12/21/2018 13:57 EST | Updated 12/21/2018 13:59 EST

5 Tips For Surviving the Holidays, From A Queer Single Mom By Choice

Take it from me, I know that one of the hardest things you can do is rock the family boat.

As a queer single mom by choice with a complicated family history, I've struggled over the years with how to enjoy the holidays. Now that I have my kid, and another on the way, I finally have the strength to create necessary boundaries to truly enjoy my holiday season. Here's what I've learned over the years.

Just say no

Don't go to a family function out of obligation, especially if you're dreading doing so. You have a right to create new holiday traditions for yourself. The holidays are a special time of year, and you have a right to enjoy it in an uncomplicated way, with people who make it easy for you to be you.

Athena Reich
Lighting the menorah together.

Gather some friends, order takeout (or cook up a storm if that's your thing), and do some fun, low-key activity like watching a movie or walking in the woods. Spend it with people you are actually close with, not people you try hard to be close with a few times a year.

Be polite about declining their invitation, but don't worry about hurting their feelings. You can always extend an invitation to see them any other night, or show your relatives you love them in other ways.

Be yourself

If you do decide to go to a family function, but still find it a bit of a complicated experience, the best remedy is to be you. I'll never forget the time my right-wing evangelical aunt gave me a hard time for being a single mom by choice. I abruptly stood up from the sofa, declared I was really hurt by her comments and announced I was going for a walk.

It felt freeing to stand up to the relatives I had been trained to placate. And you know what? My aunt apologized as soon as I got back! I immediately forgave her because her apology was genuine, and I do really love her. My mom was terrified during the whole interaction, but in the end she applauded my bravery.

Athena Reich
3 year old Phoenix decorates our little tree

Keep in mind that if relatives invite you over, they've invited you. If they can't handle it, that's their problem. You can be polite and loving while maintaining your integrity.

Don't placate creepy relatives

If someone creeps you out even just a little bit, trust your instinct. Avoid them, or the event, altogether, or give yourself physical space as you talk, so you feel the boundary between you and them. Watch the children.

Don't overdo it with gifts

Your goal is to enjoy the holidays with those you love. Give each person one awesome gift, and move on. If more gifts easily present themselves to you, go for it, but don't stress yourself out. The planet is already freaking out from overconsumption, so why not remind yourself what the holidays are really about: cozy, relaxing, spontaneous moments like snuggling with your kids in bed in the morning, or snow fights under the stars. Save your energy so you can find those moments.

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Did I mention just say no?

Take it from me, I know that one of the hardest things you can do is rock the family boat. However, I believe that in some cases it's the secret to avoiding depression, maintaining self-esteem and stopping the cycles of dysfunction. Let them wonder why you're taking a step back. Let them come to you, like my aunt, who apologized.

Why are we — the queer, disparate, strange, single, intellectual — always the ones working so hard to please those who make us feel small? Why not focus on those who love us for who we are now, on those who fill us with light, love and validation?

Because isn't that what these holidays are all about? A celebration of new life, the lengthening of days, a story of miracles and the presence of hope?

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