How To Survive The Holidays With Your Dysfunctional Family

As we head into the cooler months, many people are beginning to count down to the much-anticipated Thanksgiving long weekend, where we’ll spend the weekend stuffing our faces with too much food, reminiscing about our childhood, and bonding with family members. But what do you do when you have to spend the holidays with a bunch of whackjobs?

Those of us who come from dysfunctional families often desire the kind of holiday perfection we see in the movies, but we all always inevitably fall short—very short. Whether you’re dealing with a mother who prefers your older sister or a grandfather who judges your life choices, there are a few things you can do to survive the holidays so you don’t come back feeling worse than you did before they started.

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#1 Manage your expectations

Let’s face it, Aunt Karen probably hasn’t changed since you last saw her five years ago. Uncle Joe will undoubtedly make inappropriate jokes and your cousin Kim will still be a spoiled little brat. Manage your expectations. Just because you’ve changed since Thanksgiving ’08 doesn’t mean everyone else has.

#2 Have an exit strategy

If things get too ridiculous for you to handle, be prepared with an exit strategy, even if it just means escaping to your bedroom for a 10-minute cooldown. Whether you’re hosting your family or they’re hosting you, find a quiet place where you can go when you get too overwhelmed. It could be the bathroom, the back porch, or maybe even the hallway where you can call a friend to mindlessly complain for a few minutes.

#3 Invite a friend

No family, no matter how dysfunctional they are, wants to look dysfunctional in front of others. If your family’s too hard to handle on your own, try inviting a friend. It may help keep your Uncle Joe and Aunt Karen on their best behavior. If it doesn’t, you have someone there with you to lean on when things get unbearable.

#4 Look for cheerful moments

This isn’t a cheesy Christmas movie. Your family’s not perfect, but no family is 100 percent bad. Take a moment to look for the joyful moments. Maybe your grandparents are exchanging a loving look, or your two-year-old cousin is giggling while he plays on the floor. Enjoy the simplicity of your family members’ presence while tossing all expectations out the window. If that doesn’t work, just quietly sit in front of fire by yourself and enjoy that instead.

#5 Ask yourself, “Do I really have to go?”

Ah, the golden question. Take a moment to determine if dutifully heading home for Thanksgiving is the right thing to do. Will you be insulted for hours on end about how you’re not doing as well as your sister? Will your brother berate your job and life choices? If your family life is toxic, consider politely excusing yourself from the holiday. It doesn’t have to be out of anger. Sometimes it’s just healthier to let everyone have their space.