How to Have Positive Conversations About Difficult Holiday Decisions

Families face choices about how and whether to gather for holiday meals this year. Stay true to your values to preserve relationships through the season.

Posted in , Oct 27, 2020

Zoom family call

“What are you thankful for?” So many of us go around the Thanksgiving table and take turns reflecting on that question. In good years, in normal years, we are able to make eye contact with many of the very subjects of gratitude we share.

But this is not a normal year.

Thanksgiving, the holiday of abundant joy, food and company, is a particular challenge during the pandemic. Decisions must be made, not about new dishes to try or whose turn it is to host, but about whether and how our traditional gatherings can happen at all.

Here are some tips for how to keep those difficult conversations authentically positive.

Be Honest—and Kind
It doesn’t serve anybody if you hold back from sharing your risk tolerance during the pandemic. At the same time, though, there’s nothing helpful that can come from making others feel they are making the “wrong” choices for themselves. Psychologists recommend making an effort to use “I” statements, not “You” statements when offering your honest feelings about holiday gatherings. The psychologist Vaile Wright recommends something like, “I feel uncomfortable bringing my family around this year, so we’re going to have to say no to Thanksgiving.”

Acknowledge the Grief
There’s real loss associated with such a radical change in the tone and content of holiday planning conversations this year. Call that by its name—grief—to make it clear to your family members that you see the pain others are feeling and share those feelings yourself. Remember that in making their own decisions about holiday visit comfort levels, everyone is trying to preserve relationships, painful as that feels in this distant moment.

Be Creative 
Since the pandemic began, many of us have developed new skills around celebrating birthdays, graduations and other milestones on video chat platforms like Skype or Zoom. Let that option be the base from which you launch other creative ways to connect over Thanksgiving. Maybe a package of family favorite cookies can make your house smell like the holiday and brighten your loved one’s doorstep. Or a heartfelt letter can give you the space you need to express your gratitude for your friends and family. We have many limits during the pandemic—but your imagination and loving heart do not.

Look Forward
To leave a perhaps tense conversation about Thanksgiving 2020 on a positive note, take a moment to express your hopes and wishes for what Thanksgiving 2021 might look like. Of course, we cannot predict the future—if only. But we don’t have to feel locked into our predictions in order to enjoy the pleasures of a little fantasizing about the opportunity to look into each other’s eyes and say, “I’m so thankful for you.”

Related Videos

View Comments