No, You Don't Have To Talk About Donald Trump Over Your Turkey Dinner

Nov 20, 2016

If you're feeling a little apprehensive about Thanksgiving with the family after this election, you're not alone.
Credit Satya Murthy / Flickr

It's Thursday. Mom's been chopping, whipping, beating ingredients for days, but you aren't technically allowed to eat any of it. You're hungry. Dad is hungry. You're splayed on the couch with your younger brother, who yawns into your shoulder over the cacophony from Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The dog hasn't budged from his hours-long, not-so-silent protest in front of the oven. He knows there's food up there. He's not wrong. Fido is never wrong.

It's not picture perfect -- you still haven't showered -- but you're settled and secure. Soon your family will arrive and you'll have to crack the screen door to keep from sweating into your sweet potatoes. That brown butter smell will seep into your psyche for days, long after you've returned to work and the countdown to Christmas has really begun.

That was 2015.

This year, things look a little less certain. Your family is not a politically cohesive unit. Uncle Rick didn't vote, Cousin Jamie forgot to register and you're stalling over whether you'll make it home this week. You still haven't spoken to your dad. You really miss your dad.

"You can be direct and say look, 'I really don't want to talk about politics with you. I just want to have a good day.'"

Sarah Pedersen, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, says millions of Americans are right there with you.

"Right now, headed into the holiday, it might not be the best time to talk about conflicting political views," Pedersen says. "Plan and be thoughtful about it before you bring that up."

Stress and family tension often peak during holiday gatherings, she says. Maybe someone posted something derogatory about a group you identify with. Maybe they've been trolling your posts on social media. If that's the case, Pedersen says, be honest.

"You may feel really personally hurt by what your family has said in response to or leading up to the election," she says. "That's reasonable. If that is the situation, I always encourage open communication and letting them know instead of avoiding them and not explaining why."

As one father-daughter duo learned, when someone brings up politics or asks questions about opposing views, it may not be to pick a fight. Sometimes a family member or loved one just wants to understand where you're coming from. 

Psychologist Mary Beth Mannarino, a professor at Chatham University, says she followed up the last two presidential elections at Thanksgiving with her family in the South.

"Some of them have very different ideas than I do," she says.

So she mentally planned a few perfunctory conversations during her drive down. Discomfort is one aspect of in-person dialogue that a lot of people have gotten away from, she says.

"So much of our communication is technologically driven, where you put something out there and you don’t have to deal with the person in front of you," Mannarino says. "So we haven’t learned to deal with talking with someone whose ideas make you feel uncomfortable."

Discomfort can be a sign of bravery that you brought up a tough subject at all, she says.

And if things do get heated?

“Take the high road and say that it is a potentially volatile topic and that you’d be happy to talk about it another time if somebody really wants to sit down and hammer out some of the differences that you have," she says. "What we know from research about this is that nobody changes their mind in response to preaching or giving just factual information.”

Pedersen says she often reminds those struggling with the outcome of the election to focus on what an otherwise loving, supportive family -- often with opposing political opinions -- can reasonably be expected to provide.

If you know you won't agree with a family member or four, explain that you're hurt, make it clear you do or don't talk about it this week, connect with friends in similar situations and be prepared to take long breaks outside the home to cool off. Or maybe you just don't go home at all.

"You can be direct and say look, 'I really don't want to talk about politics with you. I just want to have a good day.'"

Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, says you can also jump to a safer topic, whether it be art, sports or simply discussing what you're thankful for. 

It is Thanksgiving, after all.