Four Tips to Surviving Thanksgiving with Your Family
Gerontologist Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, has spent much of his career asking older Americans' advice for younger people. His surveys of approximately 2,000 elders translate to the experience of around 160,000 Thanksgivings and boils down to four tips for a harmonious holiday together.
Eliminate Politics from the Dinner Table Discussion
Gwen Miles, 94, after many angry family fights over Democrats versus Republicans put her foot down: "I made the rule that there would be no discussions of politics when we were all together. And I said to my husband: "If Dad starts in about politics, I'm going to walk out of the room and you come see what's wrong with me because I don't want to hear this anymore." The elders recommend applying this same rule to other "hot-button" issues. When buttons are pushed on a repetitive and sensitive topic, "just saying no" to the debate is an excellent—and potentially relationship-saving—option.
Don't Try to Fix Each Other's Life at Thanksgiving
As Harriet, age 79, says: "Give your kids their own lives. Don't make demands on them. Just be there for them when they need you. And certainly don't tell them what to do." Joyce, 90, agrees: "It's their life. It's not my life. They all have their own way to do things and if they get into trouble and want some help, they'll come to me."
Thanksgiving is not the time to exhort your child to get out of a relationship or get into one, to get a new job or stay in the old one, or to get his or her life on track. And the same holds true in the other direction: This is not the time for adult offspring to push the folks to sell the house or to start exercising. Let the holiday also be a break, the elders say, from trying to change one another.
Don't Take Everything Personally
Annie, 81, lived near her parents-in-law for most of her married life and the relationship was not an easy one. But when they got together on holidays, she made this rule: "Rather than assume the worst, it's more helpful to assume that they are saying things to you because they want to help their child and you. Try to realize that their intentions are good and sometimes people, especially as they get older, can't change the way they deal with others in their life." Parents can take the same approach toward their adult children.
Remind Yourself Why You Are Doing It