Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving means something different to everyone. I have plenty to be grateful for: to be surrounded by loved ones, have food on the table, and good health after living for two years in a pandemic. However, holidays often mean navigating difficult and emotional situations where no one comes out unscathed.

My family has always been chaotic. As I get older, it gets harder to observe the dysfunction and not simply remove myself from tension-filled conversations. Since my transition into adulthood, I no longer have the excuse to hide behind a book or an electronic device. I am more involved in the preparation for celebrations and am privy to the conversations that happen during those moments.

More often than not, the stories and gossip revolve around one problematic family member, who targets everyone else. When you grow up hearing stories about them causing drama, and they continue to cause drama in your adult years, what are you supposed to do? Protecting my mental health when the off-color remarks get directed my way often means laughing it off or distancing myself emotionally from the individual. The tough part comes when the drama affects my other family members, and I feel obligated to help them manage their emotions. 

It is a wonderful thing to have a family. It is a terrible thing to see them upset when, in my opinion, relationships could be improved by direct communication, patience, and listening to each other. A common saying that comes to mind is “you can’t choose your family.” Especially during holidays, I become stuck in this place between protecting my own happiness without getting involved in the chaos, and helping my loved ones process their emotions. I feel helpful when I listen to their troubles and can offer my advice. It can be incredibly draining to do that in person for hours on end, when I am usually able to disconnect from the drama by ending a phone call.

My family is getting older. Everyone is more cranky these days. The aches and pains from long years of hard work are difficult on the body. Dementia in older family members is difficult to deal with. I am both saddened by the reminders of mortality and struck with the desire to live my life to the fullest. How do I effectively manage my own emotions and live my own life when I feel the responsibility to help my family? Listening to rants, being in the room when emotions are running high, and trying to mediate is uncomfortable to say the least. But as a young person who has been provided with so much by these people, it is what I am expected to do. For now, I attend holiday gatherings with my game face on and a promise to take time to center myself during and after the event. After all, I don’t see many of these people that often and I would like to enjoy the time I do have with them.

Do you visit, or do you see family over the holidays? If you do, what are your family dynamics like, especially with extended family members you may not see as often? Do you feel like you have to adapt to what your family members want at the expense of what helps you mentally? Share your experiences below!

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