Holiday Hosting The family’s in town, the bird’s undercooked and your first time hosting Thanksgiving is going up in smoke. What do you do? BY FRANCINE KIZNER
Thanksgiving is about more than just the bird, it's about time with your family.
You jumped at the chance to host Thanksgiving—you want everyone to see what a great new life you have together and you want to show everyone you can put on a dinner that would make Martha Stewart proud. Then your guests show up, break a couple of wine glasses, insult your stuffing because it’s not like Grandma’s and, because you forgot to turn on the oven, have to serve dinner two hours late because the turkey isn’t ready. It’s enough to make you want to scream.
And scream you can, if that’s what’ll calm you down—only you should probably first go to a far corner of the house and hold a pillow over your face. You have company! You don’t want to make a scene, but if you can put the day in perspective and get your spouse—and your guests—to help you out, you can probably avoid that screaming fit altogether.
So why are the holidays so stressful to begin with? "Expectations and unresolved emotional issues," says Patti Fralix, author of How to Thrive in Spite of Mess, Stress and Less. Now, don’t expect to turn into Dr. Phil and fix everyone’s childhood traumas—managing your expectations will be much easier.
Don’t be too specific or too grand with your expectations. Number-one priority, says Fralix, is having a good family event. "It’s not about the turkey," she says. "It’s about family getting together. Even with conflict, it’s worth the struggle."
And there are ways to reduce conflict before it erupts into a family feud. One major point of contention among families is tradition—especially traditional foods. "Various kinds of food and having things the same were very important to my husband and his family," says Susanne Alexander. Unfortunately, nobody told her this ahead of time. And she was so disappointed after cooking a meal that her husband’s family didn’t enjoy, she swore off hosting Thanksgiving for good.
That was back when she was 19. "As a young bride I made the assumption that it would be fun to do everything," Susanne says. "I didn’t have others help out." Susanne’s a bit older and wiser now—she’s 50—and seven years into her second marriage, she’s finally taking on the challenge of hosting Thanksgiving again. This time, with help.
Relatives are pitching in with the cooking, and she and her husband have agreed to let each other know when they need help during their event so they don’t start feeling overwhelmed. They’ve also discussed how they want to welcome their guests and try to make everyone happy in their home.
That sounds like a good plan—until you’re hit with Uncle Al’s tirade on the war or Aunt Alice’s backhanded compliments. So then what do you do? "When a conflict happens, you have to decide to address it or ignore it," says Fralix. "Sometimes ignoring is good." But if you can’t bite your tongue, she suggests you at least think before you speak—and keep in mind that Thanksgiving is about preserving relationships.
All in all, just try to approach the event with a sense of humor. "Lighten up!" says Fralix. "Let go!" she also adds—control freaks don’t prosper when it comes to an event of this size. Make sure to discuss your family traditions beforehand and find a way to keep what’s really important. And be prepared for at least a little mess to clean up—and possibly a few broken dishes or glasses. Says Fralix, "It’s not about the stuff, and it’s not about the stuffing."