Thanksgiving is next week. Millions of people will be heading home to join their kinfolk, many of whom they’ve avoided like a salmonella outbreak for the previous 12 months.
Why is Thanksgiving so stressful? There’s a cornucopia of reasons. The high-pitched voices of rambunctious grandkids may send your hearing aids into overdrive. You dread hearing your mother’s concerns about your weight. Old feelings of incompetence resurface when you’re with your uber-successful siblings. Your right-wing father-in-law discusses politics and ends up arguing with his liberal son.
Even though Thanksgiving can be fraught with tension, it still plays an important role in our lives. Traditions are the emotional bedrock of our society. Their rituals provide comfort and consistency often missing in the daily grind. Family gatherings keep us connected to the people who matter most. They teach us how to get along, no matter how diverse we feel we are.
Besides, much of the stressful, internal drama is outdated. It consists of old garbage that we lug around, then pretend that it’s relevant today. For instance, a daughter who feels unloved by her parents may behave as if it were true. If she simply acted like the capable adult she actually is, the tension between them would immediately abate.
I offer simple advice for getting along this Thanksgiving: Suck it up and play nice. Don’t worry about your own soap opera. Switch your brain to get-along mode. This gathering isn’t about you, anyway. Its sole function is to strengthen your clan. Your job is to behave as if you loved everyone in the family. You can do that for two hours.
You can achieve that goal by putting on your best game face. Arrive with a cheery smile. Keep it for the duration of the day. Engage peacefully with all your relatives, no matter how difficult or contentious they are. Keep the discussion safe and pleasant. Be charming to everyone you meet.
Good behavior requires so little effort. The upside is warm fuzzies with all your kin. Everyone will be thankful for your great example. Who knows, you may have a wonderful time.
TIPS FOR GETTING ALONG WITH ALL ON THANKSGIVING
Accept everyone at the gathering. You may disagree with others’ lifestyles or behavior. But there’s nothing you can do to change them. Besides, negativity breeds alienation, the last emotion you want to foster on this day. Keep your mouth shut and your arms wide open. You’ll be a role model for others to follow.
Be interested in family members. Ask about their jobs, families or activities. Be sensitive to potential pitfalls, such as a recent breakup or the loss of a job. Begin conversations with openended questions, such as “Hey, what’s happening in your life?” Then listen intently while they talk.
Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol has marred many a Thanksgiving celebration. It greases the wheels for hurt feelings and conflict to slip in. Hosts should avoid serving liquor too early in the festivities and always have ample munchies close by. Offer plenty of nonalcoholic thirst quenchers. Monitor your own personal intake. Avoid it altogether if you know it’s a problem.
Stay away from politics. Politics are inherently contentious and have no place at a congenial family gathering. If they come up, do your best to redirect the conversation. If others insist on discussing the elections, politely excuse yourself to another room.
Contribute to the meal. Never show up empty-handed. Always ask what you can bring. Even if you’re all thumbs in the kitchen, you can arrive with store-bought dinner rolls or flowers for the table. Your participation sends a clear message to the host: “I’m committed to the success of our family. I want to make this work.”
Limit exposure to the group. We all have a limit of family togetherness. Some relatives can be joined at the hip for days on end. Others grow weary after an hour and a half. Honestly assess your maximum and give yourself permission to arrive and leave as you need. You may also take breaks during festivities by going to a quiet room or taking a walk. Whatever you choose, do it discreetly. No need to infuse drama.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.