Thanksgiving table set and ready

While most articles about Thanksgiving start out with an approach to “what am I grateful for,” and we’ll get to that…, I thought I’d start this one with a look at family dysfunction and our national holiday, Thanksgiving.

So I Googled the topic, “tough situations for families at Thanksgiving,” and there’s a lot out there about this subject: how to deal with difficult personalities at Thanksgiving dinner; how people with eating disorders survive the holidays (when their relatives always want them to “eat more”); how divorced families juggle the holiday.

None of these were the exact approach I wanted in trying to write an uplifting, inspirational article. So I turned to my favorite source, The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have book. (Laura and Malcolm Gauld: Scribner, 2002)


“The term dysfunctional is thrown around so much these days that it has lost some of its true meaning. If we accept the idea that a dysfunctional family is any family that does not operate in an optimal manner for the maximum benefit of all family members, then we would probably have to conclude that all families are dysfunctional. It is obviously a matter of degree. Furthermore, any family with high expectations will eventually encounter dysfunction. (If not, then the expectations probably aren’t all that high.)

Be aware of creating an artificial world within your family as a way of protecting your children from the “big, bad world” out there. That world can become so artificial that it begins to bear little or no resemblance to the outer real world that our children must ultimately face.” (Pages 77-78)


In our workshops, we stress that the effort toward excellence is more important than striving for perfection. I can remember when I would always have a vision in my mind of what the Thanksgiving dinner table would look like, what time we would eat, and what everyone would wear. I failed to ask what time others wanted to eat or to convey my expectations of dinner attire, and when blue jeans showed up or someone wanted to eat with the football game on in the background, I tended to “lose it.” And when mom loses it… well…

These days, Thanksgiving dinner is just as important but much more relaxed. I’ve learned to ask for help, to accept that neat and clean, even with blue jeans, is more important than any “dress code” I could impose, and that the true meaning of Thanksgiving, no matter what time we eat, is expressing our gratitude for all that we’ve been given.

This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for:

  • Three very special grandchildren
  • Two daughters-in-law that are like daughters to me
  • The relationships I have with my two adult sons
  • An adventurous husband
  • A vital, active mother who is 97
  • The freedom to express my opinions and my gratitude

Write and let us know what you’re grateful for this holiday, OR what you’re worried about. We’re grateful for that, too!

I wish you all a wonderful, as-functional-as-possible holiday.