10 TIPS TO AVOID THANKSGIVING STRESS
Thanksgiving is here. This is supposed to be the "stress-free" holiday of the season. No presents to buy, no financial obligations...just a good meal with the ones you love. Right?
Thanksgiving can be one of the most fun and fulfilling holidays of the season, but it can also be filled with stress. Here are some tips to reduce that stress, and make the most of Turkey Day!
1. Set Boundaries: When to Say No
I have a good friend, let's call her Jennifer, who is expected to cook dinner for her entire family (5 aunts, 6 uncles, 11 rambunctious teenagers, the grandparents, her husband, and her kids) every Thanksgiving. For whatever reason, Jennifer was slotted as the expert cook many years ago in her family, and now, why wouldn't she cook for everyone? After all, no one can do it like she does. Of course, if she is going to cook all that food, she may as well host, right? It's just more convenient for everyone.
Everyone except Jennifer.
I'm sure we all know someone just like her, and maybe WE are the Jennifer for our respective families. It can be hard to say no and hard to break free of family norms and traditions. But without speaking up and saying, "no," it is never going to stop. It is up to us to set the boundaries and limits of what others expect from us. By setting these boundaries, we can reduce our obligations -- at least some of them -- and thereby reduce some of our stress.
If you are the designated hostess or family cook, consider reading Nicole Levison's new article on Hassle-Free Holidays. She offers suggestions such as ordering out, or hosting a potluck dinner, where everyone contributes.
2. See the Whole Family, Just Not At Once
As the daughter of divorced parents, I've got a whole extra layer of houses to visit for the holidays. I used to try to see everyone each holiday...this was time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. Not only for me, but also for my family. I had such strict timelines of when I had to leave (to go see the other family member), that I short-shifted everyone.
By limiting holidays to one parent, (Mom gets Christmas, Dad gets Thanksgiving), I significantly reduced my stress and that of my loved ones.
Those with young children of their own may try to see every Grandparent for each holiday. Again, this may involve a lot of "road time" and not enough "lounge on the couch time." Consider hosting holiday parties at "off" times in the year or around the holidays but not on actual holiday days. This is one way you can avoid the multiple-house-holiday-fete and make the time you spend with each side of the family worthwhile.
3. Count to Ten
We've all heard this one before: when angry or upset, just count to ten and let your rational side gain control over knee-jerk reactions. It's easier said than done, but when you at least try to count to ten, chance are you'll be somewhat calmer when addressing whatever concern comes your way.
Around the holidays it is especially important to "check" yourself before reacting to a statement or suggestion that may be explosive. For example, if Aunt Judie calls you and says, "It would be nice if you changed the flights to an earlier time so we don't have to have dinner so late," resist the urge to tell her what you really feel at that moment. Take a deep breath, and respond by saying, "I understand it can be a real inconvenience for everyone to eat so late. Maybe you can have a bigger lunch with the whole family, and the dinner can be smaller? We just really want to see you."
This way you:
This strategy may not work, and we've all been in challenging situations with family members where they simply don't listen. But I guarantee you'll lessen any potential conflict if you react without anger.
4. Be Creative with Seating Arrangements
Let's face it: not everyone is best friends with all family members all the time. Let's say your husband has never gotten along with your brother. You can deny that the tension exists, or you can accept it, and simply sit them at opposite ends of the dinner table. You'll never eliminate potential conflict, but the key word here is REDUCE.
I remember being very excited when I was finally "allowed" to move from the kids' table to the adult table for our family get-togethers. It was only when I was older that I realized this privilege had to do with a combination of age and maturity. If you acted like a child and needed handholding, you were relegated to the kids' table in the other room. This served a few purposes, not the least of which was peace and quiet for the adults trying to enjoy their holiday meal! If your family consists of young children, it can be a good idea to separate them into another room. Of course, someone will need to supervise the kids but it can be helpful to take turns -- say, 15 minutes at a time -- so each adult gets a little time with the kids, while still being able to enjoy the holiday dinner.
5. Keep People Busy
Keeping everyone occupied during the holiday meal preparation and after can be one way of reducing potential problems. If everyone has set tasks such as setting the table, making the gravy, folding napkins...they may too busy to nit-pick anyone else. The same goes for after dinner, too. Give everyone a task before they are "allowed" to go watch a game on T.V. Maybe the task is simply bringing all the dishes to the kitchen or emptying the trash. Whatever it is, give everyone at least one small task rather than let a small group of people (often, the women in the family) take on the entire role of cleaning up.
6. Let it Lie
I have a friend who is a vegetarian. Thanksgiving has traditionally been the one day every single family member would preach to her about why it is bad that she is a vegetarian, why she should just taste the turkey once, "It would make Grandma so happy!" etc. She started associating Thanksgiving with a long day of justifying herself.
This is just one example of what I like to call, "Unneeded challenges during holidays." You might not agree with someone's choice of a car, food preferences, spouse, house payments, or vacation destination. But it isn't your life. Holidays should be a time to enjoy, but we all know that jealousy and insecurity tend to raise their ugly heads during family gatherings. If you are the one who is challenged during the holidays, remember that people who challenge do so because they may somehow be threatened by your choice. If you understand that, it becomes easier not to explode emotionally, and simply address the question with kindness. Some topics might not be easily explained or discussed, and a simple, "That's an interesting point." is a tactful way to avoid potential conflict.
And here is the hardest part: when others try to pick a fight (even if it is unintentional on their part), be the bigger person.
7. Deal with Finances
We may not buy presents for family members on Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving is far from innocent when it comes to our paychecks. All that food costs money...and Thanksgiving is actually a bigger travel day for Americans than Chanukah and Christmas. The train fares and airfares are often three or four times average costs during this 4-day holiday.
As mentioned before, one way to reduce your cost for food is to host a potluck, or suggest it to whoever is hosting the family dinner. All those leftovers, if stored and divided up properly, can mean several meals for each family after T-day!
For travel, one way to reduce costs is to travel at off-times. For example, if the family dinner is at 4pm on Thursday, you could consider driving or taking the plane the morning of (depending on the distance). Statistics show a majority of travelers make Thanksgiving travel plans the Wednesday before -- and peak hours are between 2pm and 8pm on that Wednesday. Avoiding peak times might get you better prices -- and it may reduce stress. Less people means shorter lines, less traffic, and quicker travel times. That's never a bad thing!
If you and your family can avoid hotels and stay at a relative's home (if you are traveling), it can save big bucks. It might not be ideal, but for one night, it could be worth it.
Keep in mind that sleeping on couches and floors may be unappealing to adults...but younger kids, if you have them, tend to find this amusing. If you make it into a "big sleepover" night with sleeping bags and pillow fights, it might actually make cramped quarters, say, on a living room floor, "fun" for the family.