Mental Well-Being

Setting a Table of Expectations in Our Heated Political Climate

November 9, 2022
Multi-generational family gathered around a dining table.

During the past few years, our country’s politics have escalated from semi-divisive to all-out explosive. This shift has meant that many families must now navigate the difficulty of not only having different viewpoints, but also differing moral beliefs. Because that is where we are now: in a moral standoff. So, how do you host or attend a holiday gathering when you know the differences in opinion could trigger a war?

The host with the most

Being a good host means not only setting a beautiful holiday table for your guests, but also holding down the fort when things go awry. As the one in charge, you can create the expectations for your guests before they even arrive. Is Uncle Larry a proud conservative, but you know your cousin Kevin is more liberal? Have a conversation with family members to set your party up for success. After all, even if your beliefs are different, you are still family, and everyone should act and speak with respect. 

On top of preparing your guests, there are other ways to deal with those who have completely different viewpoints from your own.

See the person behind the issue

It’s the holidays, and we gather with those we love for one reason: connection. It’s a great time to leave the outside world behind as you seek to connect with family members you may not have seen all year. Sure, you may have some huge differences on political, religious, or other issues, but that shouldn’t be the only part of your family that you see. In some ways, viewing each other as part of a large human family may be what gets us out of the divisive politics.

Pick your battles

As with every encounter throughout your life you will have with those who are starkly different from you, choosing your battles wisely will ensure your continued mental health. Don’t go to the mat on every issue that is brought before you. Instead, use your wisdom to know when to speak up and when to disengage. And remember, it is highly unlikely that an argument over Christmas dinner will change anyone’s opinion on anything. 

Put your own self-care first

No one can put their best foot forward when they feel burnt out. It’s likely the past few years of pandemic, politics, and more have left you feeling stressed and exhausted. Before the holiday season of festivities and merriment arrives (along with your family members at the airport), practice some effective self-care. 

The word “self-care” gets thrown around a lot, and means something different to every person. In general, make sure you are taking time for yourself by doing something you enjoy as well as things that help to support your healthy lifestyle. For some people, this looks like attending a book club with friends and making sure to attend a yoga class once a week. For others, it can mean a pedicure and a healthy, homemade lunch. The sky’s the limit. Just make sure to enact some of your favorite strategies before you sit down at the holiday dinner table with Aunt Mary.

When it is all too much

Self-care doesn’t just mean taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health by adding things and experiences into your life. Sometimes, it means saying goodbye to things or people that are just not good for us anymore. While it’s usually possible to find common ground with family members, even those with different beliefs, some people can be just plain toxic. For instance, a gay person may not feel safe around someone who loudly expresses disgust about their lifestyle. If your family has a toxic member who makes you feel unsafe, then it is okay to decline an invitation to a holiday gathering. You can create your own boundaries when it comes to interacting with people who don’t have your best interests at heart. 

Family relationships have always been a bit messy and difficult. In our current stressful times, they can bea recipe for a not-so-relaxing holiday season. Get ahead of the game by setting some expectations, and try your best to connect with those you love (and even those you are glad you see only once a year).