For some families, holidays are just another excuse to get together to eat good food and to have a good time. They’re not looking for articles like this one because they’ve somehow figured out the formula for successful family togetherness with minimum stress. If you have a challenging family, it’s only human to be a bit incredulous and then more than a bit jealous to see other folks living out the holiday fantasy when you’re just trying to live through it.
Just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of Thanksgivings where you just grin and go to your happy place until, thank goodness, it’s over! You can make a difference. You may even be able to start to enjoy your personal dysfunctional crowd. With a little planning and some social engineering, you can take control of the situation and make this Thanksgiving feel better.
First, make an honest appraisal of the family. It’s not new information that your mother doesn’t like your sister’s husband or your grandmother is going to want attention for her latest ache and pain. It’s not news to anyone that so-and-so has to be the center of attention or so-and-so somehow gets her feelings hurt every year. Instead of denying these realities, plan for them. (You get extra credit if you can find a way to have a sense of humor about them too.) Then consider using the following tips to begin to avoid at least some of the usual family drama.
How to Survive Thanksgiving Family Gatherings With These 10 Tips
1. Line up some co-conspirators. Chances are you’re not the only one who is irked by your family’s dysfunctional routines. Figure out who you can call on to help make things different. Then do some pre-event strategizing. Agree to tag-team each other with the folks you all find particularly difficult. Set up a signal you’ll use to call in a replacement. Brainstorm ways to steer a certain individual’s most tiresome and troublesome antics in a different direction.
2. Ask your co-conspirators to brainstorm ways to give challenging relatives an assignment: Is someone always critical of the menu? Ask her if she would please bring that complicated dish that is her trademark so she’ll have a place to shine. Is there a teenager who mopes about, bringing everyone down? Maybe offer to pay him to entertain the younger set for a couple hours after dinner so the adults can talk.
3. Invite “buffers.” Most people’s manners improve when outsiders enter the scene. If you can count on your family to put their best feet forward for company, invite some. (If not, don’t.) There are always people who would love a place to go on holidays or who would like to experience a real American Thanksgiving. Think about elderly people in your church or community whose grown children live far away, or divorced friends whose kids are with the other parent this year, or foreign exchange students from your local high school or college.
4. Nowhere is it written that there shall be alcohol whenever a family gets together. If there are problem drinkers in the family, let everyone know ahead of time that you are holding an alcohol-free party. Serve sparkling cider and an interesting non-alcoholic punch. People in your family who can’t stand being at a gathering without an alcoholic haze will probably leave early or decline the invitation. Everyone else will be spared another holiday ruined by someone’s inability to handle their drinking.