Unfortunately, “no school November” has come to an end, and with that marks the transition into the holiday season. While my state hasn’t had any snow just yet, I can smell that freezing flurry looming in the air. I am looking forward to building snowmen with my little sister, experiencing my brother feeling the magic of Santa for the first time, and seeing what my friends get each night of Chanukah. I’m looking forward to the amazing food I’m going to eat and getting in the spirit of this holiday season. But while there are many things to look forward to, sometimes the holiday season can also be challenging.
During this time of year, many of us see more distant relatives for dinners or gatherings, which can cause stress and anxiety. Some family members may have different beliefs than you or may make uncomfortable statements. It can be difficult to balance family relationships as well as the stress of the holiday, but finding ways to prioritize yourself can help alleviate some of these overwhelming feelings.
For example, part of getting older and seeing distant relatives often includes more serious questions while gathered around the dinner table. What was once the question of my favorite color has evolved into inquiries about my relationship status and who I will vote for in the next election. This usually becomes an argument from one end of the table to the other, and suddenly everyone’s mood is ruined. I struggled for a long time to find a “happy medium” between protecting my own beliefs and maintaining the peace for the few hours that I have to be social with family. But eventually I realized that avoiding potentially controversial topics, setting boundaries, and maintaining mutual respect combats these uncomfortable moments and allows me to better enjoy the holidays.
Additionally, it’s important to stay true to yourself. Remember that there will always be someone who defies your beliefs, and you can’t control the way others think. At the end of the day, you are valid, and all of your opinions are too. This includes your sexual identification, relationship status, favorite subject in school, political party of choice etc. Try not to drain yourself in an attempt to justify that to others. Be proud of who you are, and don’t let anyone dilute that pride.
During times of debate, like when you have just sat down at the dinner table and your sibling or parent says, “don’t grind grandma’s gears” – it might seem hard to bite your tongue. I know that sometimes I struggle with deciphering whether or not it’s a good use of my time to jump into conversations, and it’s entirely understandable to want to stand up for causes you think are important. Just because a person is family does not give them a pass to offend you or others. That being said, respect is super important in navigating these conversations. This goes both ways. Making sure you remain civil is the best way to avoid further tension. These family members may not always be respectful, which might make it difficult to maintain a polite tone. However, the only person you can control is yourself. You have no reason to apologize for who you are, and taking their words to heart may cause you to doubt this. Asserting boundaries and explaining that you do not wish to have these conversations is a great place to start. Make it clear that it is possible to talk about politics without problematic undertones, and without their understanding of this, you are not comfortable having a conversation. Set your boundaries early on, and stick to them. It is okay to exit a room when a discussion gets too heated or becomes offensive.
Another way to avoid these uncomfortable instances is to talk about general topics that allow you to connect with your relatives in a less opinionated fashion. Ignorance is not the key to peace, but sometimes we need to ask ourselves: is the person I am disagreeing with ever going to open their mind to my perspective? On the rare occasion that we see distant relatives, it may be more beneficial to spend the time focusing on making positive memories instead of negative ones. In another light, sometimes avoiding certain family members is the right choice. Say hello, how are you, and move on. It is better to recognize activating situations than to force yourself into them. If catching-up is all you want to do, then nobody can push you to do otherwise. You are the only person who knows your limits and triggers, and recognizing them is a huge accomplishment.
This time off of school is supposed to be a break to relax and have fun with family, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself to be the peacekeeper of family dinner. Keep in mind what you can control, and do your best to handle what you can’t.