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Make Thanksgiving Day enjoyable, not stressful! 5 strategies for when things go off script

These strategies will help you make the most of your Thanksgiving Day.

We hope your Thanksgiving table plays out like a Hallmark movie. But just in case things go off script, here are five strategies to think ahead to.

Studio 5 Marriage & Family Contributor Dr. Liz Hale says that while we can’t control those surrounding our table, we can control how we cope and respond!


5 Strategies to Make Thanksgiving Day More Enjoyable

This time of year can bring a little angst and anxiety as we contemplate all the different family members and unique personalities that will soon be gathering around our Thanksgiving table. As much as we would love to believe that our Thanksgiving table, and the family around it, resembles last week’s Hallmark movie, that is just not always the case.

Although there is no magic wand that can cause everyone to get along, there are strategies you can put into place to enjoy the holiday even more than usual this year. While we can’t control those surrounding our table, we can control how we cope and respond.

Holiday Harmony Starts at Home

Creating a harmonious dynamic during the holidays starts at home, whether you are single or married. Start with home base. Ask yourself the question, “how do I (or we as a couple) want to show up this Thanksgiving?”

If you are married, set new ground rules for better managing stress as a couple. Reach a little higher this year. Be intentional about how you treat each other, whether the gravy turns out or not. Enjoy the turkey; don’t be one.

If you have kiddos, huddle together before the big day and discuss who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner or, if you are the guests, chat about who you will be joining. Express your love for each person mentioned and what you like best about them. Come up with specific questions you can ask each person that shows your level of love and concern for them.

Brainstorm how to bring peace into the playroom as young cousins might argue over whose turn it is to play with the popular toy. Have the oldest child play moderator. Instead of calling for a parent to intervene, talk about how else quarrels can be resolved peacefully. Kids always have the best ideas on how to distract a conflict. Help them prepare an SOS kit.

Expect & Accept Common Behavior

You’ve been in your family for decades now. If certain family members have shown up a certain way for the last 15 years, they will more than likely show up that way, again – dynamics and all. It is what it is. Realistically expecting typical behavior is a great way to approach the holiday and teach your children how to love those who are not like them. We set ourselves up by thinking that our one particular in-law will all of a sudden stop criticizing how you prepare the dressing. Expect it. Think of something soft to say, like, “Sarah, next year I would love it if you would also bring and share your special dressing. I think everyone would love it. Would you be willing to consider that?” Or, better yet, cut dear Sarah off at the pass and, ahead of time, ask her to bring her dressing THIS year.

Have an Escape Space

Keep your North Star handy – the vision of how you want to show up at Thanksgiving dinner. When you need a break from the loved one who loves to ramble on about their latest project or friendship woes, forgetting to ask anyone else about their lives, tap their arm and say, “I believe in you, Cousin Sue. I love how you have always strived to see the best in others. That’s why it bothers you when not everyone gets along at work. I trust you – you’ve got this.”

Reward or renew yourself by having an escape room planned either to the ladies room or your bedroom to powder your nose, take a few deep belly breaths, say a quick prayer of mercy, and head back to the party relaxed and recalibrating appropriate expectations. Remind yourself of your goal is to love and accept. Cousin Sue doesn’t need to change one bit in order for us to love her more.

Be Genuinely Curious

Around many Thanksgiving tables, we are blessed to have a variety of ages and stages of life. It is not unusual to have a teenage social network enthusiast whose eyes don’t leave the screen they are hiding underneath the table at one end, and a checked-out sports enthusiast who tries to crick their neck to view the muted TV in the other room because they just can’t miss any of the football game at the other end.

We love these family members. Get curious about social media and football. Take advantage of real life experts sitting around your table, who can teach you about areas in life you know little about. Ask your niece to teach you about what she loves and despises about social media. Which one do she spend the most time on and why does she prefer that platform? Ask your football fanatic guest who they think will win the Super Bowl. And has Taylor Swift’s presence helped or hurt the NFL? Our guests will love to share what they are most excited about. Make it your goal to find out what matters most to each family member this Thanksgiving.

Say Grace & Give Grace

What is grace? Unmerited favor. Unmerited means undeserving. From the outside looking in, not everyone in your social circle or around your table deserves grace. As a matter of fact, none of us do! We all fall short as mere mortals. As your Thanksgiving celebrations begin and end, take a moment to pause and be intentional. Extend grace wherever you can to whoever you can. Make the decision today that you are going to give grace, show love, and be kind. So even if an auntie critiques the way you cook your turkey, or if the kids and their cousins aren’t getting along, or if you fail to set the timer and the rolls burn, be thankful for who is around your table, and for another day, and another Thanksgiving.

When you have a plan in place and are determined to show love in all situations, you can’t go wrong.

Bottomline: Love lavishly.

Dr. Liz Hale is the Studio 5 Family and Marriage Contributor. She is passionate about helping relationships survive and thrive! She works hard on keeping her own relationships healthy and strong. But don’t stand in her way of a daily, sanity-maintaining brisk walk (just ask her husband, Ben!)

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