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Yesterday I talked about deciding how to approach Thanksgiving when you’re going to have to be there with people who voted for Trump. If you have kids, your decision is going to involve your kids, so it’s important to talk about how to talk about your decision to them.
Here’s my agenda: To encourage you to build in to your kids the gut instinct to protect their own boundaries so that when they get hurt they can heal and not stay in a bad position with people who are harming them, and give them the perspective to understand that others hurting them isn’t their fault. You can’t protect them from ever being hurt, but you can give them the bone-deep knowledge that they’re worth listening to and that their health and safety matters, and that they need to defend and help others, too. It would be nice if they got good at seeing through harmful institutions at a young age so they could get a running start on dismantling them.
To that end, I think you have to first think about what your decision about Thanksgiving is actually going to mean to your kids. Especially if they’re really little, they might not even notice or care. If that’s the case, then just do whatever makes the most sense, and keep being good to your children.
If your kids are old enough to understand this in a nuanced way (from maybe 11 or 12 on up for neurotypical kids), then tell them the truth and what you need from them in the situation. “We’re not going to Uncle Jimmy’s for Thanksgiving because I know he’s going to gloat about Trump winning and it’s going to make me feel horrible. That means you’re not going to get to see your cousins. I’m sorry about that, and I’m going to see if we can schedule a time for you to see each other without the adults having to be involved.” “I want to spend Thanksgiving with your grandmother and have it be a pleasant day for her, so if anyone mentions that guy or voting for him or anything, switch the conversation immediately to the football game on Saturday and who they think is going to win.” “Can we bring your ukelele along on Thursday and have you play before dinner so no one gets a chance to start anything about Trump?” “If your aunt and I get into it, we need to be prepared to leave, so don’t spread out too much while we’re there.”
Whatever you decide, when you tell your older kids what to expect and that they can play a part in it, you’re giving them a model of self-protection in spite of risk and accurately assessing risk.
(Also, I wouldn’t let your kids be the deciders here, but if they have been following this story a lot and have already expressed anger or dismay at family members having fallen for Trump, you might want to let them be part of the process of working through how to manage Thanksgiving.)
If your kids are old enough to know and understand what’s going on at Thanksgiving but not old enough to be straight with the way you are with teenagers, you have to figure out how to tell them the truth in a way that doesn’t put them at risk for being manipulated by the people you’re trying to navigate. You don’t want them to end up in a situation in which they are being lectured by someone else about what they should feel, or in which the other person is badmouthing you or your feelings to them, or in which they have to listen to all kinds of contortions of logic. And you don’t want them walking in and announcing, “Mom says I should stay away from Cousin Barb because she voted for Donald Trump” even if it’s true, because you don’t want to put them in that position.
So it makes sense to tell an edited version of the truth, in which you set expectations for the day, including expectations of a shorter visit or no visit. If you’re going, you can’t really tell them to stay away from anyone, because a) it’ll ruin the day for them, and b) they won’t be able to not mention it. So if you’re going, go. And then stay close to them to make sure no conversations are starting that you don’t want them to be part of or worry about.
If you have any allies at the place you’ll be, talk to them ahead of time about not wanting your kids to have to be subject to confrontations or manipulation, and ask if they’ll help you keep an eye on the kids so nothing happens.
Keep in mind the goal to protect your kids from worrying, but keep them in the loop on differences of opinion and standing up for what’s right.
If you’re spending Thanksgiving with other non-Trump voters, be sure to explain that and what it means to you to your kids before you go. And let them help with whatever your project is, such as letter-writing at dessert and/or other service projects.
You can make it through this week!
All my love,