By Jody Valley
Q: The Christmas season is here, and I am dreading it once again. Every year it is the same old bullshit. In other words, it is family time! We all get together and [are] supposed to act as if everyone loves each other and we are all having a good time. Well, obviously that is just not true.
Here’s what will happen: All of us kids will be expected to come home and my parents will invite some other friends. My older brother will come home driving his newest toy, bragging about how much money he is making, and how wonderful his life is. My younger brother will show up late, looking like he just crawled out of bed. He will be drinking too much beer, and making comments under his breath about how we have all sold out to capitalism. My sister will come with her newest “love,” fawning over him the whole day. Of course she will not be able to help with anything because it might mess up her nails. I will be expected to get there early to help clean, cook, and get things set up. I am also expected to come without my partner because even though my family says they accept me and who I am, without reservations, they haven’t told any of their friends because “it might embarrass them and make them uncomfortable.” My dad will sit and stare at the TV not speaking to anyone in the family. And then there will be my mom. She will drink too much. She sips her wine starting early afternoon – according to her: “just a taste now and then, not too much.” But as the day wears on, she gets more and more tipsy. She thinks she is witty and charming, but really she is just getting drunk.
Soon everyone will arrive and I will be expected to make sure everyone has drinks and get anything else they want or need. On top of that, I will be in the kitchen finishing up the meal, by myself. Mom will be too busy holding court and drinking to do anything in the kitchen. My brothers have never helped with anything, and my sister will need to entertain her boyfriend so he feels welcome.
Then comes dinner [when] bickering between my parents will start. It’s nothing big, just little digs back and forth. I get so uncomfortable; I can’t stand it. I try changing the subject and gently trying to get them to stop. But by this time, they have both had a lot to drink so there is no stopping them. My older brother will talk non-stop about the details of his successful life while my younger brother will try to start a political fight. The friends invited to dinner will just sit and laugh at what is going on, pretending like it is not bizarre. By this time, I am a nervous wreck, tired, angry and embarrassed.
My question is, how can I change this family craziness, so my family behaves like a normal family?
– My Holiday Nightmare
A: I’m not sure what a normal family is, as every family has its dysfunction and strangeness – it tends to be just a matter of degree. You can’t do anything to change your family; all you can do is change how you react to what is going on. I know it is hard to separate yourself out from your family, but you need to realize that their behavior is no reflection on you. How much your mom drinks or the way she acts, your mom and dad’s choosing to bicker at the table, your brothers’ bragging or starting political fights – all of it, it is not your doing, not your problem, and says nothing about you. Not only is it not about you, but there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it.
That being said, it doesn’t mean you have no control over this time. You get to decide what is okay for you. For instance: Do you want to be everyone’s slave by cooking, cleaning, and serving? Do you want to come without your partner?
You need to decide these things and then let your family know what you are willing to do, and what you aren’t willing to do. I guarantee this will not go over smoothly. They all have a good deal going with you right now by making sure everything is getting done and allowing them to do their thing. So they aren’t going to want you to change. It will take time, but once you decide to let go of trying to control their behavior, and focus on what you want and are willing to do, you will enjoy, and be a lot less stressed during the holidays.