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Getting along with family over the holidays (and any other time) isn’t always as easy as it sounds – especially if you have different values and political perspectives. But, this holiday season is extra special for many of us since we’ve had to skip family and friend get-togethers throughout the pandemic. Whether you’re returning home, traveling or staying put this year, being able to sit down for a nice meal with loved ones is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Still, with all of the joy, there are bound to be some complications. The past few years have been a whirlwind of tension and crossroads for most of us. On top of that, the current sociopolitical climate may have us worried about tense conversations and disagreements during dinner. Still, finding ourselves in these uncomfortable social situations is almost unavoidable with the flurry of polarizing issues on the table.
While you don’t have to sacrifice what you believe in or feel silenced, there is a certain assumption that everyone will be on their best behavior during the holidays. Getting along with family, especially those relatives who may disrespect your beliefs or lifestyle (or have questionable beliefs of their own), can be challenging to anyone.
So, how can you maintain your ideology and principles without engaging in an altercation? How can you enjoy this special time with those who you might not even enjoy being around? As the saying goes, we don’t get to choose our family.
Fern Schumer Chapman, author of “Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation,” sat down with TMS to discuss facing challenging familial situations. Chapman offers these tips to getting along with family during the holidays to make sure nothing boils over and ruins family time.
Talk about what you share, avoid what you don’t
Chapman’s first piece of advice is to “seek common ground in shared experiences and memories to rise above political differences.” Discussing safer subjects is your first line of defense rather than allowing the conversation to stray to less savory topics. Reminiscing on previous holidays, group vacations or reunions is a great place to start! You’re bound to share some laughs over these recollections.
Other safer topics to keep in mind are sports, local happenings or entertainment like music, TV and movies. Maybe you share a holiday tradition, like watching a particular Christmas film or cooking a specific dish. Keep these topics of conversation in your head and ready to go so that you know what to say if you become anxious or uncomfortable.
“Avoid contentious topics,” suggests Chapman. “If you find your [family member’s] politics offensive, restrict or block social media accounts.” It can be tempting to bring up someone’s political opinions if you hold strong beliefs in the other direction. However, being tactful about these conversations is crucial when it comes to getting along with family members. And, perhaps the family dinner table is just not the time or the place for these discussions.
If you often find yourself reeling from something you’ve seen publicly posted by a relative, it might be best for your peace of mind to just mute that person. And when you’re physically with them – just stick to what you both can agree on and share.
Know where the exit is
Although you may be on your best behavior, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will follow suit. “Have an exit strategy when conversations become tense,” Chapman advises. While you hopefully won’t have to use it, have an escape plan.
If you become anxious or even if you’re just no longer enjoying yourself, you don’t have to subject yourself to more stress. Remember, you deserve to be happy during the holidays, too. Plus, already having an exit strategy may quell some of the nerves you have entering one of these gatherings. Sometimes, just knowing you can leave is a relief.
Ban political conversation
Rather than working overtime to avoid difficult topics, you can simply ban them from coming up in the first place. “Request a matriarch or patriarch enforce a moratorium on politics at family events,” recommends Chapman. “The enforcer should immediately shut down raised voices, profanity and personal insults.”
Placing an uninvolved person in charge of enforcing this rule will ensure that it is followed by everyone. Without allowing for difficult subjects to come up at all, your conversation can flow freely to more interesting, spirited conversation in other enriching areas of life.
Know your priorities
When it comes to family get-togethers, it’s difficult not to prioritize yourself and your feelings because of how personal everything can feel. However, these events often also include children, the elderly and other vulnerable people. Keeping that in mind in how you choose to act (and react) can keep things civil and safe.
“Place a priority on children,” says Chapman. “For example, to protect children, a family might agree to wear masks at an indoor gathering because that’s what’s best for the little ones.” Protecting those who need it in any way you can shows your love and compassion for them during this time of warmth and affection.
Ultimately, holiday gatherings are often a smorgasbord of different types of people from different walks of life. You should not have to lie or hide who you are, and there’s no need to engage with something that causes you suffering. However, we don’t always get a choice in how we spend the holidays, and even if we do, the love and sense of obligation we feel toward relatives can be compelling. So, working on strategies for getting along with family will help make the holidays more joyful. And worst-case scenario, you can always break out Adele.
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