Pillbox

Advice for Awkward People

**Hey Ruth!
Last week you wrote about ways to talk to your family about your major, which is great, but what about, like, everything else?

What I mean is — I find holidays with family exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing everyone and celebrating, and the excuse to do nothing all day is amazing, but in reality, I don’t actually end up doing “nothing.” My aunts and uncles are always asking me to watch my younger cousins and I just cannot be responsible for six different kids, even if I am related to all of them.

I’m also finding more and more as I grow up, that being at the level of holiday cheerfulness and engagement that’s expected of me is getting more difficult. I don’t know if I could be around anyone for eight hours straight and be up for a conversation about my/their life at any point. I don’t think I’m a Grinch or anything, but sometimes I just want to take a break.

Quit the Useless, Intrusive, Endless Talking. People Like Silence.**

Dear QUIET PLS ,
The good news is that you’re definitely not a Grinch. Well, you might be, but not because of this. Trust me when I say it’s a nearly universal experience to get sick of your relatives during holiday visits. Just look at every holiday comedy ever made. I do recognize that knowing that everyone else is suffering with you is less useful as a practical solution, though I find it emotionally helpful, so let’s talk about how to tell people “no.” Because that is, ultimately, what you’re going to have to do.

It can be extremely difficult to say no in this kind of situation. We’re more or less trained to automatically love our family because they’re blood, and as any such indication of disagreement or declining what they’ve asked of you can be read as impolite or rude. And when you’re already trying to mediate between these people who you do love, but can definitely get on each other’s nerves, one little “no” can feel like the breaking point. Maybe it’s not your responsibility to make sure everything goes well when people are visiting, but it’s just much easier to deal with all of it than have everyone explode, right?

Is it, though? You sound as if acquiescing to everyone’s requests is already beating you and your level of enjoyment down. But it’s only every so often, and dealing with the fallout would be so much worse, maybe. I honestly don’t know — you’re the only one who can judge yourself and your family situation. But part of growing up is learning how to set boundaries and actually enforce them, so I’m generally in support of saying “no” even when you’re not sure how it will go. And honestly? If your relatives are the type of people to explode the moment you don’t agree to everything they ask, I think you should start learning how to say “no” real soon.

If the hard, blunt “no” is still intimidating, I’d recommend building in a way to give a “soft no” if needed. Basically, find something that will give you a way out of babysitting or conversation without explicitly turning someone down. Go help in the kitchen, or have work you need to do (don’t we all), or even just go for a walk. I’m sure it gets just as stuffy at your house as it does at mine, and going out by yourself or with a family member whose company you know you enjoy is a good way to get a break and clear your head. You can’t be full of holiday cheer if you’re full of frustration, so take care of yourself.

Have a wonderful time of the year,
Ruth