Black Family Matters, Black Mental Health, Journey to PhD

Dealing with my Toxic Family During the Holiday Season

Have you ever thought twice about going home for the holidays? Have you ever intentionally shortened a trip home so that you could keep your sanity? Do you rehearse #clapbacks for auntie, “So, you still don’t have a man?” or cousin, “Oh, you think you’re better than the rest of us because you’re getting a PhD, huh?”.

Well, I feel you.

Going home for the holidays can be anxiety-provoking for a lot of us. The rude (and unrequested) comments about our bodies, weight gain/loss, natural hair aesthetic, and (lack of a) relationship status can be painful, daunting, and triggering.

As supportive and as loving as we may want our families to be, sometimes that’s just not the hand that we’re dealt.

Thankfully, academia allows me an escape from my toxic family members. When I’m in school, I know that I’ll only have to deal with auntie, “When will you find a man?” (maybe) four times a year.

 

Granted, academia isn’t all grits and glory, either.

It’s hard, systematically oppressive, and pervasively invalidating.

However, for a lot of us, it’s just not home. And that’s what matters. It’s not your family and it doesn’t last forever.

More importantly, depending on your social identities, you probably expect by now that academia will betray you.

You may expect for academia to be invalidating, inconsiderate, and intolerant of your very existence.

But most of us don’t expect that from our families.

Now, I fully acknowledge that having these expectations of one’s family can be a privilege and of course, our cultural, racial, religious, and other social identities influence how these expectations show up in our family lineages.

In a perfect world, we would all expect (and receive) love, acceptance, and the freedom to be ourselves from those who watched us grow up.

But that’s not always the case.

Some of our families expect that we’ll take care of everyone when we are living on debt ourselves. They don’t care (or maybe don’t understand) that our assistantships only offer a small stipend for (barely) month to month living.

To illustrate, I had a family member call and ask me for $1000 once because “they knew I had it”.

I didn’t.

I was a full-time master’s student, living off of loans (read: debt). But I was expected to give something that I didn’t have because somebody else needed it.

Or maybe you’re expected to solve all of the family drama, because “you’re the one with the degree”.

Since when did my degree(s) volunteer me for everybody else’s drama? If I’m being honest, I don’t want to hear about the “family drama”. I need and deserve a break. I love my family AND I can’t always deal with family issues. I get tired. And annoyed. And frustrated. And overwhelmed.

So, in an effort to preserve my mental health, I’ve learned how to maximize my time at home. Here’s a quick list of my #selfcare practices before (and after) dealing with my toxic family members during the holiday season:

  • Take some time to yourself at the end of the semester before going home. Go see a movie, take yourself to lunch, or whatever you like to do to relax. This will give you a chance to decompress (without the looming thoughts of papers or exams).
  • Adjust the time that you spend at home. In college, I would come home the moment I finished finals and stay until the day before school started. Now, I don’t put that pressure on  myself. If I have 3 weeks off, I might visit for 2 or if I have 2 weeks off, I might visit for 1. Spending ALL of my break time at home isn’t healthy for me anymore, so I had to make some changes.
  • Pick a holiday or 2 to see your family; you don’t have to go home for every break. The first time I decided not to go home for spring break, my guilt was so intense. Since going away to college, I’ve always felt pressured to go home EVERY time I wasn’t in classes. But those few days off make a world of difference.
  • Avoid those family members that you know don’t mean you any good (when you can). Sometimes I don’t leave my mama’s house during my break and I’m okay with that. I have learned to be intentional about my self-care, which allows me to recharge and feel a little less anxious.

So, take some leisure books home with you. Work on a blog post. Go see a movie with a friend or alone. Do whatever you have to do to survive the holidays with your toxic family members.

You’ll be back on the grind before you know it!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year,

Raven K.

 

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with my Toxic Family During the Holiday Season”

  1. I was so hype to be away from the city my school was in that I didn’t properly plan for alone time. But I’m about to do just what you said and use my lil Christmas come up to take myself to lunch. A good expensive(ish) lunch. Bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have an interesting relationship with my family ESPECIALLY on my mother’s side. It grew so terrible and intense that I almost avoided my entire family for Christmas to avoid seeing them. Luckily my mom feels the same way I do about them and we decided that we won’t allow holidays to be spent with people who make us uncomfortable. So we are the family that shows us respect and that’s it. This past Christmas I was with my mom and sisters and that’s it and I felt NO guilt despite all the attitude filled phone calls we received. But breaks and holidays are meant to be filled with laughter and relaxation. Nothing else. And I’ve learned to refuse to allow myself to feel uncomfortable for anyone. Family or not. I send gifts and that’s it. Great post! Glad you’ve found a way that works for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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