10 Things You Should Never, Ever Discuss at Thanksgiving Dinner
Do you really want to be the person who causes the Awkward Family Silence?
Your fight with your cousin’s boyfriend
Family gossip is so tempting to share, especially when you have everyone gathered together. Resist the temptation, says Marni Amsellem, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist practicing in Connecticut and New York. Causing drama will get you attention but in all the wrong ways. Instead of focusing on whomever you’re talking about, the rest of the family will remember your bad behavior instead. “If there is something that you need to say to a relative about something that displeases you, save it for another time,” she says. “Otherwise this will be a dinner that the rest of the family references even decades from now—as in ‘Remember that Thanksgiving when Sheila told cousin Lucy that she thinks her boyfriend is a cheating scumbag and she’s an idiot to stay with him?’” And definitely, don’t bring up personal arguments between you and your partner as what you fight about may say more about your relationship than you meant to reveal.
What you think of the current president
Politics generally top the list for dinner subjects that should be verboten and that may be even truer this year than in previous years thanks to the very contentious political climate of late. But while you should probably leave personal attacks on or declarations of love for President Trump off the table that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss politics at all, Dr. Amsellem says. (In fact, active dinner discussions are one of the 50 habits of healthy families.) “If discussing politics, the discussion needs to be held tactfully and respectfully. Obviously, not everyone holds the same views, and it is important to try to refrain from name-calling or broad-group insults. This also holds when families are in agreement about political topics as well. Tact and decorum are key in self-expression when discussing heated topics, generally-speaking,” she explains. The exception? If these are family members you only see once a year or you already know their political views are the polar opposite of yours it’s best to just not bring it up, she adds.
The $500 your brother still owes you
Money is a touchy subject under the best of circumstances and a holiday meal certainly isn’t the calmest place to have discussions about loans, how much someone’s car cost or other personal financial matters. (Not to mention it’s beyond boring to have to listen to someone else’s stock portfolio.) Money talk is so contentious, Dr. Amsellem recommends nixing it all together. “Does someone owe someone else a loan repayment? Does one relative feel short-changed on the inheritance after grandma passed? If there are financial conversations that need to be had, keep it separate from the holiday, or at very least, from the holiday meal,” she says. “You don’t want to leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth and ruin the delicious pumpkin pie.” Need suggestions on what to say? Try one of these 37 conversation starters that make you instantly interesting.
Your newfound atheism
Thanksgiving itself isn’t a religious holiday, unlike, say, Christmas or Passover, so religion won’t be a subtext of the get-together. That said, any big family dinner isn’t an ideal place to discuss religious topics you know your family will find upsetting or controversial. It doesn’t mean you can’t be true to your own beliefs but rather there is a time and a place to announce your atheism/conversion to Scientology/problems with Catholicism—and the Thanksgiving table isn’t it. “Religion can be a topic that brings out passionate opinions and great emotion often leading to hurt feelings or explosive arguments,” says John DeGarmo, EdD, parenting expert and director of The Foster Care Institute. “This conversation can quickly become uncomfortable, and even angst-ridden.” Instead, try one of these 11 foolproof dinner conversation starters.
Your petition for gun control
Gun control is a hot topic these days in the news but this isn’t one of those headlines that translates well to dinner conversation with a large group of relatives, says Rachel Wagner, a licensed etiquette consultant, trainer, and speaker. “With continued recent instances of mass shootings in the news, it’s neither a pleasant topic nor does it strengthen family ties when discussing opposing views of gun laws,” he explains. “This topic can lead to arguments, raised tempers, and drama that no one wants to have as Thanksgiving memories.” If you really want to have a passionate debate with someone, try one of these 8 argument starters (seriously).
All your children’s amazing accomplishments
It’s one thing to mention your daughter got a scholarship to her dream school—a fact your whole family will want to celebrate—but it’s entirely another if all you can talk about is her winning soccer game, her straight A’s, her perfect hair, and her lead role in the school musical. Just like talking up your recent raise or your Caribbean vacation, bragging of any sort has no place at family functions, Wagner says. (In fact, bragging is one of the 10 habits of extremely boring people!) “You have to consider how your listeners feel; perhaps not everyone at the table has had such good fortune. Maybe they lost their job, their kid is struggling in school, they’re making do with a 10-year old car, and had a staycation instead of a vacation,” he says. “Endless bragging invites comparison which puts a damper on not just conversations but the whole relationship. This topic can cause unnecessary sibling rivalry and division.”
Why your brother isn’t married yet
Thanksgiving dinner can be sheer agony for single folks because they know they’re likely to get drilled about their relationship status, pitied, set up with random people, or d) all of the above. It’s enough to make a person want to stay home with a microwave dinner. “Understandably, family members are genuinely interested in each other’s relationships yet when these questions or comments are made in a large gathering or at the dining table, the person responding may feel put on the spot about something quite personal,” says Shrein Bahrami, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Evolve Wellness Group. “Rarely is someone in a problem-free relationship or navigating the waters of single-hood with ease. They are then forced to either respond with a token, ‘everything is great’ or be honest, resulting in a bad mood, counter to the intended lighthearted atmosphere of the event.” Are you the recipient of intrusive questions about your relationship? Shut them down with these 16 polite responses to your most awkward holiday encounters.
How you feel about your saddlebags, cellulite, or weight gain
Body image is a loaded topic any day of the week but bring it up during a holiday meal and it’s the perfect storm for low self-esteem or even eating disorders, Bahrami says. Don’t discuss your own body in a negative way and certainly don’t criticize anyone else’s body, appearance, diet, or health. “Discussing your own or someone else’s weight or appearance is, unfortunately, an all too common topic at holiday dinners,” she says. “But the truth is no one truly enjoys these conversations.” Even a compliment can be tricky, as the person may have many feelings about changes in their appearance or weight and be quite self-conscious when attending a family function, she adds. Instead of commenting on someone’s appearance, say something more general like “It is so great to see you” or “I’m so glad to be reconnecting/spending time with you” as these will help them feel loved and welcome.
Your sister’s children (or lack thereof)
Commenting on a relative’s family planning is a huge holiday no-no, says Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for BeenVerified. Whether you’re commenting on the number of kids they have, asking when they’ll have another, or speculating on when they’ll start their family, you put them in an incredibly awkward situation. (So, when will you be having sex, cousin?) “No one likes to be put on the spot about their reproductive choices,” he says. “So let the couple be and eat their turkey in peace.” If they want you to know this information, they’ll bring it up. In the meantime, stick to sharing these funny Thanksgiving quotes at the table instead.
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Let’s face it: No one is the absolute expert when it comes to parenting. Giving someone advice on how to raise their children or criticizing their children’s behavior—even when meant in a kind way—is rarely helpful and may start an argument, says Evie Granville and Sarah Davis, parenting etiquette experts and podcasters. “When it comes to parenting, everyone’s got an opinion (even people who don’t have kids)! Whether it’s breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding, sleep-training, or staying home vs. working outside the home, there’s always something to get miffed about,” they say. “Don’t use time together over the holidays to question other people’s parenting choices. Just assume everyone’s weighed the pros and cons of a given parenting decision and come to the conclusion that the best option for their nuclear family is the thing they’re already doing.” Psst… Here are things you should never say to a working mom, any day of the year.
Need more Thanksgiving advice? Be sure to download our free Thanksgiving guide with tips, tricks, and more for a perfect holiday.