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This Will Keep Your Family Off Of Your LAST Nerve This Holiday Season

Here's how to keep your auntie from turning you into a grinch.

Life & Travel

Chile. This. Right. Here. Listen, if you're someone who is counting the days until Thanksgiving and/or Christmas because you come from a totally functional family that never disagrees and totally enjoys being up under each other 24/7, first off, let me say a big ole' kudos to you. No, really. That is absolutely beautiful—and amazing. But with articles out in cyberspace like "Why Families Fight During Holidays", "Average Couples Will Fight Seven Times Before Holiday End" and "So THAT'S Why Families Fight So Much at Christmas! Strict Schedules and Cramped Conditions Cause 'Hypercopresence'", I already know that there are others who are watching the movie Soul Food on loop, in hopes that their family will be able to sit around the dinner table in peace or, they're considering going on a prayer fast in order to maintain their sanity.

Family is a funny thing; not always in a "ha ha" kind of way either. But as they say, "You can't choose your family." You also can't make grandma not ask you for the billionth time when you're going to get married or have kids, your auntie from saying something slick about your weight or sense of style, or the men in the house from trying to hog the remote. Not to mention all of the dishes that constantly need to be washed, the limited bed space, and the folks whose personalities change more and more with every cup of eggnog. Lawd.

As you're trying to get your spirit right as you head to your parents' house or you prepare to host at your own place this year, cut yourself some slack. If there is a part of you that isn't 100 percent thrilled, that's OK. You're human (plus, studies reveal that it takes the average American only four hours before they need to take a break from extended family visits). But if, at the same time, you want to exude peace, joy and goodwill as much as possible for your sake and the sake of those who will be around you, here's hoping that the following tips can bring a few miracles into your family space this holiday season.

“Time” Your Time

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I'm an ambivert which kind of breaks down into being perceived as being an extrovert when actually I am more of an introvert. And this is how much of an introvert that I am. A few years ago, Nashville got some for real, for real snow (which doesn't happen a ton). Two days in, some out of town people called to check on me and get this—I had no idea that the snowstorm even happened. Right. I hadn't even gone outside in like three days. Didn't look out of the windows either. That is how much I like my spot. And since I enjoy solitude too, the rare times when people do stay over here, I've got a five-day threshold rule. During those five days, I will cook for you, take you wherever you want to go—basically be on-call. But after those five days are up, you've got…to…go. No apologies either. I know me. This means that I know what my limits are as well.

Sometimes, folks feel like they are going to lose it around the holidays because they stay with someone longer than they can mentally or emotionally handle, or they allow others to semi-wear out their welcome. If this Thanksgiving, all you can endure is Thursday thru Saturday, hey—it is what it is. Better to know what you are able to endure and everything go smoothly than to push past your limits and all hell break loose. For real, doe.

Deactivate Your Triggers

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If there is one thing that 2019 has taught me, it's how to get up close and personal with my triggers so that I can better learn how to deactivate them; especially when I'm around "trigger pushers"—or when it comes to certain family members of mine, trigger stompers. If there is a part of you that wonders why you are generally a pretty chill individual, but then, when a certain cousin walks through the door or your stepmother mumbles something under her breath, you are ready to leap over the table, they could be triggering you, perhaps without you even knowing it. And since a lot of triggers stem from our childhood, that would actually make a lot of sense. Over the holidays, sometimes we're reliving things that aren't the best memories, experiences or even people on the planet; it makes us vulnerable and that can make us irritable.

You can't change your cousin or your stepmom. All you can do is control yourself. But something that can give you a real leg up on avoiding any potential drama is if you spend some time figuring out what your triggers are, who pushes them, and things that you can do to "woosah" through them instead of poppin' off at every turn.

Avoiding “Romanticizing” Toxicity

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Some people in my family are toxic. Simple as that. They are so toxic, in fact, that they inspired me to write "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members". A particular relative who comes to mind is constantly bitter with a side of manipulative and controlling. For years, before I would see this individual, I would tell myself that this time was going to be different; that although the only thing that they had shown was how consistently negative they could be, somehow it wasn't going to be like that that year. Then, I would walk in their door, they'd immediate start whining about their life and then try and get me to do everything for them the entire visit, only for me to find myself all bent out of shape because I was disappointed. Again.

Y'all, this is what I call "romanticizing toxicity". Did you know that one definition of romantic is "fanciful; impractical; unrealistic"? And yes, when you're around people who are constantly showing how toxic they are, it's impractical and unrealistic to think that after years of them being this way, they are supernaturally going to be any different.

For toxic people, it has to be an act of God for anything to change. Until that happens, don't set yourself up for being let down by putting your heart in harm's way of toxic individuals. Set boundaries. Stand firmly in them. That should help you to navigate through their slick words and strange energy.

If There’s Not Enough Room…Get a Room

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I've got a girlfriend whose husband's side of the family is cray-cray. So crazy that she and I discuss often that if she had really understood the depths of the dysfunction of his bloodline, it probably would've resulted in them remaining friends instead of getting married at all. And who is she gearing up to host this holiday season? Yep…you guessed it. Not for 48 hours either. It's for an entire week and some change. When I asked her how she was going to maintain her composure with all of that traffic, she said, "Girl, this wouldn't be happening at our other house. Luckily, we've got enough room at this one."

Her in-law dynamic is actually what inspired this particular tip because it reminded me that sometimes the holidays are hard simply because we need more space—both physically as well as emotionally. Space to catch our breath and our thoughts. A place to go where we won't have little people constantly crawling all over us or our great-uncle telling us the same five tired jokes for the tenth year in a row.

If you're headed to a relative's place and, when you ask about the sleeping arrangements they say something along the lines of, "Girl, there are enough couches and plenty of floor space", if that makes you already hyperventilate, it's OK if you want to get a hotel room or rent an Airbnb. I'm willing to bet that your family won't agree with me but, that's another thing that you've got to remember about going home for the holidays—you're not in high school or college anymore. You're an adult so, it's not about what they won't let you do; it's about you doing what you know is best. And sometimes, the best way to "respect your elders" is to give everyone some space. Starting with yourself.

Don’t Constantly Be at Home

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Speaking of space, if you're going to your parents' place for the holidays and that happens to be where you grew up, this means that you know how to get around, right? No one said that going home meant that you had to sit in the kitchen and shuck peas or clean collards the entire time. Go to a movie. Meet up with some old friends. Plan ahead to be out of the house a little bit while you're there.

And what if you are the one who is hosting? My advice is to not feel the least bit guilty about scheduling a mani/pedi one day or "conveniently forgetting" some stuff at the grocery store that you need to run out and get a couple of times (several if necessary). Sometimes, just an hour of being in your car alone and listening to Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" or strolling a couple of laps in a mall can rejuvenate you in ways you wouldn't even imagine.

If It’s Your House, Remember IT IS YOUR HOUSE

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Something else that I think can be a challenge when it comes to dealing with relatives is everyone learning what it means to respect each other. In fact, something that I referenced in the toxic family article that I mentioned earlier is while a lot of our elders are quick to want to recite "Honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12), they somehow seem to have really selective memory when it comes to two Scriptures that say children shouldn't be provoked to wrath (Ephesians 6:4) or provoked to the point of becoming discouraged (Colossians 3:21).

Three points here. One, you are no longer a child. Therefore, you are well within your rights to expect to not be treated like one. Wanting to be treated like an adult is not "disrespectful"; elders trying to treat you like you're not one is. Point two—provoke means "to anger, enrage, exasperate, or vex". If someone is doing that to you, feel free to share the chapter and verse in the Good Book where all are instructed not to do this. And three, if you're hosting—your house, your rules.

Now, I'm not saying that if you've got no problem chillin' with a blunt and some bourbon that you need to puff-puff-pass in front of granddad or if you know your father lives for football that he should be made to watch The Best Man Holiday on loop. But what I am saying is you are the one who is paying the mortgage (or rent), so if anyone shouldn't feel like they need to walk on eggshells, that should be you. If there are house rules, share them. If folks are breaking them—even if it comes to disrespecting you and your feelings—enforce them. They would do it at their place. Trust me.

Choose Your Battles

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A wise person once said, "You only have so much emotional energy each day. Don't fight battles that don't matter." Amen and amen. The relative who always has to have to have the last word? Maybe let them. The relative who always likes to tell the embarrassing story of what you did when you were 10? The sooner they tell it and laugh like they never said it before, the sooner everyone can move on. If your mom has a billion questions about the new guy you're seeing and you already know she's going to be hyper-critical—decide what to share, what to keep to yourself and leave it at that. Out of all of the stuff that I shared, I personally believe that family time can be stressful over the holiday season because we don't master the art of choosing our battles before we see everyone.

Abuse is one thing. Never tolerate that. But when it comes to the basically inconsequential stuff? Remember, even if it feels like a year, the visit is only going to be a few days. Accept folks for who they are, focus on making as many great memories as possible, and pre-plan a way to pamper yourself when it's all over. If you do these things, you should survive this holiday season, even when it comes to dealing with the relatives who always seem to want to tap dance on your very last nerve. In short, Mazel Tov. It's Hebrew for "good destiny". I'm sending plenty of that your way, so that you'll get through the holidays with tranquility and a smile. Happy Holidays, sis.

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Did you know that xoNecole has a new podcast? Join founder Necole Kane, and co-hosts Sheriden Chanel and Amer Woods, for conversations over cocktails each and every week by subscribing to xoNecole Happy Hour podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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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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