Re-inventing Thanksgiving Expectations

By Lacey Byrne, Yellowbrick Staff Writer

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I’m not sure if it’s because I love sweet potato casserole (minus the marshmallows), homemade cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie or because it’s the only holiday we celebrate that is non-religious and non-materialistic. Probably a little bit of both.

Because my parents divorced when I was young, I’ve spent Thanksgiving with multiple combinations of families and locations, from a great aunt in Texas, step-grandparents in Virginia, a ski lodge in New Hampshire with in-laws, and of course my nuclear family. Now that I’m a parent with a 9 ½ year old and a 3 ½ year old, and I have lots of mom friends with similarly aged kids, I’ve noticed the stress that Thanksgiving can present. The image in our collective minds is that of a nicely dressed table, plenty of warm flavorful food, kids and adults playing football outside, and an exchange of pleasantries. The reality is that Thanksgiving gatherings can be very stressful.

If you are traveling out of town and bringing your kids to your parents’ house or your in-laws’ house who haven’t seen your kids in months, there is bound to be anxiety. Grandparents might expect their grandchildren to run up and hug them and give them kisses. In actuality, a child might be thinking, “Who is this again?” and cling to their parent’s leg instead. Family members may offer unsolicited advice and opinions about your child’s behavior. You might have anxiety because your child will only eat chicken nuggets and you know you’re going to get ‘the look.’

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who was anxious about having her sister’s family over because their child is not able to sit still at the dinner table, and is a very picky eater. She was anticipating her nephew’s parents feeling tense, lecturing their kid to ‘behave’ and looks from grandparents. We came up with what we considered to be a brilliant plan. Why not skip the sit down dinner? Have a buffet set up with tables and chairs available and let people eat at their own pace. Encourage people to wear their normal clothes and not feel obligated to don chinos and J. Crew sweaters. Basically, create a relaxed atmosphere where the mission is just to hang out together.

I’ve always taken the approach that there are lots of things we may feel obligated to do, but in actuality we don’t have to do them. If you always host a huge gathering and you aren’t feeling up to it, don’t do it. Or ask for more help, have less side dishes, or get lost in Pinterest for some fun crafts or activities for the little ones. If you’re bringing your family to someone else’s house and, based on your family dynamics, you are feeling a lot of anxiety, shorten the time there, don’t go, or talk to one of your family members ahead of time. I’ve been guilty of bringing an internal grudge to a Thanksgiving dinner and looking back, realize I should have called the person ahead of time, had a conversation, and let our grievances go.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away, but put yourself and your family’s needs first and be the driver in how you want to spend the holiday. I’ve had so many conversations with friends, acquaintances and family members, as I’m sure you have too, who dread this holiday because of the likely tension and stress. Be bold, create an atmosphere where you can truly feel grateful and blessed. It’ll make the pumpkin pie taste that much better.

– Lacey Byrne, Yellowbrick Staff Writer

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