Much has been made in movies and pop culture about the downright craziness that can surround the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving. While it’s meant to be a day for showing love and gratitude, tempers can flare when extended family members—some of whom may be estranged—try to gather around the table for a meal.
If you’re nervous about your brother bringing the girl no one likes to dinner or that the political banter will be too much for your extremist Aunt Joan to take, here are some tips for getting through the day.
Be Proactive About Drama
When you can identify the potential minefields before the day even begins, there’s a decent chance that an explosion will happen at some point during Thanksgiving. It also means that you have an opportunity to stave off disaster before it happens.
Reach out to any loved ones who might become involved in drama. Try to help them work through the issues before ahead of time. Encourage people to reach a truce or offer apologies, if necessary (this includes you!). Ask everyone to put aside their differences and make it clear that abusive behavior will not be tolerated. When the day rolls around, you’ll be able to remind people of this warning and ask people to leave if they are unwilling to be respectful.
Plan Ahead or … Indulge a Little
Following a specific eating plan? If so, you can save your sanity by planning ahead. Let the host know about your needs and ask what they are planning to serve. Identify the things that you can eat and let them know ahead of time. If nothing on the menu works for you, bring your own food, like a pie in our gluten-free crust recipe!
On the flip side, you could also choose to indulge a little. When you make this decision ahead of time, it will feel less like cheating. Give yourself permission to enjoy whatever you eat for just one night and then get right back on track the next day.
Don’t Get Too Tipsy
No matter how difficult things get as the night moves along, resist the temptation to drown your sorrows. People under the influence can be less predictable and more likely to overreact to things. You don’t want to say something you don’t mean in the heat of the moment.
Feel free to enjoy some wine (as long as you’re not driving!) but keep it to one glass. Better yet, stay completely sober and be the designated driver.
Watch a Heartwarming Flick
One great way to keep the tension down is to distract everyone with a heartwarming, but funny, flick. Fortunately, there is an abundance of titles devoted entirely to Thanksgiving. Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Dutch are classics that will melt hearts but also keep everyone laughing.
Of course, avoid anything that’s too serious or has a plot that is similar to a dynamic within your own family. You don’t want to remind everyone of your collective problems so choose your film wisely!
Stick to an Assigned Role
Another proven strategy for staying sane during the holiday is to assign yourself a role — and aggressively stick to it. If you’re in charge of desserts, for example, you can always bake something extra or run to the store for a missing ingredient if things get stressful.
One great job to have is dishes. On the surface, it sounds terrible since you’ll be in there washing all day but, really, that could be the key to your salvation. You could even offer a second round of treats just to give yourself more to do. In the kitchen. Away from the conflict. It’s genius.
We make jokes about Thanksgiving drama but it can be really serious for some families. If things truly escalate or you begin to feel unsafe, reach out for help—even if it means dialing 911.
Hopefully, though, it won’t come to that and the worst you’ll experience is some post-turkey bloating. Focus on what’s truly important and make a conscious decision to be grateful for just one day.