The dreaded MFO… Mandatory Family Outing.

My friend Brian coined this term back in our high school days and it always made me laugh, and think. Why can family gatherings be so unpleasant? What is it about family relationships that make these events so hard? Does everyone feel this way about their families and what can we do to have a more pleasant experience?

 

I do have a few friends who love, just love, their family get-togethers. They get there early and stay late. They can’t wait to see their loved ones to share stories, some laughs, and lots of hugs. This time of year, for them, is utterly delightful not dreaded.

 

For many, this is the time of year for calendar-shuffling, stress-inducing, eye-rolling, conversation-avoiding, the inner child-inducing crazy dance of the holidays.

 

To set the stage, I’ve created a scale from the most benign to the most egregious harassments many endure at family holidays:


HOLIDAY HARASSMENT SCALE, 1-5

1. Bad Ambiance: Have you ever tried eating a deviled egg while standing in heels, in thick wall-to-wall carpeting, from a flimsy paper plate? Well, it ain’t easy. When we have the choice, most of us pick places to hang out and spend time that meets our aesthetic needs and desires. If you like dimly lit, outdoor, farm-to-table dining your great aunt’s white and blue living room with plastic covered furniture and collection of “expensive” dolls in something called a hutch is probably not your scene. You sit and wonder how you could possibly come from the same family, as you push around a pig-in-a-blanket and sip on boxed wine just to take the edge off.

 

2. Invasive Questions & Unsolicited Advice: “When are you going to get a real job?” “What did you pay for that coat, it looks expensive?” “Why are you still breastfeeding?” “Peace Corps! Are you CRAZY?” (that’s rhetorical). Real questions from people who care about you and really want to know what’s going on in your life are one thing. Loaded and biased (and annoying) questions that tell you exactly what the person thinks about you and your choices are another. Family members, whether because they share some of the same DNA or have known you since you was takin’ baths with little Johnny, seem to think they can ask you anything however inappropriate or offensive even when they haven’t spent much time with you since those tubby days. The correlation between having seen you in your diapers to the incidence of receiving unsolicited advice is pretty staggering. Some family members don’t care to know who you are and only want to dole out their hard-earned, subjective opinions on how you should live your life. They’ve been through it (baby, marriage, career changes…) and know the answers! It doesn’t matter to them whether you have different beliefs, experiences, values or circumstances. Their way or the highway. This is usually when you start daydreaming of jumping into your car and hitting the actual highway home.

 

3. Back-Handed Compliments: You gotta love these. They typically come from someone who is the jealous, envious, petty or just plain ol’ nasty type. And really, all of those qualities point back to one characteristic: insecurity. They cannot simply handle the fact you met your soulmate and he’s gorgeous. They don’t really want to hear about your promotion even though they ask all about it. When the time is right they’ll take a jab and try and take you down a notch. They want you on their level or below. Are they afraid you’re going to leave them behind? Well, if they keep acting like a bee-otch that’s exactly what you’ll end up doing while secretly dreaming of giving them a back-hand of your own.

 

4. Creepy Family Members: There’s usually at least one in the bunch. For some reason, uncles get the brunt of the creepy family references, but it could be a mom who still treats you like a teenager or a grandfather who pats your butt every time he hugs you. Creepiness goes beyond actions toward you. It could be someone who treats you with care and respect but you know he sexually harasses women at his office. Whatever level of creep factor we’re talking about, these aren’t people you’d choose to hang out with. They aren’t people you’d call friends and yet you’re forced to hang out with them on these occasions. Why should you have to sneak around them to avoid confrontation? They should be the ones slithering their way out of your merry times.

 

5. Straight-up Assholes and Assaults: From the sister who says you look fat in that dress to the cousin who yells abusive things at his wife in front of everyone, there are some family members that just need to go. But, they’re family. And blood is thicker than water, right? First, there’s controversy over the origins and meaning of that saying. Second, who the hell cares? Assholes are assholes whether you share the same bloodline or shared the same womb! These family members shouldn’t get a pass just because. They should not be allowed to assault or abuse others, whether in your presence or not. And they, for damn sure, shouldn’t be allowed to tarnish your special holiday times with their ass-holery.


Whether your gatherings are filled with 1s and 2s or include the shuddersome 4s and 5s, it’s all undesirable. Who, besides a masochist, would willingly subject themselves to these onslaughts? And yet, we suffer them in the name of family and tradition.

 

Let’s not wallow in all the shitty stuff that does or can happen at a MFO. This isn’t a pity (holiday) party. I mean, it’s your holidays and you can cry if you want to, but I’m here to tell you it’s time to reclaim this time of year (and your life) from the harassments and harangues.

 

You’re a grown-ass adult and it’s time to act like one.

Stop turning into an adolescent when your dad makes a joke about your career choice in front of the whole family. Stand up for yourself. Don’t hide in the other room from gropey grandpa. Tell him to please stop because it makes you uncomfortable.

 

And then there’s the choice of limiting or not going to your MFOs at all. It’s your life. Life is short. Consider talking with family members about your reservations. Try being honest with them about your feelings. If you don’t feel like you can speak freely, stand up for yourself, or you think they’ll turn the whole thing around on you then please choose yourself over tradition.

 

The holidays should be a joyous, revelatory and peaceful time to share with people you love and respect. It’s also a time to reflect on the year and have some damn fun! It may also be a time to say goodbye to things (or people) that no longer feel right in your life or are bad for you. Make you and your life the cause for celebration and take the “mandatory” out of Mandatory Family Outings when you must.


If you could design the perfect, most drama-free, fun MFO what would it look like? Share in the comments below!

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