Surviving Thanksgiving

How to survive the Thanksgiving Holidays

There's a not so funny joke that goes like this:

"Why your family is so good at pushing your buttons?"


"Because they installed them!"

So as you go into the holidays next week (I’m giving you a week to prepare) try to remember that it took years to learn those now-instant knee-jerk reactions to the crazy things that your family does. I don't know about you, but it's hard not to turn into the 13 year old runt of the family when I'm around them.

Partners? You have the fun task of being between a rock and a hard place. You're "damned if you do and damned if you don’t." If you criticize your 'in-laws', you're screwed. If you don't criticize your in-laws (and god forbid talk about how their side of the story may make sense) you're also screwed.

So---Here are some tips that you and your partner can use to keep the peace during the Holidays, adapted from this Jezebel article "Social Minefield: How You (and Your Partner) Can Survive Thanksgiving with the Family."


1) Laugh off criticism - or address it beforehand. Either laugh comments off like you are made of Teflon or have a heart-to-heart with the criticizer beforehand.

My tip: Be your Partner's advocate! Support him/her if someone is out of line and criticizing. Have a heart to heart with a potential criticizer about what might be especially sensitive for you AND your partner. (Be careful with this one because you could give someone ammunition!)

2) Mix things up but beware of old baggage. It is easy to revert to old patterns. Anticipate how buttons could be pushed and shake things up from the traditional routines.

My tip: Share with your partner the things that can make you upset with your family - whether it's an overbearing aunt or a complaining sister - and ask your partner to help support you with them. Sometimes just talking it out beforehand can toughen you up and make you see the bigger picture. It also is a way to help connect with your partner.

3) Deflect divisive arguments The dinner table is not a place to get into controversial issues. Deflect from the arguer by changing the subject and ask some personal questions and enquire about the kids. Another good idea is to just say, "Let me think about that and get back to you."

My tip: If you get backed into a corner switch to topics the whole table can participate in. Think ahead of time of a few topic changers or even a few funny family memories that even the kids can relate to. Share this strategy with your Partner so they know to jump in and support you.

4) Try a Time Out. A breath of fresh air can work wonders. In fact, take walks often regardless of whether or not you need a time out as they will help you keep perspective and not allow things to fester.

My tip: Have a secret word, sentence, or movement (e.g., twisting the wedding ring) that alerts you or your partner when a 'breather' is needed on both sides. That way you or partners knows whether to ask to join you to help talk it out or watch the kids or take over any holiday prep/tasks.

5) Use your children as a human shield. Kids can add an element of fun and joy to an occasion (when they aren't sleep deprived and crying). Kids are a good excuse to need to leave a scene (time for a nap, snack, bedtime, trip to the park).

My tip: Monitor kids to see how they are reacting. If you are upset, they may feel that and act out. Take time to connect with them to help you understand what they are learning about how to behave.

6) Focus on what you can control. You can't change your 78 year old father from being X or your brother from being Y. What you can control is how you react to it.

My tip: Notice how you are feeling as a result of a behavior you don't like in others (e.g., angry, hurt, sad) and visually put it in a box, put it on a shelf to deal with later. No use digging it up if you know it's going to lead down a dark road.


Hopefully by now you are saying, "none of that applies to me!" However, in case it does, keep these ideas in your back pocket (literally, print them out!), and pull them out if need be when things get tough.

Oh, one more thing. NOT interacting with people you love because of death or other losses can create sadness as well. Let yourself be sad and feel the loss.  And if you know folks who are grieving, here's a great video to help remind you what you can best do as a friend. 


No matter where you are or who you're with, have a Happy Thanksgiving!


Thanks be to you,

Susan Fox, Ph. D. 
Park Slope Parents

Photo credit Christiann Koepke,