Thanksgiving is less than a few days away and you’re planning a traditional holiday dinner, which includes a golden turkey as the showpiece of the meal. Although the Mercy for Animals Foundation conducted an undercover investigation on the abuse these birds are subjected to – it is NOTHING compared to the amount of stress and anxiety family members endure so they might spend quality time together. I think we need to start a Mercy for Family Members Foundation…
For many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family, so what causes some of this stress?
Unhappy memories. Going home for the holidays naturally makes people remember old times, but for you the memories may be more bitter than sweet. During the holidays, a lot of childhood memories come back and if the memories were not happy ones, this time of year will trigger them.
Toxic relatives and Outlaws. Holidays can put you in the same room with relatives you avoid the rest of the year.
What’s changed. The holidays can highlight everything that’s changed in your lives — a divorce, a death in the family, a son who’s making his first trip back home after starting college. Any of these can really unsettle a gathering and add holiday stress.
What’s stayed the same. For others, it’s the monotonous sameness of family holiday gatherings that depresses them — the same faces, the same jokes, the same food on the same china plates.
More work to be done. During the holiday season, you’re more likely to be stressed out by obligations and errands.
SO, as you begin to mentally prepared yourself for your annual Thanksgiving visit, you might be anticipating some predictable scenes: the Aunt that drinks 5 too many glasses of Merlot? Uncle that wants to summarize the last 6 months of Roy Orbison’s show? Or parents that ask ‘When are you going to settle down and get married?’” On their own, these are all very manageable stressors. Together, though, they create a perfect storm of family-based madness.
If you find yourself in the middle of dueling culinary aunts who constantly criticize each other’s cooking while snidely remarking on all of the dishes or political arguments by opinionated relatives whose lack of facts would be hilarious except for the constant threat of violence and tension: RELAX in the knowledge that you are most certainly not the only person in the world with dysfunctional relatives. If you are lucky, and can find a trusted sibling, cousin or spouse to share your amazement or disgust, then a simple declaration to validate your experience can be a relief. It’s important to keep realistic expectations. Dinner with your family is unlikely to be a magical Dickens-esque Christmas with the Cratchits, but it’s also unlikely to devolve into a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-like scene of madness (complete with boxed cats, squirrels in trees, and a turkey that deflates with the first cut). If you keep your expectations reasonable, understanding that the day will neither be your worst or best case scenarios, you’ll find yourself prepared to face this encounter with your family.
However, if you find yourself thinking “Am I the only one who feels like there is something seriously wrong with these folks?” then read these 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 a game plan with a crew and infiltrate madness before it arrives
2. Ask your co-conspirators to think of brilliant ways to give challenging relatives an assignment: Is someone always critical of the menu? Ask this person 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.
2. Have an attitude of gratitude. Yeah, they may be annoying, but it’s your family.
3. Look for the humor. Try not to take everything so seriously. Sometimes you just have to laugh and say, “It is what it is”.
4. If your Monster in Law is annoying you, tenderize the meat or take some glass bottles to the recycling depot or do some angry baking and knead the dough with enthusiasm. There are some really socially acceptable ways to let off some steam!
5. Resolve previous differences. It is not helpful to go home for the holidays to rectify an old disagreement. Make a phone call, send a text, write a letter with the intention of smoothing out any misunderstanding before you go.
6. Invite a friend: Most people’s manners improve when outsiders enter the scene.
7. Deal with one crisis at a time. If you’re at the table and your aunt is screaming about utensils, an uncle is trying to enlist you in the local chapter of the Tea Party, small cousins are running around screaming, and your dad is asleep on the couch, there’s nothing you can do here except minimize your focus so as to not become overwhelmed. Zone some of this out. In this case, it might be best to offer help with one of these crises, such as the aunt with the utensils. You’ll both be helping reduce another relative’s stress while simultaneously giving yourself an opportunity to get out of your seat to momentarily allow your politics-minded uncle to latch on to another relative (sorry, siblings).
8. Give kids a way to be included. Then set them free. Kids are simply not going to enjoy being trapped at a table with adults (especially dysfunctional adults) for extended periods of time. They get restless. They get whiny. They slump in their chairs. Yes, they should be expected to behave with at least a minimum of decorum during the meal but head off complaints and tantrums by planning something for them to do while the adults linger at the table.
9. Be as cool as a cucumber. Master the art of smiling and nodding. Polite agreement can go a long way in helping you escape rough situations.
10. If they try to parent your children – yes this is very infuriating but it is what it is. Use the Sandwich technique: Surround your feedback with lots of compliments, so they can’t get angry or offended by what you’re saying. So, for example, ‘The kids love being with you and we really like having you over for lunch but when you shout at them for playing with their food, it upsets them and it hurts us. So can we work out a way for us all to help the kids eat properly?’
SO stay sane and try to enjoy the time you can. The final swan song is to simply wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.
If your family drive you crazy, may your turkey at least be tantrum-free and golden crispy.
Till next time