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How To Navigate Family Dynamics During The Holiday Season

Our first memories of any holiday are with our families.

Love & Relationships

Celebrating the holidays is going to look a lot different this year. The holidays can be stressful for many. Now, with a pandemic and an economic crisis, it is filled with uncertainty. All of us are trying to navigate through something. These are trying times, as some of us have lost jobs or loved ones to COVID-19. We all want the comfort of our families, young and old. But we also want to protect the health of our loved ones too.

But no matter the circumstance, when you sit down to eat Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, there is always that one aunty that has to be in your business. It's like they have this impulsive need to ask you a million questions. Why are you single? When are you getting married? Are you planning to have a baby? Their mouth just cannot hold water and rumors spread like wildfire. And from my experience, family rumors are the worst. This same aunty must comment on your body image too. Like it is their God-given right to tell you how much weight you've gained, or you need to eat some food.

The A-U-D-A-C-I-T-Y.

And then there are the estranged family members. It's like being the elephant in the room; noticeable, questionable, and silent. It's something that no one wants to bring up or mention. You can feel the tension in the room. It's thick and heavy, just waiting to be cut with a knife. The drama is real and sometimes is never-ending. And this is what we call a generational curse. One wrong comment can trigger World War III.

For others, holidays are NOT the most wonderful time of year. Maybe you can't be home with your family because of work, school, military deployment, or the current state of the world. Maybe you have lost a family member and you're still grieving. You prefer to be alone and sit with your feelings. And that's OK. Take the time you need. Maybe you have a toxic family member, and you need to protect your peace. That's OK too. Just thinking about my own toxic family gives me anxiety but that's a different story. And maybe you don't have any family at all. `

Family can be loving and warm, but they also can be overwhelming and bothersome. And yet no one wants to be alone for the holidays. For whatever reason, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day are just hard.

So, how do you navigate family dynamics during the holidays, you ask? I can tell you how.

Boundaries

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Boundaries are what keep you sane, especially around the holidays. If you're not creating and practicing boundaries, I insist you do. Boundaries keep you from any stress or hurt you might feel from family interactions. Establishing boundaries with family seems hard, but I promise it's easy. A boundary can look like showing up, being present for a few hours, and sneaking out. It can also be a quick stop by, with an excuse to leave "due to other plans". A boundary can also look like choosing not to engage in certain conversations. This means using your voice to express where you stand on certain dinner table topics. Either way, there is a level of security in keeping your boundaries intact.

Limit Your Time

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Don't feel obligated to spend your entire Thanksgiving or Christmas with your family just because it's the norm or expectation. Have a conversation with yourself and ask yourself these questions. How much time do you want to spend with your family? What part of my day do I want to set aside for family? How does my family make me feel during the holidays? Is it necessary to be with family on this day? You can even pick and choose which holidays you choose to give to your family. Because who said you have to be present for every single Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve anyway. Feel free to put your family on an annual holiday rotation. Trust me, you will thank me later.

Use Technology

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If you can't go home for the holidays or spending time with family is not an option for you, get you some good ole' FaceTime in with your loved ones in a video chat. There are so many options to connect with family through technology. Set a time and date and enjoy a virtual holiday meal with your family. I mean, it's 2020. We have Zoom, Houseparty, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, and Telegram. We have no excuse. This way, you're able to see family, feel the holiday feels, be safe, and still be able to protect your peace.

Gather With Friends

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Nowadays, Friendsgiving has become more relevant than an actual Family Thanksgiving. The presence of nonjudgmental friends having dinner, drinks, and talking. No questions asked. But if questions are asked, it's in a safe space. Friends know the meaning of boundaries, unlike family, which makes gathering with friends much more pleasant than being with actual family.

Do Your Own Thing

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When all else fails, including boundaries, do your own thing. You can enjoy your own company during the holiday season. Yes, you read that right. There is nothing wrong with it and don't let anyone tell you differently. It is perfectly OK to get into the holiday spirit alone. Decorate your home, cook a holiday meal for one, and buy yourself some Christmas gifts too. Enjoy a staycation, order take out, bake Christmas cookies, sip on some hot chocolate or a holiday cocktail, and binge-watch your favorite holiday movies. Take that solo holiday vacation to the tropics because the Caribbean is always nice. We are moving towards less traditional holiday celebrations anyway.

I have learned to do all of these things because of my own family dynamics. I set boundaries with my parents and my brother. When I do see my family, I limit my time with them to a few hours or less. And no, I do not feel guilty. I have FaceTime dates with my dad every now and then. And since I live 2,000 plus miles away in a different state, my friends have become "framily". I typically spend holidays with them. Oh, and this year, I am taking that holiday vacation to the Caribbean.

Every holiday season, navigating family dynamics sends my anxiety through the roof followed by feelings of loneliness. It's inevitable. I long for my family. We all do. Our first memories of any holiday are with our families. The key is to continue to make yourself happy regardless of your family dynamics. It's important to keep pouring into yourself because some family or circumstances may never change. But you can still show your family love and appreciation during the holidays, it's just going to look a little different this year.

And at all costs, please protect your peace.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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