Thanksgiving Day dinner, traditionally the longest time a family sits together all year at the same place talking and eating, will likely have a spicier edge this Thursday.
For many families getting together for the first time since Nov. 8, it will be the first time for them to discuss president-elect Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and the nastiest presidential election in the history of our country.
Last week, the New York Times reported that some families have even decided to skip having Thanksgiving dinner together, afraid the Clinton-Trump divide would cause angry family flare-ups.
Chances are your family is like most everyone else’s in the country – some conservatives who can’t stand Clinton and Democrats and some liberals who can’t believe that Trump is going to be our next president.
So, how do survive the post-election, post-turkey, post apple pie conversation at the dinner table this Thursday without ruffling the feathers (excuse the pun) of family members who don’t share your political views?
One way, according to Yale University Professor of Psychology Margaret Clark is “to agree that you aren’t going to discuss politics or the election.”
Instead, “You can focus on what the holiday is supposed to be about,” said Clark, “and that is family, relaxing, togetherness.”
Clark said the danger in having a testy conversation about the election is often Thanksgiving is a holiday where you have family together that may not see other again for quite awhile.
“It will be difficult to resolve issues if there are hard feelings,” she said.
Clark suggested another strategy might be to center conversation around “your favorite sports team or how to roast a turkey best.”
UConn Health’s Dr. Michael Kisicki, assistant professor of psychiatry, said there is no doubt that this year’s election will make Thanksgiving family political conversation challenging.
“There is definitely going to be a lot of arguing over the egg nog about this past election,” Kisicki said.
“In my own practice, I have seen how this election, more than I have ever seen before, has drawn blue and red battle lines down the middle of the dinner table. For the inevitable political or religious arguments, focus on the subject rather than the person,” Kisicki said.
Kisicki said that: “Love and commitment to family can bring together a motley grouping of socially mismatched individuals that have little in common aside from a last name.
“During the holidays we have to be around family that wouldn’t necessarily be our first choice for dinner companions,” Kisicki said. “There may be the judgmental mother-in-law, the disrespectful daughter-in-law, the uncle who drinks too much and insists on talking about politics.”
Kisicki added, as hard as it can be, it is important to not belittle a family member’s political beliefs, even if they are dramatically different than your own.
“They must have a personal reason for having them,” Kisicki said. “Try to find out what that is, figure out where they are coming from rather than trying to show you are right. No one is keeping score and winning an argument over a holiday meal is ultimately a loss for the family.”
Besides, Kisicki added: “You are more likely to get the silent treatment from your wife on the car ride home than respect for your genius debate skills.”
After this weekend, Thanksgiving may be over, but then the real holiday season, and its encompassing stresses, begin in earnest.
Kisicki has advice for surviving that period, too.
“During the holidays, besides being stressed, we tend to eat more and drink more. Minimizing your alcohol intake and getting some exercise will be good for stress relief,” Kisicki said.