How do I stop a Thanksgiving fight?

Like  decorative gourds , dinner table fights are so seasonal. |  Ryan Jacobs  for  Unsplash

Like decorative gourds, dinner table fights are so seasonal. | Ryan Jacobs for Unsplash

Sometimes we all need stories that make us feel better about ourselves, whether or not those stories are "true." 

A pediatrician once told me that children are often mean to their parents because they can be. A child who behaves angelically at grocery stores and play dates but screams and hits at home? His parents are good parents. That child feels safe that his parents won't hurt him, even when he's being a Grade A hellbeast. 

Whether true or not, this unverified piece of parenting wisdom has gotten me through many of my more difficult moments.

In the gear up to Thanksgiving, when sources from Real Simple to Fox News offer fighting avoidance strategies, I'm thinking the pediatrician's story could be helpful to everyone at the table. 

What if we imagined the fights about politics, saying grace at the table, and the ethics of turkey production as a sign that we feel loved and safe? What if we imagined these fights as a necessary release valve that our family members feel safe venting because they are around people who will love them even after steaming for an hour about how Disney is trying to "promote a gay lifestyle"? 

That view of the the Thanksgiving fight as a symbol of love and trust may mean there's more reason to fight than ever. There's a great piece over at Vox about why we shouldn't avoid the Thanksgiving fight. Slate offers six cheeky rules for picking a Thanksgiving fight.

Whether you're going all-in on the family fight or just trying to get through the day without a mention of either political party, you'll still need an exit strategy. What's true for kids is true for all Thanksgiving attendees: go for diversions. 

There are the fail-safes, like a post-feast walk or a group outing to Pixar's latest offering. But there's plenty more to do indoors that can remind you of why you gathered together in the first place. 

Coloring gives you an excuse to be quiet together. Crayola has printable coloring pages for all age levels: a turkey that could keep an adult busy for an hour, a gorgeous pumpkin, and this dove for keeping the peace. If you're indoors all weekend gearing up for the next holiday, check out the dreidel and the Fa La Llama

You can also skip all of that and just get a stack of blank paper, a fresh box of crayons or pencils, and books to help everyone get creative. My pick is the whole series of 642 books, which offer writing, drawing, and painting prompts you can do together. 642 Tiny Things To Write About is a particularly good choice for families with a wide age range. Even the littlest kids can help craft silly sentences, while older visitors may appreciate the inspiration for their social media feeds. 

Or just skip the paper, have the whole family bring over their old crayons, and spend an afternoon making these fabulous melted holiday ornaments

Try something intimidating. A game that looks too hard, a puzzle that looks too big, a film that's not easy to follow: challenging yourselves as a group can help turn the conversation to more difficult topics. 

One way to emerge from the fighting is to remind yourselves how much you love each other. Skip the dutiful round-robin where you all talk about what you're thankful for. Instead, talk about each person at the table and what makes you thankful for him or her. What has each person accomplished that year? The discussion is a visible sign of love. You've been paying attention all year, even if people didn't always notice that you noticed. 

Remind yourselves that you're all good people. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to start December traditions that remind you of the goodness in all of you. Spend some of the Thanksgiving weekend researching charities in your area and spend your fight time debating which charity to support during the holiday season. 

If none of these diversions work, there's always a family outing for a Festivus pole so that you can properly air your grievances in December. 

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