BAMF Tips for Life: Dealing with Family

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This time of year, as I’m sure is the case with many people, I start thinking a lot about my family. Brought about by the holidays—in conjunction with my birthday, as well as the birthday of my father—this is when I become most homesick, nostalgic and prone to long trips down memory lane. Of course, such excursions often gloss over the nightmarish reality of dealing with relatives, which for many is a universal unpleasantness brought about by the holidays. Inevitably, I find myself in conversations with other people, talking about their families, often comparing horror stories and trying to one-up each other in tales of dysfunction and discord, arguing to see who has a crazier family and the more traumatic upbringing. These conversations are usually fun for a while, but often take an uncomfortable turn when I say, “There’s no law that says you have to spend time with the people you’re related to. In fact, I stopped spending the holidays with my extended family years ago.”

Before I go any further, let me explain a few things for the sake of those just joining us for the World According to David Walker (a.k.a. David Walker Knows More Than Other People). I love my family—some of them I even actually like. But when it comes to spending time with some of them (and by “some” I mean “some” and not “all”), visiting family can be like getting out of jail to go to prison. You all know what I’m talking about, because you’ve all endured gatherings with relatives that have been painful descents into abuse and dysfunctional drama. And just because we are related to these folks either by blood or marriage, somehow it seems acceptable to put up with some asshole that has differing political or religious views, substance abuse issues, or feels that because they are family it gives them the right to show you no respect whatsoever. And this is how millions of people choose to spend their holidays. Well…not David Walker.

Over the years, I have developed a series of rules and philosophies that I use for dealing with relatives. Some of you might find this stuff a bit too harsh, but I’d be willing to bet you’re the ones who complain the most about your family, or at the very least are the ones who dread those extended visits more than others. With that in mind, you are under no obligation to adopt any of these philosophies or live by any of these rules. You do what you have to do, and if that includes being abused and humiliated by your family and then complaining to others about it, then that’s what you have to do. Just don’t talk to me about it.

1. It is okay to not like people in your family. This may sound harsh, but it really isn’t. A family is made up of individuals with different personalities, priorities, interests and moral fiber. Just because you are bound by blood or marriage does not mean you will share any or all of the same interests or even priorities, and it does not preclude others—or even you—from being an asshole. Many people are blinded by this misconception that we must like our relatives, even if they are assholes. Well, I’m here to tell you “fuck that shit.” Get over that nonsense. I’m not saying hate your Uncle Bob; but if he’s a dickhead, you don’t have to like him. And you don’t have to forgive his boorish behavior by saying, “Oh, that just how Uncle Bob is.” The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are assholes everywhere—even in your own family.

2. Have an escape plan. If you are going a long distance to see your family (and long distance can be defined as any place that takes more than three hours to drive to, or a place you are flying to), always have an escape plan. This means have some place to go if the going gets rough. I’m a big fan of renting a car and maintaining a list of friends in the area that I can visit. I also scope out libraries and parks (both good places to hide from family for free). Amongst my family, I’m known for just walking out of a room when the shit gets too heavy, and not returning for two or three years. This may not seem acceptable to some, but think about the abusive way your Aunt Matilda treats you like crap, asking you why you’re so fat, how come you’re still single, and when you’re going to get a real job. Then she lectures you about burning in Hell for not being a good Christian, and tells you why Palin has her vote in ’12. Well, if Aunt Matilda were someone other than a relative, you could say something like, “Shut your yap you dumb twat.” But since she’s you dad’s aunt and she’s old, and she’s family, you can’t spit in her face. You’re best bet is to keep your mouth shut, just get up and leave. This is the boldest statement you can make. Get in your rented car, and go somewhere until Aunt Matilda has left, or she is dead.

3. Go to them, don’t let them come to you. This is an extension of the above. If your family comes to you, there’s nowhere to run. They are an invading army that will conquer your kingdom.

4. Don’t bother explaining yourself. Explaining yourself is defending yourself, and you shouldn’t have to do that with your family. If you’re like me, you have people in the family that just don’t get you. They don’t understand what you’re doing for a career (or lack thereof), they don’t get your religious or political views, or why you haven’t gotten married. If these people want to have an intelligent conversation, that’s fine. But if the people who have known you longer than anyone else on the planet haven’t figured you out by now, they never will. And anything you say to explain yourself will be pointless. If you have to explain yourself to your brother that you only see once a year or your cousins who like to get drunk and fire guns into the air, it means that they don’t respect you enough to accept the fact that you are a Wicca bi-sexual that maintains a gluten free diet. Are you asking them to explain why they still drink Coors and think we need tougher immigration laws? No. Because even if you don’t get them, you either accept them as the idiots they are, or really don’t want to hear another stupid word out of their mouths. If you find yourself in a situation where a family member is repeatedly saying to you, “I just don’t get you,” direct them to your Facebook page and hope for the best.

5. Don’t try to fix it. Let’s face it, all families are screwed up. Chances are your family has been screwed up for generations, and there’s nothing you can do to fix it—especially not in five days over the Christmas holiday. Think of yourself as a soldier in combat. This is not a war you can win; the best you can hope for is to survive the experience with a minimal amount of PTSD. Maybe you can help one relative with one problem—advise your cousin with a cheating husband to leave the prick, or tell your alcoholic brother he should consider the fact that your liver is not available should he need one, which if he keeps up his current behavior is a distinct possibility.

6. Be an adult and demand to be treated like an adult. It can be difficult for some relatives to think of you as adult, resulting in them forever treating you like a kid. I have watched adult friends and relatives turned into children, usually by their parents or grandparents, who still treat them like they are kids. Well, if Grandma Edith treats you like a kid, don’t let her get away with that crap. Be polite about it, but put a stop to it. And if she keeps treating like a kid, here’s something that might get her to stop: start acting like a kid. You might want to try throwing a tantrum, but in my own personal experience, the best thing is to simply poop your pants and then ask Grandma to change you. Then explain, “Since you’re treating me like a child, I figured you’d want to go all the way with it.”

Hopefully some of these tips will help you the next time you are visiting family. And of course, you can always simply not visit.

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One Response to “BAMF Tips for Life: Dealing with Family”

  1. iowan Says:

    dave, you are brilliant for writing this. i feel the same way you do, which is why i warn my relatives that they can’t just “drop by” and that there is a reason why we have iron gates as front doors in brooklyn. LOL! but thank you for this. i agree with you 100%!

    ~iowan

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