This Thursday is American Thanksgiving as I’m sure you all know, followed quickly by Hanukkah and Christmas. And after like 15 years of writing an advice column, I’ve gotten more letters this holiday season than any year past that go something like: “Ughhhhhh, how do I survive the holidays with my family, they make me want to stab myself in the spleen with an icicle over and over?” I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise, really. This country is more divided than it’s been in a very long time, and so now are many American families, split between opposing political factions, Boomers and Millennials dueling it out, and the “me too” camp calling out everyone’s handsy drunk uncle. If you, too, are wondering how you’ll get through the festivities with these fun cast of characters, here’s your holiday survival guide:
1. Practice Avoidance
You’re a grown-up and you don’t have to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah with your family if you don’t want to. No, seriously, you don’t. If you want to maintain a relationship with them, you should put in some face-to-face time during the year, but that doesn’t mean it has to be during an emotionally-loaded, logistically-challenging, and financially-draining time like the holidays. See them in April instead when the airports and roads are less clogged and there’s much less chance of being stranded by a blizzard. If you live in the same town as your family, choose to be busy on the holidays – do volunteer work, get sick, or be obligated to spend the day with your in-laws (who are also annoying but with whom you have much less baggage).
2. Set Limitation and Boundaries
If you absolutely HAVE to show up, set really clear limits and boundaries. Instead of hanging out for five or seven hours, shorten your visit to two. When your mom tries to guilt you, smile and give her a quick hug and say, “It was great to see you – let’s get together again soon!” and then fa-la-la-la-la right on out the door. This is called boundaries, look it up.
3. Lower Your Expectations
No, this year is not going to be any better than any other year so quit thinking it is. It’s going to be about as much fun as getting the runs halfway through your wait at the DMV. But you aren’t participating for the good times of it, ok? You’re participating to maintain relationships that are important to you – relationships that, hopefully, lift you up and provide you something meaningful, especially during times that aren’t fraught with emotional blackmail and gravy.
4. Use a Lifeline
When your dad starts quoting FoxNews while slicing the turkey, exchange knowing looks with your sister or excuse yourself to the bathroom and text your BFF, “He just said that Vindman is a spy and Democrats are a bunch of do-nothing derelicts.” These texts and these knowing looks with other like-minded people who share in your moral outrage are your family holiday lifeline out of the land of Hannity and into the land of sanity. Strung together, these lifelines will keep you from drowning, so use them liberally (pun intended).
5. Don’t Take the Bait
Quoting FoxNews or Trump’s tweets or whatever other vomit-inducing source they can find is your family’s way of baiting you into an argument. Whatever you do, don’t take the bait. Leave the room, feign hearing loss, or just shrug and say, “Ok, Boomer.” It takes two to really stir up the dramz and if you don’t agree to take part, the dramz just sits their soft and stagnant like Aunt Meg’s marshmallow-covered yams.
I would say when all else fails: bourbon, but I think bourbon should be employed even when things aren’t failing. Even when all the survival strategies are working like bees, bourbon will elevate the situation from barely tolerable to maybe even, I don’t know – fun? I mean, something has to put the fun in dysfunctional and it’s not Uncle Bob’s off-color jokes, so pass the whiskey.
P.S. There are some other great tips here, too: How to Survive the Holidays When You Feel Like a Grinch