Opinion: Stop romanticizing dysfunctional families

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the holiday season is upon us. Retail stores are displaying Christmas trees and festive decorations, and storefronts are starting to resemble the inside of a snow globe that relays a warm and happy time of year. Cliche holiday movies are going for a more lucrative approach.

From Hallmark dramas to over-dramatic comedies, the film industry is profiting off of people’s insecurities about the obligatory family gathering and related end-of-year anxiety. 

But why do we feel obligated to show up? Why do we feel like we have to engage in holiday stress and pressures?

The media delights in romanticizing dysfunctional family relations, and it messes with our view of healthy family dynamics. Of course, families are never going to be perfect, and some viewpoints will never be agreed on. Still, when it comes to how people show love, fighting should never be something that is glorified.

Whether or not it is over turkey or ham, families are basically told to avoid any and all controversial topics. From politics to religion, there are some things that create friction in friendly conversation. However, it seems in every holiday movie someone says something that gets people riled up. Whether it is the conservative grandmother, the gay uncles or angsty teenagers, someone throws a wrench in the “traditional family” lifestyle, especially when it comes to Christmas movie cliches.

On IMDb’s list of “Top 12 Movies with Families More Dysfunctional than Yours,” holiday films from “Home Alone” to “The Family Stone” litter the list. The concept of hostile family discourse is in almost every stereotypical holiday story. However, despite the yelling, disagreement, abandonment and constant familial disapproval, it is all solved with the holiday spirit. No matter what terrible things happen in the movie, or how horrifically toxic the family acts, everyone seems to chalk it up to, “Welp! That's family for ya!” and forgive their actions. The message of the ‘magic of the season’ makes people think that it is okay for family to treat each other like trash and creates an aura of obligation to interact with people who treat you badly.

Most families are not perfect. In fact, I am doubtful that there are any perfect families. But, having small spats does not equal discrediting someone’s entire identity. Watching unhealthy interactions in movies tricks people into thinking that holding their tongue in order to not be thrown out is okay, or even normal. 

There are very few accurate portrayals of what contemporary families are actually like, and while relationships will never be perfect, there is a fine line between people trying to stay calm around all the excitement of the season versus staying silent to try to save what sanity they still hold. People in unhealthy situations have grown up believing that this is excusable due to the romanticization of the chaotic holiday tradition. 

With the season of giving just around the corner, do yourself a favor and give yourself a break. The picture-perfect family does not exist, even in the movies. Take time to figure out if you are in a toxic situation.

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