The Holiday Survival Guide: Thanksgiving at Your Parent's Home

In our last installment of the Holiday Survival Guide we talked about Survival Tips when you are hosting the Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Today, we are sharing our tips for survival strategies at, not just someone else's home but your parent's home.

For one of you - your spouse or you - it will mean spending the holiday at your in-laws house. Whether these parents are your in-laws or the people that raised you there can be varying family dynamics that can be stressful.

In a perfect world the news of your engagement was received with a loud roar of applause from the family members gathered around at the time. Your Dad wipes a small tear from his eye but then gives the lad a hearty handshake and says "welcome to the family son". Your Mother gives your future husband a big hug and says "Now - you will call me Mom from now on". Or something like that. For some of you out there that may have been the scenario. But for many others that Norman Rockwell moment never happened.

Regardless of the family dynamics there are still some strategies to consider before going to your parent's home for Thanksgiving.


You may want this to be the perfect Norman Rockwell family gathering but be realistic in your own expectations. You may have fond memories of your mother doing all of the cooking on Thanksgiving day and then the entire family staying up late playing games around the table after the dinner had been cleaned up. That was over 20 years ago.  This woman is at least 20 years older and may or may not have the same energy level that she did when you were a kid.

Family Traditions are fantastic but they have to be a little bit flexible as you add new people to the family dynamic (spouse and kids and dogs). And you have to be flexible as our parents age. They may want to do the same things but may not have the same oomph to get it done for you as the child - it is now the time to pass the torch and if there is a family tradition that is important to you then you have to remember that you are now the parent teaching your kids about these traditions.


Even though it is your old family home and your parents may have even kept your bedroom relatively the way it was when you lived there (with a few modifications allowing for it to be a guest room) you are still the guest now.  They will want you to "Make yourself at home" but it is their home.

If there is an activity that you want to do or a tradition that is important to you then talk with your Mom or Dad before even arriving and ask them what they have planned and then let them know what you would like to do and ask them how this would all fit in to the activities they had planned.

Bring flowers or some token of appreciation to the hostess regardless of the fact that it is your own Mother. 

Most importantly, you may have childhood memories of running from the Thanksgiving table to the playroom straight after dinner but you are all grown up now and so it is time to pitch in and help make sure your Mom gets to enjoy the grandkids or just enjoy time with you.

Be a gracious guest in your own former home.


If you are the son or daughter-in-law there may be some particular stresses with not really knowing your in-law parents that well or you may have a rocky relationship with your own parents for some reason and there may be some triggers that you know are going to set you off. Your Mother telling you how she raised her children (you) implying that somehow she is a superior parent is often a trigger.

Before you even get to their house have a Keyword that you can use in a random sentence to let your spouse know you are about to blow your top.  This way, they can jump in and intercede before the situation gets to the point where things are said that really never needed to be said.

If you know that there is going to be some kind of interaction that may make you crazy before you even get there then have a strategy to deal with this calmly. Also, have a strategy in place just in case that strategy doesn't work.


Be filled with gratitude. Even if your family is not picturesque Brady Bunch family that you had hoped for as a child - they are who they are and they raised you with the best love and care they knew how to give. If there are things about their childraising that you really hated then be grateful that you learned from that and are doing things differently for your kids. 

In one family I knew there was a relative who loved to make jokes at other people's expense.  The child growing up in that environment didn't realize it wasn't funny because it always made their Dad laugh so much when he told a joke that belittled someone else.  So when this kid grew up and had a family of their own they decided that this was not going to be a part of their family traditions. It took a couple of years but after some time of no one laughing at the Dad's belittling jokes the jokes slowed down. Finally, when a grandson said "Grandad that's just not funny" it stopped altogether. 

We can express gratitude in a variety of ways but one way we never have to express it is in a phony way that allows for bad behavior to continue.  There are kind and gentle ways to change the ways our family dynamics work. At the same time some family members may never change and then we just have to be grateful that Thanksgiving comes just once a year.


Have a great time visiting your parents house. Enjoy yourself but remember to not over do it. Don't eat toooo much and especially don't drink too much. There are a few people in the world who become funnier and more delightful with an extra drink in them but those people are rare. If Thanksgiving is a stressful situation for you having an extra glass of wine or three will not make it better.

If you know this is going to be a stressful holiday then offer to bring a fabulous non-alcoholic drink that can be very festive but still keep you on your toes.

Have the wine when you get home. At your house.

The final consideration is accomodations. If you are in the same town then it is easy to go over to the Parent's house for dinner and go home to your own haven afterwords. But if you are traveling you will have to decide whether you are going to stay with your parents or somewhere else.

It is ok to stay somewhere else even if your parents have room. It's ok. But that is an entirely larger conversation for another day.

No matter where you celebrate Thanksgiving remember to enjoy the day with your friends and family in the spirit of the holiday. Give Thanks for all our blessings. Have fun and smile (your relatives will wonder what you're up to).


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