November 22, 2013

Social Graces: How to Get Along with Your Family at Thanksgiving

I've seen a couple of posts on getting along with your family at Thanksgiving and I decided since southern families are known to put the fun is dysfunctional, I should probably weigh in on the subject. Every family has its challenges. Some are more obvious than others, but no matter what you're dealing with...the holidays just seem to have a way of bringing them to their boiling point. 

My family is not perfect, although some of us claim to come pretty darn close (bless their hearts). Our Thanksgiving celebrations are usually less prone to drama since we drive to my aunt and uncle's house in Nashville and most of us put on our big city manners. 

I'm not picking on anyone because I love them all...and I'm positive I have been surly and difficult at times myself. 

So here are some tips that I recommend for getting along with your family this Thanksgiving (and beyond). 

1. Manage your own expectations. 

I'm making this number one because I think it just might be the most important of the list. What I mean by this is don't show up at Thanksgiving expecting your family to behave differently than they usually do. Just because it's a holiday doesn't mean anything magical has happened to their personalities. Even on their best behavior, they are still the same people. 

The worst feeling is when you expect someone to act differently than they usually do and then feel disappointed when they don't. Prepare yourself for the reality and then you won't be let down when Uncle Johnny gets mad that nobody laughs at the same joke he's told for 14 years. 

2. Keep it light. 

Unless Southern Living Magazine is coming to your Thanksgiving meal to shoot a story for next year's issue, it doesn't matter if your holiday celebration is perfect. Nobody cares if the plates are chipped (or even plastic). Nobody cares if the napkins are paper or cloth. Nobody cares if your table looks like something Martha Stewart would have whipped up. Don't put so much pressure on yourself and it will be much easier to avoid family won't be nearly as tense. 

3. Stay in the present. 

The past is over. It cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or much as we'd like for it to be. Don't harbor past grudges and don't air past grievances at the holiday table. If something happened in the past, try to let it go. That doesn't mean it didn't hurt you or that you shouldn't feel what you feel. But hashing out he said/she did, you vs. us, etc. won't really make you feel better.

4. Give 'em some grace. 

Nobody is perfect. Everybody brings his or her own baggage to the Thanksgiving table. What comes across as snarky from one person might be his attempt to avoid talking about what's really bothering him. Apply grace liberally...that is, show kindness and mercy to folks even when you want to pinch their little nu-nus off. 

5. Gratitude. 

It's hard to be petty about family squabbles when we stop to think about the folks all around the world who don't feel loved or valued and never get enough food to eat, let alone on Thanksgiving. Let's be grateful for the ones we call family, whether tied to us by blood or choice. Even when they drive us crazy...we're lucky to have the chance to gather with them for a meal. 

6. Drink. 

Wine is good. Lots of wine. One year, I accidentally took a prescription painkiller on Thanksgiving and then had some wine. I don't necessarily recommend it, but it was my least stressful holiday, to date. Something to think about. 

Seriously though...most of these things are just as much for me as they are for anybody else. We need our families...they are our ties to who we came from and the ones who will live on long after we are gone. Let's look at them with eyes of love this year. And hope they can find it in their hearts to do us the same favor.