It’s five days before Thanksgiving.
Time to make our list, but not for groceries or Black Friday gifts. This list guarantees that our family gathering will be harmonious, at last.
The turkey will be unusually tasty. Conversations will flow. We will feel love and charity in our hearts for strays who show up empty-handed, for our sister’s unruly brats and the teenage table texters, for Uncle Joe’s absurd political diatribes, with which no thinking person could agree.
We will be above all of this, and them, smiling, calm and content, without assistance from drugs or drink.
All because of the list.
OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. OK, it’s a big, honking stretch. But I think we should try it anyway. Ready?
Jot down the names of everyone coming to your Thanksgiving dinner. Now, write at least one thing you honestly appreciate about every single one of them.
You can do this.
The idea comes from Jennifer Kern Collins, a Minneapolis-based certified life coach whose thoughtful new book encourages us to reject, once and for all, OPD — Other People’s Drama.
What better place to practice this crucial attitude shift than at the Thanksgiving table, that annual nod to the fact that Mom did not love us best?
“I have a colleague who likes to say that family of origin is the final exam,” said a laughing Collins, author of “The Drama-Free Way: A Thought-Management Guide to Navigating Chaos and Thriving.”
“Nobody wants to be triggered into drama, but our families are hot spots,” she said. “It’s only natural that hard feelings will come to the surface when people who haven’t seen each other for a while, and have had issues in the past, suddenly find themselves in close quarters.”
But extricating ourselves from even deep-seated drama isn’t as hard as you think. Plus, you still have days to prepare.
It’s important, first, to realize that family members who criticize your children or whine that no one made their favorite pie are doing so for reasons that have little to do with tots or blueberries.
Their complaints and criticisms have everything to do with unmet needs they’ve hauled on their backs from childhood, with gaping emotional holes never filled, and with a steady drumbeat in their head that they don’t matter. Creating drama, Collins said, is an easy way for them to feel heard. But it doesn’t get them unstuck, and it’s likely to pull you right down with them. Again and again.
Raised in a family with multiple divorces, and where several members suffered from personality disorders and addictions, Collins perfected reacting to OPD for years before learning coping skills. Married now and the mother of three stepchildren, she’s much happier with the latter scenario.
A big realization was that she did not have to be the solution. She especially likes a Polish proverb: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
On Thanksgiving, she suggests that we ask ourselves: “What if I don’t have to be the one to fix anything? What if I just let go and relax and enjoy this pumpkin pie?”
To help with that, she suggests preparing “defusing” statements that let a family member know that he or she is being heard. Try, “Thank you. I’ll give that some thought.” Or maybe, “I see that you’re really upset.”
And tell yourself: “I don’t need him or her to agree with me for this to be right for me.”
Prepare for triggers. If things get hot at the table, politely excuse yourself and walk away. “The bathroom can be your friend,” Collins said.
Use humor: “Wow! It’s a good thing you’re not a vegan because it clearly wouldn’t work for you, right!?”
Remember that, despite difficulties, here you are, gathered together again. Because you’re family.
“A lot of times, those we most clash with are those we most love,” Collins said.
So, back to that list. Dig deep. Recall something sweet or vulnerable. Remember a shared joke or experience. Hold onto that happy, healthy, high-minded image as you hold onto your heaping plate of food.
And give thanks for second chances.
“We have the opportunity to be more loving, more kind, more forgiving,” Collins said. “We have the opportunity to remember that family love is more important than drama.”