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Sharing A Thanksgiving Table With People You Don’t Like

Published: November 26, 2013 | Last Updated: November 25, 2021 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
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Some tips on sharing the Thanksgiving table with people you wouldn’t necessarily choose as friends from the “Talk Turkey Hotline” 


Hi Irene,

I feel so pressured to attend my daughter’s mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving party, which I’ve been doing for the last seven years. My daughter has given up trying to host it herself. The family is nice enough but overly religious and somewhat intolerant of various religions and sexual preferences.

I feel like they live two centuries ago and I live in the present. There is no use arguing with them. My son-in-law insists I should go with him and my daughter to keep the peace. But at what cost?

This year I won’t bring the dog. After telling them over and over that the dog can’t eat chocolate sweets and more from the floor, the father-in-law dropped all his medications. The dog ate one. Fortunately, it was a vitamin.

There is a lot of tension because these parents don’t understand boundaries or not meddling. My daughter had a big battle seven years ago. His mother wanted 400 guests at the wedding at her parish 200 miles away, at our expense.

We were happy to pay for my daughter’s wedding, not hers! Anyway, they didn’t give up without a fight and finally, they did give in and took over the wedding arrangements pretty much. The middle son has separated from his girlfriend the minute they announced a wedding because his fiancee had no tolerance for their behavior. It was a shame.

Anyway, we share grandchildren now, and I want to remain civil and friendly without getting upset. This year we plan to attend but only for a limited time. We are leaving the dog elsewhere and have to return to feed her, so the time will be limited. We plan not to engage in deep conversations about anything that could be a problem.

Yet, I am still stressed out by having to attend. I wonder why I should.

Signed, Lisa


Hi Lisa,

You answered your own question, something that happens so often when people take the time to write a carefully composed note about a dilemma.

You don’t particularly like your in-laws or espouse the same values, and wouldn’t choose them as friends but you share children and grandchildren with them. You also don’t want to make things any more difficult than need be for your daughter and her husband. Those seem like reasons enough to sit at the same table on Thanksgiving for a few hours a year.

Setting time limits for your visit is a great idea as is avoiding polarizing conversational topics, such as religion, politics, sexuality, and finances.

This time you are practicing prevention (leaving the dog home, having an escape plan) so, hopefully, the experience will be a little less stressful. I also suggest that you focus on your grandchildren, the reason you are there. That might help keep things lighter too. The icing on the cake: You don’t have to cook or do dishes.

Hope it’s better than you expect!

My best, Irene

Also on The Friendship Blog: Uninvited on Thanksgiving

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Category: Dealing with difficult friends, KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (4)

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  1. Myra says:

    I have a control freak sister, who has taken over orchestrating Thanksgiving since 2001, when our dad passed away. We are a big group, and our youngest brother is married to a narcissistic sister in law. She and my own sister have had this on going war for a very long time. They even went for about 10 yrs., not speaking to one another. They got over that at some point, but the tension remains.
    My sister has two grown daughters. They and my sister’s boyfriend don’t have a very good relationship, either. He’s a nice guy too. But at the helm is my sister, talks TMI to all parties.
    Now we know we can’t do that, and not expect it may not have some repercussions.

    In the middle of these gatherings, I’m well aware is our 92 yr. old mother, who my sister lives with and she has Alzheimer’s. Very recently, my sister’s first grandson had a birthday party. She’s having grandmother wars w/her daughter’s aunt from the other side of the family. The drama was in place, so that I already knew about the players and the violations. But my sister also, is such a drama queen.
    If there’s no conflict, she’ll create some.

    At that birthday party, I took my camera. It was very interesting for me to take pictures, and in most of them both my sister and this overbearing aunt have been caught looking very angry, and in bad moods.

    What I did at that birthday party, was sit and talk to the great grandmother. It was great to sit with her, as I don’t know her, and we had a very nice, and neutral conversation. I know it’s hard being able to decide whether to go or not to the holiday celebrations, especially having to do with a family like this.

    But, I totally understand your feelings of just not wanting to go. This year for the first time,
    my sister decided she wasn’t going to do the big TG. She made that decision basically because our SIL, didn’t acknowledge her first grandson’s attempt at engaging her. He did that innocent thing baby’s do, of offering SIL, one of his toys. SIL just stared at the one year old, and walked away. Shame on her.

    After last TG, I heard the story over and over again, from my sister. This year,
    I didn’t hear from her before TG. I made my own plans, that have nothing to do w/my own family. On TG, I received a call from her stating that she’d made a small turkey.
    It only included her daughters, son-in-law, the grandkids, and of course mom. She invites me, as I’m popping my yams into the oven, (a dish I was taking to my TG.) Well I thanked her, but said I had other plans..
    I knew they were going to eat very soon also, (mom’s home is far from me), any way I opted out. On the back of this……my sister then told me, “Oh, we’re doing our TG, early, because the girls are going to their dad’s familie’s TG.” (divorce) But then listen to this…..she also tells me that SIL, called her the night before to invite mother and her to my brother’s home, for turkey.
    My sister was accepting the invitation, and going with mom, that evening. Here, she’d complained two thousand times over, about SIL, and not she’s going into the lion’s den. My sister has been referred as a flip flopper.
    Yes, and I know she uses the reasons that it could be mom’s last, given her age and all of that. Well, my position is, then don’t complain about it so much. Really what my sister is doing by behaving this way, is alienating me, from even wanting to go when she has any celebrations, at all.

    I made my own decision just not to be around any of my family, because people put so much energy that everybody is one big happy family. In many instances this isn’t the case.

    Believe me, I do understand when anyone is putting pressure upon you to go through with this. What part of, “No,” do people not get.

    To be quite honest, I feel as if people make too much out of this whole idea about the holidays, but show their poor behavior the rest of the time.
    I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t go, this choice is up to you.
    But sometimes when we have too many issues being there, maybe it’s just time for you to stand up for yourself and say, “No.” There are psychologists, who say we better get comfortable with this word. I’m learning to do this, myself! It’s called boundaries.


  2. Susan says:

    I think it is sad and unfortunate that people choose to have a ‘black & white’ mentality. IMO, a little ‘grey’ mixed in makes things more interesting. In 2001, I had the privilege of sharing a special Thanksgiving in New York. It was very unusual for me…it was in Brooklyn with a Jewish family and two lesbians. It was particularly special as it was 2 months after 9/11, and was traumatic for one of the females, as her job was just two buildings over from the twin towers and she had debris and soot covering her. So for the family it was an extra Thanksgiving. The gathering around the table was perfect…warm, cheery, and “light” (no drama/BS). A Thanksgiving I was honored to be part of and will always treasure. 🙂

    I have to LOL at Amy’s ‘Norman Rockwell’ expectations comment, as it is so very true! Mix the 1950’s family in with Norman Rockwell and you have the perfect Thanksgiving environment! LOL

  3. Sheryl says:

    Unfortunately people get caught in difficult situations and have to compromise. I think it’s best to make the best of the worst situation by going and setting a time limit (good idea – not mine!), and “grinning and bearing” it…for the sake of the family.

  4. Amy says:

    Lots of people dread the holidays because they have to spend time with people they’d prefer not to, just like you. Others are alone for the holidays and wish they had family, even maddening family, with whom to spend time. The holiday season is filled with expectations of Norman Rockwell paintings and made-for-TV movies. I find when I keep my expectations realistic, I’m happiest and most satisfied.
    I don’t tolerate racism or homophobia, even on the holidays. If I do, I have to live with my guilt for not defending minority populations, so I try to steer conversations away from those things or say, “we aren’t going to agree on this, and if I say what’s on my mind that will lead to a discussion I don’t think any of us wants to have.” You’re lucky that there are children involved so you can keep the focus on them, their interests, their holiday wish list etc. You don’t have to like those people, it’s only a few days a year you have to tolerate them. I know people who have a TG dinner the weekend before or after the actual holiday with friends or a smaller group of people they actually want to be around. That seems to take a lot of pressure off the actual day.
    Remember, keep your expectations realistic and you’ll be less frustrated and disappointed.

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