Life is too short to spend holidays with people who make you feel like shit. Repeat after me, I am an adult and get to choose who I am around, at all times, including the holiday season. I am an adult and get to choose who I am around, at all times, including the holiday season.
I am so happy to be at a point in my life where I am fully at peace with who I need to spend the holidays with. I’m not quite sure why I allowed myself to suffer all of those years – but since I am certain there must be some of you who also have your holidays ruined by mean relatives – I am going to share my story.
For the last 15 years of his life, my father and I did not get along. Since he died, I’ve made peace with our relationship. I’ve forgiven both of us for being human and completely dropping the ball on the whole father-daughter thing. But when I look back on how I spent the holidays while he was alive, I just shake my head and think, Why?
He was your typical stubborn, old-school, Italian. Whatever the reasons were that we didn’t get along – and however much of it was his own fault – he would never admit to it. He much preferred the “intimidate into submission” route. I think my father intimidated everyone in the world but me. I was just too stubborn for his tactics to work; his large stature, silence and constant grimace did nothing but piss me off more. When his go-to tricks didn’t work – he would just flat-out ignore me.
I know my father loved me – but because of the aforementioned stubbornness and latent old-school anger, instead of letting things go – he just pretended I wasn’t there. I’m not kidding. I would show up to my Aunt’s house every year for Thanksgiving and subject myself to hours of my father being a passive-aggressive, silent bully and everyone pretending they didn’t notice. And every year I thought the same thing; “Why do I put myself through this?”
The ideal scenario would have been that we both would have just gotten over ourselves, talked things out, and moved on. For some reason, no matter how many times we tried – it never worked. My brother always insists that my father loved me most of all. I don’t doubt that with the hindsight and clarity that death brings. I just really think I reminded him of all of his parenting failures – the ones he hated himself for – and by default, the ones he ended up hating me for.
The thing is – just because this kind of behavior is some how easy to get used to and “ignore” – doesn’t mean that it’s okay. I didn’t have to torture myself all of those years; the awful silence, the strained small talk amongst everyone around us at the dinner table – it was pretty damn awful. I catch myself falling into this silence when I get really mad at people I love and I hate it. I have to make a conscious effort to snap out of it – to ignore whatever hurt feelings I have and let people know they are seen and heard. I am certain that this is a result of all of the years I endured that emotional abuse. It’s not harmless. It has caused lasting damage that I have to make a conscious effort to overcome.
So – if you find yourself in a similar situation around the holidays – having to spend them with loved ones who don’t treat you well – stand up for yourself. And if you can’t stand up for yourself, at least remember that you are an adult and are allowed to choose how you spend all of your waking hours. It may seem awkward to skip that family holiday, but in the interest of self-preservation, sometimes you have to make the hard decisions. If you don’t you may find yourself trying to unravel years of conditioned behavior like I am. It’s not fun – trust me.
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy. Claim that joy. I don’t care if it’s your mother, your father, your siblings or your Nana who everyone else seems to think can do no wrong – if you feel like someone is ruining your holidays every year – take some kind of stand; talk to them, talk to everyone else, too. And if all that fails – skip the giant family get together and make your own – complete with people who treat you well.
(Image: Getty Images)