It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week already. For those of you who are spending the day with family, are you ready yet? As we all know, it can be as miserable of an experience as it is an enjoyable one, depending on the year and the folks in attendance. If you’re expecting the latter, I’m truly happy for you. If it’s likely to be the former, well, my commiserations and a few tricks to keep you from being on the wrong side of an assault or battery this time around.
Avoid controversial topics. Whether it’s politics, COVID-19, or who should have won the World Series (they had the World Series this year, didn’t they?), stay away from the ones you know will trigger heated discussions. Think now about ways to change the topic and different things to talk about that will be friendlier. Maybe you know that everyone has been watching The Great British Baking Show, or that they’d really love to hear about the solo camping trip you took to escape pandemic life. Resort to the weather if you have to. Definitely don’t bring up that really dumb meme your uncle shared on social media last month. I know it can sometimes feel like you’re in a minefield, but it’s still worth the effort to map out ways to step carefully through it. If all else fails, try being blunt and flat out saying that you’d rather not talk about a specific issue and save it for another time or place, that’s not a family togetherness gathering. Occasionally, your oblivious cousin just needs to be hit with a clue by four so that they know now to keep yammering about something you know will fire up the rest of the family.
Have an escape ready. Sometimes it’s not family time that’s the problem; it’s too much family time. If you know that the pleasant atmosphere always degrades with close quarters over many hours or even days, then prepare to not be there that long. Maybe you need to get a hotel room instead of staying with your parents. Maybe it would be a good idea to stack gatherings on to one day so that you have to leave from one to go to another one that will be less fraught with tension. Maybe the trick would be to arrive late, after the party has already started so that you can avoid an awkward solo interaction with that one aunt who’s always putting you on edge. Maybe you need to suggest that just a subset of your family gets together at a different time so that you can see the ones you love best and not everyone else. But remember, like I said last week, you can always straight nope out and not subject yourself at all to what you know will be difficult and painful.
This one’s going to be a bit difficult: remember that you have the right to physically defend yourself from family or acquaintances just as you would from strangers. Just because they’re mom’s new partner doesn’t mean you have to let them hug you inappropriately long or closely. Just because they’re a grandparent doesn’t mean they get to slap you. Just because they’re your cousin’s college roommate doesn’t mean you have to accept their drunken, handsy pass at you. You can protest and say no. You can use more violent means to make them stop. I particularly like more subtle techniques such as those that Paul Sharp teaches in his MDOC class because they’re a bit less dramatic and therefore less likely to cause additional drama, but you’re certainly not limited to them. Punching someone out might not go over well, but your safety is paramount…even from people you are related to by blood.
And finally, remember that sometimes, Elsa got it right and you need to just Let. It. Go. Is it worth engaging in an argument with your sibling about who should have have gotten kicked off Masked Singer last week? Do you need to get in that parting shot before you walk out the door right after dinner, or can you just get in the car and go? Can you just slip out during the party while everyone’s occupied with something else, instead of going through the awkward goodbyes that could expose you to the creepy great-uncle? And maybe, just maybe, you don’t forgive that awful thing your brother did to you when you were kids, but you set it aside for one day and agree to avoid each other or avoid the topic for the sake of family peace.
None of this is to say that you must spend time with the people the world thinks you must surround yourself with for a holiday. None of this is to say that you must do whatever it takes to make people happy when you show up. For that matter, none of this is to say that anything at all is required of you. Except one thing: as important as family is to you, as important as avoiding conflict or bad appearances may be to you, nothing is more important than your personal physical, mental, and emotional safety.