Emotional Health

Addressing Difficult Issues With Family
Honestly and Thoughtfully

Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen is a collaborative physician who writes a weekly “Medical Monday” column for Women’s Voices for Change.

This week, we’re returning to our archives where Dr. Pat asked Megan Riddle, M.D./Ph.D. to help a mother of two have a conversation with her own parents about the pressures of Thanksgiving—without causing a big rift.

I live in the Northwest and my family members live in the Southeast. My parents and siblings expect me to load up my two middle-school-age children and husband, find and pay for someone to care for the dog, and travel there on Wednesday night (returning Sunday night) to share in the Thanksgiving ritual. I have come to hate this holiday because of the demands made on me by my entire family. My parents and siblings are all lovely and I love them, but this emphasis on a national holiday for “togetherness” at great expense for many families who live far away from their family of origin is making life really, really hard for many of us. My husband and I are both teachers and finances are tight. But frankly, time is tighter. My children hate the flight delays and hate the stress that we all endure. I actually have been thinking about lying — “the kids have the flu” — to get out of this.

How do we have a conversation with everyone back home and not cause a big rift? What kind of script could you suggest? We do go home in the summer for two weeks, when we are not working and are lucky to have a bit more time off than most people because as teachers we get a longer summer vacation.



Dear Joann,

You are certainly not alone. Nearly 44 million Americans travel over 50 miles to be with friends or family on Thanksgiving, leading to painfully congested roads and airports. While some look forward eagerly to being with family for the holidays, for many it is a trying experience. I understand that you are conflicted, both wanting to keep the peace with your parents and siblings while also respecting your own family’s needs, all with limited resources.

Traditions surrounding the holidays can be comforting and fulfilling, but also burdensome and exhausting. For you, it seems to have become more of the latter. However, as you note, changing these traditions can be challenging, as people may be wedded to the rituals to varying degrees – some have been looking forward to Thanksgiving togetherness since before they had even run out of turkey leftovers last year, while others have been dreading it just as long.

You mention that you could fudge the truth a bit and claim illness. Although this is always an option, it merely shifts the problem into the future — will someone else be sick next year? — and leaves you with a guilty knot in your stomach. Also, in the age of social media, it only takes one happy photo of you and the kids around the turkey at your own kitchen table to blow your fib and leave you scrambling for excuses. I don’t recommend it. So where does that leave you? To face the conversation.

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