Hot button topics don’t mix during Thanksgiving

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Thanksgiving dinner table probably isn’t the place to try to convince your father-in-law his political ideas are bogus.

It’s also probably not the best place to bring up the family’s dirty laundry.

Try to give it a rest for at least the day for the sake of family harmony, recommends Vicksburg’s Walter Frazier, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.

“It’s important to avoid trying to convince people to change their minds,” at the family Thanksgiving gathering, Frazier said. “It’s kind of parallel to trying to diet at the holidays. It’s just a bad idea.”

Dr. Phil Scurria, a Vicksburg psychiatrist, agrees.

“It’s like I tell people who have marital issues to discuss them at a time and place that is appropriate. It’s the same for the holidays. The Thanksgiving table is not the place to talk about contentious issues.”

The timing of the holidays, which typically follow closely to local, state and national elections, doesn’t help the situation.

“Thanksgiving, especially, and Christmas, too, we’ve usually just gotten through local or national elections and there are still raw feelings,” Frazier said. “You could sit down at the dinner table and have a conversation about the governor’s race in Georgia or the governor and senate race in Florida, or whether the Democrats winning the House is going to make any difference or just lead to further gridlock, but no one is likely to change their views.”

Such likely would lead to an unpleasant argument and hard feelings.

“Thanksgiving is not the time to convince anyone to change their mind. If someone is dead set that the sky is orange, it might be a good time to sit at the table and look at the orange sky,” Frazier said.

Festering family conflict often erupts at Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings.

“Family conflicts, which may be easier to deal with at a distance, are often exacerbated when you are sitting across the table from each other,” he said.

The table, spiritually across faiths, tends to be the center of healing and forgiveness, Frazier said.

“In order to do that, it may be that we need to approach the table willing to be forgiven and to give forgiveness. The food table has been the center of family forever. It is so central to our being. To come together and to digest food when there is conflict is difficult, uncomfortable. Before you sit down, it may be important to at least temporarily try to reconcile for the sake of family coming together.”

Frazier typically sees an influx of new patients after the New Year, many because of family dynamics.

“I think if you keep those two things in mind — staying reconciled and don’t try to convince other people to change their minds at the holidays — it may elevate the experience,” he said.

You have choices

Scurria said all should remember they have a choice to make when family gatherings become unpleasant.

“Here’s the big thing. They have a choice and they can leave if it becomes unbearable. I’ve asked my patients when they’ve told me about unpleasant situations, ‘Wait, how old are you? Forty-three? Do you have a driver’s license? You have a car, right? You can leave.’ Ninety percent of the time they go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ Knowing you have an out helps the situation become more tolerable,” he said.

Picking up and leaving an uncomfortable family gathering is made more difficult if you’ve traveled a great distance to get there, but it can be done.

“I have had patients who have gotten so miserable they’ve gone to a hotel. That’s extreme, but sometimes that’s the best move in an extreme situation,” Scurria said.

For family members who insist on bringing up unpleasant family issues at the dinner table, it’s important to stand up for yourself and others.

“If someone brings it up, you should say, ‘I don’t think it’s an appropriate time to discuss this.’ Sometimes you have to draw that line in the sand. And if the person continues to violate it, to cross that line, that’s when you have to make the choice,” he said. “And if alcohol is involved, of course that makes things worse.”

Scurria also suggested family harmony is buoyed when everyone pitches in.

“It really helps family relations if everyone helps by bringing food and with cleaning up afterward. Lots of people get resentful when 40 people come to a gathering and it’s up to two people to feed everyone and clean up,” he said. “You can make it fun. If everyone is in the kitchen helping, you can put on music and sing and dance and have a good time with it. The tradition is all the men go in the living room and sit down and do nothing and all the women clean up, but that doesn’t fly so well these days.”

Scurria, who did his undergraduate studies at LSU in Baton Rouge and went to medical school at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, where he also did his residency, has been practicing in Vicksburg since March 1996.