Family Therapy: Give Thanks, Not Grief

Carl Grody
Carl Grody

Holidays can be stressful for families, but given the current political climate, this year might feel more tense than normal.

Let's skip the reasons why; they'll just trigger more arguments. What matters is that regardless of your politics, this year has been exhausting. Facebook posts, tweets, the passive aggressive placement of MAGA hats—all of it makes us feel frazzled.

So when Uncle Joe insists on wearing his Trump hat to Thanksgiving dinner or when your cousin waxes eloquently about Colin Kaepernick's place in the pantheon of political protest, it can be hard to prevent a panel debate on health care while serving cranberry sauce. (Remember, if it jiggles, it isn't food.) Family therapists don't make emergency holiday house calls, so what can you do?

A few ideas:

  • Keep in mind that you all love each other. Sure, blood is thicker than water, but that doesn't mean you should shed it over Jell-O. Focus on things you like about each other. Pull out picture albums to trigger “Remember when” nostalgia. Share funny stories about the kids (and laugh together as the teens roll their eyes).
  • If you can't stomach dinner with Aunt Shirley because of her views, then don't. A holiday meal isn't the place to hash out problems. Sit at the other end of the table, or sit near someone that you really like. Will you feel guilty about avoiding a beloved family member? Maybe, but at least you won't feel guilty about giving her a piece of your mind over a piece of pie.
  • Check yourself before you wreck everyone else's day. It's easy to focus on how other people annoy us, but we also should be honest about how we irritate others. Practice self-awareness and choose not to agitate for social justice for an afternoon.
  • Give yourself a break. The night before: no politics, no social media, nothing but cooking, family fun and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Go to bed on time. Unwind with your favorite cup of coffee in the morning. Help yourself feel as relaxed as possible before getting together with everyone else.
  • Take a walk. Exercising and being outside are both natural stress reducers. This also lets you get away from anyone trying to provoke you.
  • Introduce charity to the occasion. Volunteer for part of the day, serving food to the needy, delivering Meals on Wheels or raking leaves for someone in the neighborhood—anything to set the tone for giving and gratefulness.
  • Finally, just ask everyone to be nice to each other. You might be surprised by the number of people thinking the same thing.

And if things still get out of hand, don't worry. The family therapists will be in on Monday.

Carl Grody is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington.