Minimizing Family Drama at Thanksgiving
Tips for Enjoying Thanksgiving Without Drama
Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday! It’s the one time of the year when my entire family, who are now spread out all over the country, come to visit for a long weekend.
I didn’t always look forward it. For many years, I started stressing a good month ahead… and by the time it arrived, I was a mess.
Then about seven years ago I met with a psychologist friend and discussed how I could handle things differently so it would became a time of joy for everyone. What she helped me realize has made all the difference in the world.
It all starts with well-defined expectations… yours and your guests. That way, everyone knows what the agenda will be, what time dinner will be served and what time they can expect to start home, particularly since it’s quite a hike for some family members.
Over the years, we’ve refined some details — ones that can ruin the day if not taken into account. For example, years ago, my nephew brought his girlfriend and her brother with him to dinner… but forgot to tell me. He wasn’t being rude, he just didn’t think about it.
It’s not that they weren’t welcome — everyone is — but it would have been nice to know so I wasn’t surprised. As a result of that, I now ask everyone to RSVP along with the number of people they’re bringing so I know how many to prepare for.
Another thing I now ask people to do, again as a result of an experience a few years ago, is to ask before they bring their dog(s). I love dogs, and they’re perfectly welcome to come, as long as they’re housebroken, get along with other dogs and young children, and will be happy playing outside in the fenced in yard.
Sharing the Load
I love to cook… just not for an army and all day long, which is what Thanksgiving had turned into. Somehow, over time Thanksgiving turned from everyone coming over for dinner to everyone coming over starting at 11AM before the first football game started and staying until midnight or so. I love my family, but that’s a really long day to be entertaining and feeding everyone!
I didn’t want to tell them not to come, so I learned to do the biggie… ask for help!
Once I know how many are coming and approximately when they’ll be coming, I sit down and create a menu encompassing brunch, mid-afternoon snacks, appetizers, dinner and dessert. Then I ask each person to bring a dish.
This has served to relieve me of a lot of the stress I was feeling, and, since I started doing this, I now get to spend a lot of time with the family instead of being in the kitchen from dawn ’til who knows when and having everyone go in there to visit with me.
Avoiding Awkward Conversations…
Now that food’s been handled, the next stressor I had to learn how to handle was conversation. Believe it or not, even though I’ve known these people all of their lives… I’m never quite sure what will come out of their mouths!
As Linus from Charlie Brown said, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people — religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” He’s absolutely correct about the first two… the third I can’t vouch for!
When you have a family comprised of 14 Type A personalities and not everyone has the same political affiliation, sparks will inevitably fly. It’s a topic we generally try to avoid, though not always successfully — particularly in Presidential election years!
Talking about religion, on the other hand, has become less contentious than talking politics. I actually enjoy talking about religion… and I learn things I didn’t know. My daughters are married to people of other faiths, so discussions about traditions, beliefs, etc. is fascinating to me, comparing and contrasting.
… And Handling Them When They Happen
I remember one Thanksgiving many, many years ago when one of my nieces had just gotten engaged. We wanted to welcome her soon to be “new family” into ours so I invited her in-laws to join us.
During the course of the evening, her mother-in-law to be said: “I never thought Sam would end up marrying anyone like you… he always dated such pretty girls!” At which point I choked on what I was eating and I thought my sister was going to clock her.
My niece is gorgeous; she was a model. I did the only thing I could think of — I started laughing, which helped diffuse the tension. They got married, are still happily married, and we learned that that was the beginning of an entire vocabulary of “Ruth-isms.” This woman had absolutely no filter between her brain and her mouth.
Long story short, that taught me not to get involved in the middle of in-law disputes. Had I said what was on my mind, I may today not have six of the most adorable great nieces and nephews in the world!
Coping With Your Difficult Family Members
At sometime during the day, one or more of the following infamous personality types crops up — trust me, every family has at least one! Instead of letting them ruin the day, I’ve learned to deal with them and diffuse the situation.
This is the person who wants to dominate the conversation with the latest and worst thing that’s happened to them. Squelch this one (unless you’re ready for a multi-hour downer) by saying you understand completely and you know what they’re going through and want to hear all about it when you have the time to give your complete and undivided attention.
This is the person who asks the kids if they have a boyfriend yet, or if they’re married, or if they’re pregnant. Help out the embarrassed recipient of these remarks by politely asking the offender why she’s asking… that usually stops them in their tracks.
The Family Bully
This is the one who says things “jokingly” that are really meant to hurt. I remember when my sister and I were younger, one of our uncles would invariably say, “How come your sister got the beauty and you got the brains?”
It always made me want to cry, I never felt good enough. I do now. If he were around today I’d retort with, “It’s a shame you missed out on the nice gene.”
There are many more types, but they all have one thing in common… the need to be heard.
So, when the cooking’s done, dinner is served and we’re all sitting around the table, I’ve started a tradition. We go around the table, one by one, and tell the rest of the group one thing that has happened in the past year that we want to give thanks for.
Some very beautiful — and now cherished — memories have come out of that and it serves to diffuse whatever drama is in the air.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with laughter, love, good food and drink and an abundance of happy memories!
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