Thanksgiving is coming, and with it, the anticipation of delicious food, cozy fires, family recipes, and most of all, fond feelings with family and friends. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
We all have notions about what Thanksgiving should be like from storybooks, movies, and other people’s sugarcoated anecdotes about their “perfect family.” Those of us in stepcouples and stepfamilies are left wondering how we can get there—and often working ourselves to the bone trying to achieve the picture perfect Thanksgiving… whatever that is!
The problem is we try too hard. We set ourselves up for a meltdown, or at least some sort of disappointment. You can be sure that someone’s going to be misunderstood, get her feelings hurt, act badly, get into a fight, etc. It happens.
One memorable Thanksgiving, I tried particularly hard because I had invited another family to join us. I wanted it to be fabulous! The breakdown occurred over my dessert. My stepdaughter and I were working together in the kitchen, and we disagreed on how to prepare the ingredients for the fancy French dessert I had planned (note the PERFECT SET UP with high expectations ripe for failure and disappointment!).
My stepdaughter and I argued about how to prepare the meringue, slice the fruit, or something inane like that. We were both stubborn. She stormed out of the house and was gone for a long time. I felt horrible. I was angry with her and angry with myself for handling the situation poorly (and I wasn’t so enthusiastic about that dumb dessert anymore).
Much later, I was able to step back and look at why this happened. I had set myself up for stress I didn’t need. Wouldn’t we have been better off with ice cream sundaes? Wouldn’t I have been better off if I’d been able to calm myself down?
Over the course of many holidays with my large stepfamily, I’ve learned some valuable lessons. Here are some tips for stepcouples and stepfamilies to refer to if and when you get into rough terrain over the holidays:
- Lighten up. Know your limits and accept them. Keep it simple and manageable. Remember, it’s a holiday—you’re supposed to enjoy it!
- When conflict occurs, step back, breathe, think, and reflect on your feelings and words, before opening your mouth! Don’t react. Try to understand the other person’s thoughts and vulnerabilities as well as your own.
- Get help! Go to your partner, a relative or friend who understands you. Hopefully that person can listen, hear you and help you calm down.
- Forgive yourself and the other person. We’re only human.
- Take a walk around the block…twice, if you need it.
Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.
Susan Wisdom, MA
(This article is a repeat from 2010 because many of us need to be reminded over and over again.) SW