Why Thanksgiving is a goldmine for family therapists

Freedom From Want 2011, after Norman Rockwell
Freedom From Want 2011, after Norman Rockwell (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

As many of us in the States prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, you’d think we’d rejoice.

Not all of us.

While some of us are happy to be spending time with our extended families this week, others are stocking up on red wine. And booking therapy sessions in advance of the holiday rush.

After careful consideration, I offer you the reasons why the latter group is self-medicating. I’m sure you’ll recognize one or two from your own brood.

Uncle Hank. No, I don’t have an uncle named Hank but there’s one archetypal Uncle Hank in every family. He is the resident know-it-all, the one who chimes in whether you’re talking about how to tell when the turkey is done or South American birds facing extinction. Yes, he’s just that much of a Renaissance man—wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Just don’t bring up breastfeeding, colonoscopies or any other delicate topics. He’ll chime in on those, too, and it won’t be pretty. But, he gives the rest of the gang a common pain in the rear about which to complain. He’s good for bonding the troops, really.

Your attention-starved sister. Or sister-in-law. Or cousin. She somehow got stuck at the age of about five in terms of her need for all eyes to be upon her. She appears to be listening to conversations, but really she is trying to find a way to insert herself into them. And not as an avid participant. As the star. When a family friend stops by and shares the story of a friend’s radical mastectomy, this gem will say things like, “I know just what you mean. My recent bunion surgery was just awful.” And then proceed to give you a blow-by-blow account, highlighting just how brave and persevering she was during her recovery. Annoying? Absolutely. But, you can be thankful for this person because when the awkward silences fall at the table, she’ll fill them. Again and again.

Cousin Caleb, the PDA king. Oh no. Here he comes again. Cousin Caleb feels physical affection should be shown at all times. It’s not love unless you’re in close personal quarters to him. He insists on kissing all female family members on the lips and hugging every male for more than the three seconds normally allotted for male hugging. He makes all incredibly uncomfortable and there’s generally a race to the table to see who can avoid sitting next to him—which means far too many thigh squeezes during dinner and sore quads for the post-dinner family football game.

And speaking of football, how about the male relative for whom football on Thanksgiving is the holy grail. As you ask him about his job or latest vacation, he answers in monosyllabic grunts, punctuated by frequent outbursts of, “Jesus Christ, get a hand on the ball you moron” or the ever popular “Goddamn ref can’t see his hand in front of his face.” Regardless of the annoying occasional yell, this guy usually has a pretty good throwing arm for the post-dinner family football toss. That’s something to be thankful for in an otherwise pitiful show of familial athletic ability.

Country cousins and city sisters. You know what I mean, right? There’s always at least one family member who wants to talk about “damn foreign cars” and “fancy restaurants that serve crazy food like octopus and snails.” And then there’s at least one member of the family, usually the sane one, who has moved to the big city and drives a damn foreign car, usually to a fancy restaurant where they serve octopus and snails. This person either politely ignores country cousin or brings sustainably farmed escargot as an appetizer to exact revenge for last year’s tirade about organic food. I’m thankful for both of these people because it’s fun to watch the dynamic when you need to tune out Uncle Hank’s monologue about what’s wrong with the government nowadays.

The holy roller and moral majority, a.k.a. Great Aunt Hattie. Thank God for this person or all the rest of us heathens at the table might burn in hell forever. How fortuitous that you have this shining example to bring up the evils of our culture, politics and religion for sparkling table conversation that of course offends no one. If Little Johnny got an ear pierced, you can be sure Great Aunt Hattie will be the first to mention it and the road to hell upon which he has embarked. I’m not sure why you should be thankful for this relative. Give me some time. I’ll come up with something . . . nope. Nothin’.  I’ve got nothin’.

Perhaps I’ll be more creative after a glass of red wine and a therapy session.

Happy Turkey Day.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m so different from my family. I’m the “foreign car drivin’, veg-e-tar-ar-ian, childless, weirdo” so holidays around my family are no picnic. Here’s to all the other weirdos. May our holiday pass smoothly.

  2. andmorefood says:

    You forgot the tiny dress and underwear-less state of the attention-starved relative!

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh–I think that’s another category in and of itself:). So many more I could have written . . .

    2. I laughed so hard when I read this! My sister is famous for her tight tiny dress with thong ensembles. I thought I might be the only one.

  3. lmarieallen says:

    “sustainably farmed snails…” Guffaw, guffaw! Love it! I sit between my ultra metro and slightly snooty brother (whom I adore) and my husband dressed in camouflage awaiting the great yearly hunt while getting progressively more redneck the more beer he consumes. Throw in my mom who drinks too much wine and loves to needle ultra Republican hubby about politics. Good times!

    1. candidkay says:

      I can picture the scene:). I’m with you in spirit!

  4. Almost Kalua says:

    Great article and so true!!!!

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