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Dear Mom,

As the holidays approach, I’m anticipating some awkward conversations … My extended family and I disagree politically, and as a senior I’m really dreading the question, “So, what are you doing after graduation?” I have no idea how to handle these discussions with poise but also stay true to myself and stand my ground on my beliefs. What would you do to navigate these tough family gathering? I don’t want things to get too tense because despite our disagreements, my grandpa is aging and may not be around for much longer, so I don’t want to cloud holidays with tension that might be unnecessary. The most complicated thing is that my grandpa’s wife (my mom’s stepmom) and I really can’t see eye-to-eye; she doesn’t understand my family or I and refuses to accept my grandpa’s aging condition and illness. Mom! Help me out!

Stressed in Seattle

Dear Stressed in Seattle,

This sounds like a tricky situation, Stressed, and I’m glad I’m here to help. When it comes to politics, I try to find common ground with relatives through statements like: “We all believe that people in America should be safe. We all believe that people in America deserve an education. We all believe that people in America deserve good jobs and a stable economy. We can all agree that violence divides our nation and hate crimes and white supremacy should be condemned at every moment.” If your relatives disagree with this last point, cancel all your holiday plans and get a new family. I hope that you and your family can agree on certain things, even if you disagree on candidates—this common ground builds a good foundation for conversations that allow for debate and honest conversations and can help you grow together.

Decide ahead of time on a response for what you’re doing after graduation. I would suggest: being vague (ie; “Can’t wait to see,” or “I hope to be in [city]” or “Finding a job!”); turning the question on them and asking for advice (“What did you do after graduation? Do you have any suggestions?”); or make s*** up (“NASA recruited me for their mission to Mars,” or “Joining the Peace Corps” or “Moving to Tennessee to finally get my chance to meet Dolly Parton and have her mentor me to success with my singing career”). Or, use my personal favorite strategy—make up a job that is so boring no one will care. For example, data analysis for pharmaceutical companies or copy editing software manuals. It’s a tough question, but if you’re prepared for it, you will seem like a grown up adult who is ready to take on the world and your relatives will maybe even offer you a job because you seem so qualified.

Your last problem is troublesome. Try to understand why your grandpa’s wife might not want to accept your grandpa’s illness—is she scared to lose him? Is she worried about her own age and mortality? Try to limit your time around her and come up with a signal to let your family know when she’s doing something really grating or frustrating, then vent about it later to get it out of your system. The signal might help you all calm each other down or know when someone might need help navigating a tricky conversation with your step-grandma, especially since it sounds like you want to spend time around your grandpa who’s getting older. She sounds like a real piece of work. Power to you for being patient.

Good luck, honey!

Mom

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