Family dinner gatherings used to be so high pressure. Even for the children!
Grandma hates your mom and shows it. Dad likes drama, both enabling it and full on causing it. Loudly racist uncle pontificates forth as little you defeates his awful slurs with icy little barbs of truth while Grandma mutters how uncle shouldn’t be so disrespected by your sauciness. Your parents are mortified and then furious — at you — when uncle gets so angry that he nearly leaps the turkey at 16-year-old you. Because it was you who should have keep the peace and your mouth on lock.
Determined to escape this stale cycle of screamingly bad family dinners, I decided that the best viable option was to go live somewhere far away.
So I set out to do so and be the change.
A shattered collarbone, and three years of worshipping at the money sucking altar of higher education later, I fell in some kind of love. Finally, a rosy, alternate solution! So I got married at age 22 after an all too brief stint of world travel.
My mandated holiday atttendence problem was solved! They had to accept the “new” family excuse, right?
Oh it seemed to be! Until my new, supposedly saving grace turned out to be even worse.
As we walked into my ex-husband’s family home, the penetrating stench of the place took hold of me. The crumbling house reeked of horrifically unmentionable smells. I won’t describe the causes to you for the sake of your gag reflex, but it was a crazy kind of health hazard. The dinner though!
I was hopeful that the food would be redemptive, as usual.
Until it arrived — mostly old, mouldy or just straight up rotten. Like the shruken, decaying cloves of garlic that coated a perfectly fine lasagna. Stifling my gagging with all the power in my being, I nibbled at the salad, looking askance for petrified bug carcasses. Aha, a dinner roll! These were least likely to poison me.
Even without the awful surroundings and the roulette dance of eating that we were doing, the emotional toxicity of the in-law family would have been enough! I was so in over my head. Fantastic amounts of stress, guilt and violent manipulation were par for the course.
There wasn’t even any alcohol allowed to cut the pain a bit. Because damn, we were in an evangelical Christian household. You know, one of those fake ones where the capricious whims of the overbearing parents are holy above all.
Where abusing the children is not just an acceptable idea, it’s the godly way to parent!
It is now four years later. I am very divorced. There is a sort of step family situation in the mix. We’re all expected to join in this not-quite-a-step-family holiday event.
My family is thrilled to be gaining this insta-made-but-also-not-committed-to-the-idea family. I am not ready in the slightest. Tried to quell the mounting panic since mid-October about the coming holidays. The tightness swelled up my throat every time a whisper of the idea crossed my mind.
Why can’t I just suck it up and get over it to make them happy?
That’s what we do here! We’re tough. We don’t shy away from yet another high pressure event and the stress of having to adhere to a whole different set of invisible rules! Not us! We, the family, conquer!
No, actually we just set ourselves to the task of immense personal suffering.
Add into the mix the new mother figure thing. Yeah, I’ve got some serious mommy issues.
Instead of being a go-along with the crowd and strangling on my panicked stress, I snapped a week ago. The family & the new family have been given my regrets for Thanksgiving due to a moment of sheer, panicked courage.
Or perhaps I have lost all sense of self preservation.
They are taking it quite personally. It’s painful to hear the word daggers tossed at me from the wound of their own disappointment.
But I need more time. I’m sick with awful chronic fatigue syndrome. Building a career in writing, digital marketing and all around creativity. Finally casting off the noise of what everyone else pressures/guilts me to do because gosh darn it, it sure sounds good in their own heads!
I am actually starting to live my own life.
This “stubborn” and “irrational” holiday choice is a vital part of my journey. Not only does it give me proper emotional time & space to process all of these new feelings, it is a vital contribution to my personal integrity.
What about you?
Perhaps you’ve been doing the usual thing so long that bowing over has become a part of who you are.
Here’s the loving smack of truth — it’s not who you are. Stop trying to please everyone. Especially stop trying to please those who pressures you to make a decision that is not in your best interest. How much insight do they truly even have into your life?
Another thing. Not only do you have the responsibility of guarding your integrity & your courage to yourself. You have a responsibility to provide an example. How are younger or more vulnerable family members going to have self growth & care modeled for them otherwise?
Mom & Dad, Grandpa & Grandma didn’t provide examples? That sucks.
So what are you doing to be different?
The best choice you can make in a family with weak AF boundaries, locked into a high pressure system of conforming is to take that narrow, rocky, insult-laden road. Make a difficult choice. Whatever that looks like for you.
So tomorrow, on our sacred national holiday of Thanksgiving where the idea of family is idolized more than the genuine execution, I am executing. You’ll find me at the windswept little tin house with my woofy black dog, writing my fingers off.
There will be tea. There will be rolls. There will these clumsy first steps toward being the person that I am proud of.
I hope that the choices you make about the holidays are in service to your integrity! In a world where selling out for the sake of the peace is modeled, it is crucial to be different. To be strong. And most of all, to be you.
You never know who will be impacted by the ripple effect of your inconvenient choices.
Thank you for reading! I wish you much kindness and joy during the holiday season. Whether your family is exhausting, difficult, unsupportive or downright toxic or even SUPER AWESOME❤ What lessons have you learned from holiday gatherings?