Five years ago, when I was still in college, my parents and I agreed not to discuss politics. They have become extremely conservative, which leads to conflict between us. We have mostly lived up to this pact. But this week, during my holiday visit home, they have been out of control. Every day, they make some remark about “the libs,” gun control (even though none of us owns guns) or reproductive rights. I’ve mostly ignored them. But finally, after an ill-informed comment about abortion, I’d had it: I told them at dinner I went on birth control pills when I was 15 — which isn’t true. I don’t know why I said it. Now they’re upset about something that didn’t happen 10 years ago, and they won’t believe the truth. Help!
I know exactly why you lied! You wanted to detonate a bomb in your parents’ dining room to punish them for breaking your no-politics pact and probably for needling you during your visit. Your tactic was childish, but don’t beat yourself up. Personally, I can’t recall a post-adolescent family holiday that didn’t include an ugly explosion (or three). They can be fraught gatherings.
Here’s what you do: Apologize to your parents for trying to hurt them with a provocation. You can mention that civility seemed to break down with the resumption of political talk. But don’t try to pin this on them. “You started it!” is not a productive line of discussion for adults.
I hope they acknowledge their part in this conflict, but that is not a given. When all of you are calm, discuss whether to recommit to the no-politics pact, create other ground rules or perhaps shorten your visits home. Also, don’t try too hard to convince them you lied. The more you insist, the more skeptical they may become.
While You Were Out …
I agreed to cover my colleague’s desk this week. His wife had a baby recently, and our business doesn’t close over the holidays. In responding to his clients’ calls, it became pretty clear that his organization is a mess, and he seems to have misrepresented the state of things at our weekly status meetings. Should I raise these issues with our boss?
Assuming you aren’t performing surgeries or the stakes of your work are not otherwise life-or-death, why not give your colleague the benefit of the doubt? Wait until he returns to the office next week and speak to him first. His projects may be in better shape than they appear from his files.
It’s also possible that his organization is just as bad as it looks. You may be willing to help him out, but you have no obligation to. Given the stresses of a new baby on top of the pandemic, extending a hand of support would be pretty excellent if you can manage it. If you choose to talk to your boss instead, frame the discussion around your colleague’s need for help (not his competence).
A More ‘Conscious’ Christmas
Every year, my family plans a conscious gift exchange for Christmas: The gifts are supposed to be experiences rather than things. But for some reason, these rules are never applied to my siblings’ young children. This year, like every other, they received a mountain of plastic toys and junk from their parents and grandparents. I worry that receiving so many gifts makes the kids feel unsatisfied and our consumption of cheap plastic sets a bad example for them. How can I respectfully change this pattern?
Since no one has asked for your advice on parenting, be gentle and take the long view. The presents are already unwrapped this year, and there’s not much to gain by raising the issue now. You are more likely to sow guilt and conflict than to create change for the future.
Remember: Your siblings and parents are trying to please young children. It’s easier to buy 10 cheap plastic toys than it is to come up with good, sustainable gifts or experiences that will delight the kids (and look great under a tree). So, help them out! Start compiling a list of better gift ideas and share it with your siblings, along with your concerns, this summer. They may agree (or not), but you will have done what you can.
I recently came out and started hanging out with a guy from my college. So far, so good. Since I came home for winter break, though, it’s surprised me that I don’t think about him much or miss him really. Is this a sign of a poor connection and that I should bail?
Go easy on yourself! The fact that you’re being present with your family and friends over the holidays is not a referendum on your new relationship. Obsessing over a new partner is not necessary.
Another possibility (thinking back on my experience) is that you may be compartmentalizing: Being newly out, you may not be comfortable thinking about yourself as a gay person at home yet — much less one with a boyfriend. Hold off on decisions until you get back to school and your new friend. There’s no rush.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.