Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

How To Survive the Holidays with Your Family

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.

6. Bourbon
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

24 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Miss MJ November 26, 2019, 10:03 am

    Oh, this is timely. Due to work-related travel, we ended up going to my in-laws early for Thanksgiving. They’re fine, normally, and we’ve learned not to talk politics. But Fox & Friends was on the TV this morning and I’m honestly astounded at how uninformed that hot garbage is. (I mean, I know it’s propaganda, but damn!!)

    Headed to a coffee shop to work all day!

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  • avatar

    anonymousse November 26, 2019, 10:05 am

    Ehh, get into a political argument and save on gifts this year!
    Love the advice to just toss out an “Okay, boomer.”

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  • avatar

    Lovelygirl November 26, 2019, 10:19 am

    Last year was horrible for Thanksgiving thanks to a not so lovely meal with my in-laws (super negative people who idolize Trump).
    After that meal we are taking the entire year off from involving family at the holidays. This Thanksgiving we are having some friends over and blowing off all family. We did something similar for Christmas last year where no parents were allowed. It was the best Christmas with just my sister, her immediate family, and her close friends along with my husband and our close friend. There were little kids there to enjoy the holiday spirit and adults that were no older than 40. It was drama-free! No Trump/politics, no awkward conversations, no super negative relatives.
    Sometimes you need to take some time off from the added stress family brings about during the holidays. Do a family meal near the holidays instead. Somehow the stress seems to be less when it’s an average day and not tied to something more significant.

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  • avatar

    Kate November 26, 2019, 10:23 am

    #1a: Go to Playa del Carmen. You’re welcome.

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    • avatar

      ktfran November 26, 2019, 10:26 am

      I went to one of Kate’s recommended resorts last October for a girl’s trip. I highly recommend people. She was spot on.

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    • avatar

      Kate November 26, 2019, 10:27 am

      To be fair, my parents are some highly liberal boomers, but they’re still crazy! I’d rather be in a frickin casita.

      My puppy went home to stay with his canine family of origin. I know some of them are Trumpers but like diversity is good.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph November 26, 2019, 10:54 am

      We are retreating to the woods this year for Thanksgiving. Peace out civilization! (I’m pretty sure we will have cell signal because we’re not going THAT far away, but I’m going to pretend we didn’t.)

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  • avatar

    ktfran November 26, 2019, 10:25 am

    I enjoy my family and love my mom’s Thanksgiving feast. However, this year, I decided to say fuck it. November has been the first month the husband and I are spending three straight weeks together since, IDK, last October? I needed a travel, stress free break and I’M SO EXCITED!

    We are having his parents over Thursday since they live in the burbs, but I’m catering that in. So it will be fine. I hope.

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    • avatar

      Kate November 26, 2019, 10:28 am

      Girl. El Dorado Casitas. It’s my new fave.

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      • avatar

        ktfran November 26, 2019, 10:55 am

        Definitely noted!!

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  • avatar

    Allornone November 26, 2019, 11:07 am

    My sister is hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever this year, so I can’t not go without ever hearing the end of it. It also means my both my dad and mom will be there (which saves me guilt about choosing who to spend it with, but has a fair potential for drama). So, yeah, bourbon.

    For Christmas, however, with my job I won’t be able to travel at all, and there’s a decent chance my boyfriend will have to work the day of, so I may be alone. i am… not sad about this.

    Did I say bourbon? And is it bad that I’m kinda glad my boyfriend hates his family and would never spend any holidays with them?

    Bourbon.

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  • veritek33

    veritek33 November 26, 2019, 11:31 am

    We are going to my fiancées parents house on Thanksgiving for the first time since our fallout with his sister over weddings. We’ve requested to his parents that we not be asked about our wedding and not be asked to talk about weddings if we can avoid it and they readily agreed. His sister can talk about her wedding all she wants but we don’t want to talk about ours and then be accused of anything. The less she knows about it the better!

    MofV and I agreed that if the conversation steers that way or I start to get attacked in any way by his sister – there’s a nice bar right down the street from his parents house and that’s where we will be spending the rest of the holiday 🙂 We hope that by setting boundaries ahead of time we can avoid the drama that happened the last time we ate dinner there.

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    • avatar

      Carli November 26, 2019, 3:05 pm

      Wow, I want to know more about this! I have a bad feeling that I’m about to be in a similar situation.

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      • avatar

        Kate November 26, 2019, 3:28 pm

        Oh JFC, if you’re ever in a situation similar to this, just keep your mouth shut and smile. And nod. And do not make the mistake of engaging. And have a drink.

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      • veritek33

        veritek33 November 26, 2019, 3:44 pm

        Carli – Kate’s right. We made the mistake of engaging the first time and will not be doing so going forward. Long story short, she got engaged first but we are getting married first and that’s upset her. We are continuing with our plan with the support of his parents and she will be invited but will not be involved in any planning or events leading up to it. That’s why we refuse to talk about our wedding in front of her – it’s not her business. We refuse to engage any further with her on this topic.

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      • avatar

        Carli November 26, 2019, 4:13 pm

        Thank you! My fiancé and I just announced our engagement to his family and his older brother and older brothers girlfriend did not look pleased, apparently said something nasty (I heard this from a relative that likes to start shit so I don’t really believe that) and rushed out shortly after the announcement. I had already pretty much decided to just not mention it around them again but I have to admit I was a little surprised at their reaction as my fiancé and I have been dating for way longer than they’ve been together. But still I hate awkwardness and I definitely don’t want either of them to feel bad so I’m just going to keep the weeding planning to myself when they’re around!

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  • Copa

    Copa November 26, 2019, 11:35 am

    Wine is my saving grace when I go home to my parents’ house.

    Happy Thanksgiving, DW Friends!

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark November 26, 2019, 11:36 am

    Fortunately… My recovering Republican parents LOATHE TRUMP. Though — truth be told — it was actually Sarah Palin that first AND forever snapped them out of the madness!!

    I kinda miss political debates though. My dad and I got quite heated. But never crazy or ugly…

    Now we just all sit around agreeing how fucking batshit crazy Republicans are. United! But thoroughly depressed — and a bit bored…,

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    • MaterialsGirl

      MaterialsGirl November 26, 2019, 1:29 pm

      Bourbon for boredom!

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      • avatar

        ktfran November 26, 2019, 1:46 pm

        I just remembered, I bought a tea last week specifically for hot toddies this long weekend. And two new tea mugs. One has a pic of a fox and says “asshole” – mine. The others has a pic of a turtle and says “boobies” – the husband’s.

        This is what happens when you attend holiday shows and drink at Dovetail in Ravenswood.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl November 26, 2019, 3:00 pm

        HOT TODDIES FOR THE WIN!

        I love dovetail. Everytime we start drinking on Ravenswood.. it ends up being an all day and evening affair

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      • avatar

        ktfran November 26, 2019, 3:29 pm

        I love drinking at Begyle and Dovetail! I bought the husband a beer advent calendar from Bottles and Cans and had to pick up at Begyle last weekend. 24, full-size, local, some special addition beers in individual boxes. Best present ever for beer lovers.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl November 26, 2019, 3:57 pm

        we went to costco for diapers…

        and came back with the Beer Advent calendar (16 oz) and the half bottle of wine advent calendar.

        Supposedly we’re trying to get pregnant. Jokes on me

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      • avatar

        ktfran November 26, 2019, 5:01 pm

        Wonderful!

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