Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD
This is Thanksgiving week in the United States. It can be a stressful time for families. We often focus on things we “have” to do, meals that “need” to be prepared and family gatherings that are important parts of our annual rituals. Often we measure ourselves against a standard that can’t possibly be met: the turkey has to be done perfectly, the potatoes smooth, the pie beautiful… and it all has to be ready on time… and we want everyone to be well-behaved and to enjoy themselves.
It doesn’t sound like a recipe for enjoyment to me.
What would happen if the focus were less on the “production” and more on “connection?” What if the meal didn’t have to turn out exactly as expected but the family at the table told great stories or even stories that had never been heard before? What if you learned about Grandpa’s trip across the country, or how Aunt Ruth was the first person in the family to go to college? What if at the end of the day you felt closer to the people you define as family?
Here are some ideas for a more connected holiday
• Ask the family to help. Whether you are at home or someone else’s guest, as you plan your Thanksgiving sit down with your children and make a list of things that need to be done. Ask how they might want to help make this the “best Thanksgiving ever.” The list can include things like setting the table, cutting carrots, collecting small bags of things to do while travelling. It can include things like giving each other friendly reminders about manners or helping each other cooperate. Everyone over 2 years of age can contribute something. Your children will appreciate being part of the process.
• Think about the elders in your family. How might your children get to know a little bit more about their lives? Help them think of questions that they might ask. Think of some of your own. One of the most interesting mornings I remember with my own children is the hour and half that they spent listening to their grandfather’s stories of what it was to enlist at age 17 (he lied to the recruiter) and what it his experiences with his buddies during World War 11. It was a long and captivating breakfast. Think about bringing your tape recorder. I so wish we had had ours going that morning! StoryCorps has ideas for documenting family stories. www.StoryCorps.org
• Sharing gratitude. Have your children think of ways that they can share gratitude. Some families have a ritual of having everyone share one thing that they are grateful for before the meal starts. Some families have the children make “gratitude cards” as a project while the adults are gathering. This year StoryCorps is focusing on thanking teachers. For more information check out http://nationaldayoflistening.org/ (Share some of your ideas with us by commenting on our blog.)
• Take care of yourself. Your children will be happier when you are enjoying yourself. This might mean aiming for “easier” instead of fancier when you are making plans for the meal. It might mean planning a bit more ahead to avoid a last-minute rush. It might mean being gentle with yourself or taking an extra long bathroom break to calm down. It might mean remembering that you are still the most important person in your child’s life – even when things aren’t quite what you hoped or expected.
We are grateful for you our readers! We wish you a Thanksgiving filled with love and connection.
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