Adopt Don't Ask, Don't Tell to Keep the Peace During the Holidays

Nicole Akers

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Holiday talk is cheap, but it can cost relationships.Nicole Michalou on Pexels

This year you're looking to keep the peace, because, in November of 2020, one poll says: only 2 in 5 Americans opted to gather over the holidays. When making the decision, people asked themselves one question: “We’re going to look back at what happened during this holiday season and ask ourselves, ‘Were we part of the solution or were we part of the problem?’” 

However you answer that question is up to you, but the question continues to be part of the determining factor to whether you decide to gather this year. Some people who missed out on the holiday gatherings in 2020 are ready to embrace them whole-hog.

You’re ready for Grandma’s chicken noodles, Great Grandma’s homemade rolls, mom’s signature dish, or dad’s roasted bird. You want to hug a brother or sister instead of arguing over politics or posture about whose team will win the tournament this year.

Here are some questions you may want to avoid as you gather for the holidays:

Are you vaccinated?

A quick glance at almost any news outlet shows the subject of vaccinations in the headlines and to be the cause of many arguments at town meetings, in the Chamber of Commerce boardrooms, and in schools. Vaccinations can be a divisive issue. If you’re willing to go to gatherings, you likely want to spend time with other people who choose to attend. Asking to see their vaccination card may be off-putting.

But, if you’ve carefully selected people to put on the guest list, you probably already have this answer. You probably know if your kids are vaccinated, even your adult kids if you’ve been paying attention to their social media posts. Great-Grandma may not be likely to post on social, but you’re aware of her COPD and emphysema.

If you’ve been paying attention, you don’t have to ask others what their vaccination status is, and you don’t have to share yours. You can make an educated guess about the status of your potential guests and tailor your list accordingly.

Takeaway: Don’t ask and don’t tell your vaccination status.

Did you vote for the current President?

The NY Times says politics are a hot-button issue and they have divided families. It’s better not to ask who voted for Trump or Biden. Probably best not to ask who you’re voting for in the next election, either. Losing friends is one thing; losing family is another matter.

Takeaway: Agree not to ask or tell about politics, race, and religion so that no one chokes on dad’s perfectly-braised poultry.

Are you sure you want another helping?

Unless you’re speaking to a child, the person dishing an individual plate wants what they’re dishing — on their plate, of course. If your sister gained a noticeable 30 — ahem 15 — pandemic pounds, this isn’t the time to break out your dieting tips. Whether perfectly toned and on the third plate or pleasantly plump and going for more potatoes and bread, leave the food comments unspoken.

Extend the same courtesy to other people’s kids. Leave what others’ kids are eating up to their parents. Perhaps they don’t have a holiday meal. Maybe they get to over-indulge a little over the holidays. None of their diets is your business. If the crop top reveals extra rolls this year, keep the judgments to yourself.

Takeaway: Don’t ask how much weight someone has lost or gained, and don’t tell either.

Is that such a good idea?

Whether life advice, parenting advice, or career advice, keep your advice to yourself. The famous entrepreneur freedom versus an office career might offer heartburn. Are they selling all their possessions to live out of an RV and work from their laptops? Bite your tongue, mom and dad. I can feel indigestion coming on. When the inlaws offer free parenting advice you don’t want to hear on a good day — Try another bite of stuffing to keep from letting the comment out.

Even if you are an entrepreneur, don’t sell at the dinner table. Read that sentence again if you’re selling skills are always set to “on”. Refrain from talking about your latest book, or selling your course, class, essential oils, or anything else at the table. Anyone who cares probably knows, and they can order another supply of your latest release tomorrow.

Try this instead: How about you pop me a text and I’ll make sure you get what you want? If you don’t want to let a sale slip away, you can be a little more forward. I’ll send you a link when I get home. Or may I call you at 9 am on Monday to confirm your order?

Takeaway: Unless you’re truly ready to hear the advice, don’t ask for someone’s opinion and don’t assert your advice into someone else’s life.

How much did that cost?

Uncle Pete’s new lambo cost plenty. You don’t have to ask how much. Your nephew Sam has always been bad with finances, but the rent moratorium is over, and the eviction notice arrived last week. Your cousin will return to boarding school or an ivy league school to finish the school year. You don’t really want to know, how much any of those things cost, do you?

Takeaway: Don’t ask how much things cost, and don’t tell either.

Unless you know where to get a sick deal on the latest MacBook, then do tell.

When is the wedding rescheduled?

Or when are you two going to tie the knot? Or haven’t you found someone on Tinder or eharmony yet when you prefer being single at this stage of life? Being grilled about your relationship status is not enjoyable. Equally as problematic is when are you going to have kids? Unless you see the baby about ready to pop out, don’t ask if she’s pregnant. And try to keep the bun-in-the-oven-side-glances to a minimum.

Takeaway: Don’t ask relationship questions. And don’t tell about relations that could start a fight.

Remember when _______?

Unless you’re sharing nostalgic memories about summer camp, holiday conversations are not the time to renew family feuds, disputes, fights, or scandals. When do I get my inheritance? When do you grow up? Poor Joe lost the kids in the custody battle and this is his first holiday without them. Tip-toe with extreme caution, or better yet, avoid these topics altogether.

Opening up an old can of worms can bring up tears or a whole new incident everyone will remember in the future. No need to create new bad memories. Would you mind putting aside how you get your next dig at someone for a different time? Treasure the time you have together.

Takeaway: Don’t ask about sensitive family matters, and don’t tell someone what they ought to do.

Why didn’t the brussels sprouts turn out?

Don’t ask why the potatoes and gravy are lumpy, how the casserole got burned, why the breading is soggy, or the cranberry jelly is more like cranberry soup.

Cooking a holiday meal is stressful. Perhaps you are a chef or own a restaurant. Good for you, but this meal isn’t from your kitchen, so keep your how-to cook it better next time comments to yourself.

Takeaway: The host didn’t ask your opinion about the meal. Don’t tell how it could have been better. Only offer compliments.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps you’ve never taken a break from holiday gatherings, but many have. Coming back together after a pause is enough in itself to raise your blood pressure. Don’t ask edgy questions, and don’t tell the answers to questions others haven’t asked but may be brewing under the surface. Keep peace this year by avoiding taboo questions:

  • Keep your vaccination status quiet
  • No politics around the table
  • Don’t judge dietary choices
  • Enjoy advice-free conversations
  • Don’t renew disputes

Do create good memories so that Grandpa doesn’t pound his fist on the table to remind someone to take their turn playing Go Fish. With everything you’re not going to bring up over the holidays, you’re probably wondering what you will talk about.

Love. Try love. And gratitude.

Is there anything else you’d like to open for discussion or definitively leave off the menu for holiday conversations? Let me know in the comments.

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Professional freelance writer | Happy Mom of 2 bringing you amazing tips on parenting, travel, & lifestyle with a touch of humor & sarcasm | Dog Mom | Bestselling author.

Austin, TX
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