Family Politics: Can My Family Be Stronger Together During the Holidays

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

holiday family politics

Don’t Let Family Politics Get the Better of You

Our contributor today is Bob Kearney, who had worked in politics for many years before becoming a social worker. Bob and I have worked together on many a campaign, and he has a unique understanding of the stresses folks are going through this time of year and had some very actionable answers to my questions on navigating family politics.  

1. How do I stop myself from having a blow up with my relatives about family politics over the holidays? How do I stop a relative from having a blow up?

Blowing up at someone is a moment when you have lost control, or given away your control to the confrontational party. Consider reframing the situation to your own benefit (e.g. "He's trying to piss me off, and I'm not giving him the satisfaction."). We can't stop a relative - or anyone - from initiating confrontation. What we can do is work to manage our responses to that confrontation. Plan ahead!

2. What ground rules should I set?

Identify your biggest triggers: is it the loss of candidate for whom you worked? Are you specifically triggered by Trump? Consider your triggers as you formulate your ask. The best ground rules will balance the specific and the realistic.

3. Do I call folks ahead of time? Who do I call?

While you are watching football this weekend, you might want to contact someone to run interference for you. Which family member has the authority to throw a flag and stop contentious conversations? Who could be an ally in blocking the oncoming, offensive aggressors? Who will help remind you to keep your head in the game and steer clear of conversational traps? Recognize your allies' strengths and engage them accordingly.

4. Do I confront folks?

To quote an old film, sometimes the only winning move is not to play. Ask yourself (before you are in the moment) if or how you benefit from engaging in this game. Unless you see a clear way that engaging in these debates actually reduces your post-election anxiety, it might be best to steer clear.

 5. How do I avoid talking about politics without my relatives thinking I am being a jerk?

Monday morning quarterbacks are everywhere, and most of them have some "wisdom" that they want to share. You might be tempted to lash back ("where were YOU while I was busting my hump for the past YEAR?"). It may be a better strategy to let people know that you are still tired, still recovering; still grieving, and you just want to have a relaxing holiday. If they cannot honor that, it might be time to take a walk and clear your mind.

6. Is avoidance of family politics really the best policy?

To quote the great Joe Fuld, it depends. Some people will respond to establishing boundaries up front. Others will see any statement as an opportunity for an unwelcome engagement. There is no doubt that there are some political conversations where the other party is just goading you. Consider which conversations you want to avoid, as well as how you might avoid them (take a walk, play with a young niece or nephew, watch a favorite movie). Remember to employ your allies in this effort.

7. What else should I do before, during or after the holidays to keep a good relationship with family I love but don't always agree with?

Before: Build your own mini-campaign plan.

During: Remember that annoying relatives and alcohol rarely mix

After: Lead by example. Set the tenor of future communications. Take a breath before responding or clicking send.

Bob Kearney is a social worker and therapist in Washington DC.  He is on Twitter @bkearneydc