In an ideal world, we should be able to enjoy the social obligations of the Festive Season. The reality is that family gatherings can be a source of stress for many of us. Family events can often feel like walking through a minefield, especially if you’re an LGBTIQ+ person.
Let’s be honest: we’ve all had that terrible family Christmas dinner where cousins end up arguing and not talking to each other, that one uncle who always gets plastered, and dealing with implied or overt queerphobia from family members. (There’s always one who keeps asking you when you’ll find yourself a girlfriend/boyfriend – even though you’ve brought your same-sex partner along.)
Here are some tips to (possibly) help you maintain your sanity:
1. Self-care is important
Remember that you need to take care of yourself above all else. Don’t get too caught up in the festivities and family demands. Take the time to do things that you enjoy, to relax and have space for yourself. That can include exercising, spending some time in nature, reading a book, or meditating.
2. Avoid drinking too much
Keep your drinking to a reasonable limit. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and there’s a chance you may say something while under the influence that you may regret.
3. Be flexible but clear
Compromise on décor or food preparation. If the event is not being held at your home, take the lead from the host. If you are hosting, be clear about what dishes you want people to bring along, and what the rules of your home are so that there is no squabble about how things get done.
4. Boundaries for the win
Make sure you decide on your boundaries beforehand and keep to them. This will help avoid triggers that may make you anxious, uneasy or angry. Don’t feel obligated to talk about anything you don’t want to and you don’t have to tolerate any abuse or queerphobia. Shut down a conversation if needed or step away if you feel that things are getting too much for you. Take a walk, or step outside for some fresh air. Offer to get something that might be needed.
5. Try to be patient and compassionate
Avoid reacting too emotionally. It may be difficult but try to be compassionate and kind when it comes to ignorance or accidental misgendering.
6. Coming out to the family
Don’t feel obligated by a family member to address your sexuality or gender identity. This is your choice to make. If you do plan to come out to the family, be prepared for the response and have an escape plan if things don’t go well (e.g., a friend to pick you up or someone you can stay overnight with).
7. Set your limits
Decide how long you are planning to stay. If your family are particularly difficult, you can always let them know you are just popping in for an hour. Stick to your plan so that you can manage your mental health. Not all families are understanding, so be prepared for how you will handle all those requests for you to stay longer.
8. Don’t go
Yup. That’s right. You don’t have to go to the family event if it will be draining and challenging for you and your partner. You can chill at home in front of your tree with a glass of wine.
9. Talk to someone
If the stress of a family Christmas is becoming overwhelming, or if you don’t have family or friends to spend it with, or you just feel down or depressed, talk to someone. Call Lifeline’s 24-hour counselling line on 0861 322 322, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837 (8am – 8pm Mon – Sun), or the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.