For most of us, the holiday season is a time to spend with family, although we all have different perspectives on how that’s going to turn out. Depending on the dynamics of our relationship with our family, we can all agree that’s it’s not always smooth sailing. As someone who grew up in a conservative family and is now one of only two liberals in said conservative family, Meaghan Lamm’s holidays spent at home have become uncomfortable. On today’s podcast, she discusses three different approaches you can take to survive the holiday season in today’s political climate.
In this episode:
- Three approaches you can take to survive the holidays
- Questions to ask your family members
- How to take care of yourself during the holidays
Listen to the podcast here:
Surviving The Holidays
As someone who grew up in a conservative family and is now one of only two liberals in said conservative family, holidays spent at home have become uncomfortable, to say the least. That’s why I wanted to share some of my best tips for surviving the holidays with your conservative relatives.
Today, I’m discussing three different approaches you can take to survive the holiday season in today’s political climate. Ready? Let’s get started.
I’ve actually been going back and forth for a few weeks on whether or not I wanted to do this episode. There are dozens of articles, YouTube videos, and podcast episodes out there that cover this topic. But after everything that’s been happening in the United States in the last few weeks—I’m recording this just after the election—it felt almost cathartic.
First, I want to start by inserting a very 2020 disclaimer here that COVID is not a hoax. Honestly, you should probably skip Thanksgiving and Christmas altogether if you want to stay safe and healthy. I know my state government is recommending not traveling for Thanksgiving, not having Thanksgiving with anyone outside of your bubble, and I highly encourage you to do the same. But if you plan on going to spend the holidays with your conservative family anyway, then this is the episode for you.
I will say it has become increasingly interesting to me these last handful of years, especially, how each side thinks the exact same thing about the other side, just with different core ideologies and beliefs. Conservatives think liberals are the sheep doing whatever mainstream media tells us to do. Liberals tend to think that conservatives are the same thing with Fox News. They think that we don’t understand logic and that we can’t think for ourselves, and that we’re somehow always lying to make them look bad.
According to one conservative YouTube channel that I found—which I now regret watching because the algorithm is going to suggest more conservative content to me—he said that liberals are always the ones starting shit at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Conservatives are just trying to enjoy their stuffing and their sweet potato casserole, while the “libs” are stirring the pot, itching for a fight. That certainly has not been my experience with any of this, but I am the liberal minority in a conservative family. Maybe that is what happens when the majority of your family is liberal and you’re conservative. I don’t know if that is true. If you could weigh in, that would be great.
But it’s interesting to me when you take a minute to realize that we all basically believe the same thing about the other side. Everyone thinks everyone else is brainwashed sheep with no ideas of their own, no logic, no foundation in truth. We think that about them; they think that about us. For me, I find that utterly fascinating, and that’s probably why I’m here doing this podcast!
If you are going to travel for the holidays, I hope you quarantine first and quarantine after, but I have a few options on ways you can deal with it. You can pick which one works the best for you:
Option one—I’m just going to get it out of the way. You could not talk about politics at all. I know it goes back and forth in liberal or progressive circles about whether you should call out your racist uncle at the dinner table or not. You know what is best for you and your family and your own mental health.
I have several friends who have decided to draw a strong, firm boundary in their lives around not talking about politics with their family—ever. I think that’s okay. If you don’t want to pass around a political discussion with the stuffing and turkey, then you can draw a hard line with your family before the big day. You’ll respect not talking about politics, if they’ll respect not talking about politics. The thing about a boundary is, if someone starts talking about politics and you ask them to stop and they refuse, then it’s up to you to enforce that boundary and leave the room—or the house completely—whatever it is.
I know this isn’t always a popular choice in liberal circles, especially with everything that’s been going on in 2020, but I do think that it is a valid one for many people.
Then there’s option two, which is my personal choice usually: I like to get to the root of the issue and understand why they believe what they believe. I’m fascinated by human psychology. I have worked with a lot of thought work coaches over the last several years.Beliefs come from what we choose to think about a certain situation or problem. Click To Tweet
I find the psychology of why people do things, how their thoughts drive their feelings, drive their actions. It’s fascinating. Beliefs are thoughts, and thoughts are choices—as my favorite client likes to say. Beliefs come from what we choose to think about a certain situation or problem.
It’s why some people look at abortion and think that the best way to reduce abortion is to make it illegal, and some people look at abortion and think the best way is to have more access to birth control and comprehensive sex ed and better access to healthcare. It’s the same situation— abortion—but completely different thoughts and completely different actions.
This is the tactic I generally take with my own family and I do it by asking a lot of questions. I’m not going to see my family this year because they live in another state. It’s not like I could drive 45 minutes and see them. They live in a totally different state, which has a whole host of other exposure issues.
But we did have a conversation similar to this with my brother in 2019. I like doing this option because it gets them to explain their thinking, which can often lead to them having to confront the holes in their own logic. Sometimes it leads to me going, “That doesn’t really make sense”—not often, but sometimes. I’m always open to learning. I’m always open to expanding my views or considering another point of view, or whatever. That’s how I got to this place now—by doing that. So I’m always willing to do that when it makes sense, and I can have a fact-based conversation with someone.
Having these conversations helps me, even if I don’t agree with what they have to say. Even if I don’t eventually say, “You’re right. Let’s never talk about this again.” It does help me better understand where the fuck they’re coming from, because I think that’s helpful. I’m not saying that this doesn’t get frustrating, because it often does. Usually, because at least my family particularly ends up talking in circles or contradicting themselves, which makes it hard to want to get to the fucking point.
If you need some examples, some questions you can try are, “What do you mean by that?” or, “I would like to learn more about what you’re talking about. Do you have fact-based articles or studies you could share?” “I’m curious why you think” (insert their belief here) “is true. Could you elaborate on why you believe that?” Yes, I know this sounds very academic. You can rephrase them, but they’re a good jumping-off point to get you started.
The tone is important. You don’t want to come at somebody like, “What do you mean by that?” That’s not going to start the conversation off in a good way. But if you have a genuine curiosity, then these questions are good. Remember that the purpose of these questions and these conversations is to spark a bigger conversation, and a bigger understanding.
Of course, you are under no obligation to continue a conversation if it descends into an abusive tirade. If they’re screaming at you, please feel free to walk away and move on. You also don’t have to be the person who’s confronting every single horrible thing that your family says.
You can choose to have one or two conversations and then move on because I know that I have to check myself during these conversations to keep myself from getting angry, annoyed, frustrated and yelling. When I feel myself getting to that point, I tend to back off. I closed on the conversation because I don’t want to get to a point where we’re screaming at each other. One, because no one ever changes their minds when someone is screaming at them, ask me how I know! And two, because my goal really is to understand why they believe what they believe, because at least if I can understand it, I can get to a point where I can either help them, or I can move on.The purpose of questions and conversations is to spark a bigger conversation and a bigger understanding. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t mean that they’ll change their minds, but people believe what they believe because they think they’re justified in believing whatever it is, based on whatever other peripheral beliefs that they have. Beliefs are interconnected. Somebody thinks that one thing is true because they think this other thing is true.
So if you get to the root of why they think that thing is true, then you can often find other beliefs that you’re able to dismantle to change what they’re seeing. It gives you a fuller picture of why they believe what they believe.
I also want you to keep in mind that their “why” may not satisfy you. I really had to come to grips with this. I thought when I first started asking these questions, they would explain and I would be like, “That makes so much sense! Of course, that’s why you believe what you believe!”
But oftentimes, because I don’t share their beliefs, the same fear, the same thought process, and thought patterns as they do around most all issues—I had to remember that having these conversations didn’t mean that I was going to be like, “That totally makes sense.”
I don’t want you to go into this thinking that this tactic is going to smooth everything out, or it’s going to make you feel better about your anti-BLM cousin or your COVID-denying uncle or whatever, because it probably won’t. But, understanding means you get to choose to educate, or walk away.
If you choose to educate, understanding their “why” or their underlying belief systems allows you to educate them in a way that’s more likely to help them see your point. You can find a common ground under there and then be like, “If this is true, then this is true,” and you build a conversation around it.
I don’t want to make this option sound like it’s going to fix them or anything, because the odds are that it won’t. I use this option with my family because I genuinely want to understand why these people that I love so much support someone who is in my view so evil and hateful. Someone who never tells the truth, yet is their beacon for all things fair and meaningful.
I also choose to have these conversations because maybe there’s someone in the room who needs to hear that someone in the family loves and supports them, even if that’s an unpopular opinion. That’s why for sure, I have conversations on the internet, but it’s also why I choose to have conversations with my family.
I believe at their core that my family are good humans. They believe that they’re good humans, of course. They love their family. They take care of their children. They’re generous with their friends. That’s why you have these instances where it’s difficult to square away their beliefs, or their willingness to excuse or look past everything that Trump and the Republican party as a whole have done—not just in the last four years, but the life of the Republican party—with the people that I know and love, with the people who I know are generous to the people that they know and love. It’s difficult for me. There’s part of me that wants to understand why.
It’s also worth noting that if you were truly curious about why your family believes what they believe, then you can also offer to pull them aside and have these conversations in private. I have some family members that it doesn’t matter how nicely I ask the fucking question, if I do it in front of every single member of our family, they are immediately going to think that I’m attacking them and trying to make them look stupid. So these conversations would be way more productive if I pulled them to the side and have the conversation with them that way.
Being able to do that—again, if you truly are curious and you’re not just trying to start some shit—then this is a good option too. You could say something like, “I’d love to hear more about that. I’d love to talk with you about it in private later.”
If your goal is to embarrass them, then this last option is for you: Option three, don’t fucking go home for the holidays. This might sound like a radical option, but I have deployed it myself several times and it’s totally on the table.
There is no law and no social contract you signed that says you are required to go visit your extended family and put yourself through that if you know that it’s going to be a total shitshow. You do not have to put yourself through something that you know could be either volatile or negatively affect your mental health. It’s not required. It’s just as valid to stay at home with your immediate family, or with friends who are in your bubble, and spend time with them.Do what's best for you, even if it disappoints somebody. Click To Tweet
Instead, I will probably be spending Thanksgiving alone this year, which I’m fine with. I spent Thanksgiving alone in 2019. I make turkey and lots of mashed potatoes and gravy, and I watch Christmas movies. I’m fine with this.
Staying home and choosing not to go see your family does not make you weak, it does not make you intolerant, it does not make you a crybaby. Your mental health and your safety come first. It is okay to put yourself first by not going home to visit family at all. In case no one out there is going to tell you that, I’m going to tell you that: It’s okay to put yourself first and not go home.
Look, the holidays can be a stressful time, even in a good year, when we’re not coming off a contentious and stressful election, we’re not coming off of anti-racism protests, or a global pandemic, and a president who can never seem to tell the fucking truth about anything.
So whatever you decide about how to handle the holidays this year, I want to remind you to take care of yourself. Put yourself first, prioritize your mental health, and do what makes you happy. Even if it upsets your mom, or your grandma, or whoever else. You are allowed to do what’s best for you even if it disappoints somebody else.
That’s it for me today. Bye, y’all.