Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with a Difficult Family

November 1, 2019

The holiday season is here with all the excitement and activities that come along with it. For many of us, this includes getting together with our extended families. 

Sharing time and celebrating with family members can be enjoyable and satisfying, but for some families, it can also be stressful and challenging.

If you're feeling anxious and concerned about your family Thanksgiving meal, following a few simple tips can help make your experience more harmonious.

Do not take everything personally

With family gatherings, you are bringing together each of our distinct attitudes and behaviors, borne from our different worldviews, experiences, time on the planet, and upbringing.

Unlike your selection of friends - whom you are more likely to share similar interests and perspectives - with family members, you have a higher chance of diverse viewpoints and opinions. This creates a perspective gap and increases the possibility of a comment or question striking an emotional nerve.

What can you do? Make a special effort to distance your emotions from any negative interaction or comment. Sure, easier said than done. Still, by understanding your parents or in-laws are likely sharing advice with good intentions, albeit not from the same perspective as you, you can more easily deal with your initial emotional reactions.

Avoid all political and divisive discussions

It seems like obvious advice, but it can be difficult to avoid (especially in a heated political climate like we have today).

However, as much as you may want to convince your family member their political views are irrational or wrong, the reality is you are not likely to change anyone’s perspective or understanding around a turkey dinner. The more likely outcome is an uncomfortable argument, or worse, permanent damage to family relationships.

What can you do? Make a promise to yourself not to start a political discussion or take the bait if someone else does. If it does come up, your best approach is to change the subject or step away politely.

Refrain from fixing each other’s lives

Whether you're the parent of an adult child or want to see change in people you love, it is natural to want to offer advice. However, Thanksgiving dinner is not the best time to encourage change in others. We all have our way of doing things, so offering unsolicited advice is more likely to create tension and anxiety than solve anything.

What can you do? The advice here is simple. Unless someone asks, it is best not to say anything. Even if your sibling agrees they need to get out of their bad relationship, it is highly unlikely they want to discuss it with the entire family.

What if you're the one getting the advice? First, re-read the section about not taking things personally and then politely explain that now is not the best time to discuss the issue.

Take a temporary break from social media

While you are making a feast out of Thanksgiving dinner, you should take a fast from social media – ideally as much as a week ahead of the celebration. Studies have shown a week-long break from social media will likely help with your overall sense of well-being. If you're feeling anxious or apprehensive about your Thanksgiving dinner, the break will also help you avoid a barrage of posts that may make you feel less comfortable, less proud, or less excited about your family experience.

What can you do? Avoid social media altogether for as much of the week ahead of Thanksgiving as you can. To help you maintain your break, turn off any notifications or delete the apps entirely. However, taking a break does not mean you need to become a hermit. Instead, use the time you would ordinarily spend on social media doing something for yourself, or in activities with your friends and family. 

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