Rules for Surviving Thanksgiving in a Dysfunctional Family

reconnect-over-awkwardly-discuss-thanksgiving-ecard-someecardsNot all of us are blessed with Norman Rockwell families for Thanksgiving, sadly enough.  Some are given families that have more than one turkey at the table.  If you have one of those Normal, er, Norman Rockwell families, great!  THIS POST IS NOT MEANT FOR YOU.

This post is meant for the other guys.  The ones who have the Thanksgiving where your brother Joe and his wife Sue put on the Joe and Sue Show, you know, the one where you just want to sit there with popcorn and play out Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It’s better than watching Game of Thrones. Almost.

This post is meant for the ones who have a choice between visiting the Addams Family or the Munsters for Thanksgiving Dinner.

This post is meant for the families where the bird is not the turkey that everyone is thinking of carving on the table.

Yep, it’s for the rest of us.

So, how does one survive a Thanksgiving like this?  Here are a few rules.

1.  Arrive late, leave early.  Schedule your real arrival for after the party is really going strong, i.e. just before people sit down.  If you arrive early or stay late, Uncle Fester will pull you off into that awkward discussion you really want to avoid. You know, the one where he complains that the Thanksgiving soup was so expensive. Because it was 24 carrots.  When you arrive late, Joe and Sue will have already started their show where they debate the merits of the latest restraining order, and you’ll only have to worry about passing the gravy. And the popcorn. Leave early in order to avoid him as well.

2.  Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 1 standard drink.  While it may be tempting to bring on a blackout so you don’t remember what others say, they ‘ll certainly remember what YOU said. You’ll want to keep your wits about you.

3. Spend time with the kids at the little table. The conversation will be saner. And possibly more sophisticated.

4. Politics, religion, sexuality, and Philadelphia sports. Whatever they say, just let it go. The sane ones at the table are rolling their eyes, too. Enjoy the fact that they are wrong.

5. If you don’t want drama at the table, don’t bring it, either. Keep it light. You don’t want to be remembered for being the dramatic one at the table yourself. Remember it is Thanksgiving. Find one piece of gratitude, even if it is just that you aren’t the turkey.

6. Remember that just because they are annoying to you doesn’t mean you are above them. Help with the dishes. You’ll see that both the pot and the kettle are black.

7.  Don’t leave without pointing out at least one positive of the people who annoy you.  It’ll leave them befuddled if nothing else. It might even cool your anger.

8. Remember that even the Mayflower colonists had issues. For example, there are rumors of cannibalism in the first year there (no joke). Of course, this provides you no excuses for your behavior at the table that night, unless you are a Mayflower descendant looking for reasons to claim descent from more than 2 passengers.

9.  Remember that no matter what happens, there’s always one at the table who has it worse than all of you combined.  The Thanksgiving Turkey.

10. Enjoy your Thanksgiving on purpose and remember that you are not alone in this experience. Laugh at it afterwards. After all, you are hearing this from a Mayflower descendant of Edward Doty. Go ahead, read it. You know you want to. It explains my mother’s side of the family.

Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW, CAS-PC, is a psychotherapist and pastoral counselor at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley in Drexel Hill, PA.  This post is reprinted from his own blog, VantagePointTherapy. To make an appointment with Mr. Prentice or one of our 19 other mental health professionals, please call us at 610-626-8085 or use our website’s Make an Appointment page.


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