How Do I Talk to My Family This Thanksgiving?


It’s the week when we all go home again. And unless you’re doing Thanksgiving with the friend-family of your choosing, where everyone more or less agrees, part of this week will be spent navigating uncomfortable conversations.

“No politics at the table,” right? Easy rule, learned in childhood, enforced as an adult. But what exactly are the boundaries of politics these days? What parts of our lives does a ban on politics make us hide?

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Let’s say no one is allowed to say the T-word. Does that cover it?

Can we talk about our super meaningful work volunteering with refugee families when Aunt Ruth asks us how we’re spending our time?

What parts of our lives does a ban on politics make us hide?

Can we mention our relationships with friends or significant others who are LGBT, or Mexican, or whatever group we know will be vilified by a couple of our dining companions?

Can we talk about how we’re feeling just a little worn down this year from the constant barrage of hate in the news cycle, by tiki torches and Twitter — and what a safe haven family should be after such a traumatic grind?

And current events! Can we talk about the sexual harassment scandals rocking every industry including our own? Can we talk about the brunch-and-dial parties we started to help save health care and how proud we are?

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It’s impossible to separate the political from the personal in 2017.

And when Uncle Ned (honestly, so many apologies to the wonderful real-life Uncle Neds out there. I have no idea why we all decided you were the weird hypothetical racist at the table, but the collective has spoken and I don’t make the rules) says some offensive ish, and Mom says “no politics!,” what if we don’t want to just let it sit there. What if we don’t feel like it this year?

It’s impossible to separate the political from the personal in 2017. I am my politics. My politics are my values, my dreams, my fears, my fundamental belief system. I could talk for hours without mentioning a single politician, but I can’t get past hello-I-made-elote-this-year without talking politics.

So, for your consideration: The New Rules for Engagement Over Thanksgiving. I think it’ll help.

1. No hiding. We spent too much of 2016 in secret FB groups and quiet conversations. This year we’re louder, and I’m not going back. If I’m proud of it, I’m saying it. Someone at the table might be offended, but someone else might be sitting there thinking the same thing, too shy to say it.

2. No hate. White people! This one is mission critical. We must lay down markers with our families, and that means zero tolerance for offhand bigoted remarks. Practice: “That kind of hate is just not OK. I love you all and I want to be here, but if that continues, I’m going to leave.” Stand your ground. You’ve probably called their bluff, but if you have to exit, smile and try to imagine the conversation that’s happening in your absence. Set an example for the younger generation that there are consequences to bigotry.

3. Real connections. Seek out quiet moments for actual human conversation. If an uncomfortable moment arises at dinner, find a minute afterward to connect with your little cousin about it. Or if you can hack it, try to connect solo with the person you shared the tension with. Try: “I’d really like to know more about why you feel that way, I care about you and it hurts to hear that’s how you view other people.” Don’t do it in front of an audience, and listen hard before you respond.

4. Lead with love. Your conversations will be so much more productive if you remember you love these people. Even if you don’t love Uncle Ned, you love his daughters, or your mother who’s hosting 16 people AGAIN. So shut down hate with love, express yourself with love, listen with love, and stand your ground with love.

My go-to mode of communication in these situations is a kind of snide derisiveness, so this is a tough one for me. But sometimes our most comfortable modes of arguing aren’t our most productive, and we miss the opportunities to make any actual progress.

5. Support squad. Start a group text with your best, most grounding, funniest friends when the parade starts in the AM, and keep it going until you’ve had the last of the nog or the Baileys or the schnapps or whatever ridiculous thing we decide is OK because we made it through Thanksgiving.

Happy holidays, helper crew. You deserve it.



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