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How to Have a Scream-Free Thanksgiving

  • The ScreamFree Team
  • Published Nov 15, 2007
How to Have a Scream-Free Thanksgiving

Note: The following is an excerpt from the ebook: ScreamFree Thanksgiving

When you close your eyes and think about Thanksgiving, do you see yourself surrounded by loved ones, laughing and sampling each delectable dish upon the table? Are you counting your blessings and cherishing your family? Or do you see yourself surrounded by annoying relatives, grumbling about each other and complaining that the turkey is dry? Are you counting down the minutes until they all leave and silently swearing that next year you’ll take a vow of silence and spend Thanksgiving fasting in a faraway monastery? Maybe you see a little bit of both. One moment you’re basking in the joy of being amongst your wonderful family, while the next minute you’re ready to blow your top at Aunt Muriel and her critical barbs. For many, Thanksgiving is both a blessing and a curse. No wonder we often find the words we shouldn’t say traveling to our lips and escaping before we realize what we‘ve done. So, if you long for a Norman Rockwell gathering but your reality looks more like Norman Bates, keep reading.

We often expect everyone to be loving and kind just because of the date on the calendar, but that simply isn’t practical. In fact, something about the holidays seems to even exaggerate certain issues. The best thing we can do is focus only our own thoughts and actions. If it helps, know that you are certainly not alone. Realistically, at thousands of Thanksgiving celebrations across the nation, children are tired and cranky and bickering over who got the biggest piece of Dad’s pecan pie; a cousin is out of sorts because of something another cousin said 25 years ago; the turkey is taking 2 hours longer than expected; red wine spills on the new sofa; someone’s boyfriend insults someone else’s girlfriend; four people bring green bean casseroles so there’s no sweet potato pie; the religiously vegetarian guest goes hungry because every dish contains either meat, eggs or milk; someone decides to start a political discussion with Uncle Ed, who immediately turns purple and starts his diatribe.

As outsiders looking in, we find a great deal of humor in many of these familiar situations. But as participants, things don’t seem so funny. We may have to dig a little deeper to accept the fact that neither we nor our loved ones are perfect. Remaining ScreamFree in these moments is a tough task. It forces us to grow up and be intentional in the heat of the moment. It takes reaching deep down into your well of integrity, straightening out your priorities, and then acting on them. Actually, it’s very much in keeping with the spirit of this holiday. Putting aside your set of differences and being thankful for what you do have is very ScreamFree.

• When Grandma does something annoying, step away for a moment and decide to be thankful that she’s still well enough to be really irritating. You’ll miss that about her one day.

• When someone sparks a hot button political comment, remember that you can’t control how others will react. Instead, take control over your own actions. Be thankful that our country is based upon the principle that we have the right to choose what we believe. Celebrate that with meaningful dialogue where you actually listen to Uncle Ed’s viewpoint.

• When the turkey you were so looking forward to is dried out, choose to be grateful that there’s plenty of gravy on the table. Recognize that millions of people in this country alone don’t even have a table to gather around.

By keeping in mind what you’re actually celebrating, you can put the mishaps into perspective and set an example others can choose to follow. Setting a fine example for others is one of the many benefits of self-control. And when children are observing, teaching a life lesson about handling oneself in relationships is honorable and valuable.

In making the personal choice to exercise self-control, we gain power over situations, but we should keep in mind that in doing so, we do not gain power over others. Leading by example is desirable, but let’s not be overly disappointed if our relatives, especially the adults, don’t follow. I’ve known plenty of families who would bicker at the Thanksgiving table even if Gandhi, The Pope and Moses were all there to lead by example. If bad habits run rampant in your family, don’t expect miracles. And don’t forget that you can choose between dealing with your loved ones in the best way possible through exercising self-control, or you can choose to leave them to their fighting and spend Thanksgiving in a different environment. Either way is preferable to what you’ve been doing up to this point: getting sucked into the vortex of bad dynamics and feeling rotten about yourself at the end of it all.

Did you enjoy this excerpt? If so, click here to order the full text version, complete with tons of practical tips to enjoy your holiday more than ever before.

Hal E. Runkel, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the groundbreaking book ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, from Waterbrook Press. Visit for more information.