and feel some tough love is in order. Either way, it’s not always the most useful approach. We have only a hint, and not much more, of what the LW’s parents are like and how they’ll react.

    3. Snark*

      I think imputing abuse here is a bridge way too far. I don’t disagree with your overall point, but let’s not read into this details OP didn’t actually provide.

        1. Snark*

          The fact that OP said something after you did which post-facto justifies a reach doesn’t mean it wasn’t a reach.

          1. Delphine*

            It’s no longer a “reach” if it’s been justified. People in similar situations can often recognize patterns in other people’s experiences. I could have written this letter, as the child of emotionally abusive parents. People should learn to respond with compassion, regardless.

            1. Snark*

              I don’t really care if it was later supported; at the time the reach was reached, it was a reach. End of story. This falls under the heading of “don’t armchair diagnose,” which is a guideline here of long standing for a reason. I’m sure some armchair diagnoses were correct too.

              1. Temperance*

                I disagree. This is not comparable to armchair diagnoses, and many of us with abusive backgrounds could quite easily pick up the subtext.

              2. fposte*

                It was clearly stated as “potential,” and I don’t think it was armchair diagnosing so much as providing some illumination to people who had difficulty understanding the OP’s challenges. Abuse isn’t a binary anyway; the point is that some people are speaking from a position of not realizing how hard this can be.

    4. LaaTeeDah*

      None of what I said was meant to be mean; it’s a plea to put a stop this now before it gets worse.

      And I was in this exact same position: As a young person, fresh out of school and I had an abusive, controlling mother.

      Actually went into intensive counseling, even did some joint counseling with her trying to work through issues. It gets worse if you don’t get it figured out when you’re young… My mom told the counselor that I was a total 100% in the wrong and a heartless bitch for “breaking my promise” I made to her as a child to live with her and take care of her forever… It was loads of fun when she started telling me I was going to have to quit my job or leave my husband to care for her wants/needs, or when she kept a tally on how much “quality” time I spent with her vs. my husband. And she was physically abusive when I was younger – I frequently was slapped for being “fresh” which was her code word for disagreeing with her or not doing what she said to do the instant she said it.

      If OP is entangled with her parents financially through insurance, a phone plan, whatever… please get it sorted out now and get your own everything. Do not allow them any sort of power over you. There is no reason to do this other than saving money, and is the savings worth the feeling of slavery to your parent’s whims for as long as you allow yourself to do so? (and make no mistake, you are choosing to give her that power in exchange for saving a few bucks).

      There is no good reason to allow a parent to pay for your things as an adult (especially if you have an abusive relationship): There are fantastic phone plans out there – low-cost, no contract MVNOs are thick upon the ground – and no one has to have unlimited everything just because it was a grandfathered plan. Get a roommate to help with housing costs. Drop any non-essential spending and stick to a budget for the essentials. Health insurance is likely available through OP’s work. And if there are cosigned loans, maybe don’t default or get them refinanced?

      Sure it might be a bit more money, but the costs right now are too damned high if her mother is going to kick her off plans or become abusive if she doesn’t allow her mother to control her life as a grown adult.

      1. Delphine*

        “You’re choosing this” is such a bad response to people in these kinds of situations.

        There is no good reason to allow a parent to pay for your things as an adult.

        Not having the money on your own is usually a good reason. Sometimes it’s unavoidable if you don’t want to be homeless. Again: compassion!

        1. Snark*

          OP is working at a job they describe positively which offers a generous PTO plan, so I think that, in the absence of other information, it’s reasonable to assume that homelessness is not a factor in play here.

          1. fposte*

            Sure, but the point is still correct–there absolutely are reasons that make the price of walking away from parents too high to pay at some stages, and it seems pretty plausible that the OP has them.

            I feel like we’ve got a tacit war going on between “Bootstraps!” and “Homelessness!” here. It can be deservedly tricky and high all-kinds-of-cost to gumption an immediate separation from parents even if it doesn’t leave you sleeping in an alley; it’s also okay to have difficulty doing it in one go or completely even if you’re not at risk of that. There’s narrative satisfaction in the total one-and-one brushoff, but I’m not convinced that makes the most and best sense for everybody’s life.

            Just don’t ask your work to do the labor for you.

            1. Troutwaxer*

              I think the issue here is that the OP needs to use her best judgment and take things step by step. That means listing all financial entanglements and figuring out how to end them, one step at a time. That means making sure that parents can’t have influence in her work; talking to the boss may or may not be a good idea, but the OP is perfectly capable of making a mature judgment about the boss, or possibly asking someone at work who’s been there a little longer about the boss. Getting the parental relationship under control may require therapy, or a three-year-plan, or a five-year-plan, or possibly might involve moving either cities or work… but the important thing is to make a plan, be flexible about the plan, and take things one step at a time.

        2. Student*

          If your parent is a controlling, abusive person who won’t let you grow up, then it is extremely important to cut off these support lines. Even if it means living in squalor or taking an abominable room-mate.

          Normal people can keep some of the exact same support lines without nearly the same kinds of consequences.

          The difference is in the parent, and the adult child’s relationship with them, not in the specific support lines. What is healthy phone cost-sharing and generous rent help in one family becomes lines of control, manipulation, and power plays in another family. If you still don’t understand, that’s because your parents are extremely far outside what the OP has: pretend it’s an abusive ex-husband paying for the cell phone or the gas card, and maybe that’ll help you understand the dynamic.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Keep in mind OP, it doesn’t need to be all at once. You may not have insurance through your current job; it would be prohibitively expensive to tackle paying for that on your own right now, so look at untangling phone / car insurance / whatever other strings while also making a plan to look for jobs that provides insurance down the road. Student loans are a huge choke points for many of my friends; they owe hundreds of thousands (just to get jobs that don’t provide benefits! Or pay enough to pay all your own bills!) and they feel like they are indentured servants to their parents if it’s co-signed or whatever. BUT loans have payment plans for a reason, and if you’re making your minimum payments right now, that’s all you need to do. It’s really, really hard. But it is doable and if you’re at least making steps in this direction it can help you bide your time.

  51. LCL*

    It sounds like this is OPs first December holidays away from the family. Getting a job away from them and moving out from under their roof is a huge accomplishment. Now OP expects them to dig in, and OP is the expert on their family. When you grow up with really controlling parents, it never occurs to you that you can say no, and that you don’t have to account for every minute of your time. (Not my experience, I was allowed to run wild but I saw it with some friends.)

    OP, you say you don’t want to lie to your parents about your leave time/time off. That’s admirable, but with parents who are over the top controlling, you may have to lie to them a lot at first to get them to back off. Teenagers do it all the time. It’s not the most adult way to do things, but necessary in this case because of your parents’ controlling approach. It is OK to lie and say you can’t make it, or are busy. Blame work if you have to. Your schedule and off time are your business. In the perfect world you would just tell them no, but you aren’t there yet. Give yourself some space with the lie, and give yourself credit for living outside of their household, that is a big step.

    FWIW, I have cancelled more than one approved holiday vacation request when asked. These situations always involved ex-spouses and promises to be in at least two places at once.

  52. cheeky*

    I don’t see how your family could force you to take the week off if they wanted to, except by hounding you to take the time off. You’re an adult, though- you don’t have to do anything they want you to do. This is time to set boundaries and stick to them. I recommend seeing a therapist to help find the words and tactics to put distance between you and your family.

    1. nonegiven*

      I can

      We will buy your plane ticket if you promise to spend the whole week, otherwise we’ll tack the ticket price onto the tuition you owe us.

      Ok, so sorry I won’t be able to make it this year, I can’t see getting any deeper into debt. I’ll tell work I won’t need Tuesday off after all. Maybe we can Skype on Christmas day.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Some families have a special knack for making life hell when a family member does not comply with orders.

  53. mAd Woman*

    Even if this wasn’t a terrible idea for your boss relationship, it would likely mean the boss would have to justify it to higher ups as well. I manage a team and if I deny a PTO request, I have to notify HR and the VP of my division with the reasoning so it can go on file, in case the employee ever accuses the company of being unfair with approvals/denials (company wide policy). Lots of companies keep all that stuff, so having a denial in your file with that reason could follow you as long as you are with the company.

  54. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    OP, I’ve been in your shoes twice – once with my family as I stepped out on my own and again with my in-laws once my husband and I had kids. It’s really hard because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but self-care is more important. Holidays should be a joyful time but if the stress of going to your parents’ house is going to derail the limited time off work you get, you should rethink the travel. Your parents are not going to be harmed by you not being there.

    Think about down the line – next year you may be in a serious relationship and looking to spend time with your partner’s family. Or your partner may want to go to your parents’ house. In a few years you may have kids of your own and no matter what is said, someone will be disappointed you aren’t there for all the holidays. You can’t be in two places at once, and if you change routines without warning, it may be more of a fight than you are prepared for. Train your family now!

    Or do what my husband and I did and choose to take a vacation out of state for Thanksgiving and spend Christmas in our own home with our kids (we invite family over a few days before Christmas to celebrate).

    1. SpaceySteph*

      Definitely agree with training your family now! Or else you’re like my now-husband who at 27 years old missed his first Christmas at home EVER because he was saving vacation for our wedding and honeymoon in February and his parents literally could not deal. They tried bargaining for shorter and shorter trips, all the way down to “fly in on Christmas eve, fly out on the 26th.”
      So think of it as you’re meeting them halfway by going home for the long weekend, which gives them time to adjust before next year or 2 years from now you don’t show up at all.

      Also, the year of my first real job I didn’t know better so I worked up until the 23rd and came back the 26th and I regretted it because the office was empty and nothing was happening and as a new person I didnt have anything critical that needed my presence that week. Which is not to say you should stay home, but rather that you should consider taking the whole week off anyways and do something for yourself. Staycation, vacation, go off the grid, whatever floats your boat. Celebrate being an adult who doesn’t let your family control every minute of your time off.

  55. A Teacher*

    There’s a great website called BabyCenter (its not all about babies) with two super active boards: DWIL (Dealing with the Inlaws) and AITF (All in the Family) that would be so helpful to the OP in setting boundaries. I actually found the boards through this site several years ago. You don’t have to post, you can lurk but there is so much on there about setting boundaries. Its even better than Captain Awkward in some circumstances.

  56. Cheeky Librarian*

    I agree that I wouldn’t let my boss know that you don’t want to be with your family. Regardless of what your boss says about Christmas this sets a precedence for your family and work. If you don’t want to be there the entire week you don’t have to. Maybe if you see it was taking time for yourself to prepare for work that would be easier for you to justify saying no to your parents. But the minute your boss knows about this and gets involved then that person will be in your family drama. Which is not cool for you or your boss

  57. Granny K*

    Remember: No is a complete sentence. I think Miss Manners might have said this originally (or knowing her, it was probably “No, thank you.”.) It’s ok to want to have your own holiday. In fact, I hope you get to place where you don’t go home for the holidays at all, and feel ok about it.

    1. OP*

      I do work in IT – is it bad that I’m praying for a gigantic system failure/huge deadline that week? :)

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Not suggesting sabotage, but if the system accidentally crashed/melted down/got hacked by Russia/North Korea/Pitr Dubovich, well……”Sorry folks, gotta put that degree to good use, working day and night, talk to you later, Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day!!” Oh, and throw in running/verifying full backups of every workstation, server, etc….or auditing all the user access records to ensure you don’t have unauthorized access occurring. Kind of thing that takes days….possibly weeks. And it needs to be done before the end of the calendar year, but not too early before the end of the calendar year.

        Good luck to you!!

      2. RB*

        No, it’s not “bad” per se, but it’s sad that you feel you can’t just lay out your plans matter-of-factly next time it comes up. There really isn’t an explanation required. Just make sure you’re clear with them and don’t build their hopes up into an unrealistic expectation. That would actually be worse than just saying what nights you’re staying over and leaving it at that. Surely there must have been times in college where you didn’t stay as long as they had hoped or you spent time with friends when you could have been with them. It will get easier each time. Don’t get pulled into a further discussion. Learn to brush them off kindly but firmly.

  58. M is for Mulder*

    As someone who came from a home life that sounds similar to yours, OP, let me add an additional tidbit: working in a field that requires significant confidentiality agreements has been a HUGE boon in dealing with intrusive, pushy parents. It’s an amazing benefit to be able to push back on certain behaviors with “You know I can’t discuss what I do” or “That isn’t information I can share with anyone”. At this point, my parents might think I work at Area 54.

    1. AKchic*

      *laugh* I’ve done the same thing! Or that what I claim is a front for something else. I do have a BIL convinced that I’m a Certified Public Assassin (Guild of Saint Nikita).

    2. nonegiven*

      “I can’t talk about what is going on at work with anyone. If they bought stock it would count as insider trading.”

  59. seejay*

    All my sympathies OP. I have a rather difficult family myself and I like to try to balance my sanity with when I see them *and* keep the guilt trips at a minimum. The nice thing about a job and distance is that you can easily use it as an excuse without your family knowing exactly what’s going on and you really don’t have to bring anyone at work into it, even indirectly. It’s not an outright lie, as far as I’m concerned… it’s stretching the truth and for the sake of your sanity and mental well-being.

    Just tell your family that you can’t book the extra time, you’re needed to be back at work (or some other closely related white lie) and go forth with no guilt. Don’t bring your workplace into it, but also make sure that your social media or any other potential ways your family might catch you “not working” are covered (just in case).

  60. Marley*

    Use that generous PTO package to get some therapy! Learning to be an adult and have an adult-to-adult relationship is challenging in the best of circumstances, which you’re not in. Having someone to talk with and practice setting boundaries with would be very beneficial.

  61. Shoe*

    I can relate so hard to this! I do not get along with my family AT ALL and yet my mom always wants me to take my vacation to spend time with her, Christmas or not, but especially at Christmas.

    It is very much Not Cool to ask your boss to deny your request so that you can get some sense of plausible deniability.

    With my own family, I’ve found the following script very useful:
    Mom: You can just take the rest of Christmas week off!
    Me: No, I’m going in to work that week.
    Mom: But why can’t you take it off? I’m giving you lots of notice that I want you home that week. You have lots of vacation time. There’s no reason you can’t use it to spend the week with your family. We deserve to have that time with you.
    Me: No, I’m going to be working that week.
    Mom: Give me a good reason why you can’t take that week off.
    Me: Because I’m not going to take the week off. I’m going in to work that week.

    For my family, and I expect for yours, any excuse is taken as a problem for which they must come up with a solution. No excuse works. No excuse, including “I got denied the vacation,” will ever be good enough. The only thing you can do is repeat your plans, state them as though they are a done deal, and stick to your guns.

    Good luck!

  62. Stop That Goat*

    Don’t involve your boss. Feel free to explain the situation if you are worried about your boss talking to your parents (what an unusual dynamic) but don’t expect your boss to handle your parental control issues. That’s not their job and I’d be heavily annoyed for being pulled into what sounds like familial drama.

    Just my perspective but I wouldn’t deny your request and I’d view you as immature as a result. Ultimately, it’s just not going to help you.

  63. Anon16*

    I want to bring up a point that may have already been mentioned, but it’s fine to tell your parents “I can’t come, I have to work” without involving your boss in that decision. This is related to the comment above about what would happen if your mother somehow ran into your boss and asked about your work and your boss might seem “surprised” given that they didn’t ask you to take time off. People are allowed to make those decisions independent of their boss. I might decide when to take PTO regarding my work without consulting my boss/deciding to stay late to finish work up. I think it’s perfectly fine to have a boss not be aware of those decisions. Just wanted to put that out there in case the unusual scenario of your mom visiting you of state and seeing your boss somehow happens.

  64. Manager-at-Large*

    You can even phrase it truthfully without addressing the time off request side.
    You can just say “Sorry, can’t stay longer. Those are normal work days for me this year.” or “I’m scheduled to work those days.” or even “I’m working those days so those with kids out of school can have the time off.” (if that is true)

    Your parents don’t need to know if you asked for time off and were denied it, if you jumped at the chance to volunteer to be the coverage person, or if you never said a word to your employer. You don’t have to share the details of your work interactions with your parents. If there is another aspect of your life (your teapot painting class) that you can share – it would be good for small talk. But you don’t have to share details that you don’t want to.

  65. imaskingamanager*

    You’re an adult. Just tell them that you aren’t getting the time off. Don’t play these kinds of games with work!

  66. FD*

    Congratulations on moving out and on the job! I think the advice here is very solid. Bear in mind that if people make it unsafe (physically or emotionally) for you to tell the truth, they lose the right to be upset when you lie to them.

    If your parents are the sort who might try to go around you by going to your boss or other methods, you might be best off with a no-explanation no. For people who see all boundaries as negotiations, any explanation is just something to be figured out so you can do what they want. This will feel really rude and weird, but might save you hassle if they’re the sort who might try to go around you to ‘make’ you come home.

    However, if they’re the sort who are more likely to respect a ‘can’t get the days off’ that’s a fair play too.

    1. FD*

      Following up after seeing your mom’s suspiciously convenient meeting with your boss, I would definitely give your boss a light heads up. I thought Observer’s comment upthread was a very good script.

  67. OldJules*

    I can get pretty passive aggressive about something like this with family. I always spin it as my department needs coverage and as the lowest person on the totem pole, I get the last choice on holidays. It’s not a lie since I never even asked but I don’t have to involve a 3rd party either.

    Side note: I am older and have established my independence and so I no longer have to make up excuses. But I get it. When I first started work, it was hard to establish boundaries.

    Good luck!

  68. JD*

    I don’t get it. Your parents wont know if you asked or not. You don’t want to lie to your parents but you want your boss to think you’re too immature to handle your personal life? This isn’t asking mom to go out with friends. Just tell them you can’t take it off. No further explanation is needed. If an employee came to me with this I would look at them like their head was on backwards. Just don’t ask if you don’t want to take it off. Not like mommy is calling your boss to ask.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Here is your chance to learn about how life can be for people in a very different culture. OP could even be your neighbor, but she grew up in a different (family) culture from yours.

      So, rather than saying “Why can’t you xyz like I can?” you can say “Your situation is so different from anything in my life. What is it like to be unable to xyz?”

    2. Amazed*

      OP stated upthread that mom and boss have met face to face and discussed the workplace. A phone call or another meeting aren’t out of the question, and they can (and have, in similar situations) carried real consequences.

      1. Janelle*

        Ya and as I said earlier, so her mom is upset. So what? If the family is so abusive then sounds like mom is likely always mad. So one mad or another. Doesn’t matter how you grew up. You had to grow up.

      2. JD*

        What consequences? I mean, don’t see the mom, problem solved. Is she going to get spanked? Let’s be reasonable here. She is an adult.

        1. M is for Mulder*

          They’re on her student loans, for one thing. Controlling a child with money is incredibly common, and not always easy to extricate yourself from. Have some compassion.

          1. PlainJane*

            I don’t see this as lack of compassion but an attempt to cut through the thought patterns you can develop in situations like this. It’s useful to try to consider objectively exactly what you’re so afraid of in the situation. What are the actual likely consequences? And how could you deal with them? Often the consequence is a lot of drama/emotional abuse. OK, so what then? Can you walk out? Hang up? What will happen then? What exactly does the student loan contract say? What could your mother do in that regard if she got mad enough? Etc.

            1. Observer*

              Well, most of the stuff would be “only” emotional abuse, going by what the OP says. But right now, she’s dependent on her parents for medical care. So that’s something that even people who don’t understand the impact that emotional abuse can have, should understand.

              And, of course, given Mom’s behavior I can see a reasonable worry that Mom could endanger her job. The best way to head that off, I think, is to ask her boss not to talk to Mom because Mom tends to overstep. But, it’s not an unreasonable concern, and I could see the parents deliberately trying to tank her job.

          2. FormerEmployee*

            If the parent are on her student loans, it means they’d be stuck if she didn’t pay.

            More likely scenario is that they paid for all or some of her college costs and they hold it over her.

        2. Amazed*

          Is your head on backwards? :)

          Besides the fact that the OP has already mentioned parents having medical insurance and student loans as possible leverage, she’s also supplied numerous examples of flat-out abusive behavior, including stalking the workplace sufficiently enough to meet OP’s boss and discuss OP’s job in person, then denying she’d orchestrated the whole affair.

          Mom isn’t playing by any of the rules we expect. All bets are off.

    3. Observer*

      Not like mommy is calling your boss to ask

      Based on what the OP posted, I wouldn’t bet on it. This is a woman who managed to “just happen” to bump into the boss as the boss was going to lunch and “just happened” to recognize her (the boss). You really think that Mom is incapable of ratcheting it up a notch?

      1. nonegiven*

        I accidentally connected with my son’s manager once on Twitter. I teased him and she chimed in
        @son who is this @nonegiven? I like her.
        @manager, you have just met my mother.

  69. KJDubreuil*

    I shall now tell a story that I hope OP will read and enjoy:
    My 89 year old mother lives with me and my partner. She separated from my father when I was a teenager, happily or unhappily lived alone for quite a while and then moved across the country to retire and live with me 30 years ago because I lived in a more favorable climate and was more stable than my two sisters who were frequently moving due to careers and relationships. My mother and I bought a house together. At the time I was single and my mother was very independent and all was well. I then became involved with my partner and we have been together 22 years.
    In the first year of my relationship with my partner we (partner and I, not mother) went back to my family home across the country to visit my father. I had not seen my father in at least 5 years and probably spoke on the phone only a couple of times. We were distant but not unfriendly. He was a very strange individual and the visit did not go well for my partner who could not understand my father at all. He was not abusive ever but was strangely controlling and completely oblivious to the wishes and comfort of others. I was uncomfortable also, because of my father’s behavior and because I really dislike being in big cities, but we coped with the situation and the visit was short.
    After that very uncomfortable visit I ceased voluntary contact with my father and avoided him as much as possible. I probably spoke to him once a year or less often but the conversations were amicable. So we were estranged but not hostile.
    Several years later my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack. He was never sick or in need of family help, he just suddenly died. My mother (living with me and estranged from my father for 25 years by then) and my sisters (each living in a different part of the country) decided that we all should go to my father’s apartment in New York City to pack up his hoard of lifetime accumulations, shred papers, sell things, clean out the apartment etc.
    I said no, not going. My mother (usually quite reasonable) had a melt down. Every guilt trip in the world was laid on me. It went on for weeks (until they all left for NYC without me.) I said I didn’t want to go, saw no reason for me to go, was not going, over and over.
    I even asked my mother if she ‘needed’ me to go to support ‘her.’ I said the only way I would go was if she told me that she needed me personally to ‘be there for her.’ I was pretty sure she didn’t because of how independent each member of our family has always been and indeed she reluctantly agreed that she really didn’t because she was not feeling any grief, just that the work needed to be done and she didn’t want my sisters to have to do it by themselves. My sisters were feeling grief because they were close to my father but my presence was not needed to comfort them either. They were fine without me. They really just wanted my mother there.
    I pointed out that no one ‘had’ to go and do all that work. They could send a moving company to pack up and clear out the apartment, or they could tell the building owner that he was free to give the hoard away.
    No one ‘had’ to arrange a memorial, but if someone wanted to because she loved my father, she was free to do so. I did not attend the memorial either, but by then my mother and sisters had reluctantly accepted that I was not flying across the country to do anything having to do with my father’s death.
    OMG what will people think if one of his daughters isn’t at the memorial??? Well, actually, what they would probably think is that one of his daughters couldn’t make it to the memorial, if they even noticed that I was missing. And, I barely knew any of those people and I didn’t really care what they would think. And, I never heard word one about that after the fact.
    So the purpose of this story OP is that the world did not end, I still love my sisters and they still love me. My mother continues to live with me (which is a whole other story . . . ) even though I said no to one of the bigger family/life events someone might encounter. You can just say no to staying past Tuesday and if you want to soften the blow you can tell your parents that you promise you will attend their memorials when they die.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for your story! I do come from a cycle of this – my mom was guilted into attending her (emotionally and physically abusive) father’s re-marriage and I can see that happening to me in my future.
      (Side note on cycles – my mom constantly reminds me how much worse she had it with her physically/emotionally abusive father and either can’t see or just denies that she continued at least the emotional part of that with me).

      1. AKchic*

        Abuse tends to be generational. I could show you so many studies, and anecdotal evidence to support the studies; but you have it in your own life that it really wouldn’t do much to reinforce the facts.

        It takes a lot of self-awareness and in many cases, therapy, to break the cycles of abuse. You will need healthy boundaries and a LOT of patience and a willingness to walk away for your own well-being.

        My family is terrible. Some continue to perpetuate portions of the cycle, others overcompensate and go the other way, which makes other problems. Very few have ever seen a therapist. The majority refuse to even acknowledge an issue and believe therapy is an evil money-stealing scheme. And this is the “respectable” side of my family.

      2. Anon for This*

        When someone believes they are constantly the victim, they can almost never see how they victimize others. It’s so much better for you long-term if you can set boundaries sooner rather than later, so that you don’t fall into a similar trap. One of the best things I’ve done in my life is to set very strict boundaries with my mother. It took a situation where we were both miserable most of the time, to a situation where she’s miserable most of the time, but I’m not.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        The only tidbit here is if you do look at her life you can indeed see that there was no way she could learn the skills to be a successful parent just from watching her parents.
        It’s a tool that helps us to understand why they are the way they are, which explains the why. However, it’s not license for them to do whatever-whatever. Their rotten childhood does not negate our own feelings on our experiences.What she has skipped over here is that we are still responsible for learning how to manage things even if we did not learn it as kids.

        I think it’s easier to see if we were talking about managing money. My father was a depression kid, there was no money to manage. Why would it occur to him to teach me anything about money? On the other side of the story, yes, he could have read and learned something about money management and taught me. Likewise with your mother, she did not learn about managing her emotions so she could have used books or professionals to help her.
        It’s not our fault if our parents fail to teach us something, but it is our fault if we don’t try to grow and learn as adults.

  70. Half-Caf Latte*

    Apologies if this was already covered:

    I have known a few people who come from toxic family situations, and they ALL have stories of “well-meaning” coworkers/bosses/significant others/acquaintances/rando mall clerks who make the argument “but they’re faaaaamily,” and pushing hard for reconciliations, especially at holidays or big life events. They also all agree that it is emotionally draining and isolating to keep having to deflect these comments.

    By sharing her (reasonable and valid) desire to limit contact with her family at work, I’d be concerned that OP is opening up that line of conversation with boss if boss lacks boundaries, or with busybody coworkers who hear about this request.

    Given the details the OP shared, I’d consider giving boss a heads up (several great scripts upthread), but if that weren’t the case, I’d advise to keep it out of the workplace entirely to avoid this potential problem.

  71. Liane*

    Serious question here.
    Why are so many people worried that if OP’s family contacts the company to check up on whether OP asked for time off/got time off/really has to work on [dates], that the boss or someone else will give them the information? After all, so many companies refuse to tell reference checkers more than start/end dates.

    1. fposte*

      If an employee’s mother called me to lecture me about not giving her kid time off, it’s quite likely I would give her an earful not only about the inappropriateness of her calling but about the fact that her kid chose her own schedule. And remember this is a parent who has already managed to talk to her daughter’s boss despite living in a different state.

      1. NW Mossy*

        And even in the most charitable benefit-of-the-doubt orientation towards OP’s mom, I’d roll with “I’m sorry, who did you say you were?” followed by an “Oh, I don’t discuss my management of my employees with individuals outside the company, as I’m sure you can understand. Have a great day!” *click*

        My next stop would be to pull my direct aside and say, “Just so you’re aware, your mom called. I shut it down and you don’t owe me an excuse or explanation, but I wanted you to know that I’m not going to be talking to her about your work here now or in the future.”

    2. Amazed*

      I agree that it’s rare, every company I’ve worked at has this kind of non-disclosure as written policy. But here’s two reasons I can think of why everyone wants the base covered:

      A) We know such contact has already occurred, the OP told us that mom and boss have met, face to face, and made small talk about the work relationship. Even a flippant comment about holiday time being denied from mom, and a look of surprise from the boss even if she doesn’t say anything, would be enough to spill the beans.

      B) So many companies refuse, but OP’s company isn’t necessarily one of them.

      C) This particular leak sounds like it will have far worse consequences than most.

    3. Liane*

      I know it’s late, but I wanted to thank you all for answering. I had forgotten 1 or 2 details when I asked.

  72. wem*

    Sounds like you should have a nice quiet holiday at your apartment, with friends. Doesn’t sound like you have any reason to go home, if you don’t want to.

  73. La Revancha*

    I’m a full believer in always being honest and not having to figure out ways to make up little lies or beat around the bush. This goes for all situations including family, work, friends, etc. My husband has difficult parents who give him a hard time and he is 35 years old. His parents get upset if we spend an evening with his friends or go to the gym when we visit them – basically if we don’t spend 24/7 at their house. There was one time where his mother cried herself to sleep when we went to dinner with his friends (we were literally gone for 3 hours). We have to be upfront with them – “Sorry, we have plans this evening and we’re going to the gym on these days!” You just have to be honest and say “these are the days I’m home this year! Excited to get to see you.” Eventually and with time they will get used to you visiting or spending less days there. You are your own person and you don’t have to worry about your parents getting upset when you’re already going to be there. You have to learn at some point.

    1. Amazed*

      “There was one time where his mother cried herself to sleep when we went to dinner with his friends (we were literally gone for 3 hours).”

      Sweet Jesus…

  74. Student*

    OP – my parents have a lot in common with yours. I want you to understand that they are way, way outside normal, in a bad way for you.

    I set rigid boundaries. I found other things to do during holidays, and I did them. I didn’t give my parents an option about it. I didn’t lie to them. I also cut every string between us so they’d have little to no leverage outside of pure emotional baggage – this is a very, very important step that you have to take if you want to gain your full independence. I became much more willing to hurt my parents – to hurt their feelings, to embarrass them before their friends and family, to let them down, to make them angry.

    You have to stop any money flow from parents to you. Even if it means scaling your life back dramatically – ESPECIALLY if it means scaling your life back dramatically – because they want you addicted to big and little comforts so you’ll accept their ownership over you.

    You have to stop letting them do “adult” things for you. Might be your taxes, your doctor appointments, your laundry, or other things. It’s the same deal as with money. Normal people in normal relationships can sustain a little dependence on their parents and be fine; you cannot afford it if you want to be independent, because your parents use it to control you instead of to be kind to you.

    Know that when you opt to decrease your holiday involvement, or opt out of it entirely, there will be fireworks. Your parents will make you feel miserable and guilty and dumb and selfish, in a way only a very close relative can. They will act out. They will get irrational. They may even get violent, or verbally abusive, or threaten you. This is called an extinction burst – the person in control starts to realize their control is slipping, so they up the ante dramatically to try to get you back under their thumb. Expect it, call their bluff, and do your own thing, and accept that it’ll be unpleasant for you. The world won’t end, Aunt Millie will still make her annual fruitcake, and the Christmas cards will turn out fine.

    Then they’ll turn on a charm offensive for next time – like an abusive spouse going through the kind & cruel cycle, to convince you that being under their thumb is really not so bad. They may offer more perks, or give a sibling bigger perks to try to lure you back. Your independence is ultimately not worth whatever they offer you, OP, so stay strong. They will slowly turn their energy somewhere else, so it won’t be as intense in the long-term, but it likely will never get to a normal relationship. Realize you’ll end up repeating this battle for the rest of your life, until you work up the courage to cut them out of it. It’s not because something’s wrong with you – it’s because something is wrong with them that you cannot ever hope to fix.

  75. Will's mom*

    You can just say you cannot get the days off. Your family doesn’t have to know that it because you did not ask. You would not be lying, because if you don’t ask, you can’t get the days off

  76. Database Developer Dude*

    You know, saying “I couldn’t get the time off” isn’t a lie. You just have to refrain from giving the second half of the statement “…..because my company has a policy that time off must be requested in advance and I’ve not done it”.

    I don’t believe in a lie of omission. That involves a duty to disclose, and I don’t think there’s a duty to disclose here. Just because you WANT to know something about me, doesn’t mean you have a right to know.

  77. Poster Child*

    OP, if you don’t want to risk your parents talking to your boss, you can try telling them you WANT to work that week, it’s a good week to get work done when other people are on vacation (this is true for many people I work with!), you want to finish a project that will get you recognized at work, or some other story that if verified with your boss might not raise any flags. I don’t know if your parents will let you get away with this excuse not knowing them, but it should be safer than saying you can’t get vacation.

    1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

      That’s a great suggestion. I always work that week when hardly anyone is here and I LOVE IT!!! I get e-mails sorted out, go through things I no longer need and delete, re-configure my desk area, etc. I’d rather save my vacation days for when the weather is nice.

  78. nonegiven*

    How about, “Sorry, I can only spend x-y with the family this year. I need to travel back on date.”

  79. moosetracks*

    Last year my immediate family told low-contact relatives we weren’t going to their house for Christmas as one of us was homebound with a life threatening illness (this was true). Cut to grandma crying on the phone about how we were ruining Christmas (she actually said “Christmas is ruined,” I think). It ended up with me and another healthy family member going.

    That is to say, I think the parents-calling-boss behavior might reasonably be what OP expects — I fully believe some people would be that controlling (which doesn’t mean that OP should involve the boss, for previously stated reasons).

    Sometimes people who don’t respect boundaries also don’t respect excuses and demand more information than “I have to work” (“Doesn’t your company have good benefits? Aren’t you respected enough in your company to be able to get the time off?”).

    It’s a tough situation. I wish I had better suggestions than “fake your own death” “hire an actor to play you” or “flee to a beautiful island,” but those are my current holiday ideas.

    1. Bibliovore*

      My brother-in-law was hospitalized on Christmas Eve for a life-threatening respiratory illness. For years from my mother-in-law, that was the year Sandor ruined Christmas. I just couldn’t believe it. Not being a Christian, I really couldn’t understand how anyone could “ruin” Christmas. Eye rolling commenced.

    2. Temperance*

      That actually is so awful. Your grandmother sounds toxic, and I’m sorry that she manipulated you into doing what she wants.

      That being said, my in-laws couldn’t understand why I wasn’t up to visiting them for an entire weekend for Easter, a holiday which we do not observe in any way, shape, or form, just 2 weeks after a major hospitalization. Like, you jerks whine about being uncomfortable on long car rides, which is why you whine and cajole us to visit YOU and do all the traveling, and yet you can’t even empathize a little bit with all of the muscle atrophy that I have and you never have dealt with.

  80. One of the Sarahs*

    OP once you’ve told your parents you’re not going home for Xmas, get yourself a script for what to say if other people ask you why you’re not going home too.

    So if a friend says something like “that’s so sad!” you can say “I’m actually really looking forward to spending the Christmas in the city” or whatever. I’ve done Xmas with my family once since I was 16 (I was a very stroppy teenager and did volunteering on Xmas Day instead” and you will get some people who want to know your reasons, but things like “I can’t face the travel over Xmas/I really like doing it by myself” and then diverting to ask them about their plans is all you need.

    Hope you have a fantastic week!

  81. Emac*

    OP, I totally get your situation; my family is very similar. I wanted to add one thing that has been helping me to stop feeling guilty and set boundaries with them – they have no right to explanations from you.

    “I can’t take that week off work” only becomes a lie if you get into explanations about why you can’t, and you’re not telling them the truth of “I can’t take that week off work because I never asked for it because I don’t want to spend my vacation days at your house.” They don’t have any right to the ‘becauses’, even though I’m sure they have ingrained in you that they do.

    Another thing I’ll add from my own experience: one of my mother’s favorite ways to manipulate me was to say that if there was something that I didn’t want to tell her or felt I had to lie to her about, it meant I obviously knew that what I was doing/thinking was wrong. Because if it wasn’t wrong, I’d have no problem telling her, right? It took me WAY too long to realize how screwed up that was. That I had a right to have different opinions, and also to not want to debate about those opinions all the time. Or I had a right to do things for myself and not justify why.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. OP*

      “one of my mother’s favorite ways to manipulate me was to say that if there was something that I didn’t want to tell her or felt I had to lie to her about, it meant I obviously knew that what I was doing/thinking was wrong. Because if it wasn’t wrong, I’d have no problem telling her, right?”

      The same thing happens to me and I honestly didn’t know that it was screwed up. Yikes!

      1. Rainy*

        Yeah, that is definitely fucked up, friend. Yikes indeed.

        I’m going to second the CAwkward rec, and also, if you are a redditor, /justnofamily and /raisedbynarcissists. The reddit stuff is a little less…objective, let’s say, but it can really be helpful to see people who are farther along in their process calling out stuff you take for granted, and also to see that you are by no means the only one.

        CAwkward is more “here’s what this is doing, here’s why it’s fucked up, have a script to set boundaries”, which I think might be super helpful for you as you start feeling your way toward healthy boundaries and healthy levels of involvement.

      2. seejay*

        I’m still having issues with it now, in my 40s. After my mom torpedoing several of my relationships by being way too involved (either telling me what to do, what to say, or running various modes of interference), I’ve kept her pretty much only surface information on my latest one. She knows a bit about it, but she’s never met him, doesn’t know many details about the status of the relationship, and basically just superficial stuff. And I’ve kept it that way. She’s tried the “well if things were going well, why wouldn’t you tell me more? If there’s nothing wrong with it, you shouldn’t have problems telling me about it”. I don’t bother trying to explain that the last three serious relationships I had, her involvement caused serious problems and I no longer trust her *at all* when it comes to this topic anymore…. it would just lead to arguments and fights. I tell her there’s nothing to discuss and change the topic now.

        If you’re aware of these behaviours, you can learn to navigate and change them in time, so keep at it!

      3. Emac*

        Yeah, it was kind of a revelation when a therapist pointed this out to me. And I also recommend Captain Awkward and the Friends of Captain Awkward forums – I’ve learned so much there about healthy boundaries and how to recognize emotional manipulation.

      4. Observer*

        This is a good reason to get yourself to a therapist if at all possible.

        In some areas there are free or low cost mental health resources that you might be able to access. Having a neutral outsider help you to see what is normal and reasonable and what is not can be extremely helpful.

    2. Temperance*

      My mother did the same thing! It’s really messed up that an adult had to second-guess all of her own choices.

  82. Bookworm*

    I’m sympathetic, OP. I dreaded school vacations from college and still hate going home for Christmas. Agree with some of the other suggestions: anything *else* you can do to occupy your time like volunteering at a soup kitchen, etc.?

    And while I think many of the other posters have good points, I would not be surprised if there are cultural/familial/other personal details that you’re not sharing for any variety of reasons that makes saying no to your parents more difficult. I also encourage you to try to learn to put distance between them if you can but really do understand that you may be in a tough spot and they may be in a position to somehow hold it over you or otherwise make you miserable. Good luck.

  83. CoveredInBees*

    I have to work.

    That’s it. It might be that I really can’t get time off or it might be that it is not worth having to make up missed work for the time I took off.

  84. Observer*

    One other thing, OP. If your parents have access to your bank account, open a new account in a different bank TODAY. If your employer has direct deposit, have them change the deposit to your new bank. And, the first thing you do after the new account is up and running is to withdraw all of your money from the old account and put it into the new account.

  85. MissDisplaced*

    Look, I know the whole family thing can be difficult and there are such expectations around the holidays, but you need to GROW SOME and tell your parents you’ll only be able to attend Christmas holiday functions X, X and X days and then you have OTHER COMMITMENTS the rest of the week. Period. No discussion.
    You are an adult now, and adults have their own lives outside of the immediate family and parental units. Your parents also need to understand and begin respecting this, but part of this begins with you, how you act, and how YOU set the boundaries.

  86. mf*

    OP, just lie to your parents. Or fudge the truth. If they want to know why you can’t take PTO, tell them you’ve got some important year-end deadlines. You could say that you’re the youngest, newest employee there with the least seniority, so you’re expected to cover for other employees who will be gone. Or you could say your boss was hoping you could work that week, and you want to score brownie points with him/her since you’re still pretty new.

    If you think there’s any way your parents could (or will) try to contact your boss, then you need to talk to your boss and/or HR. You don’t have to explain your whole family situation–just keep it simple…

    “I’m opting not to visit my parents for Christmas this year due to a complicated family situation, but I’m concerned that my parents will try to contact you without my consent to see if I can take PTO. If they do contact you, can you please refuse to discuss my PTO with them?”

    The vast majority of bosses would probably agree to this. Your boss might even be willing to go as a far as to say, “That would be a breach of privacy.”

  87. Thursday Next*

    OP – I’m late to the game here but hope I can offer some perspective. My ex-husband is that kind of awful, controlling parent. His daughter is now almost 23 and he is not dealing well with her trying to assert herself as an adult. But since he controls her car, her phone, her money, he controls all aspects of her life. A stupid argument about who should be the lead singer in her boyfriend’s band led to my ex shutting of her phone, closing her back account, and disabling her car. Yeah. And all the while he was sending her highly abusive texts telling her she was stupid and crazy. She comes to me because she saw me successfully get away from her dad, and I’ve been helping (in the form of advice and support) for getting out from under his thumb. And my advice to you is the same as my advice to her: take back all the things he has control over — move your money to a completely different bank and close the one tied to his account. Get your own cell phone plan and split the cost with your boyfriend and roommates. Her car is nearly paid off (and fortunately he’s in another state now so he can’t physically mess with it) and it will be tricky but the plan is to get him in one of his super-happy-manic moods and get him to sign over the title. I’ve learned myself that once a person has nothing to hold over you, and you can get to a point you can ignore their tirades, you are liberated; you are free.

    1. Thursday Next*

      And additionally, regarding the tuition — get the details about what you are or are not responsible for. If they took out the loans themselves, rather than cosigning, your legal obligation is different. They may think you have a moral obligation to pay them back for ‘not meeting their expectations’, but they wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on. I would even go so far as to argue that they made a bad-faith agreement by holding you to terms they didn’t define or provide metrics for and so the whole thing was arbitrary.

  88. Ask a different manager*

    I wouldn’t deny your time off. I might have to answer for that later – why am I such a bad manager I can’t give people the time off they’ve earned and requested? Especially over the holiday, what, am I such a bad planner I had to make someone work the holiday week?

    You’re asking me to lie – to deny someone’s time off request I have to honestly say I have no other choice – I legitimately need someone and there are no volunteers or it has to be you specifically. I’ve only denied someone’s time off request one time, EVER. I’m pretty proud of that and I’d like to keep it that way.

    But if you say “I have a bunch of work to do so I don’t get behind” – that could be true enough, while not making me the bad guy. That’s your decision.

  89. Princess Cimorene*

    They’ll try to make the unilateral decision about my vacation time so I can’t really just flat-out refuse to stay home if it’s an option.

    But you can. You are an adult.

    1. OP*

      I’d agree, but these are parents that showed up on my doorstep one day in college and forced me to come home with them.

  90. LTR*

    Tip: The day before you want to leave, tell your parents you’re “probably leaving sometime tomorrow morning” and be non-committal about the specifics as if it’s still up in the air. Then be prepared to quickly and quietly head out before they wake up (shower and pack the night before, maybe even load your car if you can) to avoid any drama/guilt trips/arguments around staying a little longer. You’ll have given them a warning as to when you’re leaving but you avoid the drawn out goodbyes from people you know won’t take “no thanks, gotta head out” for an answer. If they do wake up as you’re leaving, don’t look “caught” and just keep on moving like it’s no big deal: “Couldn’t get back to sleep and figured I’d beat traffic – sorry to wake you, I wanted to let you sleep in. Love you, bye!” as your car is running and you’re ready to rush out the door ASAP. You’ll feel silly but on the other hand you’ll actually be going home when you want to, so it works (at least once or twice).

    I hope you get free from under your parents someday. It makes a huge difference in your overall quality of life not to spend vacation time with people who force you to walk on eggshells and don’t listen to how you feel. In the meantime this is a decent temporary alternative. Good luck!

  91. Ramona Flowers*

    Some of these comments are from people who just do not get that standing up to a toxic family is not an issue of maturity and that being able to imagine doing it is something anyone can do when it’s a type of privilege.

    Letter writer, as you take these first tentative steps towards knowing your own mind, please disregard the assertions that any of this is your fault, or due to anything lacking in you. You are taking your first breaths of fresh air. Some people don’t know what that’s like. I really wish Alison would delete the comments telling you to grow up or grow a pair because that is not kind and not in the spirit of the commenting rules. And because I know it’s all too easy to be triggered into a kind of fog where you think all of this is your fault.

    That fog has a name: fear, obligation, guilt. In time, it will clear and you will breathe more and more deeply.

    The Reddit community raisedbynarcissists has a rule about context of abuse. Precisely so people don’t say: why don’t you just…

    I wish you the best of luck.

  92. Turner*

    You can tell yourself that it’s not a lie that you “have to work that week” because probably you need the money you could earn from working that week for something, whether it’s a tangible need like a new vacuum cleaner to replace a broken one or a more abstract need like a bigger safety net from putting that money into savings. It’s also not a lie because limiting the time you spend around people who are bad for your mental health is very much a real legitimate need. It’s a private need that isn’t your boss’ business or your family’s business, but it’s still real. “I have to work” or “I can’t take that time off” — you can’t take it off because you will have a breakdown if you have to endure more time with your family. It’s true. It’s not a lie.

  93. SSS*

    A simple, “I am only available to visit Saturday through Tuesday for the holidays. ” If they being to harass you, “I am coming for as long as I am available. I would like to enjoy my available time with you, but if you keep pressuring me and make that unpleasant, then there is no reason for me to come those days either.”

    If they start demanding why, or if you asked for time off, repeat that if they insist on not making your visit unpleasant during the time that you have available for them, you will not come at all.

  94. boop the first*

    I wouldn’t recommend it for people who have dangerous relationships, but I just gotta say, that calling someone up and just finally laying out the hurt that they caused me over so many years and talking about it, was the biggest relief (well, and terror) I’ve ever felt.
    Even though said person comes off as a self-centered type, who immediately took that opportunity to lay out her own version of hurt, it still felt like a healthy conversation to have. Maybe I was just really lucky. But I guess at the time I didn’t feel like there was much to lose: cruddy family doesn’t talk to me anymore? Oh darn, what a “shame” ha ha.
    But that didn’t happen anyway. And I felt much lighter and had far fewer inappropriate crying jags afterward.
    I guess my point is, tell the truth. Maybe not during an emotionally-heightened holiday, but sometime. Maybe. If this is a genuine problem that affects your life, I mean.

  95. Purple Jello*

    As a trying-not-to-be helicopter parent, here are my suggestions:
    – tell your mom you can be there Saturday through Monday (or whatever days). It’s not possible for you to be there the rest of the week. Don’t give a reason, just say it’s “not possible”. Repeat as necessary (broken record)
    – work on paying directly for your own health insurance, phone bill, car, whatever else so you are no longer dependent for any current bills
    – get a personal support system in place to encourage you to deal with your parents in a healthy manner and cheer you on. (Check out “Boundaries” by Cloud/Townsend if you like to read)
    – consider speaking with a lawyer if you want to break the contract
    – consider what is fair for you to pay back to your parents of the $200K, and come up with a payment plan. (If you reasonably met the conditions of the contract, what would you owe them?)
    – ask your boss not to speak with your family about your work situation (others here have provided examples on what to say)
    – try to be gracious when dealing with your parents, whether or not they deserve it. It will be more painful and difficult for you to “break away” than for the average graduate because they’re too controlling. Please keep in touch with them if at all possible, though you may want to back off for a while.
    – once you make a decision on how to deal with mom over a certain situation, stick with it. If you waffle or give in, you’ll just train her to continue her abusive/controlling habits.
    – Please give us an update. Good luck! We’re all rooting for you.

  96. BoundariesBoundariesVague*

    Dear Person,
    I too, come from a difficult home with difficult parents. It seems I am a bit older than you, so here’s my advice: boundaries are your friend, and white lies are okay. Lying to protect yourself is okay. Being vague is okay (I don’t remember all the details of my benefits but I have it at home and work/I need to be back in San Diego by Tuesday, so I won’t be able to stay longer). They don’t need the details.

  97. ALB*

    Easy: MAKE PLANS for the remaining days. You can go see the family for the first part of the holiday, tell them you “have plans” for the remaining days. And no lying, you actually do have plans!

  98. Megpie71*

    Dear LW: A phrase I have learned works wonders when considering what to tell my emotionally abusive parents. “What they don’t know can’t (be used to) hurt me”.

    “I’m busy.” (… cat-waxing on the internet)
    “I have plans that day.” (… to play my favourite video game all day and ignore the universe).
    “I have to work.” (… on my high score in napping).
    “I didn’t get the time off.” (… because I didn’t want to ask for it)
    “I only have X days holiday.” (… that I am willing to spend with faaaamily. The rest is for ME.)

    You say the bit in quotes. You don’t say the bit in brackets. While they may suspect the bit in brackets, they can’t actually tell you off for it, because they don’t know. They only know the bit in quotes.

    Say what you can or can’t do. Don’t say why you can or can’t do it. You do not have to provide reasons to unreasonable people[1]. No matter how hard they push, just stick with the what, and do not let yourself get side-tracked into why.

    (Oh, and if you must speak to your boss about it, make it just a general heads up about your parents “wanting to know everything about your life, whether or not it’s relevant”).

    [1] Anyone who expects a person to be bound for life by an extremely vague contract they signed as a minor is unreasonable by definition.

  99. Aerin*

    It is perfectly fine to lie to your parents, I promise. You’re not lying about something with earth-shattering consequences like telling them you have a terminal illness when you don’t–you’re setting a reasonable boundary and giving a justification they can’t get around. That’s perfectly fine to do even if your relationship is healthy, and doubly so if it isn’t.

    Hell, I took a job at a tourist attraction in the city where I was going to school (nowhere near where my family lives) specifically so I didn’t have to go home for winter break. The fact that you had to have like 15 years seniority to even consider getting a holiday off was a perk for me, honestly.

  100. Hard Nope*

    OP, take a good look at the most harsh of these tough love comments. In my early twenties, I also tried to apply the rules of my controlling family and partner’s “fantasy world” to my workplace, as to avoid the pain points of not following directives from my abusers. Yep, ABUSERS. That’s what they are.

    You might have a kind and sympathetic boss, but she is not going to view your attempt to remain in that fantasy world as an external choice. Your boss is going to view it as a willing participation. Those tough love comments? MOST bosses you have that come from a normal family are going to be thinking them if you ever try to pull your boss into the fantasy world.

    Your boss has a very different set of objectives than your abusers, and she is not going to appreciate your sabotaging them by prioritizing the needs of your abusers when they conflict with the needs of the workplace.

    Love and internet hugs are great and all, but it’s often an external pain point or personal rock bottom that finally forces people to change their behavior. I have to ask: Are you trying to sabotage your work relationship so that you have more of an excuse to default to the fantasy world? Are you unconsciously setting yourself up for failure so that your parents’ worst accusations of your personal character are validated, because they’ve made you believe them?

    Only you can decide if those questions have any truth, but they were truthful for me. Being fired from my first job out of college was my wake-up call; if you think these statements are in any way true for you, I’d second the recommendation of finding a therapist to help you develop the coping skills that will keep your career on track.

    As a manager, if I got a request like this, I would know where it’s coming from and also know how deep in the rabbit hole my employee still was. Knowing the hard road of recovery ahead and divergent priorities, I would absolutely not assign that employee to any higher-level work or opportunities that required singular focus.

    My two-cents. Take what serves you and leave the rest.

  101. Christine*

    I have a similar problem with my parents and severely dislike spending time with them over the holidays due to a rocky childhood and continued emotional abuse as an adult.

    The way I deal with this is to use all of my PTO before thanksgiving. That way I don’t feel guilty lying and can truthfully avoid the time I don’t want to spend with them.

    Absolutely do not involve your boss in your family drama. That will not help your credibility. I have found neve taking time over the holidays actually gives me tons of credibility with my coworkers as they get time off every year whereas they might not if I wanted in the rotation!

  102. DJ*

    I’m sure your boss would be more than happy for you to work some days over Christmas break as many will want the time off. Just outline to your boss what days you want to work and then you can say to your family what days you don’t have off.

  103. Ana Ng*

    Most workplaces have a policy that prohibits discussion of anyone’s schedule with anyone outside of the company. One year I sent an email to my entire department reminding them of this, on the off-chance anyone I was related to might call asking for me, and they would just take a message . . .

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