Saturday Night Live’s sketch of Adele’s Hello song was the talk of the 2015 Thanksgiving season. The scene opens with a family sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal, with five adults and a child (a young girl who looks about 10 years old). Within a few moments different opinions are flying and the family is in heated argument. The little girl takes a deep breath, gets up, and turns on a cd player. Adele’s newest song, Hello, which had just been released a month prior, begins its melodious chords. The 5 adults straighten. Their faces turn gentle and soft. They begin to reach across the table and hold one another’s hand. “Hello from the other side…,” they sing along. After a few lines, the music fades. The adults compose themselves. Then, in an instant, they begin to squabble again. The girl goes back to the CD player. The ballad resumes. Faces soften and hands reach. It seems that the only way to connect the family is through this song. The sketch is aptly named, A Thanksgiving Miracle.
Families can be difficult. We have many different opinions and beliefs from those we are related to. They drive us crazy. We are accused of not listening. They do what they’ve always done. We get frustrated. With Thanksgiving coming again soon, we may wonder, how do we enjoy our time with our families? How do we soften? How do we remain calm? How do we reach across the table? How do we embrace our loved ones? Or, at the very least, how do we endure the holiday and maintain our sanity?
- Practice gratitude, look for positives
- While it might be easy to get frustrated and see the negatives of family members (after all, they’ve had a lifetime of practice with pushing your buttons), dwelling on the negatives can be unhelpful. Instead, consider focusing on the positives of a person. Actively consider their good qualities and strengths. Even in A Thanksgiving Miracle, the family begins their dinner by sharing what they are thankful for.
- For moments when this becomes hard, consider reframing the situation so that you can see how sometimes one of their qualities can be a positive attribute, even though you have experienced it as negative. For example, if someone in the family is very strict about timing, think about how this can be a helpful trait, such as when they think through a plan and ensure that birthdays are remembered and airline flights are not missed. Every strength is a weakness, and every weakness is a strength, it just depends on the situation.
- Both looking at the positive and reframing a negative into a positive, is part of gratitude. Many recent studies have shown how beneficial practicing gratitude is for mood and mental health. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll also enjoy better relationships with your family because you are actively choosing to see them in a positive light, and this can beget better interactions. Especially at Thanksgiving, take time to be thankful and grateful for your family members.
- Ask questions
- If your family struggles to connect, prepare some questions to ask each person before you arrive. This can be about their work, hobbies they engage in, or what they did last weekend. You can ask about stories from the past, such as previous Thanksgivings, and about their hopes for the future. The key to asking questions and speaking with others is listening. Don’t worry about how you’ll respond or what you want to say next, focus on what the person is saying and let your curiosity guide the next questions you ask. As they share, put yourself in their shoes so that you can try to understand what the experience was like for them.
- Make time for yourself
- Even though the holidays can be a time when family who does not see each other often comes together, that does not mean that everyone must spend every waking moment together. Taking some moments alone can help you remain calm, remember who you are now, and reflect on current situations. These may be extended periods of time where you go off by yourself, or they might be just 5 minutes where you stay in the restroom longer. Taking time away can enrich your time together.
- Spend one-on-one time with certain family members
- A group dynamic can be quite different than when two people spend time together. If there is someone with whom you greatly enjoy, ask them to have some time alone with them. Go for a walk, grab a cup of coffee, or engage in a favorite hobby together. Though the holidays often include all the family thrown together for much of the time, sneaking off for an hour can create some unique moments for you and those you particularly enjoy.
- Enjoy shared activities together
- The endearing family from A Thanksgiving Miracle finds connection through song. How does your family connect? What activities bring you closer and allow you to see the humanity and strengths in one another? Perhaps you prefer one of Adele’s other tracks (Water Under the Bridge anyone?). Or you enjoy fly fishing, baking, bowling, or black and white photography of cityscapes. Whatever you enjoy together, set aside time for it. This could give you topics to discuss that are bonding, rather than divisive.
- Have outside support
- Have a few friends to whom you can reach out for moments when things are challenging and you need a listening ear or a word of encouragement. You can check with people beforehand to see if they will be available to you and how quickly you can expect them to respond. If you need someone who will be available quickly and can come to you, ask for that. You do not have to face your family alone.
- Think through potential scenarios and what your choices are for each
- Often times the same scenes play out over and over in families with discussions that regularly occur or arguments over differing opinions or beliefs. Plan for those to arise and think through what your options are. This way, when they do occur, you will have already considered your response and how you will engage (or perhaps excuse yourself). The 10 year old in the sketch had the song queued up and ready to go when she needed it. Even at her young age, she anticipated that her family would argue and had a plan. You have the choice to act differently— you can be empowered in exercising that choice.
- Take care of your body (eat, sleep, exercise)
- When families spend time together, the natural daily rhythms can get thrown off. But this does not have to mean that you have to sacrifice sleeping, eating regularly and healthily, or getting enough exercise. Sleep deprivation, being irritated or angry from hunger (“hangry”), or missing out on the endorphins from exercise can all contribute to you feeling unlike yourself and detract from your family interactions.
- Check-in with yourself; feelings, thoughts, urges.
- Sometimes our family pushes our buttons so quickly that we find ourselves quite worked up very suddenly. Periodically check in with yourself to see how you are feeling and care for yourself accordingly. Considering using a scale of 0 to 10 so that you can track movements and work to get yourself back down to a more peaceful state.
- Bring a list of ways you can be or return to calm
- In addition to eating, sleeping, and exercising, you may find that spending time quietly, in prayer, or meditation is particularly helpful to you. You may do deep breathing, yoga, or taking time outs to move from being worked up to being calm. In heated moments it may be difficult to remember how to keep calm, so having a list nearby is handy.
No one has the family that TV commercials advertise, and that is okay. All families have struggles. Despite it being a fictional family that is intended to be exaggerated, A Thanksgiving Miracle has a family that is not too much different from many of our families. No one agrees with anyone else on everything. We all must work hard to connect, listen, and remain calm. Remember to be gracious to yourself and to your loved ones. You are all doing the best you can.