For those still wavering about whether to head home for Thanksgiving (is my family the only group of procrastinators?) or – having agreed to go – are now dreading it, some words of advice: Go on, make the trip. Thanksgiving travel is a nightmare. But it's worth suffering through. And, once you get there, bury the hatchet.
Sure, your brother-in-law brags too much, your sister whines, your dad is distant and your mom will spend the whole visit harping on you for your myriad shortcomings. But, don't forget, they each have good sides as well. Putting up with them is always better than the alternative. And you can find ways to steer the conversation in order to make it a pleasant visit, offering real connection.
My friend's dad recently passed away unexpectedly. He was gregarious, smart, interesting, crazy about his grandkids, doting on his daughter-in-law and was his son's #1 fan. And he was in good health, so his passing was a surprise. My friend reminded me to pay more attention to my parents while they're around and in good health, because all of a sudden they can be gone.
Last week, we also remembered the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, which devastated the entire nation, and broke the hearts of those who loved him. One day, the people important to us are here, and the next day – too soon – they're gone.
So go on, make the effort.
But what if your Dad is on a crusade against public schools that teach evolution and you're a public school science teacher? Or you run a coal company but your sister is a climate scientist. Or your brother-in-law has joined Jews for Jesus and wants your entire Jewish family to convert? Or your sister is running for Senate on an anti-gay platform, but you're a lesbian? Even the Cheneys could patch things up for Thanksgiving – with some effort.
After all, the first Thanksgiving brought together the Pilgrims and Native American tribes who hadn't exactly been best buddies. Some Pilgrims had raided Native Americans' food stores during those first miserable months, and there were plenty of other sources of tension. But, after surviving the first horrible winter (and losing many of their number), the Pilgrims had finally built shelter and – with significant help from the native tribes – learned to hunt and grow sufficient food. That first harvest was a success worth celebrating with a shared meal, and thanks were in order. As Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his National Book Award winner, "Mayflower," "There were profound differences between the Pilgrims and Pokanokets to be sure ... [but] the mutual challenge of survival dominated all other concerns."
They buried the hatchet, and you can, too.
How to get through the holidays without conflict and even reconnect with your family members in positive ways?
Oh, and, whatever you do, don't leave the table to go shopping! Stores that are open on Thanksgiving Day, thereby ruining their employees' holiday and cutting into yours, should not be rewarded. Don't take the easy out. Stay at the table and make the most of the opportunity to enjoy your mom and dad while they're still around and in good health.