Q: Well, it’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving dinner with my family can be rough — I have to deal with my brother’s wife who’s always trying to show me up with her designer clothes and cherubic children. And my grandmother who’s hounding me about that 10 pounds I need to lose. And my Uncle Mark, who drinks way too much and can get very loud. Got any tips for getting through the madness without going mad?
A: Wow, it definitely sounds like you’ve got a Thanksgiving dinner to remember coming your way (though it may be one you’d rather forget). I am no psychologist, and I don’t claim to be the expert on diffusing difficult familial situations, but I can give you a few pointers based on my own experience. Here’s what I would do in your situation:
1. Stay away from controversial topics at the dinner table. This includes religion and politics, of course, but can also include things like your brother’s recent decision to drop out of college. Thanksgiving dinner is a time when people who don’t necessarily see each other often and lead very different lives have to make conversation for an entire evening. That being the case, keep the topics over dinner neutral and ones that everyone can enjoy, like travel stories or “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
2. Accept criticism gracefully. When someone criticizes you, you might feel the need to argue back, but the truth is, though these people might not express themselves in the most graceful way, they love you and this is their way of showing it. So next time your grandmother starts nagging you about your weight, just laugh it off. I have lots of practice with this one since everyone and their mother thinks I’d like to know what they think about my three kids under the age of 3. I just smile broadly and say, “Yes, isn’t it an absolute blessing?”
3. Volunteer on Thanksgiving Day. Before you go to dinner, spend Thanksgiving Day volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen with your kids or spouse. Not only will you be spending your Thanksgiving doing something truly meaningful, but the experience also will give you great perspective on the Thanksgiving dinner you’re about to endure and turn it into one you truly enjoy. You can find a local soup kitchen here.
4. Seat strategically. If you’re the hostess, arrange the seating at the dinner table so that you can avoid any potential conflicts. That might mean keeping your sister-in-law way at the other end of the table or barricading yourself with your children if need be.
5. Leave early. If you’re not hosting, that is (it might make things a bit awkward if you bow out of your own house). No one says Thanksgiving dinner has to be six hours long. You can be a polite guest by staying for a couple hours and leaving before your Uncle Mark starts to get boozy. And if you are the hostess, you’ll appreciate when your guests start to leave as well. As my grandmother always says when my infant daughter starts to wail at the end of our visit, “Thank you for coming and thank you double for leaving!”
Remember that Thanksgiving happens once a year, so try to look around the table and appreciate your sometimes quirky, and sometimes disconcerting family. At the end of the day, you can’t choose your family but you can choose your attitude toward them, and at least one day a year, let’s hope it’s a thankful one.
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