1 Tip for How to Survive Thanksgiving with Family (plus a mantra) - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

You know it’s going to happen.

If you’re a progressive, then your grandmother, respected for her years on this earth and the life experiences that we can gain so much from, is going to use a cringeworthy term for a group of people. And if you’re conservative, then that kid just back from college is going to say something so liberal it’s going to make you want to wring his ungrateful neck for not understanding how capitalism allowed him to attend to that non-state school. Or…

Or Bill Cosby. Or Ferguson. Or ISIS. Or Obama. Or Trump.

Look around and there are helpful guides for how to survive Thanksgiving with family. Depending on your search it can be with your Liberal family or your Conservative family. While it’s inspiring that both groups want to do their best to deal with those they love, I think having too many tips to do this can be overwhelming.

1 Tip for How to Survive Thanksgiving with Family

Someone is going to overtly or subtly bring something up that you are going to, not just disagree with, but vehemently disagree with. Something that contradicts every part of your being, something that you find incredibly disturbing, something reminding you of that Edmund Burke quote that, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”

Well, unless you’re spending the holiday sitting in the UN’s General Assembly I think that how to survive Thanksgiving with family can be stated in one paragraph:

  1. I disagree with you, but today is a day to celebrate all that we agree about. Today is a day to remember why I love you, why I’m grateful that you’re a part of my family. Please give me a call tomorrow and we can talk more about X, Y, or Z, but let’s have today be the day that we remember what we love about being related and not what makes us want to kill each other.

Change the wording to what makes sense to you, but remember that the need to change your family’s values amid alcohol and overeating can end badly.

Seek to Understand, Not to Convince

You were formed around these people, through these people. Like it our not their stances probably helped you find your own, even if they were in opposition. This goes two ways, if your climate change denying grandfather formed your love of science, don’t forget that The Keatons also formed Alex.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach our values, of course we should, but how we do it may say a lot about us and our connection to our values. Encouraging others to think through an issue will be more effective than convincing others that we are right.

If you want to ignore my advice and still engage with your aunt do so not to change her or even to have a discussion about the particular topic she brings up. Do so to understand her a little better.

Gently ask questions to follow your uncle’s logic back to why he believes something. You almost always get to a core belief that colors all the further evidence. A desire to believe a certain end result often leads to a belief in the end result. The most open minded among us is not immune to this. If someone is looking for a reason to disagree with climate change they are going to unconsciously edit out everything that contradicts their disagreement. You learn a bit more about them and maybe create some empathy for how to engage in the political struggles outside your family home. The most important lesson I learned about becoming a therapist was how NOT to give advice, and this helps me even when I’m not working and just sitting around with family talking about all these controversial issues.

We Are All Susceptible

I recently listened to NPR when a caller made a well-thought out argument that was contrary to what the two guests were proposing. There was silence and then a return to talking points. They could not assimilate this new information so they decided to ignore it. I agreed with the panel and didn’t want to take in what the caller was saying. I was relieved when they moved on. It’s hard not to be.

But your holiday dinner does not have to be a battlefield. Choose to concentrate on all the things that you love about your aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, mother, father, sibling, and various iterations of in-laws, blended family members, and whatever friends of those above show up at your table this year.

Remember to say, “I love you and I love how you <add something specific that you love about this person>. Today I want to concentrate on that and not our differences.

And the mantra I promised:

  • Today is the day for gratitude, not attitude.

Let’s see how it goes. Enjoy Your Holiday, everyone!


And if you do feel that the stress of the holiday season is getting to you, whether family generated or otherwise, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email and we can talk about some ideas.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been providing counseling for men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.