Advice columnist Dear Prudence answers readers' holiday conundrums.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Dec. 8 2008 5:48 PM

Holiday Survival Guide

Advice columnist Dear Prudence answers readers' Christmas conundrums.

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Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if your sister just can't let go of the idea that Christmas means coming home to your parents house, even if the dog is peeing on the Christmas tree. Since your parents have agreed to Christmas at your home previously, they sound as if they are more than happy to pass on the hosting responsibilities. So simply make an executive decision and tell sis and the parents it's Christmas at your house this year, and make the arrangement to get your parents there.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm dreading the holidays "back home" because many members of my family are very racist, and they know my politics and know I voted for Obama. I'll hear a lot of really awful things. My Mom (an Obama supporter) can't stand any kind of discord, and has asked me to just keep my mouth shut. I feel that my nieces and nephews should see and hear an adult who thinks differently from their parents. Am I right?

Emily Yoffe: Not getting into political squabbles for the sake of a placid holiday and letting openly racist remarks pass are two different things. On the other hand, are you possibly reading racism into remarks that are simply critical of Obama? If family members complain they wish McCain had won, just shrug it off—he didn't after all. But for racist remarks go ahead and say something like, "Uncle Stan, I find those kind of comments deeply disturbing. It's fine that you don't like the President-elect, but I wish you would keep your remarks about him civil."

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Chicago: What do I say to my mother-in-law when she comments on my real or supposed weight loss. I have lost a few pounds—somehow it isn't really noticeable to anyone but her. The problem is that she then tends to remark that she's never had weight problems. I usually lie and deny that I've lost any weight. Is there a better way to handle this?

Emily Yoffe: Ah, the annual passive-aggressive weigh-in. It doesn't sound as if your mother-in-law is really that interested in whether you've lost weight, she just wants everyone to register her marvelous shape. So disarm her. When she comments on your weight loss just smile and say, "Thanks for noticing!" When she adds how great she looks, keep smiling and say, "Louise, you have always had an enviable figure!"

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Phoenix, Ariz.: Hi Emily!

I'm a middle-aged lesbian. My parents have never liked my partner or taken our relationship seriously, even though we have been together for 25 wonderful years. The holidays are especially stressful and I tend to visit my parents alone for a few days before Christmas. Their health is failing, however, and I feel pressured to be with them on Christmas eve and day. I'd like my partner to attend (she is anxious to, by the way) and give family togetherness another shot before it's too late. Any suggestions?

Emily Yoffe: Just try being honest. Don't get into the past, but tell your parents you're looking forward to seeing them, but the holidays are meaningful to you and your partner as well. Say that the best way to make everyone happy is for all of you the spend the time together. If your parents don't outright refuse, then do it. If they make a fuss, then explain you won't be able to spend as much time with them as you would like because you're not going to leave your partner alone for the whole holiday.

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Maine: I have gotten a lot of negative responses from people who have asked about my family's Christmas plans. Because my husband's office is closed for much of the holidays we tack on some vacation days and take an extended trip to see his parents who live rather far away. The drive is no fun, but once we get there we are able to have a nice, long visit with my husband's family who we don't see as much a we'd like. It's a good place to visit, we all get our own rooms and the kids get to spend a lot time with their extended family. However, many people have been saying to me, "How can you do that to your kids, they should be home for Christmas." Sure, there is part of me that would like to just stay home, but family is important to us and these plans are working for our family for the time being. How do I respond to the negative comments without being overly defensive?

Emily Yoffe: There are people in your life who make you feel defensive for having a wonderful time with your in-laws? Who are these people? Why are you listening to them? If you find yourself discussing this issue with any of these people just say, "I am so blessed to have wonderful in-laws and lucky that we have enough time off so that the kids can really spend time with their grandparents." Then change the subject!

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Christmas Blues: My youngest (age 21) sister has a deep, deep anxiety regarding all things holiday-related. It has increased over the years to the extent that she will hide in her room during all family meals, movie watching and "let's go look at the lights" type activities. I would really like to make sure I spend time with her over Christmas, but in ways that respect her anxiety. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: Your sister needs to see a doctor. If she hides in her room for family meals, she has crippling anxiety or possibly other disorders. Get the family member closest to her help her seek help (she may be unable to take these steps herself). There are wonderful medications and therapies that can help her conquer this and rejoin life.

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Re: Inauguration: I have to disagree with you heartily on the Inauguration question. It's historic, yes, but it's not ever permissible to just invite yourself to someone's house. Sounds like they decided they'd crash at his/her place, and that was that.

Emily Yoffe: I know what you mean, but usually when you don't want to host family members you can say, "There's a Motel 6 not to far from me that serves wonderful hard-boiled eggs at breakfast." There's no Motel 6 available in this case. I say let them crash. They'll be spending most of their time caught in a huge crush anyway and out of her hair.

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Reference: The Office Party: I straight up told my coworker that I wasn't going to an office holiday party with those who talk about me behind my back the rest of the year! She told me to get into the festive spirit and let her know of three occasions when she talked about me! Yes Virginia, there is a Bah Humbug!

Emily Yoffe: Hoo boy, if everyone refused to attend an office party with anyone who ever talked about them behind their back we finally, finally would end the tradition of the office party. Everybody talks about everybody at the office. Given the tone of your note, there may be a reason people talk about you. Your co-worker is right—lighten up, and not just at this time of year.

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Los Angeles: Dear Prudie,

Love your advice! Look forward to it each week. Here's my dilemma: Every Christmas for the past 12 years, I have sent out cards with a funny Christmas letter about our lives over the past year. I really enjoy writing it and many friends tell me they look forward to my letter every year. This year is different because my husband's mother is terminally ill. She may not even make it through Christmas. I'm at a loss as what to do. If I send the letter do I mention my mother-in-law, or just what our family has been doing? If I do not include a letter, how do I respond to those who want to know what happened to the letter? I don't want to gloss over this sad time in our family, but I don't want to dampen anyone's Christmas cheer with a sad letter. My husband says he can't even think about Christmas right now.