How to: Survive Thanksgiving

Making it through Thanksgiving with your family — let alone someone else's — isn't easy. Here are some dos and don'ts courtesy of psychotherapist Janna Comrie to help you have a happy, healthy, holiday.
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Beyond the stress of travelling and the marathon that is cooking a turkey dinner, Thanksgiving with the family can take its toll. Luckily, psychotherapist Janna Comrie stopped by the studio to answer all your questions and concerns. We've simplified her answers into some easy dos and don'ts, to ensure you're armed with all the tools to take on Turkey Day: 

"I've been dating this guy for 3 months and he's invited me to his family Thanksgiving. I like him but I'm worried that accepting the invite and meeting his parents will be a sign that we are REALLY COMMITTED. I'm not sure if I want to be with him long-term yet. I'd like to still date, but worried declining the invite will put our relationship at risk — how do I deal with this?" — From Lauren, Perth, ON

DON'T say no right away. Commitment starts as soon as you and your partner make an agreement about the parameters of the relationship. Meeting his family, especially if he's close to them, can give you some helpful insight into who he is and help you to understand what you're committing to.

DO remember that you still get to decide when he meets your folks and can move at your own pace. Meeting his family really puts more pressure on him than it does on you.

"I love my partner dearly, but I just don't gel with her family. I don't have to see them very often, but this Thanksgiving they are coming into town and want us to host. This stresses me out, what should I do?" — From Mitchell, Calgary, AB

DO try to approach your partner's parents with understanding, and view it as an opportunity to learn. People often spend too much time focusing on their own understanding of life, without taking the time to see things from the other side.

DON'T be afraid to ask your in-laws questions, and use phrases like "Oh, I think of it differently. What is it that makes you think of it that way?" Sometimes we don't need to have anything in common with someone's family to find them interesting, we just need to take the time to figure out what makes them tick!

"My Husband's mother has always been passive aggressive towards me, but what frustrates me the most is that my husband is oblivious to it and doesn't take my feelings seriously. I am thinking about booking a trip to avoid Thanksgiving with his family. What should I do?" — From Karen, Victoria, BC

DON'T ignore your mother-in-law's perspective. Is there a cultural difference? Things that are common in one culture can appear very rude in another... Is it possible that the behaviour isn't meant to be offensive? Try speaking to her directly ahead of the holiday. Ask if there's something you've done that could have offended her, and reiterate that you both love her son, and want the holidays to be nice for him — as well as for you and for her.

DO speak to your husband. Before a difficult conversation, it's always good to let the other person know that it's coming. So, try to open with something like, "Hey, do you think we can discuss Thanksgiving... I know it's coming up and I want to ensure it goes smoothly for everyone. I have some concerns..." From there, outline why you're not comfortable going, and explain how his response makes you feel. Discuss your options with him — he knows his family best, and can help formulate the right approach, so that no one gets hurt.

"My wife and I just split up and this will be our first Thanksgiving apart. We have 2 kids, ages 10 and 8, and they really want us to have a one dinner together, but it's not a good idea for my wife and I to be in the same room together and we don't want them to get their hopes up. What's the best thing to do for the kids?" — From Trevor, Dartmouth, NS

DO assess how volatile the situation is. Separations are hard enough for kids without parents fighting. Ideally, it would be great if you agree to some ground rules and have dinner with your children together (ex: no discussing business of divorce, focus the conversation on the kids, what everyone is grateful for). You can even try going to a neutral location like a restaurant.

DON'T be afraid to start to start a new tradition, If the situation it too tense. Let your children know, and get them involved in the planning to ensure you've got a holiday full of the foods and activities they love.

"My family does not know that my 17-year-old daughter has recently announced that she is gay. She would like to bring her girlfriend to thanksgiving dinner. While my husband and I are very supportive, I am afraid of how my family will respond. What do we do?" — From Mary, Toronto, ON

DON'T bring these two young people into a hostile situation. But, you can help prepare your daughter and her girlfriend for questions your family might have, and help them determine how to respond to those who have questions. That way, they feel good about how they're handling themselves in the situation.

DO speak to your family members beforehand and gauge their responses. If you're very comfortable when you talk to them, they're more likely to be comfortable with it. If the majority who will be there will be supportive, then go.

"I feel like I give my kids everything. How do I make them realize that Thanksgiving is about being thankful and grateful? Any tips?"

DON'T be afraid to say "no." Parents often say "I want my kids to be able to have/experience what I wasn't able to" but don't think about how not getting things they've wanted in the past has affected them positively. Stop and think about why you're grateful for things. Is it because you had to go without, or worked hard to achieve something? Recognize that these thing will likely be effective with your children too!

DO consider what you're grateful for, on a regular basis — not just once a year.  Ask yourself, "am I grateful regularly? how would my children know?" and model the behaviour you want them to exhibit.

Feeling ready to take on Thanksgiving with the family? Let us know on our Facebook page.