LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

Thanksgiving -- let the battles begin!


Are you expecting a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving?

Or did you wake up this morning and wonder how you're going to get through Thanksgiving Day without causing -- or getting dragged into -- a family feud?

Even amiable families can devolve into bickering under the right combination of stressors, many of which happen to come into play at Thanksgiving:

  • Flying on the days there are most likely to be overcrowding, weather delays, and grumpy people
  • Making well and in large quantities food which you normally never cook
  • Timing the simultaneous arrival at the table of food and guests, despite TV football schedules
  • Bloat-inducing overeating (as a desperate substitute for intimacy. Or just for fun)
  • Competing for attention with your siblings although you're all in your 40s
  • Enduring other people's ill-behaved children OR
  • Enduring the criticism of your children by relatives who wouldn't know good parenting practices if they smacked them on the head (note: these last two are not mutually exclusive)

Fear not. Advice and encouragement for making it through family holidays is easy to find on the 'net. Here are some of the better ones:
  1. CNN's "How to survive Thanksgiving with family" advises people not to try to avoid difficult topics like the economy or a job loss.
    The holidays are far from ideal, especially with anxieties about the economy this year, said Dr. Herb Rappaport, a psychologist who wrote the book, "The Family Gathering Disasters."
    "If someone lost a job, there has been a death in the family, or someone is in the military serving abroad, you can't turn your holiday into a fantasy," he said. "People should try to be realistic and stay on target with what this holiday is about. I don't think people need perfection or the anxiety associated with perfection. What people want is genuine experience."
  2. On's Momformation, Betsy Shaw writes in "How to survive your family this Thanksgiving"" that while all the advice about cooking is fine,
    What I want to know is how to get through a three hour meal with the inlaws and outlaws, as well as your immediate/extended family without fighting with your father and making your mother cry with your sanity intact.
    Shaw surveys some online advice and adds a bit of her own:
    "If I could add something to the list, it would be this: Don’t bring up past transgressions, such as reminding your older brother, in front of his wife and kids, how he used to hold you down, sit on you, and fart. Not a good idea
  3. has a cornucopia of Thanksgiving advice and wisdom on handling everything from the dueling egos of Thanksgiving chefs and the right way to store leftovers to preventing family feuds. Some good ones:

  4. If your family is really, truly a nightmare, the serious advice at maybe what you need. Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving - Tips for Survival reminds you to:

    • Make sure you have all of your prescriptions filled for whatever - especially things like migraine headaches. You need to be armed and medicated to get through this.
    • Form alliances with family members who genuinely love, respect you and have a good sense of humor.
    • Take daily walks with your allies and decompress about dysfunctional behaviors that are getting under your skin.
    • Remove children from the toxic environment frequently and play ball or tag with them.
    • Discharge negative energy with physical activity and laughter.
    • Try not to keep score - you only have a few days to endure.

    Frankly, if you have to do all that to survive a few days with your family -- and I'm sure some people do -- wouldn't it be kinder to yourself just to treat yourself a family-free Thanksgiving? In comparison, Thanksgiving dinner in a homeless shelter might be more relaxing.
  5. The Wiki-how website, in additional to practical how-tos like How To Clean Your Toothbrush, also has advice for life's more intangible problems. Although much of it requires time to lay some groundwork with difficult relatives, some of How to Deal With Difficult Relatives could be useful at Thanksgiving.

    This articles emphasizes the importance of setting and respecting boundaries over dodging and avoiding conflict:

    If you have relatives who fail to respect your boundaries and behave as if the purpose of the relationship is for you to bend over backwards to satisfy all of their needs, you certainly aren’t alone. What you need to do is define boundaries which you consider to be bottom lines that should not be crossed, ones that make you feel violated when they are.
    Two important points to take away from this article: First, you can love your relatives without sharing values, having the same lifestyle or even being particularly close. Second, you may have to physically remove yourself from unresolvable conflict with a relative (aka "If all else fails, run!"). Most people won't need to do that during the course of a family meal, but it's worth remembering that you can.

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David November 26, 2008 at 9:38 PM  

My sister once suggested that everyone should treat everyone else as if they were guests rather than relatives. Doing so might make everyone just formal and restrained enough to not push (m)any buttons.

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