How to Survive Thanksgiving with Your Family

Up until last year, I was a classic sitcom daughter. And while my name wasn't D.J., and I wasn't a Keaton (I WISH), I had the "nobody understands me!" motto down pat, and isn't that really what's important? (Yes.) Any and all family gatherings became the Anne T. Donahue show so that in my head, everything and anything that happened revolved around me. What mattered to me was this: How did everyone talk to me? How was I being treated? What was everyone's expressions like when I was speaking? Was I getting enough attention? Why weren't they giving me enough attention? Did they just disrespect me? Thanksgiving was fun, but the analysis afterwards was the opposite.

In other words: treat me like a cool hip wonderful famous person, or give me death. (Read: I turned into a shrew.) 

Case in point: through an after-holiday analysis, I arrived at the decision to email my aunt two Thanksgivings ago and tell her she didn't make me or my Mom feel welcome (because the Christmas get-together was planned for a day we weren't sure we could be there). You read that correctly: instead of picking up the phone and saying, "Hey! Sorry to be a buzzkill, but we're available this-and-this day — can we compromise?" I emailed her 1,000 words on why she and our family and everything sucked. It was irrational. It was Denzel Washington in American Gangster hitting that guy over the head with the top of his piano. It was too far. And obviously, I really hurt her feelings.

The problem was this: a) the email (what the hell, me?) and b) prior to emailing her, I had in no way ever let on that I felt that way. Instead, I kept a running tally of "incidences" in my head (I'm actually pretty sure they didn't happen the way I believed them to), and never, ever said, "Hey, is everything cool?" or "Woah, why is my sense of thinking so warped?" or "I bet everyone else has stuff they're dealing with, too." Crazy news: not everyone else was starring in the Anne T. Donahue show, they were starring in their own series. Or just life. They were living their lives and as great as I'm sure I am (aren't I great, though?), they didn't stand there saying, "But what would ANNE think?"

Which is fine. Who cares! That's how it should be. Because when you think about how often you see your family out of 365 days a year, it starts to make less and less sense that a family holiday revolve around one person a.k.a. you. Everybody's got their own shit going on — and thank goodness. As soon as they don't, that usually means something's gone horribly, horribly wrong, and then you have what we call in "the biz" (aka "humanity") a "family emergency."

The bottom line is, all of us are the stars of our own series. We assess situations from our own standpoints, and, even though we all try to see where somebody else is coming from, it can all get a bit lost during the holiday shuffle. How can it not? You are usually compacting about 350 days (or more) into mere hours, then expecting it to go 100% smoothly. So here's what smoothly looks like: people walking away feeling content. Or at least people walking away happy they came over. Or at least full. If they are full of food, we've all done a bang-up job. There's no "right" way to celebrate a holiday, just like there's no "right" holiday meal, or "right" kind of family or "right" this or "right" that. We are all nuts because we are all human, and families are families, and you only get one.

Does that sound preachy? Probably, because I'm all, "Family, you guys!" and I began by telling you I once emailed my aunt telling her how she'd failed me as a human being. But the thing is, we are all just trying to do our best. Your grandmother that keeps telling you to eat? She's just trying to her best. That uncle that keeps asking when you're finally going to get a boyfriend? Just doing his best. That cousin who wants to show you their rock collection? Her best. That's all anybody can do. So when you waltz in, and you begin to ask how each and every interaction affects "The [insert your name here] Show," remember that everyone else is trying to navigate the same thing. Just go, and talk, and listen, and eat. And be thankful, for heaven's sake.

I'd say that was the true meaning of Thanksgiving, but the true meaning is actually something we should probably be embarrassed to be commemorating, and that's not what today's blog is about. Instead: we do our best. And for the love of all that is good, don't email family members and blindside them with TV daughter tantrum behaviour. Approximately zero people have time for that.

Tags: aunts, family, Holidays, Self-help, Thanksgiving, uncles

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