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How to Deal with Your Dysfunctional Family over Thanksgiving

Dear Readers,

Whatever race, creed, ethnicity, state, country, sleepy village or hamlet you hail from, come this Thanksgiving, you’ll have to face your dysfunctional, distant relatives. I’m here to help you get through those hellish three days with your sanity partially intact.

Whether it’ll be your “social drinker” auntie leveling straight up savage truth bombs as she passes the gravy or the pestering “friend of the family” who questions the validity of your anthropology major, going home for Thanksgiving break can be a taxing, if not soul crushing, experience.

Having been born to an Irish-Italian super Catholic guilt-ridden family with their litany of odd neuroticisms, deep-seated emotional repression, under the table family feuds, and back-handed passive aggressive comments, I have developed a fool-proof survival plan for dealing with them over the holidays.

Step One: Emotional preparation

Ok, so you’re going to have to accept the fact that some [email protected]# will likely hit the fan in one way or another. It could be that Aunt Mildred finally snaps over a bottle of Pinot Grigio and claims that your mother was always the favorite child. It could be that an unknowing guest of the family tells your Italian gran gran that the turkey is a “little dry” and she decapitates him with the turkey carver. Or it could be that your cousin tells everyone he’s dropping out to pursue his abstract art calling.

Whatever the case, the first step to surviving whatever hell-storm is about to unfold is to simply mentally prepare for it. Say some self-affirmations in the mirror. Use your mom’s fancy potpourri as aromatherapy when you inevitably cloister yourself in the guest bathroom.

Alcoholism is never the answer, especially if you’re under-aged, but it may not hurt to swig a little bourbon from Grampy’s flask when he isn’t looking. The point is, do whatever you have to do to get relaxed and ready to field the pestering, thinly-veiled “questions that are really insults” that your distant relatives may throw at you.

Step Two: Do your research

Before entering the purgatory of the stressed out holiday home, test the waters to see what is happening in your family. There’s nothing like asking a recently divorced aunt where her husband is and watching her start scream crying into her pumpkin pie. Get the deets from your mom or a sibling who currently lives at home so that you don’t accidentally step on any landmines as you traverse your way through the murky waters of repressed family issues.

Step Three: Lay low

Thanksgiving dinner is not the time to convince family members why Trump, former reality TV star turned political spokesperson for Cheetos’ self tanner, should not be the leader of the free world. You have to lay low, lest your evangelical great aunt explode into dust when you try to explain the theory of evolution to her. Yes, it’ll be difficult to field the crazy without physically ramming your head against a wall. I usually end up in screaming matches with my family over politics, and it can only end in tears, spontaneous human combustion, or accidental dismemberment. Try your best to just keep your nose down. Worst comes to worst, hide at the kids’ table. Six-year-olds and tweens normally don’t have a lot of political opinions, so you’ll be safe there.

Step Four: Commiserate

In all likelihood, your friends are putting up with the same crazy you are right now. Reach out and dish all the weird crap that spews out of your family’s stuffing-filled mouths. Hell, make a drinking game out of whose family is more dysfunctional. You may even want to take a breather from the family dynamic for a while. Use this time to connect with old high school friends and get out of the house for an hour or two. Or, if you’d rather not see your old high school flames, chill with the family pet. Dogs will never question why you’re pursuing sociology as your major instead of econ.

Step Five: Take it all in

Leo Tolstoy once said: “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” No, your family isn’t perfect. No family is. While you’re here at your bourgie liberal arts school learning about the nuances of medieval literature, they’re at home working hard to pay for you to be here and missing you terribly. It’s going to be a rough ride, but it isn’t a long break and you’re a tough cookie. So keep your chin up, a smile on your face, and your political opinions to yourself. You’ll survive, if just barely. 

If you are interested in writing an article for Her Campus Davidson, contact us at [email protected] or come to our weekly meeting Tuesday at 8pm in the Morcott Room.

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