Seven People at Your Thanksgiving Table

By Erin Smalley
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Fuse/Thinkstock; models for illustrative purposes only
Spend time planning how you will successfully model Christ's love to your children as you manage extended family dynamics.

As much we would love to believe that our family is as picture perfect as last week’s Hallmark movie, often it’s not the case. For many individuals, this time of year brings great anxiety and angst over the approaching holiday. And rightly so!

This year as Thanksgiving approaches, I encourage you to spend some time planning how you will successfully manage family dynamics so your children will see how you model Christ’s love to others. For typically, there are several “interesting” characters who show up to Thanksgiving dinner.

The family

Maybe your family looks something like this:

Crazy Uncle Al: He starts the meal with a blunt question about your family’s current financial status. “Hey Fred, how much did you pay for that new car?” he barks out. Or he asks, “When is your younger brother going to finally quit collecting unemployment?” Everyone smiles and nods to try to break the tension. And if that’s not enough, he continues by spewing his opinions about politics and religion.

Social Network Enthusiast: This is your teenage niece or nephew who begrudgingly joins the family at dinner. However, their eyes don’t leave the screen they are hiding underneath the table. They text continuously, play Minecraft unceasingly, and check their status on Facebook and Instagram.

Critical Mother-in-Law: You love your mother-in-law, but you can always expect an awkward critique. She’s staring at you and evaluating you — and then she delivers the doozy: “So, Sarah, how much weight have you gained this year? You’re not expecting are you?”

Self-Centered Sister-in-Law: The self-centered sister-in-law rambles on and on about her latest project, her friendship woes or how amazing she is in her new position at work, while never bothering to ask what you’ve been up to.

The Forever-Single Aunt: Then there is the forever-single Aunt Sue who has three cats — and brings them with her to the meal. For as many years as you can recall, she somehow always gets seated at the kids’ table.

The Checked-Out Father-in-Law: His physical body is sitting at the table, while his mind is somewhere else. Possibly replaying his latest hunting adventure and the buck he bagged. Or he’s trying to view the muted TV in the other room because he just can’t miss any of the football game.

The Peacemaking Middle Child: This is your sibling who is the middle child and has always tried to resolve conflicts throughout the years. Today they’re trying to solve the last 10 years of family conflict during the Thanksgiving meal. Their constant plea is “Can’t everyone just get along?”

Helpful hints to tame the table

Although there is no magic wand that can cause everyone to get along, there are strategies you can put in place to actually enjoy the holiday this year. If these folks have shown up every year for the last 15 years, then more than likely they will show up again — dynamics and all! Therefore, realistically expecting their typical behavior is a great way to approach them and teach your children how to love those who are not like them. And knowing how you will respond or cope is something that you can have control over.

  • As the chaos begins to unfold, remind yourself and your kids that this is the way it’s been for years, and it isn’t going to change now. My approach to this reality is “It is what it is.”
  • Identify whom you can depend on as allies. Consider having a conversation with them prior to the meal about how to shut down inappropriate questions, engage with those who are checked out or — if all else fails — feed the cats under the table.
  • Take a time-out if you or your kids need it and step into another room momentarily — go to the bathroom or grab something in the kitchen. Take a few deep “belly” breaths, say a quick prayer for mercy and head back in relaxed and recalibrating appropriate expectations.
  • Recognize you are only responsible for you and not the rude comments or self-absorbed behavior. Focus on being a loving, kind human being — who is genuinely interested in others.
  • Love Lavishly! Recognize that you are loved fully and completely by the God of this universe, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11). Therefore, allow God to love through you. Yes, sometimes loving means setting a boundary, but keeping our focus on how loved we truly are — and that love is simply ours to give out — can change our perspective amid a difficult interaction.

Having a strategy for the upcoming holiday can be freeing and helpful. And you never know, you may end up with an unexpectedly wonderful experience this year. It may even bring a smile to your face realizing this is your family Hallmark movie.

Copyright © 2015 by Focus on the Family

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About the Author

Erin Smalley

Erin Smalley serves as a strategic marriage spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry, where she develops content for the marriage department. Smalley is also an author and conference speaker. She presents with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, at marriage enrichment seminars where they guide couples in taking steps toward enjoying deeply satisfying marriages. She also speaks to women …

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