Kindness. That is not just a buzzword right now, but more like a rallying call after the brutal election that has left more than half of the United States reeling. Many folks blocked family members on Facebook or Twitter during the heated campaign, which is bound to make a family Thanksgiving feel awkward at best.
So, how do we face our families after the bitter, emotionally charged fighting these last few months and weeks? I say we turn to two tried and true strategies: kindness and diplomacy.
When tensions feel deep and wide around the table this year, try these 10 tips for smoothing out the bumps (unless someone busts out the hate speech, then all bets are off):
1. Focus on kindness.
You can break the ice by just being nice. Focus on things that you can agree on — like Grandma makes the best pumpkin pie, hands down, and your entire extended family wins the award for cutest offspring.
2. Keep politics off the table.
Just like elbows and feet, keep politics off the table entirely. Consider giving your family a heads-up before the festivities begin that, while you love them dearly, you won’t tolerate arguing about politics, especially in front of the kids. Be prepared with a few good stories or conversation topics should the dinner chatter veer off course.
3. Keep it light.
Bring up old family stories that are always good for a laugh. Pass around old photos. Tell stories about your kids. Bitch about your long commute. Vent about your laundry pile. There’s always common ground somewhere, right?
4. Bring the kids into it.
Let the kids lead a conversation by asking them about their hobbies, achievements, schooling, friends, or sports. Ask them to sing a song they learned in school or read a favorite story aloud.
5. Remember to be thankful.
This seems obvious, but when you are surrounded by family with intense feelings that you’re all trying to avoid, then popping that tension with an old-fashioned reminder of why you’re gathering in the first place may be what’s in order. Ask your family to go around the table and say what they are thankful for.
6. Mention Black Friday.
People have strong feelings about Black Friday. They either love it or hate it. Sure, this is kind of a political conversation, but it is likely one that your family engages in every year, so you can predict what will be said and by whom. Heck, if your family is like mine, then they will pull out the sales flyers and start planning their shopping trip right there at the table.
7. Plan an activity to keep everyone focused.
Invite everyone over to play flag football before the big meal. Or maybe gather everyone together to watch some goofy old home movies. Cards and board games are never out of style. At our house, the men like to gather in the garage to see whatever new project my father-in-law is working on. Take advantage of whatever it is your family is interested in.
8. Try the swear jar strategy.
It’s pretty simple: Every time someone mentions Trump or Hillary, then they must pay up. Prominently place a jar in a spot where your family cannot avoid it and make sure to point at it and say, “Pay up!” anytime someone slips. Then donate the money to charity, of course.
9. Use humor to diffuse any arguments.
You can’t be mad if you’re laughing, or so the saying goes. Memorize some funny stories or jokes, or have a playlist of goofy YouTube videos ready to interject into a conversation.
10. Find something to do.
Let’s say you tried all of these tips and nothing worked, and your family is sitting in awkward silence — or worse, starting to argue. You don’t have to tolerate insults being flung over the gravy and potatoes.
Get up and leave the table to refresh your drink or check on something in the oven. Step outside for a breath of fresh air. Go sit at the kids’ table and engage with them instead.
Or yell “Shut the hell up!” as you slam your fist down and rattle the china. Wait, maybe don’t do that.
Family can be a blessing and a giant pain in the ass. After the last few months of this unprecedented election, this holiday may prove to be the best time to come back together and show each other kindness and love at a time when our country needs it the absolute most.
You got this. I know you do.
And remember, there is always alcohol. Or pie. Or both.