You know what they say, “You can choose your friends, but not your family.”
That expression could not be more illuminated than during the Thanksgiving holiday, specifically at dinner. We’re supposed to peacefully break bread, yet so many tables turn into sparring rings over old family stuff, new family stuff, or just stuff in general. All this stuff gets all the attention rather than the actual stuffing.
It’s hard to bite your tongue when Crazy Uncle Fill-In-The-Blank starts mouthing off about, well, fill-in-the-blank. Keeping the peace is attainable, but it takes some skill and a lot of patience.
So, I encourage you to read on.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
If you worry about a particular person who tends to make things feel less than peaceful, prepare yourself mentally for their arrival.
If entertaining with a partner, agree on a signal (something subtle that doesn’t require a life ring as a prop) that tells them you need relief from a stressful situation. You can also tell yourself it’s just for a few hours and try to let negative comments trickle away like water down a duck’s back. Don’t forget about your guests.
Allowing them to prepare for encounters with their less than favorite people can help keep everyone calm. If you know of possible conflict, give a head’s up to those who might stand to suffer the most so they can also prepare themselves for the day.
Set the Right Tone
Create a warm and welcoming environment where the focus is on family and gratitude.
Or do your best.
For example, have everyone write out what they are thankful for on a card and drop it into a basket. If things get heated, you can pull cards and share everyone’s contributions. Of course that might encourage the Thanksgiving disruptor to compose some unfriendly thoughts, but what can you do?
You can also have a potluck, so everyone brings their best dish to create a feeling of inclusiveness.
Reduce risk for conflicts by creating “decorative” place settings that strategically keep people who tend to fight as far apart as possible.
Have Subject Changers Ready
Thanksgiving occurs after the Midterm Elections, so it’s okay to ignore the 800 pound Turkey in the room.
Have some neutral discussion points ready so you can quickly try to change the subject. If arguments break out, try to insinuate yourself into the discussion by asking a question or bringing up something a little less controversial.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
Although it can be difficult to keep smiling when everyone is at each other’s throats, humor can go a long way to cool the mood. Be sure to read the room and think of something funny to say that might help everyone relax and shift to a more positive state of mind.
Pay attention to conversations and interject your own comments before things have a chance to heat up.
WIsh I can tell you to say, but it’s your family, and I’m not touching that one.
Set Off-Limit Conversation Rules
Most families have known hot-button topics sure to lead to escalated arguments. It’s your house, so your rules apply. Let everyone know in a fun way certain topics are off limits. Anyone that breaks the rule has to do the dishes—alone.
Keep an Eye on the Bar
Responsible hosts keep an eye on the bar to make sure no one has one drink too many. If hosting makes it too difficult to do so, assign a bartender.
Alcohol fans the flames of emotion, which can turn an innocent comment into World War III. You might even consider limiting how much booze you serve. Only have a certain number of bottles of wine set aside for dinner and a fun-themed cocktail like pumpkin spice or apple pie martini as an aperitif.
As the host, you can create a neutral environment where everyone feels welcomed, included and safe. Whether it’s your crass uncle, inappropriate aunt, or political cousin, you can help avoid conflict and survive another family Thanksgiving dinner by keeping the peace.
🚨SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT🚨
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