It’s two days before Thanksgiving — are you one of those people who is filled with dread at the thought of what you’ll have to endure while seated at that table? There’s not enough pumpkin pie in the world to excuse some of the horrible emotional abuse some of us endure on family holidays. I know — my past is littered with one too many holidays spent with a very emotionally abusive father.
Holidays suck for many of us because we’ve convinced ourselves we have to be subjected to emotionally abusive relatives. I want to let you in on a little secret today: we don’t. Angry father? Passive-aggressive mother? Horribly racist grandmother? Fuck ’em. You don’t have to be around them. I don’t care how few days they have left on this earth, or how this is the only day this year you will subject yourself to the torture. I’m here to remind you that you are an adult and one of the benefits of being an adult is deciding where you would like to spend your time. Even on holidays.
If you’ve spent years allowing an abusive relative to turn your holidays to shit, it will be really hard to break the cycle. But you can. It takes one mantra, and that mantra is I am not putting myself through this anymore. Or you can try, I’m an adult and I don’t have to do this. Or maybe, Fuck you, you’ve made me feel shitty on holidays long enough. Whatever gets you to the place where you are ready to reclaim your right to a mellow, joyful day — that’s what you need to be doing.
For the last 10 or so years of his life, my father and I had a very strained relationship. He was a stubborn, moody, intimidating Italian man who used his attention as a weapon — meaning if he was angry with you, you didn’t get any. So, the holiday my sister and I spent with him every year — Thanksgiving — eventually became a living hell for me. He would literally pretend that I wasn’t in the room the entire time — never even uttering a single word in my direction. It was awkward at best, really abusive at worst. Every year I went, and every year I left hurt. Until the year I walked out my Aunt’s front door and realized I never had to walk back in on another holiday again. I was 27. It took me that long to realize I didn’t have to put myself through the torture of being ignored by my father on a holiday that is supposed to be filled with good food, conversation, and togetherness.
I understand it may have been easier for me because I didn’t have kids yet, and therefore I didn’t have the guilt of keeping them from their grandfather. But years of dealing with feeling terrible led me to establish one rule for myself — and it’s one I stick to feverishly: I don’t give my time or attention to people who do not respect me. Ever. I may slip here or there, occasionally responding to nasty internet attacks or something — but in my actual, physical life — you don’t get to be around me if you treat me like shit. This rule has made me so much happier.
What would happen if you put your foot down and decided not to bring your family to your horrible mother-in-law’s house or your awful Grandma’s? Nothing. The world will not stop spinning. You may even open a dialogue when your mother-in-law calls and says something like, “I can’t believe you are keeping my son from me on the holidays!” Then you can say, “You ruin my holidays every year. We will gladly come again in the future if you stop being so horrible.” Or not. You really don’t owe anyone an explanation. Horrible people know they are horrible. Not your problem.
There are some people who just have the ability to make people dance around to please them and they just don’t deserve it. Stop the insanity. Your happiness means something and it’s important. People who don’t treat you well don’t get to be around you, or your children for that matter. I don’t care if they have one foot in the grave. In fact – screw ’em even more if they do because it means they’ve managed to live many, many years on the earth and not grown enough to not be horrible to people who love them.
The holidays are supposed to be joyful. Claim that joy. Even if it’s your mother, your father or your Grandma everyone else seems to think can do no wrong — if someone is ruining your holidays every year — refuse to be around them. If it means skipping the giant family get together make one of your own — attended by only those people who treat you the way you deserve to be treated.
(photo: CREATISTA/ Shutterstock)