You have selected your dishes and decorated your home, but have you prepared yourself for the conflicts that come with large family gatherings.
SMU Dispute Resolution graduate students, led by Prof. Angela Mitakidis, share their tips for keeping family conflicts to a minimum at the Thanksgiving table and throughout the holiday season.
Take off Your Coat at the Door: Look past how your guests may present themselves – some may be wearing a “coat” of financial stress, work issues, relationship problems and so forth. Relieve them of their coat of burdens right up front by greeting them with an attitude of gratitude for their presence in your home, joy in your eyes to see them and a lift in your voice as you welcome them in. No one can resist a warm welcome and it will set the tone for the spirit of Thanksgiving right at the door.
Decorate Your Home with a Grateful Heart: A grateful spirit must start with you. You cannot control the behavior of others, nor can you compel another person to feel or demonstrate gratitude. You can only control your own behavior. So make a choice before your guests arrive to focus only on what you are grateful for and watch it spread throughout your home.
A Table Runner of Peace: As guests begin to sense the attitude of gratitude in your home, it will become a theme that will run through your conversations, jokes, comments and behaviors . If conflict arises, you will already have set the “table runner of peace” and that will give you the courage to verbalize a gentle request for a focus on all that we are grateful for.
From Our Student Experts
Elizabeth Blake – Practice Empathy
“‘Dance with surprises,’ as SMU Dispute Resolution Lecturer Larry Dressler would say, and practice empathy. The holidays are meant to be a time of happiness, but for some they are filled with emotional triggers, intense reflection, stress, and even sadness. For families of divorced parents, coordinating gatherings with multiple families can be very stressful and trigger guilt and resentment. I’ve personally found that keeping an open and flexible mind has allowed me to manage any unexpected incidents that may arise, like a family member becoming emotionally triggered. Practicing empathy for your family members, despite their flaws, keeps my mind focused on what the holidays are truly about- love, joy, family, and friends.”
Deborah Tomlinson – Be Flexible and Accommodating
“I’ve always hosted a large group for Thanksgiving. This year, it’s going to be just my immediate family. I have to admit, I’ve been out of sorts because I’m not hosting; making my lists, polishing silver, creating my table centerpiece and prepping to make some of the food ahead of time. It’s always good to be flexible and accommodating!! Be willing to shift and accept your new reality and not act like a martyr.
Check Your Expectations and Motives
“I try to keep in mind that my help depends on the unity of my friends and family. I will not allow myself to resent what anyone does; I will accept the fact that they mean to be helpful, no matter what they may say or do. Make a conscious effort to look for the good in every person.”
Sydelle Toney – Let Yourself Off the Hook
“My grandmother died in July 1999. Since that year, we have had Thanksgiving at my house. At the time, it was just my family – brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. Now it also includes my husband’s family as well. I easily have over 30 people over for Thanksgiving. I do all of the cooking and host from start to finish. I LOVE it! It is a little stressful but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The one thing that has helped me over the years as hostess is to stop expecting things to be perfect. I used to get upset if a cake didn’t turn out right, or if someone didn’t show who I was expecting, or if someone came and they weren’t getting along. I’ve always had a ‘superman’ syndrome. I was the one who made everything right! I had to let myself off the hook. If a cake doesn’t turn out the way I wanted, I don’t stress, I may not serve it, but I don’t stress. I don’t worry about everything being perfect because I’m NOT perfect (can’t believe I said that out loud). When I’m not stressed and uptight, it helps me calm anyone and any other situation that may arise. At the end of the day, it’s all family. I do my best and pray about the rest!”
About Angela Mitakidis:
Angela Mitakidis is a dispute resolution faculty member at the SMU Center for Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at SMU-in-Plano. She also is a practicing mediator and manager of the SMU Conflict Resolution Center. She specializes in mediation skills, conflict management, peer mediation and church conciliation. In addition, she teaches mediation skills and family conflict dynamics to dispute resolution graduate students.