Thanksgiving is a time for family, so naturally it starts me thinking about what, exactly, family is. Coming from a troubled and toxic family of origin, and not having spoken to my one remaining family member (my brother) since February, I think I’ve given this topic more thought than your average person. So I am taking the liberty of sharing my ramblings on family with you this Thanksgiving.

Broken down to its most basic elements, families are supposed to provide love and support. Families are, indeed, the foundational building blocks of society, so when they fail in one or both of these essential functions, it is, at minimum, disappointing and hurtful, and more typically psychologically, physically, and spiritually devastating. I am here to tell you why it is okay—imperative, even—not to spend Thanksgiving with unloving, unsupportive family members.

Let’s examine these two core functions of family: Whereas “love” refers to a family member’s subjective intention toward you, “support” speaks to their outward behavior. I’m not just talking about material support, as in food, housing, and paying the bills. Sadly, many families are mostly about that; if material support is adequate (or better than), family members may tolerate varying degrees of deficiency on the “love” side of the equation.

We have the right to expect that our close family members will do what they can to help us when we need it (at least insofar as their “help” won’t enable us to do harm to ourselves). But support goes beyond the physical/material/economic. How do your family members treat you, how do they speak to you? Do they value you as a human being? Do they respect your goals and dreams? Do they accept who you choose to love? Do they listen open-mindedly to what you think and feel and at least try to understand your perspective? If so, then you should feel lucky to have those people in your life. Today, try to disregard their foibles and shortcomings, as in reasonable doses of “annoying,” “self-absorbed,” and less-than-perfect listening and communication skills.

But while family relationships may feel “mandatory”—and to a certain degree they are more obligatory than other relationships—they are no different than any other relationship in the sense that they cannot be one-sided and function in a healthy, mutually-fulfilling way. So you should ask yourself not only whether you receive love and support from your family members, but whether you give it in return. If your honest answer is “no,” you either need to clean up your own act and “up your game” in that relationship, or let that person go. Maybe you have good reason to loathe or disdain a particular family member, in which case you have no business accepting their material support. And if there is someone you do not want in your life (family or otherwise), then it is kinder and more ethical to not accept their love and support while offering nothing in return.

Love and support don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand; we each need to decide whether one or the other is enough to sustain a familial (or any other) relationship. Plenty of people profess “love” in familial relationships, but don’t have anything to do with one another except at Thanksgiving. If that family member isn’t someone you’d feel comfortable asking for advice or sharing your genuine self with—or someone you’d be willing to listen to openly or help out in a jam—then are they really worth your precious time on an already stressful holiday? Only you can answer that.

Conversely, plenty of folks get financial help or other “favors” from family members that comes with lots of strings attached. The motivation behind such “help” may or may not be “love” in the donor's mind, but if it doesn’t feel loving on the receiving end, then it probably isn’t. If a material/financial connection leaves you feeling “bad” or “dirty,” then it probably isn’t being offered with a loving intent. Again, only you can decide whether compromising yourself in this way is worth it. Since such “gifts” typically come with an implicit quid pro quo that you spend time (holidays at minimum) with your benefactor, then you’d better show up to Thanksgiving dinner today with pumpkin pie in hand, unless and until you come to realize that the true price of such “support” is too high for your conscience to tolerate.

Many families will spend uncomfortable Thanksgivings—together or apart—today because of You-Know-Who. He has let loose some of the ugliest impulses in our already flawed society, and it has affected and split many families apart, mine included. Michael Moore says that “racists and misogynists should be shunned,” and I agree, except I would add “homophobes” and “xenophobes” to the list. We are allowed to quarantine those family members, to give them a temporary or permanent “time out” to let them know they have forfeited their place in our inner circles and dining tables. Sad though it may be, hatefulness is never loving or supportive. If you are such a loving person that you can tolerate hatefulness without becoming diminished or infected by it, then perhaps you are a better person than I. But I also think it takes strength and integrity to take a stand, draw a line, and stand up for what you believe is right.

One final thought: Being part of a functional human family is essential for our survival. Because we don’t get to choose our families of origin, and not all of us are fortunate enough to have created new families as adults, we need to rethink and expand our definition of family—the larger the better. Our human family includes our friends, coworkers, bosses, the checker at the supermarket, our neighbors. Beyond our inner circles of friends, there is our larger community and its various institutions. Indeed, it includes the economy at large, so it matters how we treat the folks we must deal with every day in order to survive—doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics, insurance agents, waiters, the homeless, to name just a few. These relationships—however fleeting—set the tone and functionality of our human family. If we are unkind, selfish, or unjust toward the members of our extended human family, we are guilty of breaching the basic tenet of family, i.e., to give and receive love and support. Likewise, when insurance companies, banks, pharmaceutical companies, Facebook, and our government cheat and scam us, treat us with disregard, misuse our personal information, or manipulate and oppress us financially, then they are breaching that same tenet on a massively destructive and immoral scale. The world would be a far better place if the people running these institutions would rethink their own definition of “family.”

Wishing you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving, however, and with whomever, you spend it.