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Reader Question of the Week: Should I Spend Thanksgiving With My Family?

I'm so excited to share with you the first of a new feature where I will post a question from a reader. Although we can all offer encouragement and advice in the comments section, I will do my best to guide each individual to the answer that is best for them.

Below is an email I received from a young gentlemen that we will call R (which stands for "Reader"). 

I came across your website from a friend of mine, and I like it because although I believe in God I'm not religious so I don't like "preachy." I have a real dilemma about Thanksgiving and since you know about etiquette, but also seem very kind, I wanted to get your opinion.

My dad is a doctor, and he always hoped I would follow in his footsteps. I didn't but both my brothers did. I became a teacher, and wouldn't have it any other way. Dad always makes me feel inadequate because I don't make the money he does, and my brothers don't help by teasing me about that. Then my mom drives me nuts by comparing me to my married brothers. I'd like to get married too, one day, if I found the right girl, but I'd rather wait than make a mistake (like I suspect one brother did).

My family's not religious so we don't get together formally over any winter holiday and Thanksgiving is the biggest gathering of the year. I feel I should go out of a sense of duty, but then I always hate myself for going because it makes me miserable. Is it very wrong if I skip this year? Thanks.

Let me begin by saying that you, R, are amazing! I can't imagine how strong you are to have gone into the teaching field rather than the medical one, despite the pressure put on you by your father, and that speaks to your character. It's also very wise of you to wait for marriage until you meet the proper person, despite your mom's insisting.

Here are my three observations:

First, you have found God's calling for your life, since you are happy in your vocation and by your own words "wouldn't have it any other way." Keep teaching those children and making a positive difference in their lives.

Second, the values you have are very different than those of your family. For your father to focus on the money you are making shows he is a superficial person who does not respect the choices you have made. We need doctors and teachers, both fields require a lot of dedication, and both should be equally respected.

That both your brothers tease you about your life choices proves they are as shallow as your father. (As a side note, give your mother some grace. All good mothers want their children happily married as soon as possible; it's just how they are.)

Third, regarding what you should do about Thanksgiving, let me give you an analogy. Imagine that a small child were suddenly placed in your care. I'm sure that you, R, would do your best to take care of this child in every way. In addition to providing the little one with food, water, clothing, and shelter, you would provide for their emotional needs by creating a loving environment.

Now imagine that the child is invited to join a playgroup. But when the child comes home from that playgroup, they "hate themselves" and feel "miserable" because the others were making fun of him/her. The next step would be to speak with those other children, to set boundaries, and offer consequences for their behavior if it continues.

R, if those children refuse to change, would you expose that beautiful small person to such mean people again? Or would you shelter that child from people that will wreck their self-esteem and make them feel worthless?

The question becomes: will we love ourselves enough to create a healthy emotional environment for us, or will we allow ourselves to be tormented by a hostile emotional environment?

(Kindly understand that by "hostile emotional environment" I am not referring to the minor annoyances or petty disagreements that occur in every family. I am referring to a lack of acceptance, respect, and consideration for others.)

R, perhaps your family does not realize how their actions are making you feel. You need to articulate that. I know you can do such a brave thing, because you were courageous in becoming a teacher despite all the disapproval from your family. When you do this, you should give your family clear consequences if their disrespectful behavior continues towards you, such as stating that you will not be attending future family gatherings (or another consequence that you feel comfortable with).

We need to love others, but we need to have self-love, too. We need to surround ourselves with people who celebrate us, not those who will needlessly condemn us. 

By: Kristia Markarian