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Ask Dr. C: Getting Along With Your Relatives This Thanksgiving…

I come from a large family of six siblings: My mom was one of nine children and my dad was one of four.


My earliest memories of the holidays are those of our home filled with aunts, uncles and cousins, and then nieces and nephews. My mom was an incredible cook and taught me everything I know about being a gracious, Southern host. When she passed away four years ago, I went through some of her papers, and found out that she had kept hand-written menus of the food she served for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter for many years. Just reading over her notes for what to serve with pot roast, the perfect mint sauce for her lamb, her famous rum-cake recipe and a potato salad recipe I will pit against anyone else’s, makes me long to sit at her Thanksgiving table again. For me, the easiest, most enjoyable part of Thanksgiving is the cooking. That is the part that goes according to a fixed formula (recipe).

But, someone has to eat all that food, and that is the unpredictable and sometimes stressful part – family getting together.

Fast forward to the present. One of the things I notice today about being an adult, is how much like a child I could still feel when my family would gather for our traditional Thanksgiving (or Christmas) meal. Old wounds or insecurities that have not been healed seem to come out when families gather together as adults.

So, first on my list of ‘how to get along with relatives during holidays’ is:

1. Remember you are an adult now!

It is easy to revert back to a childhood role you had growing up. Labels such as “clumsy,” “dufus,” and “ugly duckling” are easy to slip back into, especially when you have a relative that insists on calling you by that pet name at the dinner table. One of mine was “skinny-minny,” – but I confess I wouldn’t mind being called that today! As adults, we jockey to move away from the parts of our childhood self we didn’t like and we distance ourself from family members whose personality reflects the undesirable qualities. So, don’t let your button get pushed by the family member who wants to keep you the way ‘they always remember.’

2. Remember you can only control yourself, so resist putting your expectations for the day on family members.

Remind yourself it is only for a short time. If you feel your temper tested, ask yourself, ‘what is the right way to respond on this day?’ If someone is coming to the meal who has offended you, overlook it. Prepare yourself ahead of time. This is not the day to try to resolve old issues. You can control how you respond to the people in your home. Having said that, an abusive family member need not be invited at all.

3. Remember that table talk should be engaging and fun.

Hot button topics don’t lend themselves to enjoyable company or good digestion. If you have a family member that insists on sucking all of the oxygen out of the room – speak up and let them know this isn’t the time or the place. You have gone to the trouble to create an atmosphere that everyone can enjoy together.

4. Remember the reason you are getting together.

It is to build memories and to be together. For many people, it is painful to be alone when they haven’t chosen it. So, take the time to invite those who are family to you, even if you don’t want to be around them on a regular basis.

I believe this is going to be a great Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your family,

Dr. C.

Artwork Credit: Sophie Blackall