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From gossipers to the self-righteous, how to deal with wayward relatives at Thanksgiving

Is it possible to navigate the most important meal of the year without offending your tablemates, no matter who they voted for or what team they support?

The holidays are my favorite time of the year, especially Thanksgiving. Christmas is celebrated all around the world; which is awesome, but Thanksgiving is our American holiday. Even petty people gotta be thankful, if only for one day out of the year.

While giving thanks, it is hard to avoid how much is happening right now in our country. There’s so much division and strife. Making a concerted effort not to bring that Internet drama to the dinner table is key. There's so much to talk about during Thanksgiving dinner, but addressing touchy subject matters can turn a family Thanksgiving gathering into an unwanted episode of The Jerry Springer Show.

How do you bring up the election, President-elect Trump, Hillary, Obamacare or heck, even the Cleveland Browns, without offending anyone? Of course not offending anyone shouldn’t be the main objective of Thanksgiving; it should be enjoying family time and a tasty meal, even if the turkey is dry. You can ask each family member as he or she enters not to discuss politics and if they’re Browns fans, agree not to discuss football, but that’s analogous to when a presidential debate moderator asks the audience not to cheer or verbally respond to a candidate: impossible.

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So how do you handle sensitive and passionate family members in the same space over stuffed turkey and baked ham? You do so with proper mental preparation and defense strategies. You have to see these family members and their propaganda coming. Like a great front seven, you gotta anticipate and be ready.

For the politically correct and overzealous liberal family member, everything is permissible. They’re always looking to corner you, your morality and pull out a list of all your past transgressions. If you disagree with them, you’re a judger. If you don’t share their points of view, you’re a racist, a homophobe and/or a communist. Don’t get sucked into defending yourself. That’s what they want. Allow them to spew their propaganda while you eat. They will talk so much that they’ll end up going home hungry, while you sleep with a full belly and leftovers in your fridge.

For the self-righteous family member, their lips only speak condemnation. They’ve come to Thanksgiving dinner not to break bread or give thanks. They’ve come to condemn everyone to hell. If you’re eating ham, you’re going to hell. Please do not argue with these family members. Remind them that this is a time to give thanks and that they can condemn everyone to hell on Black Friday.

For the family member who enjoys gossiping, she’s been waiting all year to bring fresh new gossip to the table. She’s the TMZ of the family and no one’s business is safe. How do you handle someone who’s talking about folks who aren’t present and making other people’s private business public information? You videotape them. If they’re bold and brave enough to talk about others, they shouldn’t mind a videotape of their information. Gossipers don’t like a light shined on their shade. Tell them you need to live-stream to the persons they’re talking about. This should quiet them quickly.

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Dealing with the chronic money borrower during Thanksgiving dinner can be tricky. Every year this time, this family member has a hard-luck story and is hitting up unsuspecting relatives for money. They will borrow but will not pay back. How do you handle this blood-related con artist? Leave your purse or wallet in the trunk of your car. Let him take extra leftovers home. To the vegan family members, tell them to bring their own vegetables. There’s no such thing as a virgin pure lettuce. All lettuces have a past.

The family debaters, you know them. They don’t know much about anything but have a strong opinion about everything. They’re the resident devil’s advocate, as if the devil needs any more helpers. They will take the opposite side of any topic just to argue. They turn every conversation into a Supreme Court debate. How do you handle this family debater? Just say yes to everything he or she says. No, you don’t agree with him, but the food is getting cold, and you just want to eat. Family debaters lose their mojos when there’s no one to argue with them. Unity and agreement are their kryptonite. So show them love. It’s what the pilgrims would do.

At our Thanksgiving dinner table, we keep it small with immediate family and we don’t talk politics. We have random conversations about random things and watch as our dogs put on Academy Award-winning performances for extra pieces of turkey in their bowls. Plus it will be Black Eli’s first Thanksgiving home in more than three years. While at Ohio State, Eli typically spent the holiday in Columbus because Thanksgiving Day usually falls during rivalry week. His first Thanksgiving as a Buckeye, he spent at the home of then Ohio State linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, now with the Houston Texans. The Vrabels took him in and fed him. Every Thanksgiving since, he’d spent with a coach or teammate’s family. We’d always see him the following day after Thanksgiving. Every year, we’d see Black Eli on Black Friday. This year, I will be back in Columbus for THE game. Michigan versus the Ohio State in the Shoe. All the Buckeye Moms Squad will be there, including Dawn Elliott, Candice Lee and Stacy Barrett.

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During this time of year, I’m especially thankful for great people in my life, especially a sisterhood of football moms from Dawn Elliott, Betty Roby to Karen Flacco. I’m also thankful for fake friends that leave and for the real ones that come. You can’t choose your family but thank God for friends that become family. Football has brought me some amazing lifetime friendships and bonds created with other football moms that are unbreakable. 

I’m thankful for new opportunities to annoy some while inspiring others. As long as I stay true to who I am, it’s all a blessing. Writing has always been my favorite way to express myself unapologetically and authentically. Being on television has been great but my dream has always been to write and produce my own sitcoms and films. My late Pastor used to always say, “Your destiny should be discovered not decided.” I’m grateful for new discoveries.  

I’m most thankful for the opportunity to provide a voice for many women and survivors of domestic violence. It wasn’t what I had planned but as parents we teach our kids leadership by modeling leadership, even in the face of adversity.

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I am thankful for Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that remind us of the good in the world, especially this time of year. There’s more good in the world than the media or social media would have us believe. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the opportunity to watch my son go through his NFL process. I always remind him not to get caught up in the finished product but to focus on the process, his process. That’s what he can control and that’s what’s most important, win or lose.

Happy Thanksgiving.