Most families aren’t perfect. Still, when people say, “I can’t stand my family,” folks assume the individual is just talking trash about a mom who nags too much or an overbearing dad. But there are instances when the statement is quite literal.
Some folks are dealing with loved ones who are battling addiction, depression or toxic behaviors. So, while moving away has helped manage the day-to-day stress of being from a dysfunctional family, the holidays present a dilemma. A person may miss his or her loved ones but also loathe the drama—exposure to things such as physical altercations, verbal abuse and illegal activity—”family time” creates. Additionally, “successful people,” meaning folks who’ve decided not to let the trauma rule their lives, often feel guilty about not “keeping it real” and staying with the home team. So what’s a person to do? The answer isn’t so simple. If your family has persistent issues, you have to do a cost/benefit analysis every time you’re going to be around them to determine whether you can protect your sanity, and perhaps physical safety. Choose yourself each time.
If you can handle a visit, here are some things to consider.
Keep It Short
Thanksgiving is a four-day weekend and Christmas to New Year’s can be a long week. Instead of committing to the entire time select a day, or even the hours, you’d like to be present for family events, then keep it moving. For example, you can come in early on Thanksgiving Day and leave the next morning. Similarly, a Christmas morning visit may be a lot more tolerable than subjecting yourself to a few days. If you’re coming into town find a friend or an Air BnB where you can crash. Blame your early departure on a “special project” (code name: sanity) if necessary. Think about the best decision and plan ahead.
Plan Your Escapes
Build in breathing room if you’re staying with your family for more than a day. For example, you can go visit other relatives, check out old stomping grounds, catch a movie or even spend the night with a local bestie. Find things that are easy, affordable and that you’ll look forward to doing. You don’t want leaving the house to feel like a punishment for yourself.
Say What You Have to Say, After the Meal
The dinner table, mid-bite, is not the time to air out your issues with someone. Don’t ruin the entire family function because you’ve lost your cool. Make a conscious decision to handle any conversations that can be delayed after the meal. Now, there are always exceptions to the rule. If someone is being particularly offensive, disruptive or aggressive, it’s likely better to diffuse the situation ASAP or it will snowball. Use your judgment.
Identify The No Compromise Zones
While it’s great to forgive folks and make amends, there are some people who you have to just say no to. For example, you don’t have to sit at a table, or even in a home, with someone who has sexually assaulted you or a loved one; you don’t have to play nice with the individual who’s beaten you or loved one. Let your hosting loved one know the deal ahead of time and make a back up plan (make sure it’s smooth and something you’ll enjoy) if he or she decides not to respect your wishes—which has a high probability of occurring.
Sack Small Problems Before They Gain Momentum
If you know folks can’t handle their liquor, make it a dry holiday. If you know looking through photo albums leads to arguments put those damn books away. If every spades games ends in a fistfight, the cards can’t come out. You can’t control anyone, but you can reduce access to things that will kick off the drama. Think ahead.
No one is perfect. And chances are that you’ve done something to offend another or perpetuate drama. If that’s the case, be the bigger person and apologize. Don’t expect an apology in return and don’t rehash the series of events that lead up to the debacle. If you’re sorry, say it and close the chapter.