This year it’s a special challenge to have a happy thanksgiving. You’d think that after more than a year of semi-isolation, people would be grateful to get together again. And we are. But the constant threat of a potentially fatal virus and an unstable economic and social environment have left us all anxious and confused. Maybe even resentful.
So, we’re crabby. We’ve been stressed for a long period of time. We’ve been isolated, so our social support system has been strained. The situation has exacerbated our anxiety, depression, and mental health in general. We are, as a British friend of mine puts it, at the end of our tether. The trouble is, so is everybody else.
When you gather with your family on Thanksgiving, remember you’re not the only one with frayed nerves. Resolve to be the grown-up in the room. Lead your family and friends to the high ground. Here are some suggestions.
Recognize family dynamics. When you get together, you tend to revert to old roles that you have long-since outgrown. The baby of the family, for example, is no longer the helpless creature depending on the older ones to do her chores. She’s been out in the working world and is a functioning adult. Time to treat her as such. A lot of things have changed during the pandemic. Try to see your family as they are now, after having suffered through the trials of recent times.
Familiarity should not breed contempt. Just because you’re comfortable with your loved ones, and you know they’ll forgive you, you may feel entitled to be rude. Or if not rude, you may find yourself unleashing remarks that are a little too close to the bone. Family members know how to push each others’ hot buttons. Do not be tempted, even if you think you’re joking. In your heart you know when that joke is actually cruel. Yes, you’re feeling crabby, and yes, you can probably get away with it. But don’t.
Serve dinner on time. Yes, some people still have the same unfortunate traits they had before. Uncle Harold is still chronically late. But he is the one who should adjust, not you. You can’t change his behavior, but you can change how you handle it. Set a time and tell everyone when you’ll be sitting down at the table. Then stick to it, even if he’s called to tell you he’s stuck in traffic. He can make himself a plate in the kitchen whenever he arrives. There is no reason you should all have to eat a dry, overcooked turkey.
Easy on the alcohol. Another reason not to delay dinner is it extends the cocktail hour. Too much drinking is a recipe for recklessness. People become belligerent and say things they don’t mean. When you drink too much, your filter lifts and you become a source of trouble. Put limits on how much you drink, and if you’re the host, don’t rush to fill every glass. If you’re going to drink at all, plan in advance what you’ll make available to your guests and then stick to it.
Understand the issues. There is a deep divide in this country and some people are enormously frustrated by the fact that we still haven’t returned to normal. Others are angry and fearful that they are being controlled. Both parties feel aggrieved, and regardless of what is right or wrong, true or untrue, there is nothing you can do about it on Thanksgiving. Do not succumb to anyone in your group who tries to hijack the conversation into dangerous territory. If steering the conversation to pleasanter topics doesn’t work (have some you’ve thought of ahead of time), and things escalate, escort the instigator to another room and calm him down. If worse comes to worse, ask him to leave. But politely.
You can take the lead and encourage civility by your own behavior. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact