How to survive your family dinners this year

or some of us, a family dinner is a time for fellowship. Spending time with loved ones can be therapeutic – perhaps a much-needed respite from the daily grind or the affirmation that you’ll always have a tight-knit unit behind you.

And then there are the rest of us who are secretly dreading taking our seat at the table this year. You see, it’s almost 2017 and we still have old-school issues to deal with. Whether it’s questions you’re not prepared to answer (or been asked 100 times already), the anxiety of a new significant other or the fear of burning bridges with a loved one, sometimes we’re not as progressive as we think.

But fear not: With a little guidance, you can navigate these tricky situations and conversations with some preparedness. Consider this advice your glass of wine to help you loosen up.

When you have to say yes to the greens but not the neck bones

Whether you’re a vegetarian, on a gluten-free diet or have food allergies, a new diet can put a damper on holiday meals. As a vegetarian whose Alabama-bred grandmother could put a ham hock in almost any dish, I know the awkwardness firsthand of having a nearly empty plate at a family dinner.

Etiquette expert Jacqueline Baker of Scarlet Communications in Detroit says that when you’re invited to a holiday dinner but you have dietary restrictions, the best move is to plan ahead.


“It’s a little tricky because you don’t want to sound pompous,” Baker says. “Somebody has invited you to pretty much a free meal, and then you’re turning around and dictating what you can and can’t eat.”

Start by asking the host if there’s anything they want you to bring.

“At that time I would mention, ‘You know, I have a food intolerance to this’ or ‘I have a diet that I’m on right now that’s restricting my eating. I’d be happy to bring a dish to share that suits some of my dietary restrictions,’” says Baker. “That’s one way to handle it so it comes off tactfully.”

But let’s say you didn’t discuss your diet with the dinner host beforehand. You’re already at their house and you’re about to make a plate but then you realize there’s hardly anything to eat that fits your diet.

“First thing, I wouldn’t make a huge deal out of it,” Baker says. “I would search to see if there’s anything – anything – that I can eat. I wouldn’t even bring it up to the host, because I think at that time it causes embarrassment; you’re kind of calling the host out, and then the hostess is going to get up and immediately try to make you something. And that’s awkward, too.”

– Alana Walker

When your mother keeps asking you when you’re going to put some beans in that oven

You don’t have to see the future to know that the holiday season will leave you fielding awkward questions left and right. Why is your grandma so invested in your weight fluctuations? When will your aunt quit badgering you for updates on your marriage prospects? We don’t claim to have all the answers, but Dr. Marilyn Franklin, a licensed psychologist and clinical professor at Wayne State University, has some advice.

Franklin says when relatives ask invasive questions, it can activate a fight-or-flight response in people who are touchy about certain topics. The best way to cope is to be prepared for it, she says.

“If you know you’re already sensitive to a certain topic and you know your family is likely to ask you those things, I would come up with a response before I even walk into the house,” Franklin says. “Come up with something you feel comfortable saying, whether it’s ‘I don’t feel comfortable talking about this right now,’ or ‘We can talk about that later.’”

Franklin also recommends setting boundaries, creating an exit strategy and finding social support within your family. However, she warned that these are all short-term solutions. For situations having a larger impact on your life, she recommends seeking professional help.

– Amanda Rahn

When it’s finally time to graduate to the grown-up table

So, you’re ready to be a grown-up? You feel it’s your time to experience the wine sipping, political talk, card games and whatever else happens at the exclusive club also known as the adult table? Be warned: It’s not going to be easy. I’ve been there.

You’ve spent the previous years surrounded by your cousins at your designated destination: the kiddie table, better known as the home of plastic table covers, spilled drinks and loud, animated conversations. This holiday season, you’re anticipating leaving the plastic silverware behind and upgrading to the real deal.

But while preparing for the adult table, a few questions might arise. Will the older adults take you seriously? What if you have nothing to contribute to the conversation? How often do you interject your opinion into discussion?

The answer is confidence and education.

Do some research if you are unsure about current events, and be prepared to give an opinion on hot topics. Don’t be afraid of sharing those thoughts, viewpoints and feelings on things that are shaping the world we live in. Bring up topics that the elders in your family could be unaware of. Offer to help cook a portion of the meal. Bring a dessert. And don’t skip out on the cleanup afterwards.

Remember, it’s the holidays. Love, food and laughter fill the atmosphere. Pull up a seat to the table, sip that wine, play in those card games and share your understanding on news events. You’re an adult, so act like it.

– Jasmine Graham

When you’re trying to explain that Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag

Sure, your auntie may turn into the Wendy Williams of the table and want to discuss Kim Kardashian’s Parisian holdup and the box-office numbers for The Birth of a Nation, but that doesn’t mean more serious issues can’t be brought to the table.

That said, if you’re passionate about the movement, be prepared to discuss the Black Lives Matter and other modern civil-rights activism to the whole family – and be forewarned that just because your aunts and uncles may have grown up in their own era of fighting for civil rights, it doesn’t mean they’ll fully embrace your causes.

Sometimes our beloved older generation tends to believe those standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter are problematic and somehow lazy. But that shouldn’t stop you from educating them. Here’s how.

  • Know your history. My father used to tell me the best weapon against ignorance is knowledge. When discussing issues concerning police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, arm yourself with information, examples and historical records to back up your stance. You may not be able to convince them to change their perspective, but at least you can drop some historical gems and plant a seed for change.
  • Make your stance relatable. You may have a cousin flying in for the holidays that has no clue what it means to be black in America even though they’re “black in America,” if you get what I mean. They live in a bubble of privilege, and they probably think BLM is problematic.  If you’re going to come across this person, try understanding their perspective and create a scenario they can relate to – something they could experience in their everyday lives that reminds them that they are a black person in America, and subject to the kind of racism BLM is trying to eradicate. Because, unfortunately, we live in a world where if an issue is not directly affecting someone, they just won’t care. It’s your challenge to make them.
  • Respect others’ opinions. Understand everyone is entitled to their opinion and will not always agree with your views. But don’t be condescending toward their stubbornness; it is difficult to win a debate or persuade someone by belittling their thoughts and opinions. People tend to shut down and tune you out when you begin mocking or aggressively attacking their beliefs. Acknowledge what they’ve said respectfully, even if it is outlandish. And remember, they’re still family.

– Jasmine Espy

When you meet Becky with the good hair in real life

2016 was a year when we discussed Nate Parker’s wife, O.J Simpson (again), the trailer for Get Out and the film Loving, so I know for a fact that things got awkward when one of your cousins brought a white girl to your cookout this summer. So I asked Leslie J. Griffin, a Detroit-based certified life and relationship coach, about what interracial couples could do when it’s time to make the big reveal to the family.

“Interracial couples and the stigma often attached to them is nothing new,” she says. “A healthy approach for the couple will be to have a face-to-face discussion and identify the best route to announce their love for one another. Come to an agreement and proceed.

“At this juncture, it’s important to be confident,” she adds. Confidence will be necessary like breathing. As family dynamics differ from culture to culture – and are shaped by experiences past, present and future – one cannot predict the outcome or reactions.

So let’s say you’re not black, but you find yourself eating at a table full of black folks for the first time. Now’s not the time for generalizations or stereotypes, Griffin cautions. “Do stay away from racially charged or racially divisive statements and conversations like ‘We don’t do this, we do this,’ ‘You all never,’ ‘You people’ or ‘You all have.’”

Same thing in the reverse situation, if you’re the black answer to “guess who’s coming to dinner.”

“Now is not the time to recite your Public Enemy dissertation at Thanksgiving dinner,” Griffin says. “It’s not time to ‘Fight the Power.’ Understand you’re not there to prove you are different or to prove your ethnicity. It’s evident. You’re there to meet new people, so let that be the focus.”

Above all, both parties in the relationship should be looking out for each other. “As any couple desires the blessing of family, they must not allow discord to ensue if they do not have it. Protect each other,” Griffin says.

 – Aaron Foley


Jasmine Espy is a BLAC Detroit intern.
Aaron Foley is editor of BLAC Detroit.
Jasmine Graham is a BLAC Detroit intern.
Amanda Rahn is a BLAC Detroit intern.
Alana Walker is associate editor of BLAC Detroit.

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