GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thanksgiving can be a day of reprieve during these divisive political times, as long as you and your family set boundaries.
Counselor Nika Fesler at Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Services in Grand Rapids has tips to avoid a clash over impeachment, gun control, or religious differences at the Thanksgiving table – all of which require some planning.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Before you go to a family gathering, decide how much time you can handle with relatives, especially the difficult ones. If three hours is all you can tolerate, that’s OK, Fesler said.
“Don’t push it past what you know that you’re able to do and let that be enough,” Fesler said.
Knowing your limits also applies to alcohol.
“Sometimes it means maybe we don’t drink on that day either. I know that might be a very unpopular answer for some people,” Fesler said.
Too much alcohol can stifle a person’s filter and cause them to say something they shouldn’t.
DON’T BE THAT RELATIVE
Every family has one. They push buttons. They bring up controversial topics when they shouldn’t. They’re the reason for disclaimers before your fiancee comes to dinner.
Make sure the above doesn’t describe you.
Reflecting on your sense of humor before you reunite with family can protect you from embarrassment or alienating someone you love.
“Maybe not bringing your own jokes, maybe not assuming that your jokes are funny and maybe not bringing your jokes to a crowd of people that you don’t know if they’re going to find them funny or not funny,” Fesler said.
Laughing over shared experiences is better than taking a risk on laughing at something that can be hurtful, Fesler said.
WHEN NECESSARY, INTERVENE
Should a conflict arise, being a bystander can evoke a sense of betrayal by an offended family member. Fesler said it’s smart to anticipate how your loved ones will feel in a large group and take steps to solve problems.
“It’s knowing that, ‘Oh I have a cousin that’s an atheist and when they come to family Thanksgiving, they seem to get ganged up on, so what I’m going to do is find a way to help welcome them into the fold,'” Fesler said. “It’s the responsibility of a whole family to welcome in and create belonging for people.”
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Instead of worrying about the day going perfectly, start from a place of gratitude, Fesler said.
“It can really set the tone for the whole day, instead of coming in strong with you know, if there are differences in values, differences in politics and all these things that we’re trying to avoid,” Fesler said.
Look for opportunities for simplicity, instead of extravagance can help keep tension under control.
Fesler said it’s OK to keep Thanksgiving simple by not participating in large gatherings.
“Sometimes it is okay to say this holiday is going to be reserved for the people that I do find acceptance and can join in with,” Fesler said.