‘Tis the season for family get-togethers. Forgive me, but I’m not thrilled. I love my husband and kids, and I can’t wait share the season with them, but the rest of my family… not so much.
I know what you’re probably thinking; I should be grateful I have a family to share the holidays with. You’re right, I feel guilty for that exact reason. But what happens when your family doesn’t feel like family? Because mine doesn’t, and it sucks.
I feel like the minute I leave any gathering they talk about me—my life, my choices, my beliefs. I’ve heard them do this to numerous others, so I can’t imagine I’d be spared the same treatment. Clearly there is no trust there.
My parents and I have a bit of a tumultuous past that no one talks about. The long-standing issues between us have never been resolved, but not for lack of trying; we’ve just never been able to see eye to eye. Every attempt ends in a stalemate. My family and I are as different as night and day. We disagree on nearly everything from politics, to religion, to our ideas on raising children. Our conversations are typically awkward and superficial to avoid any controversial topics. We talk about work and the weather mostly.
My extended family isn’t much better. I have a slew of aunts and uncles who provide negative commentary throughout our time together, occasionally sharing a racist joke they try to tell me isn’t racist. (It totally is.) I don’t talk to my extended family except on these holidays, and each year there seems to be a new level of discomfort brought in place of a green bean casserole.
One cousin shows up high, if he shows up at all. Another spends the whole occasion tending to his wife, who looks painfully uncomfortable to be in our presence. My aunt bitches about the desserts and scowls at everyone from the corner of the room. Grandma complains that no one visits enough, my mom responds to everything is a sing-song voice that feels so forced it makes me cringe. We all smile over pumpkin pie, pretending this is normal and everything is fine.
It’s not fine.
There is zero chance anyone is enjoying this, but we do it every year, because family. Every year, I dread it, my anxiety hitting a fever pitch before we even arrive. Seeing your family shouldn’t feel like an obligation. I shouldn’t worry about being judged because of my political beliefs, my choice not to spank, and my love of swearing. It’s exhausting, and I don’t want to do it anymore, but even typing that makes me feel guilty.
The truth is, if they weren’t my family, my blood, I would walk away. I wouldn’t talk to them. We have nothing in common and over the years any respect that was there seems to have faded away. What we have now feels toxic.
The problem is, walking away isn’t as easy as it sounds. They won’t understand and it will hurt them. I may not agree with anything they do, but I don’t want to hurt them. Some ties would be easier to sever than others. Some of them probably feel the same way, but not all of them. My parents would likely be devastated, my mother anyway. She walks only in my father’s shadow, recounting his stories, sharing his views, so it’s impossible to know what she really thinks about anything anymore. I wonder if she realizes how bitter and judgmental she’s become — not just toward me, but towards everyone, complete strangers, even.
This isn’t what the holidays are about. I’m not ungrateful–just the opposite, in fact. I am thankful for the life I have. I know how lucky I am, and I wish more than anything that my family were close. A tight-knit family is all I’ve ever really wanted, even as a little girl, but every year it seems less and less likely that will happen.
So, because I don’t know what else to do, I’ll dress my family in fall sweaters, show up with a pumpkin pie, and smile. Even though I’m crying on the inside.