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For many people the holidays are a mixed blessing. Visiting family has its upside but can also be a source of grave tensions. This year may be particularly challenging with all of the emotions connected to the recent presidential election. No matter which candidate you supported and voted for, contemplating the Thanksgiving table may fill you with some trepidation.

Here are some tips that may help.

Assess the Cast of Characters

You know your family and the dynamics between everyone. Is it usually a time of tension? Are there certain people who make it difficult – perhaps a drunk uncle, a meddling mother-in-law, or abusive brother? Honestly assess the situation and write it down. It’s tempting to fantasize that this year will be magically different but that’s probably just wishful thinking that will set you up for a fall. Know who you’re really dealing with and prepare accordingly.

Know Which Topics to Avoid

If your family is mixed in their religious or political views then the holidays are not the time for those debates. This holds true for any holiday, but this year particularly, when tensions may be running higher than usual. Opening up a political discussion is not the best move and may not be very charitable either. If you’re a Trump supporter, and your family members supported Hillary, please don’t gloat. He won. That’s reward enough. Think how you felt when Obama won and be kind. You may think they’re wrong or crazy but remember the family ties and the love you share and try to understand what they’re feeling and not rub it in their faces.

Establish a Politics-free Zone

Asking everyone to refrain from debate ahead of time may be helpful especially if your family is mixed in their political inclinations. Focus on the things you love about everyone and suggest they be respectful and not initiate discussions…and not take the bait from those who do. A cute sign on the front door to that effect may work as well.

Be Ready to Change the Subject

Even with your best efforts to discourage discussion, if the subject comes up be prepared to change the subject quickly before things escalate. Think ahead of time of some funny stories or jokes to tell to redirect the conversation and break the tension.

Let the Games Begin

Having some board or party games at the ready can be a big help. Taboo, Pictionary or Charades tend to get groups involved and are a lot of fun.

Take it Outside

Some family members will insist on talking politics and you can’t stop them. Perhaps they’re in agreement and want to relate. That’s fine if it’s not making others uncomfortable or angry. If that happens, suggest they take it outside or to another room. It might be you wanting to talk to a cousin who feels exactly as you do. Be considerate of those who disagree and take the conversation elsewhere or at least out of earshot. A family holiday is not the time to take it on, in most cases.

Consider Your Goals

Perhaps you have impressionable nieces and nephews and you would like to discuss the election with them. What’s your goal? Are you curious to see how they’re thinking? Or do you want to preach to them and set them straight? It might be a great opportunity to share thoughts and feelings…if you can do it respectfully. Listen more and say less. You may gain important insights and understanding. Once you’ve had a chance to reflect, reply. Even if you disagree, affirm whatever good intentions they may have. Remember, kids don’t have the wisdom of age…that takes time to develop. By remaining approachable and leaving the lines of communication open, as they grow and change they’ll look to you for your opinions and guidance.

Avoid Custer’s Last Stand

Most people on both sides of the political spectrum feel strongly about the impact of the election on the world and on themselves and their families. Many are genuinely scared thanks to the media stoking up fears and casting certain figures as the devil incarnate. Try to understand what they’re feeling – no matter how unfounded you may feel those fears to be. If you exchange views, remember not to make it Custer’s last stand. If you don’t convince anyone to change their mind, don’t worry about it. God is ultimately in control and if Aunt Millie disagrees, it won’t really amount to a hill of beans in the big scheme of things.

Have an Escape Plan

If you’re not hosting, and holiday gatherings tend to degenerate into tensions or all out brawls, then let them know you need to leave at a certain time and just leave. Don’t wait for the inevitable. This is especially important whenever there are family members who get drunk and out of control. Instead of hoping this time will be different, accept reality and plan accordingly. Perhaps going to a friend’s for dessert or having a special movie to watch at home will make it easier to follow through and make your exit.

Pray

Last, but most certainly not least, pray before the holiday. Lifting up each family member in prayer individually, remembering their good points and their struggles and pains can help defuse tense situations before hand. And if it does get tense while you’re there, pray some more. Ask the guardian angels present to assist in bringing God’s peace and grace into the gathering. You may be amazed at what happens when you do that.

Remember the holidays are meant to bring us together and celebrate what the holiday is actually about. The devil’s calling card is division, but God’s is peace. Attacking those who disagree rarely wins them over. Respect and patience do. Seek to be a peacemaker and stay focused on thanking God for His many blessings and for the gift of His Son. Be a light in the darkness and bring His grace. It’s needed in the world now more than ever.

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Allison Ricciardi, LMHC
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