Surviving The Holidays

Many people dread holidays. And not just because of the loneliness they may feel or the reminders of a missing loved one.

There’s the other thing that’s supposed to make everyone so happy, but sometimes, well, just doesn’t: family.

I mean even people who love their family can dread this. Whether it’s their conservative cousin or their liberal nephew. Large gatherings, forced cheer (and alcohol) can only last so long. After ten minutes you may realize that the only thing that bonds you is that a few people many, many years ago had sex and here you all are.

You didn’t choose this. You didn’t choose them. Yet there they are, for the whole night—and the Christmas goose hasn’t even been served yet.

Here’s the thing. There’re two ways you’re going to get involved in an awkward political/social discussion:

You bring it up.
Someone else brings it up.

There’s an obvious answer to number one and it’s totally in your control: don’t bring up politics, religion, the War on Christmas (PS there’s no War on Christmas), or anything that your audience may consider controversial.

Just don’t start the arguing. You know if you’re the person who does. You might think, “This year, I have the perfect argument. I downloaded the Facebook post that told me all the right things to say when Aunt Myrle gets going.”

But for many people, you’re more worried about number two. You just know someone is going to say something that you just can’t let stand.

Well, we all have family members who are instigators. They’ve known you long enough to know exactly what to say to get you going. They helped install the buttons they are now pushing (What? You think your mom worked alone?)

So what’s wrong with saying—if prodded—

“Wow. I disagree with you there. I’d rather not discuss it, though.

See, this is a day that I want to celebrate all that I love about you and our family—all the things that bring us together. We can spend the rest of the year (except Thanksgiving) talking and debating. Feel free to call me on January 2nd and we’ll discuss whatever you want. But today—I want to remember that time that we {insert funny, possibly self-deprecating memory if you can handle it} and have some fat-free, virgin egg nog.”

Maybe your an activist and spend the rest of your time having these discussions with others, showing up to rally for what you believe in. You are allowed to have a holiday. You need to recharge.

Actually, if you are so inclined to fight with the family maybe it’s becaue you’re feeling guilty that you don’t do enough during the rest of the year. I’m not judging, I just think it’s worth a look as to why you are feeling such a need to expressing your thoughts on this day of all days.

I know—when you’re back in the family “womb” it’s easy to become that kid again. Everyone seamlessly falls into their early roles. There’s a long list of family dynamics that I’m sort of ignoring here in this facile plea for you to take a breath on this holiday.

So here’s my challenge for you:

For each dodged assault make a pledge for the next day to:

read some more history about your position OR
join a group that is working toward your passions OR
make a point to learn more about a candidate (or consider running yourself for something) OR
really take any action you can that will be more effective than having one more angry holiday argument

Use the holiday to relax. And if the situation in your family is such that you can’t, spend the energy taking care of yourself, breathing, checking in with friends—but don’t let yourself get whipped up into a lather.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying to let all the racist, oppressive talk go by unchecked. Let people know you disagree and that you’d love to talk more about it, and hear their beliefs at another time.

Just not when Santa’s on his way.

justinlioiheadshotJustin Lioi lives in Brooklyn, NY where he has a private practice that specializes in men’s counseling. He has worked with families since 2008 and after several years of listening to fathers speak mostly about their children decided to put their needs front and center. He is a former New York actor and Music Together teacher and is an elected member of the National Association of Social Workers. He blogs regularly on men’s issues as well as relationships and parenting at

Justin can also be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter