More Turkey, Less tension-A Thanksgiving Survival Guide-SliderPhoto

More Turkey, Less tension-A Thanksgiving Survival Guide-MainPhoto
Thanksgiving means spending time with the family, and that -for many- requires a survival guide!. When I bring up the subject of Thanksgiving, I am often met by responses like: Well, it’s bearable for four days! or, Laura, my family is so dysfunctional! It ends up being a question of merely surviving those days rather than enjoying them.

First, allow me to concede that “the dysfunctional family” is the new normal. All families have troubles, and in this age of divorce and remarriage, we now have the ex-suegra, the step-mom, the ex-husband, the son’s husband, the daughter’s wife, and a whole lot of family ties which were not so common a few generations ago. As if our immediate family of siblings and parents didn’t already cause us enough grief!

Our relationships with our family may not change much over the years. Even when we’re all grown up, our parents still see us as kids, and our siblings see us as the bullies or the outcasts of the family we once were. Add alcohol to the mix and after a few hours, shared laughter might degenerate into a full blown fight. Not to mention the comments your abuelita or suegra might have in store for you. Have you gained weight since I saw you? (You are fat.) Are you sleeping enough? (You look like crap.) What is it that you do again? (You have a shitty job.)

Yet, there are ways to make your way safely through the holidays. If you change your attitude, people will change how they interact with you. This has worked for me, and it can work for you, too.


  • Keep the conversation light. Avoid any topics you know are like stepping on a minefield.

  • Make a point of trying to keep a positive attitude, complimenting people whenever possible. Nothing works better than a caress to the ego.

  • Smile and don’t allow snide remarks to ruin your day. If need be, take a time out, take a walk around the block; go out to the car to get something, hid in the bathroom, breathe deeply and assess the situation. Go back to the table and start a new conversation.

  • Concentrate on this thought: They’re your family and some day they will be gone and you’ll miss them. That puts many things into perspective and if that fails, you can always fall back on the cliché: It could be worse.

Read Related: 7 Rules for Effective Family Bonding

  • Plan a light, not-too-competitive game that involves everyone and that steers away from personal conversations.

  • Avoid getting involved in any family member’s argument.

  • Keep in mind that this is an occasion to give thanks for all the good things you have, and that includes your family.

  • Remember: Dysfunctional is the new normal. Enjoy your different family; someday you might want to write a book about them!

  • Try to be yourself as a grownup and not regress into the person you were as a teen. Avoid digging up old grudges with your siblings or parents. Talk about future plans.

  • Don’t drink too much! This will only make you more vulnerable to reacting to negative comments. Alcohol can numb your feelings but also make you more outspoken and aggressive.

  • Avoid the trouble makers. Try to avoid sitting next to your suegra if she is the one who pushes your buttons. If you do end up by her, make sure your other table neighbor is one you can rely on to engage in friendly conversation.

  • Arrive elegantly late and leave early! If Thanksgiving with the family is a really a hard time for you, cut it short.

I enjoy my family—my “new normal” family. And even when things have not turned out so well, I keep going back for Thanksgiving because I love them and need them in my life. They are part of who I am. And when I need a break from too much togetherness, I step outside, breathe deeply, and jump back in, renewed and ready for a second helping—of stuffing and family!

Happy Thanksgiving!