By Maria Shriver, award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author
The holidays are upon us. It’s truly one of my favorite times of the year because it’s when everyone gathers around the table — from close family to brand new friends. This special season is about celebrating, connecting, and creating cherished memories — which is why I’m partnering with Ancestry® to help families across the country do just that. Ancestry and I share a mission of inspiring and igniting meaningful conversations, and fostering common ground. We share this belief that a deeper understanding of yourself, your heritage and your history helps create deeper connections across generations and uncover shared experiences that bind us together.
Although navigating family holiday conversations can seem challenging, when we put our perceived differences aside, we can find things we can all relate to, such as our shared family history.
Unfortunately, not everyone has fond memories and positive experiences at holiday gatherings – some families spend their time tiptoeing around uncomfortable topics. A new survey* commissioned by Ancestry found that nearly three in four (70%) Americans who celebrated a winter holiday with family in the last three years wish their conversations were more meaningful. In fact, some family gatherings are so divisive or uncomfortable, that half (49%) of those polled skipped a family gathering at least once.
Today, both personally and professionally, I strive to ignite more meaningful conversations – whether it’s through my reporting, in my book “I’ve Been Thinking…” or my digital newspaper “The Sunday Paper” which inspires readers to find common ground by joining The Sunday Paper Dinner Club.
So this holiday season, my gift to you is a little advice on how to ensure you’re getting the most out of this festive time of year together:
1. Make it fun! Prepare questions and games that help you connect with one another.
Learning about your heritage can be fun with games centered around a uniting passion point. This holiday season, Ancestry has partnered with the popular conversation game, TABLETOPICS. If you purchase any gift subscription on Ancestry.com starting November 1, you will receive a free Ancestry TABLETOPICS edition (only while supplies last). By providing other questions for families to ask and answer, you will unlock stories about your family you never knew and in turn, build a deeper connection with one another.
2. Find the common ground.
Discovering more about yourself and your family’s unique past can strengthen bonds across generations. Connect with loved ones by building a family tree on Ancestry – it’s incredibly easy to do. You will bond over discovering and sharing family stories while ensuring that the legacy is preserved for generations to come.
3. Pivot from unsolicited advice.
When it comes to how to deal with and avoid negativity or unsolicited advice, I recommend steering the discussion to shared experiences that everyone can relate to. Bridge the conversation to a topic everyone at the table can relate to, such as your family’s past, a shared favorite holiday tradition, or a recent funny family story.
4. Skip the gifts; consider family mementos.
Personal tokens or family keepsakes are such a nice way to honor your loved ones and remember those who couldn’t join you for that holiday gathering. Not only will this experience help you bond with one another, but you will these mementos and your family’s legacy will be preserved for generations to come.
5. Host a cooking/baking night before the gathering.
An easy way for the whole family to come together is by planning a cooking or baking night before the big holiday gathering. It’s a fun experience teaching both adults and children how to recreate those coveted family recipes, plus having extra hands with all the prep work leaves more time for the family to spend quality time together.
6. It all starts with being a good listener.
Listening is such an important part of connecting with others. Here are a few tricks I learned throughout my career. First, stop talking, and give yourself the opportunity to listen. Taking a pause before you speak and being patient can allow the other person to provide additional information that they might have originally held back. Give the speaker cues that you have heard them, to show you are really paying attention and curious about the topic they are discussing. When you approach a conversation with an open mind, and have empathy and compassion, you can find some really amazing stories.
I encourage you to have these meaningful conversations during your family holiday gathering and begin exploring what makes your family story special – you never know what you could discover!