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Saving Yourself From Thanksgiving T.M.I.


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, a couple of days until Thanksgiving means just a short wait for pie. But instead of slicing it up this year, have you thought about putting it on a stick? Let us be the first to introduce you to pie pops. That's later. But first, you may get your fill of more than just dessert this holiday season. You might also be treated to a heaping helping of family news.

And that might mean you may get too much information about a new baby's elimination habits, say, or a cousin's latest piercing or your siblings intimate lives. So today, we decided to spend our parenting conversation talking about putting the brakes on Thanksgiving TMI. That stands for too much information. Now we asked for your feedback on Facebook and Twitter. And what do you know, you wanted to share. So we've called on two of our trusted etiquette guides to help us sort out some of these sticky situations. Philip Galanes writes the Social Q's columns for the New York Times. And Harriete Cole writes the nationally syndicated advice column Sense and Sensitivity. Welcome back to you both. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

HARRIETTE COLE: Great to be here.


MARTIN: So, Harriette, why do you think Thanksgiving lends itself to oversharing and family drama, which it seems to?

COLE: You know, the family comes together often once a year - or this would be the first time, sometimes again at Christmas - and people like to say things face-to-face. I'm going to be with my family, or I'm holding onto X or Y, you know, yummy piece of information. What they don't realize is that the group is still a crowd. And I believe it's way better to call on one person or another to do this sharing one-on-one - at least develop some allies. Take the temperature of the family to see if this is something that you should discuss in the group because when it is a group, even though it's your family, it can feel like it's public. And that's when people bristle. They become defensive. You know, the, who do you think you are, comes up...


COLE: ...In lots of different ways.

GALANES: I mean, moreover...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Philip.

GALANES: Moreover, these are not just a crowd. This is a crowd of people who are uniquely talented at pushing your buttons and whose buttons you can push in about five seconds flat. And so - yeah. One-on-one is so much preferable.

MARTIN: In fact, Philip, you were telling us that you actually once planned a big announcement...

GALANES: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: ...On a family holiday, but you decided against it. Do you mind sharing now?

GALANES: I would love to share it now because it is decades in the past. When I was a college student, I got a coveted job working the graduation of the class before me. And I was planning to tell my family - I was planning to come out to my family at a big family wedding that was going to be happening in about two weeks' time. And just coincidentally - and I had a whole speech. It was, like, written on little 3-by-5 cards. It was beautiful.

And I - just by chance, Dick Cavett was getting some kind of alumnus honor. And he said, the secret to being a good interviewer and the secret to being a good communicator is remembering that you are not speaking to my fellow Americans or to my listening audience. You are speaking to one person at a time. And if you can do that in the important - at the important times of your life, people will hear you better and they'll care more and they'll listen with more compassion. And so, I mean, it was just being at the right place at the right time. And boy, I took his advice and I'm glad I did because think about it, Michel, who likes to be thought of as part of a crowd? I don't.

MARTIN: Or the audience. Yes. The audience.

GALANES: I like to be a person, yeah.

MARTIN: So let's talk about some advice from listeners taking advantage of the opportunity to hear from you. Here's Jennifer (ph) from Seattle. And she wrote in about her Thanksgiving TMI. Here it is.

JENNIFER: One thing my husband and I are trying to avoid discussing this year is that we are both atheists, and we both come from very fundamentalist Christian families. We love our families. And we just want to avoid causing them any distress surrounding the difference in our beliefs. As far as our families know, we are still Christian.

MARTIN: Philip, why don't you take this one 'cause I think you've had this one in your column as well. What should she do?

GALANES: Well, I'm a very big advocate of protecting yourself and your right to privacy in certain matters. And so, if this is going to become - if saying something about atheism is just going to incite a lot of anger, and this woman - or the listener who recorded the announcement - thinks that it's not going to make much - she's not going to make an impact on the other folks and the other folks aren't going to make much of an impact on her, I think she's doing a really wise thing to protect herself and her husband and her family from a lot of needless agony.

MARTIN: What if you feel like you're being baited? You know, a lot of people have that experience. There's always, like...


MARTIN: ...Uncle Tim who's going to bait you?

GALANES: ...By your family?

MARTIN: Yeah. I know, right?

GALANES: Never. That never happens.

MARTIN: And it's like, you know, it's like the whole, like, when are you going to have kids? When are you going to lose that 10 pounds? That business. Any advice on sort of deflecting, but so that you feel like you still have your integrity, right, but you don't get drawn into drama?


COLE: I would say that you have to remember that you're an adult when you go home for the holidays. And we often revert back to our childhood thin skin and belief that all these people can push our buttons. If you remember that you're an adult, that you know who you are, what you think, what you believe, it becomes easier for you to take a deep breath and not be baited. You can actually stand up and walk away when you feel that they're saying something that is just inappropriate.

And I'm glad you mentioned it. Like, if you gained 10 pounds, if you change your hair cut - you know, there's something that people - you've come back different from how they know you. And if they say something rude, you can actually say, well, thank you very much. And they'll realize, oops, I made a mistake. If they don't, you can walk away. To get into an argument when you know you're going to be there for a limited period of time and you can leave and go back to your life, I actually think you can be the bigger person by just not going for it.

MARTIN: If you're just joining...

GALANES: Well, let me give you....

MARTIN: Hold on. Philip, let me jump in and say...


MARTIN: ...If you're just joining us, we're tackling your sticky holiday family situations. We're speaking with etiquette experts Harriette Cole - that's who was speaking just now - and Philip Galanes. Philip, let me move on to another listener.


MARTIN: Mary Bragg (ph) of New York City. She and her husband are going to break the news that they are moving to Nashville closer to family. And she wanted to run by it, how she plans to do it. Here it is.

MARY BRAGG: As part of the blessing, there's a time when you can introduce your new boyfriend, your new fiance, your new husband, your new baby. I definitely come from a family of proper Southern etiquette. And it's probably not in keeping with the etiquette standards that we're going to share this news over FaceTime. We're going to try and make it as personal as possible.

MARTIN: Well, Philip, you know, along those same lines, though, we've heard from a lot of people who say they want to share that they're pregnant or that they've eloped, you know, or, like this family, they're having a big move. Do you have some general guidelines of how is the best way to do that?

GALANES: Well, I don't want to silence anyone. I don't think Harriette or I want people to sit there and talk about - talking about the weather for a few hours. But I think it's a good idea to - I mean, I think it's a good idea to gauge - I mean, if I went home and told my family that I was expecting a child, I know that that would be considered great news. If I were 16 and coming home from 10th grade, I don't think it would be such good news. And if I - I didn't quite follow what the problem was about saying you're moving closer to your family other than that she wanted to say it during a blessing?

COLE: On FaceTime. So it's not in person.

GALANES: Oh, it's not in person.

COLE: They're using technology.

GALANES: But, I mean, moving closer to your family - I mean, in most families - I think would be regarded a good thing. So I don't see any problem with that. So a lot of it is about judgment. But you had another example, Michel, that I thought, ooh, I wouldn't do that.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Let's hear it. Yeah, well, it's the whole question of sharing that they're pregnant or that they've eloped, for example.

GALANES: Yeah. Eloped.

MARTIN: I think, as your point is that - yeah, elope is tricky, right, because generally...


MARTIN: ...You've made a decision not to include other people.

COLE: Well, pregnant is tricky, too.

MARTIN: People might have feelings about that.

COLE: I think part of it, again, is who do you tell first because even though it's your family, if they feel like you're addressing the group and you haven't followed the family hierarchy and told the family matriarch, or if you have a sibling who's always the one who's your confidant...


COLE: ...If you don't do those things in advance, you run the risk of people feeling alienated, and, like, you made it a group e-mail, a group FaceTime...


COLE: ...As opposed to being personal and sensitive to them.

GALANES: Well, and things like pregnancy are really loaded, I mean, especially if there are a couple of other couples at the table who've been trying...

COLE: Right.

GALANES: ...Unsuccessfully for years. You've really got to think of - you've really got to get bigger than yourself and smaller than yourself. And bigger because you've got to remember that there is a whole - there are a whole table of individuals who have life experiences and all kinds of things that - and think about how the news just in a big, blurted out announcement is going to hit people. And then smaller, too, because it is - it's important to remember that we want to stay close to these people. And so sharing part of the important parts of our lives is really important. So it's a tight rope.

MARTIN: Yeah, Harriette, I think you raised the - at the beginning of our conversation - the idea of speaking to a few people...

COLE: Yes.

MARTIN: ...You used the word ally, in advance. Could you talk a little bit more about that idea?

COLE: Well, especially if it's something that's sensitive. I think it's good - there's the hierarchy. Who do you talk to because the people will feel respected. But also, if it's a piece of sensitive information and you speak to someone who will basically have your back, who will be an ally when you go into that room and you share, you know, we're moving far away, you could be getting divorced. You know, any kind of a tough, sensitive topic - your teenager's having a baby.

You know, those kinds of things. If you have an ally and you have support in talking it through, especially if you know that there are family members who can be volatile, who are reactionary and it could turn into an argument where people are being very judgmental, it's good to not be alone as you're presenting the information.

MARTIN: Philip, what if you don't have such an ally. I mean, unfortunately, there are people who are very alone in their own families. How do you - and yet, they want to stay connected, which is why they make the effort to, you know, show up for family events? What do you recommend?

GALANES: And I think...

MARTIN: Put your armor on?

GALANES: I think that those are - those people are best served by also going one-on-one. Putting your arm around someone who you feel close to and trying to engage them in, you know, what's going on in their life. And they, generally - and then I find there's nothing better than asking a question to get somebody to ask you a question in return. And when you get a question you don't like, when you get a question about, you know, how come you're not married? How come you're not having kids? Boy, you look a lot chubbier than last year. I think a lot of people say things to their family without a filter. And so rather than responding, rather than just going off like a firecracker, try, why do you ask?

MARTIN: Yeah, I hear you.

GALANES: And it gives people a chance to hear their question maybe through your ears and realize that they've just pulled a boneheaded move.

MARTIN: All right. Well, thank you for your good advice. Thank you both. I think we're all going to take a lot of deep breaths.

COLE: That's it.

GALANES: Go for it.

MARTIN: Philip Galanes writes the Social Q's column for the New York Times. Harriette Cole writes the nationally syndicated advice column Sense and Sensitivity. Both were kind enough to join us from NPR's bureau in New York. Thank you both so much. Happy Thanksgiving to you both.

COLE: Happy Thanksgiving.

GALANES: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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