Thanksgiving family feuds: Neutralizing turkey conflicts

Family feuds and siblings squawking can make Thanksgiving one turkey of a holiday! But you can defuse the battles. Photo: Doctor Bob / Morgue File free image

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2013– Dear Millicent:  I look forward to hosting my extended family for Thanksgiving dinner, but the  angry arguments make me want to cancel.  What can I do to make this holiday season a peaceful time?

Tired of Turkeys


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Dear ToT: 

Trying to constructively manage  destructive and argumentative family members is always a challenge. The winter holiday season brings a lot of anxiety. Negotiating conflicting commitments to spend time with in-laws, navigating co-parenting drama or feeling alone when every else is focused on family can be overwhelming. Most of us are also feeling the stress of  the financial crises affecting our  ability to purchase  gifts for family and friends.

There are too many demands on our time and money. 

For some people, a large gather provides the perfect venue to air their gripes, disappointments, bitterness and hurts.


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Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Drinking alcohol doesn’t help. Alcohol can literally fuel conflict, as it exacerbates the problem by limiting one’s ability to think critically. However, it is important to recognize negative emotions (yours and others) that fuel bad behavior and take steps to neutralize conflict before it gets out of control.

Talking about politics and political affiliations can produce conflict, to the point that if your perspective is more conservative than your quests, you might be painted as the moral equivalent of someone who is a racist, elitist and anti-government. If the vast majority of your family members are of the far left persuasion, your family may plan an intervention to reverse the indoctrination they believe is controlling your thoughts.  On the other hand, if you are deemed to be too liberal, your family will probably refer to you as part of the “low information crowd.”

Either way, there seems to be little tolerance for diversity of opinions when it comes to taking about politics.

Destructive guests probably won’t really act out until after they have consumed dinner. They may throw spitballs (figuratively speaking) throughout the day but will wait until dessert is served before “acting the fool.”  Ever wonder why?   That way, they can take their dessert with them, when they are asked to leave.


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Wield your power! You are the highlander, that is, you and only you can determine who gets access to the turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes and other goodies you will serve. Some of your guests may have bought a dish, but most know how much effort it takes to prepare Thanksgiving dinner and are grateful to be guests in your home.

Large family gatherings attract pot stirrers and fire starters who like to stir up trouble but not take responsibility for causing a ruckus. They like to drop their spitballs and wait to see whom they negatively affect.  They look for weakness and any opportunity to stir up trouble.  Once the fighting starts, they like to sit back and watch the drama (fueled by adult beverages). 

I can recall an incident involving a 17-year old girl who was acting out and looking for an argument because her divorced father decided to bring his new girlfriend to dinner. The girlfriend was barely 25.  It was awkward for everyone. However, the daughter felt ignored and frankly replaced by her father’s girlfriend.

Everybody deserves to be happy, but there is a time and place for everything.  Had someone taken the time to speak with the daughter and acknowledge her feelings, an ugly scene could have been averted.  However, a pot stirrer ceased the opportunity and instigating the conflict by pushing the poor girl’s buttons to get a negative reaction.

Having spent days preparing the meal and getting everything in order, you’ll probably be exhausted and may have little energy to keep your guests in line. Recruit others to help you manage the group and keep the drama to a minimum.

Prepare for peace rather than expect to battle. Demand that your guests show respect for you, your home and themselves.  By letting them know what you expect,  you’ll be better able enjoy your guests and the wonderful meal you prepared.

Have a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving!

Ask me a question or make a comment at “Why Can’t We Get Along?”


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Millicent Carvalho-Grevious

Dr. Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, is the founder and principal of Pennsylvania Conflict Resolution and Mediation Services, Inc. She has mediated conflicts for over 30 years, providing services in a variety of venues for private and public entities, including the United States Postal Service, the Office of Dispute Resolution of the Department of Education, and the office of Employer Support for the National Guard and Reserve. She was one of 14 conflict resolution experts from 11 nations invited to Chongqing, China in 2009 to participate in a forum titled, “Responding to the Challenges of Financial Crisis and Building Social Harmony.” Previously, she served as Director/Program Chair of Urban Studies and Community at LaSalle University, Associate Professor and Chair of Department of Social Work at Virginia Union University and Associate Professor and Social Work Department Chair at Delaware State University. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Social Work and Master of Law and Social Policy degrees at Bryn Mawr College and Master of Education (Counselor Education) at Boston University and Bachelor of Arts at LaSalle University.

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