Being emotional isn't a fault, it's a superpower
I’m Skipping the Holidays Because of Politics
Kaitlyn McQuin meets those opting out of the holidays due to familial political divides
For a lot of families, the holidays will look different this year.
Whether it be a scaled-back gathering due to COVID-19, coping with grief this season after losing a loved one to coronavirus or police brutality, or simply not having the financial means due to unemployment, families and individuals worldwide are adjusting to this year’s “new normal”.
Another new normal? Political discrepancies that are so divisive that people are foregoing the holidays with their families.
The political divide in the United States today is at an all-time high. Our current administration is being applauded for claiming to pull service members out of combat zones all the while spearheading a war between Americans on the left and Americans on the right. Acts of blatant racism and hate crimes are being brushed under the table. Rights of women, Black folks, and people within the LGBTQ+ community are being revoked. When you’re living in a country that is constantly trying to strip you of your rights and some of your family members support the administration at the helm of our country’s downfall, it makes attending a family gathering with them in the name of tradition less than appealing.
Plus, we’re in a pandemic. There’s plenty of time to learn how to make your Uncle Brian’s mac and cheese. A perk? In your recipe, you can leave out the ignorance, racism, and sexism. *chefs kiss* Delish.
So, what are the people supposed to do who don’t jive with their family’s politics? How do they navigate the holidays? How do they stand firm in their beliefs, maintain respect where respect is due, and preserve their mental health? They’re skipping the holidays, that’s what.
“I decided not to attend a family trip for Thanksgiving,” says Shelby. “But it’s tradition to have dinner at my grandmother’s house for Christmas Eve. I try to be an example of a good person so that when political talk comes up, I can show my grandmother how wrong she is about the left. I also shut down and anything that would be disparaging to someone else.”
What happens when a relative says something that is disparaging to someone else? What if that someone else is you?
“My father, a police officer, reacted poorly to my public posts and comments which were aimed at me recognizing inherent racism in my own actions and beliefs [after the murder of George Floyd],” says Mark. “He started several heated arguments with me over them. Knowing my dad’s views and trying to be understanding, I kept my cool and kept trying to explain my point without resorting to personal attacks or name-calling. During our last argument, he made it clear that he is “done with me.” I wrote it off and just figured he would eventually apologize. After all, we have had disagreements before. Yet, through all of those fights, we found common ground eventually and moved on. Since that fight, he has made no concrete effort to reach out, except for the occasional text saying something like “we have mail at the house for you.”
When asked how this made Mark feel, he said, “It’s definitely not ideal. It hurts to know that someone you have respected your entire life can be so childish and have such disregard for you.”
Those reading this might wonder why individuals can’t put aside their differences for a day. It’s just one family dinner or one holiday a year. For others, it’s one more opportunity to be reminded of who your family really is, and one more opportunity to be disappointed.
“The “opinions” we’re fighting over now strike at something in your core,” Mark said. “I am sure many people are dreading the thought of having to listen to people they love and respect spout ideologies that are repugnant in their eyes. And those same people fear to speak up because they know the inevitable result of that.”
The inevitable result of being shamed, or disregarded because of your beliefs, or told “I’m done with you” by your own parent, by chance?
“It’s not about your family voting for someone else,” Mark said. “It’s about seeing who your family really always has been.”
Having relatives who support an administration based on lies and fraud and knowing you’ll have to see them during the “most wonderful time of the year” is anxiety-inducing, for both adults and young adults alike. The thought of being in a room with family who actively voted against you or a cause you’re passionate about feels wrong. It goes against everything we’ve ever been taught about what family is – a group of people who have your back no matter what.
We wouldn’t willingly spend time with friends who make us feel so terrible about ourselves, so why should family get a pass?
“Living twelve hours away and a pandemic added to the decision, but bullshit politics sealed the deal,” says Jamie. “I’ve been gently suggesting that we might not be home for Christmas despite plans. They still haven’t really accepted it. We might have a Zoom dinner with my family for Thanksgiving. If things turn to politics, we can just blame that spotty mountain internet connection for having to make a quick exit.”
It says a lot that we have to formulate a plan for an out before walking into a family gathering this year, doesn’t it? What would happen if we just told the truth? What would happen if we just looked our families in the eye and called them for what they are?
“Let me completely preface by saying I did stir the pot by commenting on hateful social media posts of my family,” said Stephanie. “My mom told me she was ashamed I would go against how I was raised. To avoid any issues and constantly feel like I’m walking on needles, I will not be attending the holidays,” Stephanie said. “I don’t live close to my family, and I’m the only one who believes COVID is real, so I’m spending them alone. I’ve looked at booking a tiny home deep in the mountains for the night, going to the beach, or just staying at home and trying to master a pasta dish. This all sounds depressing, but, honestly, my mental health is more important.”
Having the option to avoid family gatherings this year is a privilege, as many individuals don’t have the luxury of opting out. Perhaps they’re the resident holiday host, like Kristin.
“I am hosting Thanksgiving at my house as I have done for the last twenty years, but I won’t get upset like I have for the last four years,” says Kristin. “I have learned to sit back and let the fools jabber on, not engaging in what I see as a lost cause.”
Or, perhaps they’re college-aged students who have no choice but to go home for the holidays.
“COVID-19 has presented many challenges, with one of the most prominent for college-aged students (young adults) being extended time at home over winter break,” said Director of Student Life, Shun Jones. “While most students will appreciate this extra time away from campus, there are many who are not looking forward to their realities of returning home to be with family members who share political ideologies that don’t align with their own. Most students I talk to are extremely worried and anxious to interact with family members who are in great support of the outgoing presidential administration.”
Young adults are arming themselves for attacks on their beliefs and opinions due to their age.
On top of preparing for the increased anxiety young adults face in returning home for the holidays, they’re also arming themselves for attacks on their beliefs and opinions due to their age.
“Folks think young adults do not care or are trendy in their care,” Shun said. “When looking at the voter turnout for our campus and community, it is evident that this is the furthest from the truth. Young adults care and are concerned about their future. They want our world to be a better place. This is proved true by the great voter turnout across the U.S., as well as the many political engagement opportunities put on for students by students on many college campuses.”
Older generations love to laugh at and mock younger generations for a multitude of reasons, and it’s more prominent in familial relationships, due to the belief in family loyalty. But, people across the country are finding their voice, and today’s young adults are of a generation where communication and establishing your own opinions – and sharing them – is encouraged.
Our aunts and uncles and grandparents could learn a thing or two from their younger family members. In the meantime, their feelings and beliefs need to be advocated for.
“Advocacy for this age group is so important for so many reasons,” said Shun. “While some students are independent and on their own, there are many who still reside in the homes of their families when they are not on campus and may still feel alone given some of the ideological differences. With that, it is vital that college administrators do their part in continuously educating, advocating, and supporting our students holistically and year-round. Even more so this year given the global pandemic – this age group, along with others, have been charged with dealing with much more than they typically do.”
We all have, haven’t we? Been charged with dealing with much more than we typically do. It’s been a year. A rough year. A year of growth, a year of setbacks, and a year of uncertainty. And now we’re entering what most consider the most wonderful time of the year, but how can it be when some feel as though their own families don’t have their best interest at heart? Who supports a man who royally screwed the United States of America, has multiple sexual assault allegations against him, and who continues to perpetuate racism and divide the country?
“I was already on the fence about seeing family for the holidays due to COVID concerns,” said Emily. “Though we would be able to likely meet outside, my choice was made when my dad and I got into a Trump vs. Biden argument. My family understands that this year has already been hard and political arguments would make the holidays even harder in this weird time. Instead, my new husband and I will be spending our first married Thanksgiving creating our own new traditions and celebrating with a giant feast.”
Self-care, particularly during the holidays, which also brings grief, loneliness, and unreasonable expectations, is of the utmost importance. Especially now. Especially in today’s climate.
If self-care means relieving yourself of your family’s company who may belittle you for your political beliefs, then choosing not to partake in their celebrations is valid. If self-care means avoiding conflict, then your choice to stay silent or avoid those situations is valid. If self-care means creating new traditions with your chosen family in favor of old traditions, then that choice is valid.
Your only job this year and every year that follows is to take care of you.
And the holiday season is no different.
If you absolutely must attend a holiday gathering with family who shares different beliefs than you do, here are a few ways to make it more manageable:
Clearly state that you do not wish to engage in political talk. If a conversation moves towards politics, ask to change the subject. If they refuse, you are free to stop speaking, leave the conversation, or leave the event.
Stand Up for Yourself
If a family member belittles your beliefs, shames you for who you voted for, or mocks what is important to you, give yourself permission to stand up for yourself. There is no shame in voting for a candidate who has the betterment of the entire country and its people at the forefront of their policies.
There is shame in voting otherwise. You know your heart. Defend it.
Let Yourself Grieve
Grief and the holidays go hand-in-hand, and this year, the grief is exacerbated. Let yourself feel it if it washes over you. If grief and sadness are sparked by an empty chair at your dining table or a remark your aunt makes about your lifestyle, it’s best not to ignore it, but embrace it instead.
Let yourself feel your sad. Give it some air. It’s hurtful when someone who is supposed to love you displays actions that say otherwise. It’s okay to feel it.
Look Forward to the Future
This too shall pass is trite, but it’s true. Soon, the holidays will be behind us, and we’ll be moving forward as individuals and as a nation in the new year (and on January 20, 2021!). Look forward to that. Change is messy and uncomfortable, and, sometimes, before the biggest blessing is a series of events that feel like they’re going to break you. Hold on. A new day is near. And holiday dinners with your racist relatives are soon behind you.
And if you’re spending the holidays differently this year, whether it be solo or with folks that are your chosen family, please know that you are worthy of love and happiness and joy and holiday cheer.
And if your parents or grandparents don’t support you in your quest for self-care and a better America, know that I do. And so do 80,025,943 other Americans.
Welcome to our table. And welcome to the future.