The holidays are coming. Maybe you've been distracted by the disastrous hurricanes or the sudden outbreak of winter weather. But Thanksgiving is not that far away. That dinner often sits on the back burner because, unlike multi-generational family get-togethers around Christmas, it's supposedly free of stress and anxiety.
Don't you believe it! Thanksgiving may not mean gift-giving and big get-togethers at grandma's house; it may not have religious overtones or problems with someone drinking too much eggnog. But it still creates demands on family togetherness.
One friend, whose son and daughter are both married with teenage children, is navigating a path between Thanksgiving "suggestions" from her children. The siblings had a falling out this summer and now their proposals for Thanksgiving dinner, though based on rational reasons, exclude the other one. A compromise has been hammered out: The grandparents (my friend and her spouse) will spend Thanksgiving Thursday dinner with their son, who lives nearby and travel to Boston on Friday to have a second Thanksgiving feast with their daughter and her family. It's not that the compromise is an unreasonable solution. In fact, many of us who can't be in two places at once, have doubled down (doubled up?) on Thanksgiving dinners. We did so last year. For my friend, though, the double dinner makes it clear that the animosity between her children has not cleared up, and that's what's making her miserable about Thanksgiving.
There's another stress that may surface around holiday visits--especially when they include an overnight or two at our house or theirs. Some of our kids may be worried about spending too much time with us! This issue was posed and answered in a New York Times story with the provocative title: Your Mom is destined to annoy you
The column handed out suggestions to help our grown children survive a holiday visit with us. Since visits are a two-way street, here's the "sanity-preserving advice" they're getting that may apply to us as well.
Prepare for your inevitable regression. From our children's persepctive, "It’s not a question of if the regression is going to happen, it’s when."
Our kids are advised to ask themselves where there are "particular topics of conversation or physical places that tend to send your family into a tizzy" and then try to avoid those topics and places.
One solid piece of advice we can act on as well: "if the family dinner table always devolves into chaos, try going out to eat one night and see if it improves relations."
Get ready for parenting criticism. Our adult children--particularly our daughters--are on knife's edge waiting for us to criticize their mothering skills. How grandchildren are being raised is a major trigger for this dynamic.
Our daughters are advised to “try to remind yourself that it feels like criticism, but it is an expression of caring. Your mother just wants everything to go well for you, and she’s trying to help (even if it makes you want to scream into a pillow)."
We are offered advice on how to keep that screaming to a minimum: "Bite your tongue, because even the most benign (to you) suggestion may be perceived as criticism."
Make space for yourself. You will need an escape hatch from time to time.
Our kids are advised to create space in order to "get some emotional distance from your family." This could mean hiding out in the bathroom for 10 minutes to cool down, structuring the length of visits or springing for a hotel rather than staying in our guest room.
What works for them should work for us as well. It's not as though we aren't feeling similar tensions and need breathing room as well. Just don't let that bathroom get too crowded.
Don’t expect change. The holidays are stressful. "There won’t be a magical solution to your family trauma over the holidays."
This is not, our kids are advised--and we are too--"the time to bring up old baggage and expect to work through it."
Forewarned is forearmed. On with the holidays. Let joy be unconfined.
painting: "Concert" by Gerrit von Honthorst