Tuesday, November 21, 2017

How to Cope with Your Family This Holiday Season

Last weekend, I went on a retreat with some members of my community writing group. While I was there, one of the members, author Adam Horne, said, “I want to have Thanksgiving with your family so I can meet these people you’ve been writing about.”

And that, let me tell you, was a super awkward moment. I didn’t know what to say, because I’m not having Thanksgiving with my family. It’s like he wasn’t even paying attention. But at least I know a thing or two about coping with a difficult family at the holidays. If you, too, are wondering how you’re going to make it through dinner this Thursday, I can offer you some advice.

Stay in the Kitchen

In my experience, the worst people at any family holiday gathering can be found sitting on their asses, waiting to be served. If you help with the cooking, you can avoid them and most of their opinions. After dinner, volunteer to do the dishes. Everyone disappears when you start doing dishes.

Sit at the Kids’ Table

If you know the other adults at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner are going to want to talk politics, or interrogate you about your love life, or remind you that you have 45 cents in your bank account, go sit at the kids’ table. Tell your adult relations that you’ve been missing your little nieces and nephews, or that you’ve just been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get to know the half-siblings your dad has had with your much-younger stepmom, and plop your ass right down on one of those tiny folding chairs. Your smallest relatives won’t want to talk about Trump; they barely know what a president is. Spend the meal discussing little Nevaeh’s favorite dinosaurs instead.

Ignore, Ignore, Ignore

Are your relatives severely unpleasant? Are they horrible, narcissistic monsters? Years of being treated like sh*t have taught me a valuable lesson: Nothing you could ever say will upset a nasty person more than saying nothing at all.

When your abusive Grandma Prunella comes out with a snarky remark or some horribly insulting bullsh*t, simply don’t react. Continue eating or chatting with Cousin Sativa as if the person wasn’t even there. Chances are the nasty person in your life lives for these moments when they get to destroy you emotionally, so don’t give them the satisfaction.

Arm Yourself with Stock Responses

Perhaps you think your extended family would be okay if they didn’t insist on belaboring their sh*tty opinions all day long. If that sounds familiar, go into the event with some stock responses you can pull out when Aunt Irma starts ranting about The Gays or Uncle Balthazar starts revving up his eighteen-hour lecture entitled “Women Are the Worst.” Some of my favorites include “That’s nice,” and “You don’t say” and “Really? Do go on.” Sure, you’ll have to tune out several minutes of Uncle Balthazar’s misogynist remarks, but eventually he’ll notice that you aren’t actually paying attention and start torturing someone else. Or he won’t, and he’ll wear himself out talking and walk away thinking what a nice person you’ve grown up to be.

Know When You’re Going to Leave in Advance

Before you go to your family holiday, know when you’re going to leave. You could decide to leave at a specific time, such as at 7 o’clock, or at a specific juncture, such as after dessert, or when Cousin Jimothy calls you a slut. When it’s time to leave, leave. Have an excuse ready; I like to use, “Sorry, everyone, but I’ve got to go medicate my cats.” If you need backup, have a friend call you with a manufactured emergency. That’s right; ditching your unpleasant family is exactly like ditching a bad Tinder date.

Just Don’t Go

Seriously, if your family’s really that bad, maybe just don’t go? 

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