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This question is about what to do when people are talking politics at holiday parties.
Even before the election, we’ve been in social situations where friends have engaged in heated political discussions. Starting off as social banter, it often escalates into anger.
At our upcoming holiday party, we’re hoping the election won’t be the elephant in the room: either nobody will talk politics or the elephant will take over the room. How do we cope with the anger we’re experiencing within our circle of friends, acquaintances and work colleagues?
–Alix, Dover, MA
Dear Alix,Unless you know everyone's political affiliation, talking politics is trouble. You need to handle the tone of your event nonconfrontationally. Listen to the conversations as you circumnavigate the room, hoping that you don't overhear a guest deliberately antagonizing another guest. Is the conversation potentially inflammatory? Is a guest becoming argumentative after a couple of glasses of holiday eggnog? Edge your way into the conversation by asking specific questions that encourage talk about family news.
- Who's applying to college and where?
- Talk about science: what do you think of Cape Wind wind farm (or the Block Island Wind Farm)?
- What are you watching?
- What are you reading?
- What are you listening to?
My concern is how do we talk to our children about our rape culture?
Nothing brings out what’s bothering children faster than a captive, noisy road trip. Our family of six spent over 15 cozy hours driving to and from Maine to spend Thanksgiving with my parents.
The reward, aside from seeing mom and dad, was that cellphones were turned off in the car, forcing us to tune in to, and untangle, the squabbling between our tweens and teens.
My husband and I were so involved with outcomes of elections that we neglected to clear up subjects inadvertently gnawing at our children that were blatantly exposed by the media over the past year. Here are some of the questions that surfaced.
These were the easy ones.
- What is rape?
- What is groping?
- Why does the new president grope women, even those who are already married?
- How come a president can get away with breaking the law?
- If the president kills someone or has someone liquidated, does he get arrested?
- You say we can’t use the word pussy, but the new president uses it, so how bad can the word be?
- We get fined 25 cents every time we use the b, c, or f words. Does the president?
- Do his children get fined the way we do?
Needless to say, we’re looking forward to future road trips.
Dear Anonymous,At least you and your husband are listeners interested in the concerns of your children. Sadly, we live in a rape culture. Rape is not only about sex, it is about power. We reward the objectification of women because it is the route to social status. Whether harassed by catcalls on the sidewalk, targeted unfairly at your workplace, suffering objectification by the media, or being assaulted by the more obvious acts of violence, rape and murder, don't avoid talking about these issues with your older children.
- For example, the world viewed Trump describe trying to seduce a married woman without having a clue as to how she might feel about his assault. As the pussy-grabber-in-chief-elect, Trump thinks it makes him appear more masculine than the man who does not treat women as sexual objects.
- With the teens, regale them with the downfall tale of former prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, who has much in common with Trump. Both are known womanizers. In their early seventies and overly tanned. Real estate tycoons, who didn't pay taxes. And pride themselves on being cleverer than the media, outsmarting journos with every obnoxious quote.
- For instance, in answer to the rape question. Try an empathy-teaching response such as, "You wouldn't seriously force yourself on a girl, or another person, like that, would you?"
- Your husband could say, "I've never felt that it would be nice to force myself on anyone."
My girlfriend complains that I’m always mansplaining. She also complains that her brothers and father mansplain. We left her parents’ home after her family’s Thanksgiving dinner quarreling about mansplaining. Please explain. I think I need help.
Dear KW,Mansplaining is when a patronizing man explains something to a woman in a condescending manner. It is a sign of gender inequality when a man mansplains. Because he's demonstrating that he thinks he is smarter than the girl or woman. Monitor your conversations and keep in mind to never, ever do the following:
- Don't interrupt or finish someone else's sentence. Listen. The person who thinks he is the most powerful is more likely to interrupt the other person by showing off his social power and prowess.
- When someone interrupts another person, the interrupter assumes his intellectual abilities are superior.
- When mansplaining, the man voices the fact that he thinks he is more knowledgeable and intelligent than the woman; when in fact he may be mansplaining because she is the one with more intellectual abilities, and that makes him feel insecure.
- Instead say, "Right" or "Got it."
- When you say, "I know" in response, you may think it means you'e agreeing with what she just said. However, more often than not, your tone probably sounds condescending.
As the parents of triplets we’ve always made a great effort to treat them equally communicating frequently. Not easy. Especially now that they’re in college it is difficult to communicate. There are some things you don’t want to text because you want to be able to give them emotional support in person.
My wife, their mother, was recently diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. We had planned to tell the triplets when they were home over Thanksgiving weekend, on that Friday after the feast. Now one of them cannot come because she has to work, and she lives on the other coast. What would you do? We wanted to tell all three the bad news at the same time but now that is not possible.
–Jason, Seattle, WA
Dear Jason,Start communicating. Quickly shoot off an email addressed to all three. You want to send it immediately so that they have time to call you in advance of their arrival to ask questions. It will give you a little one-on-one time to chat before two of them arrive. Of course, the one who is not able to come home for the holiday will feel the worst because she's not there, so follow up with subsequent updates. Continue the updates addressed to all three. Consider the time zones where the triplets live so that two of them don't receive your update while the other is still asleep.
My boyfriend and I are going to his parents’ for Thanksgiving. I’m pregnant with their grandchild and I’m gluten-free. They appear to like me, but I can feel that they are distraught over our “situation.” We’ve made it clear that we will be getting married eventually. Just not now, as I’m in grad school while becoming a first time mom, and have enough going on without planning and paying for a conventional wedding. We’ve been to their home before for dinner and we explained that I am on a gluten-free diet. And yet his mother insists that it is silly and that I can “splurge” and go off my gluten-free diet when she makes dinner. What do I do?
–Anonymous, Cambridge, MA
Dear Anonymous,Bring a dish to share that is gluten-free. A pumpkin pie with a gluten-free graham cracker crust, or how about a gluten-free deep dish chocolate bourbon pecan pie! Snack ahead of time. Put a protein bar in your handbag. Eat what you can eat of her delicious meal complimenting everything. Don't expect your host to accommodate your diet. Hosts are not required to go out of their way to please a single guest, especially at a busy Thanksgiving dinner.
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My husband doesn’t approve of my daughter-in-law breastfeeding in public, which to him means in front of the family. He doesn’t want her breastfeeding at the Thanksgiving dinner table. My husband is the step-grandfather of the baby. Specifically he says he doesn’t want her breastfeeding at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We love her and the first grandchild, but I have to keep peace in the family. How should I handle this?
–JP, Arden, NY
Dear JP,Nip it in the bud. Tell your son ahead of time that his step-father doesn't want to be seeing breastfeeding at the Thanksgiving dinner table. He needs to bring a nice cover up for the baby when his child is breastfeeding. Explain how his step-father feels. Say it makes him uncomfortable, queasy, because it is not something he is used to seeing. And that, maybe, over time he will come to ignore his apprehension when she feeds her child in front him. But for now, Thanksgiving, she needs to cover the baby while feeding.
- Offer to provide her with a baby guilt or muslin swaddle or muslin blanket (at adenandanais.com) to drape over the baby's head and the mother's breast.
- Otherwise you should tell your son that she should go into another room while the baby is nursing, since it is his step-father's home as well as yours. Even though the nursing mother is the guest.
My question is about Thanksgiving guest etiquette.
What should we know about being perfect guests? My fiancée and I are spending the long Thanksgiving weekend as guests of my aunt and uncle. It is a mini-family reunion with my parents, and brother and sister-in-law, who have a toddler.
–AJ, Middletown, RI
Dear AJ,Thanksgiving Guest Etiquette Never arrive empty handed, and I don't mean that pushing your wheeled garment bag will do. Bring a small hostess gift. Either really good chocolates or bottle of wine, or flowers. If you know they will read it, bring a current best-selling thriller. Be mindful of setting up your technology.
Help out often. Be tidy and always thankful.In a nut shell:
- Be in the present and I not texting your office or dog-sitter every half hour. Be in the here and now.
- Share your travel plans ahead of time. Communicate delays and changes along the way. That means clarifying exactly who you'll be arriving with, how you'll be getting there, and the time of your arrival. Include the time and day of your departure.
- Bring up any special needs ahead of time so your host is not blindsided. Such as asking if you can bring your dog, because your dog sitter isn't available. Or announcing that your child is allergic to tree nuts.
- Special dietary needs can be a bummer for your host, but it doesn't have to be if you can be either silent or flexible about your issues.
- Be helpful, pitch in. Even if it is to take out the garbage. Offer to lay the logs for the fire, open the wine bottles, sweep the dusting of snow off the porch, go out to buy ice or ice-cream.
- Be a self-sustaining guest by not asking for the WiFi info while your hostess is whipping up the pumpkin pie to put in the oven. Ask all your tech questions during a down time, such as where to charge your phone.
- Keep all your possessions in one place, and not strewn out all over the house; that includes your tech gear and puffer jacket.
- Don't charge your phone in the kitchen, but in your room; away from a child's reach.
- When answering texts, emails and phone calls, find a quiet place where you won't be in the way and condense your tech time into small doses.
- Bring your own charger, but don't charge your phone in heavily trafficked areas such as the kitchen, dinning room, front hall, bathroom.
- Share WiFi, don't hog it.
- Never leave the house without asking, "Is there anything I can pick up for you?"
- Volunteer (I can't emphasis this enough.) to walk the dog, play checkers or read to the child, load the dishwasher. Be useful. You're visiting not to be waited on, you're there to participate.
- Before going off to bed the final night of your visit, ask your host what you should do about your towels and bed linens: fold them and leave them at the foot of your bed in the morning or take all used linens to the laundry room? Empty your wastepaper basket.
- When you get home, within two weeks follow up with a thank-you note giving a recap of the highlights of your visit.
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How do we talk to children about the election? There is so much social media saying families will be torn apart when parents are deported and that foreign students fear being sent home to ravaged war-torn underdeveloped countries where young people are trafficked and bartered. Then there are the protest marchers! How do we assuage these fears?
–PG, Alexandria, VA
Dear PG,Never before have our young people been exposed to social media depicting such fowl language, disruptive behavior and hateful rages than in this past election. It is sad that we allow such despicable behavior to go on without consequences. What must other countries think of America? Its embarrassing and unacceptable. Express your feelings. However, your conversation should be age appropriate.
- Talk about the importance of being respectful of other children's opinions and religion. Tell them to take the high road, as Michelle Obama reminds us, and don't name-call or put anther kid down. What if they were the kid being picked on and bullied?
- Assure children that their everyday lives won't be changed by the election and that other elections have had similar outcomes where a huge majority was disappointed by the result. Of course, if their friends or classmates are Muslims or their parents are undocumented, you may have to deal with that down the road in helping your child to understand their friend's circumstances.
- You are your child's role model. If you are distressed over the election, your child will continue to be upset by Trump's presidency until you accept the outcome. Teach your child to be a good sport, not a sore loser. Democracy works when adults vote and the person who gets the most electoral votes wins. You can even remind your child that we get to do the presidential election all over again in four years.
I don’t know if this is a question about etiquette or ethics, but here goes. One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting on my mother’s lap in a rocking chair at my grandmother’s house watching Geraldine Ferraro’s acceptance speech during the 1984 Democratic Convention. My baby sister was asleep beside us, but she had woken me, age 5, to watch “history in the making:” the acceptance speech of the first woman vice presidential candidate.
Mind you, I’m not sure I actually remember watching “history in the making” or if it is the memory of having the story and the outcome of that election repeated to me every four years.
Recently I shared a similar experience with my six-year-old daughter. My husband (who had never voted Democratic before) and I took our two children to vote before dropping them off at school. There was a very long line with plenty of time to explain why we were waiting to vote.
As my parents had done with us, we picked each child up and showed her how to vote. When I was old enough my mother actually guided my little hand to lie on top of hers and we pushed the lever together.
My parents to this day have never asked any of we children if we voted and who we voted for, because it is assumed that every good American votes every two years. Not just in presidential elections. And nobody has to know who you voted for.
How do we teach children the importance of hope? Our children were disappointed that the candidate we had been talking about for the past year and whom “we voted” for, lost. Try explaining to a precocious six-year-old, the difference between Geraldine Ferraro losing the nomination because her husband hadn’t paid taxes and why Trump hasn’t disclosed his tax returns.
–Bitter in Brooklyn
Dear Bitter in Brooklyn,There is a need for better etiquette in politics. Sixty-four years after women won the right to vote, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman nominated for national office by a major party. You heard her tell you that "If we can do this, we can do anything." From then on, anything must have seemed possible for you. Even though President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush won by a landslide, Ms. Ferraro gave you heart. It took another 23 years for a woman to be nominated again. In 2008, Sarah Palin ascended the same year Hillary Clinton first ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, and this month came very close to becoming the first woman president. Your daughter may well, some day, vote in a woman president, and so may you. Let's not forget that US House Representative Geraldine Ferraro's husband was forced to release his tax returns, and after the election the House Ethics Committee determined that the disclosures had been inadequate. Let's hope that all honorable politicians will come clean with their tax returns.
What is the most polite way to deal with nonromantic kissing? One kiss on the lips transfers 80 billion bacteria. How do I avoid the traditional kiss in order to live long enough to get through the holiday crunch?
Dear AJ,Be enterprising and offer your cheek. You'll be dodging lips. It leaves the greeter with the choice of "soft kissing" as they touch their cheek to yours (without lips touching skin), or they simply post a kiss on your cheek. The point is to avoid the "smack on the lips" and the "locking of the lips" by offering a detour.
- A nonromantic kiss is used to seal a friendship.
- For no contact use an air kiss, pucker and blow.
- Europeans kiss on both cheeks, with a third on the forehead of a child.
My question is about handshake etiquette.
Due to a mild nerve injury in my right hand I cannot bare to shake hands. In my line of work, manners are important in terms of first impressions. Not only for me but as a representative of my company I have to be polite when greeting clients and coworkers. Is there a way I can get around NOT shaking hands?
Dear ED,Traditionally, hand shaking (one of the oldest forms of etiquette) was a sign of trust. Offering an empty had to shake signaled that you weren't carrying a weapon. Today, the purpose of the handshake is to signal that you are genuinely pleased to meet the person or to see them again. U.K research shows that a strong, firm handshake that projects extroversion and emotional expressiveness may well affect the chance of clinching the deal or being hired for the job. On the dark side, one or the other, or both persons, could be hypocrites. It is difficult to refrain from shaking hands. We don't think about how we're putting others, or ourselves, at risk. Most of us don't wash our hands with soap for longer than ten seconds. Moreover, the awkwardness of refusing to shake hands even for a legitimate reason, overpowers our concern that shaking hands is a hazard we are taught to tolerate. If you absolutely must avoid shaking hands, choose a hand-shake-free greeting. Say, that you have "a touch of a cough." Or simply, "I don't shake hands, it is nothing personal." Alternatively, offer a good smile while giving a slight wave of your hand. Try the queen's wave where you raise an open welcoming palm with the tips of your fingers pointed toward the ceiling and wave from left to right until you've got the attention of the person you're greeting. It is called the "windshield wiper wave." You can also give a slight bow. There's always a kiss.
Tell me how to respond to colorism when another parent on the playground or at my child’s school chats me up to find out if I am my son’s babysitter. My son is blonde with grey-green eyes and white skin. My skin and eyes are dark chocolate and my hair is as black as coal. When I answer that my son is my son, they inevitably ask if he is adopted.
–JC, Brooklyn, NY
Dear JC,Color me surprised because one assumes that in 2016 a mature person would know better than to be nosy about another person's coloring, called colorism. There are questions that simply aren't asked. Once the parent has truly friended you, you can bring up the differences in your coloring. Chances are, these parents are not going to want to engage in a tough conversation about tough issues. Clearly state that, "Timothy is my biological son," and leave it at that. According to spellcheck the word colorism doesn't officially exist. Despite the fact that the Pulitzer Prize winning author and activist Alice Walker coined the word in her 1983 book, IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHER'S GARDEN, to mean "prejudicial preferential treatment of same-race based solely on color." Think of colorism as a stepchild of racism.
Over drinks a colleague badgered me into making a wager I knew he could not win. After the election who brings up the wager? The person who made it and lost it or the person who was goaded into betting? He insisted that we shake hands on the bet.
Dear TC,Obviously a gentleman would follow through on his promise to pay up if he didn't win the bet. Give him a week or two before asking him jovially, "When are you going to make good on your bet?" If he says "what bet?" let it go.
My question is about relationships. I’m crushed that one of my oldest and best friends defriended me on FB. I think I know why. If I’m sick of seeing her Trump ads, she must be equally annoyed by my pro Hillary posts. We never discuss politics when we’re together hanging out after classes, but I’m hurt that she’s unfriended me. How do I get my friend back?
Dear CS,Wait a week or two after the election results have come in before trying to friend her on FB. By then she may welcome seeing posts of the friends she defriended. Once the election is over, try not to gloat over your win on social media so that all of your relationships will be less likely to carry a grudge.
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