Of the 12 family members invited to my house for this holiday, three are enthusiastic supporters of the president-elect. The rest of us are stunned and ashamed of the election results, especially my 18-year-old daughter, who will be coming home from school. Sending an e-mail asking that there be no discussion of politics is unrealistic, but with no intervention, I’m afraid the discussions could turn ugly. Although I don’t agree with their values and outlook, I still want them here for this family holiday. Help!
Anonymous / Boston
This is easier — well, more straightforward, not necessarily easier — than some versions of this holiday question, because you are the host. Your house, your rules. Why do you say it is unrealistic to ban discussion of politics? Of course it’s not. If it’s the e-mail that’s the problem, call them instead. No politics, period.
Then, for heaven’s sake, give everyone something else to do, because “not talking about what we’re all thinking about” isn’t a very fun party activity. Make a gingerbread house, sing carols, play games. Assign people chores if necessary. Whatever you do, don’t be passive-aggressive (“We’re donating to Planned Parenthood in your name, Auntie Choice!”) or try to heal the split (“Let’s all say something we like about our worst enemy!”).
Keep it light. Families have a lifetime for heavy conversations. You don’t have to have them this year. And double-digit entertaining means it’s easy enough to spend most of your conversational time with the people you like.
I am giving you this advice because it is what you asked for. Because you made it explicit in your letter that shared DNA is more important to you than shared values. The tactics above are tailored to your priorities. But those priorities are not everyone’s.
If some of your relatives cannot bring themselves to attend this year or will not agree to suppress their feelings about the election, hug and release them. “I’m so sorry you feel that way, but I understand. We’ll see you at [whenever].” This election is different, and to define it as mere horse-race politics is cruel to the women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community who have immediate and real reasons to be afraid of Donald Trump. Their apprehensions are stoked by the surge of hate crimes and harassment after the election — more than 400 incidents were called in to the Massachusetts attorney general’s hate crimes hot line in its first week. People who have lived through bullying or sexual assault will naturally have a strong reaction to the election of a man who has boasted of such assaults and repeatedly insulted his female critics in misogynistic and abusive ways. Being in a room with others — even, perhaps especially, beloved family members — who overlooked this behavior may not put them in the holiday mood.
You don’t mind ignoring these things for the sake of a family holiday, but not everyone can or will. Don’t force anyone to make nice or pretend things are normal if they can’t; don’t guilt people into attending. This includes your daughter first and foremost. She may need to excuse herself, spend some time re-centering in her room, or leave early to spend time with like-minded friends. Let her do what she needs to in order to make the holiday a good one for herself.
And if you ever decide to prioritize values over blood, well, I can teach you the steps to that dance, too.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.
2017 IS AROUND THE CORNER. WHAT ETIQUETTE RESOLUTIONS DO YOU NEED HELP KEEPING? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at email@example.com.