Treating family as well as we treat friends

Years ago, I tucked Jacob and Zachary into bed one night. They were ten years old and still so innocent, sweet and cute. I hugged them tight and told them I loved them.

“Will you love me forever, Mom?” Zachary asked.

I looked at both him, and his brother, and assured them I would.

“We will always be close?” Jacob asked. “Will we always be together?”

I smiled, and gently pushed their curly brown hair out of big beautiful eyes, kissed each forehead and said,

“As long as you don’t turn into assholes or marry one.”

Imagine if more families adopted this point of view.

In the midst of another holiday season, I look out at all the decorations and friendly faces. I smile at neighbors putting up lights and making plans to either travel back home or welcome in visitors from out of town.

And I fight the urge to say, “Here we go!”

How often do our friends come back from holiday break with horror stories?

Why do we visit mean and cruel family members? What makes us continue to break bread with a father-in-law who, for 15 years, continues to insult and demean us? Why do we open our home to a brother who can’t get his own life together but is comfortable criticizing everyone else?

It’s not acceptable to treat strangers this way, why do we accept it from relatives?

Because if we go back far enough, we all came from the same uterus?

A few years ago, I made a decision to stop maintaining contact with relatives who don’t know how to show warmth or love. In-laws who have control issues and get angry with my “healthy diet fads” or when I sleep past 7am they yell about how “jet lag doesn’t exist.” I’ve stopped traveling with Vacation Nazis, who make everyone’s trip a living hell unless we follow their schedule and “stick together!”

Who needs that kind of treatment?

Let’s face it. As relatives age, sometimes they marry the wrong person, or make bad choices and regret certain decisions, and when that happens, they tend to take it out on each other. They drink and spend what’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year, berating and insulting those closest to them.

That’s easier than holding themselves accountable.

The idea that this should be tolerated because we’re “family” makes no sense.

So I stopped hanging around with them – during the holidays and the rest of the year, too. Pushback from everyone else has been intense at times.

A few relatives with good intentions have tried to intervene by pressuring me to change my mind. They don’t encourage the family member with a toxic bad attitude to lighten up.

No, that’s too challenging.

It’s much easier to tell me to accept it because she is “never going to change so just ignore it.”

I reject that line of reasoning.

I’ve received nasty phone calls, insulting emails, and freeze-outs where no communication occurs – all in an attempt to, what, woo me back?

I’ve suggested that rude family members start treating their family as kindly as they treat their friends. I’ve seen them behave. It can happen.

That’s often met with, “Good Lord, we’re family. We don’t have to be polite.”

Well, why not?

What’s wrong with affording family the same courtesy we afford colleagues and poker buddies?

I’m not suggesting we agree with everything we hear, especially now that Cousin Todd has joined Donald Trump’s campaign. We needn’t go over the top pretending that our niece’s fifteenth piercing was a choice move.

I’m suggesting good manners for a few hours.

I’m suggesting a pleasant dinner, where we can all enjoy the whiskey, rather than hide it.

Why is that so fucking difficult?

I’m finished debating this issue and don’t think we should give rude and miserable family members any grief for their bad attitudes. We don’t have to match their loud, angry, and argumentative personalities. That kind of energy is exhausting.

Instead, let’s recognize they are either new parents, and sleep deprived, or maybe they’re stuck in a bad job and stressed out, or perhaps they’re just struggling with regrets and dealing with life the best way they can.

Even if they’re going on a decade or more of sheer nastiness.

They have our undying love and positive thoughts.

But we don’t owe anyone our company.

Despite similar genetics, if someone can’t summon up the decency to be kind, let’s not reward them with our presence. We deserve better.

A more peaceful world begins at home.