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Baste the Turkey, Not Each Other

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

thanksgiving dinner

Being together with family for the holidays can be emotionally intense. With family conflicts simmering under the surface, it often doesn’t take much to turn up the heat and have emotions rolling full boil. Because of this, holidays are not the time to work out problems. Instead, focus on doing what you can to keep it a happy family gathering.

So, although you may know what you “should” do to have a good Thanksgiving, it never hurts to review some of that advice. Remind yourself of these ways to cope with family during the holidays:

Be realistic: No one lives in a Norman Rockwell painting. If your aim is to have a day of this kind of perfection, you are setting yourself and your family up for heartache. Instead, consider what would make for a good – if not wonderful – Thanksgiving with your family.

Accept your limits: You cannot control others. If your mother is critical and your sister tends to dominate conversation, you cannot change them – so don’t try. Instead focus on what you can do to deal with those behaviors that make you want to climb the walls. When their actions begin to get under your skin, perhaps you can excuse yourself to help in the kitchen or to go to the bathroom.

Plan ahead for support: If you have an ally in your family who understands you, now is the time to make use of him or her. Plan ahead with that person about how you can help each other out. You might ask your brother for help in the kitchen when your mother starts in how he should lose weight and he can suggest a walk with you after dinner, just as your father gets rolling with his political monologue.

Be grateful: Given that this is Thanksgiving, it might just help to truly consider the meaning of being thankful – and to actually take to heart all the things you are grateful for.

Invite outsiders: Most people behave at least a little better around outsiders, so you might consider asking a friend to join your family.

Plan ways to escape: If interacting with everyone gets to be too much, find ways to occupy yourself that will give you a little space. For instance, watch the football game, join the children in doing a jigsaw puzzle (you might even set it up), or take a walk with a family member you can relax with.

Even if your Thanksgiving day isn’t perfect, remember that you can do your part in making happy memories that the family can enjoy for years to come.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.


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