Social Graces: How to Get Along with Your Family at Thanksgiving

Nov 17 2016

by Kate Spears

Photo: Kathryn McCrary of Epting Events for Waiting on Martha, The Southern C and Guide2Athens

Thanksgiving is a holiday I look forward to every year. It’s a favorite of mine because it feels really special, but lacks the stress and hubbub of gift shopping that Christmas can bring. There’s nothing like a big southern family gathered together for a holiday meal. Of course, try as we might it’s not all Norman Rockwell perfection. As much as we love them, and I definitely love mine, southern families can be known to put the fun in dysfunctional. Every family has its challenges. Some are more obvious than others, but no matter what you’re dealing with…the holidays can sometimes have a way of bringing them to their boiling point.

My family is not perfect, although some of us claim to come pretty darn close (bless our hearts). I’m not picking on anyone because I love them all…and I’m positive I have been surly and difficult at times myself. But no matter how good our intentions, there’s always a chance for things to go awry. So here are some tips that I recommend for getting along with your family this Thanksgiving (and beyond).

1. Manage your own expectations. 

I’m making this number one because I think it just might be the most important of the list. What I mean by this is don’t show up at Thanksgiving expecting your family to behave differently than they usually do. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean anything magical has happened to their personalities. Even on their best behavior, they are still the same people.

The worst feeling is when you expect someone to act differently than they usually do and then feel disappointed when they don’t. Prepare yourself for the reality and then you won’t be let down when Uncle Johnny gets mad that nobody laughs at the same joke he’s told for 14 years.

[bctt tweet=”Don’t show up at Thanksgiving expecting your family to behave differently than they usually do. Manage your expectations.” username=”thesouthernc”]

2. Keep it light. 

Unless Southern Living Magazine is coming to your Thanksgiving meal to shoot a story for next year’s issue, it doesn’t matter if your holiday celebration is perfect. Nobody cares if the plates are chipped (or even plastic). Nobody cares if the napkins are paper or cloth. Nobody cares if your table looks like something Martha Stewart would have whipped up. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and it will be much easier to avoid family drama….you won’t be nearly as tense.

And please, for the love of all that is holy (including marshmallow topped sweet potatoes), don’t talk politics! Tensions are running so high right now. Nobody needs to know who you voted for or why. Just focus on how cute the little ones are, how wonderfully moist Aunt Connie’s turkey is, or something everyone can agree on: The Tennessee Vols are not living up to their full potential.

3. Stay in the present. 

The past is over. It cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or erased…as much as we’d like for it to be. Don’t harbor past grudges and don’t air past grievances at the holiday table. If something happened in the past, try to let it go. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt you or that you shouldn’t feel what you feel. But hashing out he said/she did, you vs. us, etc. won’t really make you feel better.

4. Give ’em some grace. 

Nobody is perfect. Everybody brings his or her own baggage to the Thanksgiving table. What comes across as snarky from one person might be his attempt to avoid talking about what’s really bothering him. Apply grace liberally…that is, show kindness and mercy to folks even when you want to pinch their little noses off.

[bctt tweet=”This Thanksgiving, apply grace liberally…show kindness and mercy to folks even when you want to pinch their little noses off.” via=”no”]

5. Gratitude. 

It’s hard to be petty about family squabbles when we stop to think about the folks all around the world who don’t feel loved or valued and never get enough food to eat, let alone on Thanksgiving. Let’s be grateful for the ones we call family, whether tied to us by blood or choice. Even when they drive us crazy…we’re lucky to have the chance to gather with them for a meal.

6. Drink. 

Wine is good. Lots of wine. One year, I accidentally took a prescription painkiller on Thanksgiving and then had some wine. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it was my least stressful holiday, to date. Something to think about.

Seriously though…most of these things are just as much for me as they are for anybody else. We need our families…they are our ties to who we came from and the ones who will live on long after we are gone. Let’s look at them with eyes of love this year. And hope they can find it in their hearts to do us the same favor.

[bctt tweet=”We need our families. Let’s look at them with eyes of love this year.” username=”thesouthernc”]


Kate Spears View More Blog Posts from this Author

Kate Spears is a self-proclaimed Southern belle who grew up in a tiny town near Nashville, but now calls Knoxville home. She graduated from the University of Tennessee (Big Orange Country!) with an undergraduate degree in art history and a master’s in public relations & advertising. In 2009, she started her blog, Southern Belle Simple, with the simple hope of giving herself a creative outlet. She continues to be amazed each time it leads to a new opportunity and cherishes the relationships that are formed along the way.

Kate is passionate about family history, time-honored traditions, and her Southern heritage. Her people hail from across the South, from the Lone Star State of Texas to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. She grew up spending summers on her great-grandparents’ Tennessee farm where she developed a deep appreciation and admiration for people who could coax beautiful and delicious things out of a mound of dirt. She comes from faithful men, devoted women, hard workers and wickedly good cooks.

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3 responses on “Social Graces: How to Get Along with Your Family at Thanksgiving

  1. Pam

    Such a great article! It’s funny how it probably strikes a chord with most of us…our families may seem all different but we many of the same underlying dynamics. Loved this!

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