Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. I’ve always loved the holidays but if Christmas is anything like Thanksgiving, I’d just as soon skip it.

My family is a mess.

We were all together at my grandma’s house for turkey and my uncle showed up uninvited. He doesn’t believe in masks or vaccines. My grandma is old and has cancer so the rest of my family is real careful around her. They told my uncle to skip the dinner and maybe come over later if he wasn’t going to mask. He came without a mask and started making fun of my dad and the rest of the family for being vaccinated.

My grandma started to cry.

It got really loud and people said some hateful things. Me and my cousin went down to the basement and tried to block out the yelling. By the time dinner was ready, my uncle was gone. Grandma tried to put on a good face but her eyes were all red from crying. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about this at all, but I wanted to tell someone.

Why can’t the adults in my family get along?


Mary Jo’s Response: Adults make mistakes. Families are often complicated. Even people who love one another can say hateful things to each other. I feel your confusion and your sorrow. This shouldn’t have happened.

I hope your parents spoke about this with you. If not, do you feel OK bringing it up? I think the experience was traumatic and your mom and dad should know how you feel. Reaching out to me is wonderful – I’m so glad you did – but your parents know your family and they love you. Talking this out with them would be one way to ease your fears about what might happen at Christmas. Sharing with your parents is important.

I also think you should reach out to your grandma. You don’t need to talk about Thanksgiving. You can give her the gift of your presence. Grandmas are happy when their grandchildren show love, not only in words, but by doing things with and for them. Call your grandma and ask to spend some time with her. See if she has any chores you could do to help her get ready for the holidays. Watch a movie with her. Ask her to make cookies with you – most grandmas love cooking with their grandkids.

Tell her you love her with your words and your actions. If you were troubled by the family disagreement on Thanksgiving, I am sure your grandma was upset. She needs to know you’re there for her.

Families can plan to avoid this kind of confrontation. Again, talk with your mom and dad. I hope things go well at Christmas.

Q. This is the first Christmas since my parents divorced. I’m pretty much OK most of the time, but I hate the idea of not being at my mom’s for Christmas. My dad has a nice room for me and all, but it still feels new and a little weird. And his girlfriend is hard for me to talk with. She tries. I just feel awkward. If I’m at mom’s, it will feel more like Christmas. I could go to my dad’s the day after Christmas. Do you think I should tell him how I feel?


Mary Jo’s Response: Absolutely. Be respectful and kind. Share exactly what you told me. Be sure to tell your dad how much he means to you. Tell him this is all new and you want a little time to adjust. Remember to be clear about your love for him. You’re not choosing your mom over him, you just want to make Christmas feel familiar. Good luck.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email

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