So there you are, it’s been a year since you’ve seen most of your family and your Grandma just asked you to pass the butter. You would love to but you are currently using the butter knife to pretend to cut through that awkward tension in the room from your opinionated uncle who just talked about his favorite candidate. Your cousin’s eye roll was exaggerated, even for her, and your brother is going on and on because “this is what you get when you only have two parties.” Now, where is that butter? Right, it’s next to Grandpa who is sitting at the end of the table staring, silently, at his mashed potatoes.
The question is:
What do you do?
For more than a year we have all been surrounded by the news of this year’s election. And even with the result being determined, chances are pretty good that many of our relatives will take an opportunity to bring up their thoughts when we gather for the holidays. Whether it’s a random dig at the candidate they didn’t like, or parroting back the headline they read on the way to dinner or actually attempting to bring up in a thoughtful way an issue that matters, we all have to deal with these moments with our family.
It would be easy to think about this in terms of what it it does for our children. We’ve all heard “our children are watching” over and over, so to attempt to model good behavior would be a safe route to take. What we also know as parents is how much we learn from our kids. I think there are three lessons we can learn from our children to make it through these moments with our family.
Dealing with Family
First, ask questions. Children are the most inquisitive, curious people we know and after the political season we just witnessed, we could use more of an inquisitive nature. We would do ourselves well to lean into our curiosity rather than resting on our certainty. Ask good questions. Questions are inherently respectful. Badgering, poking and baiting family members will only end poorly. Genuine wonder in the form of a question is an invitation to deeper understanding. When was the last time you asked someone in your family a question about what they thought about politics or current events in general? What if you asked the eldest family member “In what election did you first vote?” That question could take the conversation to new places. You might learn something about a family member that has been at every Christmas dinner you could possibly remember. That’s quite a gift.
And, of course, it could all backfire. Your Grandpa could answer you and immediately mourn the “good ole days.” Well, you tried. So then we take another lesson from our children: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Just move on. The chances are pretty good that you’ll get another chance, or that someone will notice your intent and follow your lead. And what if you end up on the defensive? You forgot to take that bumper sticker off your car and your Aunt decides to confront “whoever owns that car in the driveway.” Simple, clear explanations are great. Sharing your values about what you think about the world is a wonderful opportunity with family, but not taking yourself too seriously will help. Trading in the soap box for a quick joke about your bumper sticker could be a useful approach. The point of the gathering is to enjoy family, have fun and eat a lot of food, not to change hearts and minds. Kids have that down.
The last lesson we can learn from our kids to help us with our families is one we we need now more than ever. Be where you are. Put down your phone, leave it in the car, in your coat, whatever it takes. I might even suggest employing a “phone basket” at the front door. Collect all the phones and watch how the gathering changes. Children do this so well. Kids aren’t thinking about where they want to be next or scrolling through photos of what the kiddie table looks like at their buddy’s house. Wherever they are, there they are. So wherever you are, be there. The holidays will come and go, just like elections and scandals and aggregated polls, but our family, even with their strange, unexpected comments, will only be with us while they are here, and we should be too.