Keep Your Politics Out of My Gravy

Three families share strategies for enjoying a healthy, happy holiday season this year — will one of these work for you?

The 2016 election has been more divisive and volatile than any in recent memory, and some of that vitriol could end up flavoring holiday meals this year if people aren’t careful.

“Don’t talk about politics” is often the golden rule. But it doesn’t always work — leaving each family to find its own solutions.

“If we want to solve the divisiveness, we need to start listening to each other,” said one woman.

Here are three families and three approaches. See which approach may work for you.

The ‘No Politics, Period’ Method
Jeff and Lisa Ward live and work in Houston, Texas, but they’re going to visit Lisa’s parents in the Bay Area for the holidays. Weeks before the election, Lisa’s father sent out an email with very politically charged language — warning of the dangers of electing the candidate from the opposing party. Jeff responded by asking him not to send those emails anymore.

“That was over a month ago, and my dad has not contacted me or my husband since then,” Lisa Ward told LifeZette.

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“I wish we could help each other understand our perspectives and experiences that have led us to feel the way we do,” she added. “But we’re such polar opposites in our points of view. If we do talk about it, it’s just going to be a huge fight. That’s just not something I want in my holidays.”

Related: Remembering Chattanooga Families at Thanksgiving

Ward said she and her parents disagree on just about every major hot-button political issue, from immigration to gun control. She and her husband have already decided how they’re going to respond: Just get up and walk out.

Walking away and cutting off the contact, even temporarily, may be necessary for some people — but for others, it doesn’t bode well for a holiday spirit.

The ‘Set Ground Rules’ Route
Jamie and Brian Miller of Cedar Hills, Utah, are hopeful that establishing some ground rules beforehand will help keep conflict to a minimum.

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Jamie Miller says her in-laws have always had heated political discussions, since some members of the family lean Left and others lean Right on the political spectrum. “Brian is the ‘Switzerland,’ as I like to call it,” Miller told LifeZette about her husband.

The political banter in their family came to a head a few years ago at a birthday gathering. Several family members ganged up on one family member for her political views, even after she tried to remain outside the conversation and asked politely to change the subject.

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Afterward, Brian Miller went to his parents and helped lay down rules that family members would not discuss or criticize each other over politics during holiday and celebratory gatherings. The ground rules have helped, Miller said — and when they fail, changing the subject to sports or something else benign can help. When nothing else works, Miller says she leaves the room and starts up a conversation with disaffected family members in another part of the house.

The ‘Listen to Each Other and Learn’ Approach
Making peace between different members of her family after the election has been the goal for Carolynn Jones of Mapleton, Utah. One of her sisters almost refused to join the family gathering because she felt betrayed by political differences. Jones thinks she may need to appoint a referee to help call foul or change the subject to movies or sports if things get too heated over the holiday gatherings.

Having a “red hour,” where family members can take turns for 15 minutes talking about politics, could be another solution. Either way, Jones doesn’t think it’s realistic to avoid the topic altogether.

Related: When Politics Collide with the Classroom

“Just not talking about politics is not a solution. That will just get us further and further divided and we won’t understand the way other people see things,” she told LifeZette. “If we want to solve the divisiveness on a macro and micro level, we need to start listening to each other.” She thinks family members will need to overhaul their reason for discussing politics — not to change minds but to understand different perspectives.

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She points out that even though she disagrees with her father politically, he was still up until late several nights this week helping to fix a leak in her bathroom. She said family members need to remember the whole picture.

“The family relationship is more important than our political opinions,” she added. “We’re going to talk about this like kind, considerate adults. People can have differing political opinions and still be good people. If you’re just there to listen and catch up and see a little bit of how they see the world, then it doesn’t matter if you see the world the same way or not.”

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