So, it’s finally here. The holidays are upon us, and there’s no turning back, and no avoiding them.
I don’t know about you, but while I’m looking forward to the holidays, and while I want to be able to look forward to spending time with my family, I’m currently dreading it.
Most years I experience this, but after a particularly toxic election year with plenty of fodder for a large family to argue about, I feel like the air is ripe for the holidays to easily be soured by religious or political arguments at family gatherings.
How does one survive? How can we make this year different?
While we cannot control other people, we can be proactive in how we will act over the holidays. So, here are five things we can do to help contribute to a drama-free holiday season with our politically or religiously opinionated family:
1. Consider reaching out before the holidays to establish family gatherings as a controversy-free zone.
Be proactive in setting the tone for how you’d like to experience family gatherings this year. Consider both disarming and pulling those loved ones close by reaching out and asking them to agree to making family gatherings a controversy-free-zone this year.
For example, you could start a group message with those in your family and say something like this: “I love all of you, and I’m really looking forward to enjoying family time during the holidays this year. One of the things that really gets in the way of enjoying family gatherings is when we end up talking about controversial issues. Can we please all agree to make this year one where we enjoy spending time with each other, and not talk about issues that lead to arguments?”
This can help by disarming those who might feel like you are the one who will be the problem this year, and really helps to set a kind, positive tone.
2. Be honest with them about how you feel when gatherings are ruined by political or religious arguments.
In a non-threatening, non-blaming way, express how you have felt when past family gatherings have been ruined by religious or political debates.
Instead of saying, “Dad really made me angry last year and ruined it!” say things like, “When the holidays have turned into family arguments, I’ve often gone home feeling really sad and hurt about what happened, and this year I don’t want the holidays to be like that for me.”
3. Refuse to take the bait.
The unfortunate truth is that even if you properly set the tone and disarm your family, there’s always a chance that you-know-who will still find a way to make an underhanded comment to get under your skin. Whatever you do, don’t take the bait!
Once you take the bait, you lose all credibility and become part of the problem by engaging in the argument and fanning the flames. Instead, go into those family gatherings resolved and confident that no matter what happens, this year you will be refusing to intentionally participate in toxic nonsense.
4. Calmly and lovingly redirect and reinforce your boundaries.
Refusing to take the bait doesn’t mean do nothing, and it doesn’t mean that you spend the day ignoring that sibling who is continually trying to get you going. Instead, when they do this, calmly and lovingly redirect him and reinforce your boundaries.
Try something like, “I can see you really would like to talk about that, but I love you too much to get into a debate with you this year,” or simply give her a gentle reminder that you all agreed to make this holiday season controversy-free.
Or, diffuse it with humor by saying, “I can see you really want to argue with me, and to be honest, I’d love to argue with you too. But how about we set up a time to have this argument on the phone after the holidays are over? We can yell, scream and even call each other names. It will be more fun if we set enough time aside to really do the argument well.” And then just give him a mischievous smile that leaves him confused.
5. Build an alliance with other drama-free family members.
The chances are good that you are not the only one in the family who would like to avoid a blow-out argument that makes the day spiral out of control. Identify those people and build an alliance before the family gatherings.
For example, you can reach out privately and say, “Hey, I really want the holiday gatherings to be stress-free this year, and I know you do, too. So, if Dad starts on one of his rants again this year, can you please help me redirect him so that the day doesn’t go south?”
If you build enough of an alliance, those who want to create drama will quickly realize that if they want to have an argument, it might need to be an argument with just themselves.
Is there a guaranteed way to have a drama-free holiday season with your politically or religiously obnoxious family?
No, there’s not.
You can’t control what others do.
However, you can control what you do.
You don’t have to let your holidays be at the mercy of others — you can be proactive in doing a few things that will contribute to the holidays being happier and drama-free.
Benjamin L. Corey, an Anabaptist author, speaker and blogger from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-Anabaptist vantage point.