Wednesday, November 20, 2013

10 Ways To Deal With Family At Thanksgiving

Family + Thanksgiving = Stress
Thanksgiving is almost upon us and while I LOVE expressions of gratitude and the all-inclusiveness of the day (it's one of the few major holidays not segregated by religion), my stomach juices are already churning at the prospect of entertaining extended family.

Hubby and I have a very small family, so for us, it just means having our mothers over, but it's still stressful. 

I do not get along with one of those women, yet I know I am not alone when it comes to having to deal with a difficult family member at holiday time. So here are some tips that I've culled that I will (teeth gritted, WILL) try on Thanksgiving Day:

  • Isolate your issues with the other person so you can deal with them. While my issues are numerous, one of the things that bugs me is the fact that I wind up being the sole waitress while at least one of the ladies makes demands (no, they are not requests). So this year, we're putting each family member in charge of serving one of the dishes. Hubby will be Master Turkey, in charge of carving and doling out the bird. The 8-year old will be Salad Girl, ready with tongs at any given moment. Junior is Captain Carbs, serving up sweet potatoes and stuffing. And I will be Madam Side Dish, transporting bowls of hot veggies to the table. I'll update this post later to let you know if this did, indeed, lower my stress level.

  •  “Grieve for the family we wish we had but do not.” This tip comes courtesy of the website for Psychology Today  and appears in an article entitled “The Thanksgiving Challenge.” At first I thought the suggestion was a bit of psychological mumbo jumbo, but the piece points out that at this time of the year, families feel pressured to “embody a Norman Rockwell sense of togetherness and gratitude” that may not exist. Thanks, Norm. What I've come to realize is that most families fall far short of this idolized image of family, so perhaps, like perfect bodies, it's another media concept that has little basis in reality. Unfortunately, we all feel pressured to live up to this unrealistic image. Knowing I'm not experiencing something alone helps.

  • Let your guests in on the agenda. People don't always like surprises. We'll be letting the grandmas know what time we're picking them up, what time dinner will be served, and what time they'll be home. This should make it easier for them to plan their before-visit and after-visit time accordingly.

  • Keep the conversation neutral. This is not the time to bring up major issues or complaints you may have with the other person (save that for Festivus). 

Holding your tongue can be challenging with family on Thanksgiving.

  • Figure out what you're going to say if someone does raise an issue. My kids know to deflect unasked for criticism by saying, “feel free to discuss that with my parents.” Saying, “I'm not going to discuss this now – let's talk about it later” is a perfectly valid adult response.

  • Give yourself an unannounced time-out. Retreating to the kitchen to catch a few breaths before you blow up or smack someone with a 2'x4' is reasonable.

  • Understand that it is not your responsibility to live up to other people's expectations. I can't stress this enough.  Those are their issues, not yours. Don't let them put the blame on you. Just say, “I'm sorry you feel that way” and move on.

  • Come up with some conversation starters. Ask questions like “what's your happiest memory,” “if you could change places with a celebrity, who would it be and why,” and “if you won the lottery, what would you do with the money.” This starts your company talking and helps avoid uncomfortable silences. Be aware that some people are just uneasy in a group. Someone who is used to dining alone may not have the social skills they once had.

Coming up with conversation starters can ease the tension at Thanksgiving

  • Be prepared with post-dinner activities. Thanks to the website, I found this free, printable Thanksgiving Bingo Game we'll be playing with the Nanas.

  • Plan a reward for yourself after they leave. Whether it's playing a game with your little one, indulging in Pinterst or giving yourself permission to look at silly cats on the Internet, have something to look forward to.

Need more guidance on how to get through Thanksgiving? Visit
for some great articles on surviving this holiday.

Please come back, before Thanksgiving, and visit me, won't you?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Linda,

    Thank you for these tips on dealing with family! What really helps me is accepting my family for who they are, and not wishing they were different. I think this is part of the "grieve for the family we wish we had" tip -- and it can really help us adopt the right mindset before getting into the holiday season.

    All good things,


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