Thanksgiving is a time for friends and family. It often conjures up memories of traditions, foods and probably some classic movie tropes reminiscent of someone’s Uncle Eddie or Aunt Bethany (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation reference). This year, all of these these layers are still part of the holiday but on top of that we are in the midst of a pandemic. A few years ago, I wrote a blog for family members: How to Help Families of Kids with Disabilities Feel Welcome at Holiday Gatherings. Today, I’d also like to take a minute to speak directly to parents and caregivers preparing for…drum roll please…Thanksgiving 2020.
1. Decide what’s right for your family.
There is no denying that this holiday season will be different than years past. Family traditions are special and this will be a hard Thanksgiving for many families, but it can? still be a day for gratitude. Decide what is right for you and your immediate family and be confident in your decision. If you are close-by to family, maybe you could get together for a nature walk outdoors. If you can’t travel to family, enjoy a cider on your porch with a friend. If your family is getting together physically and you are not, try to join in virtually, even for a toast.
2. Even if you feel judged, try not to judge.
A parents of kids with disabilities, feeling judged is not new for us. And now, with Covid and politics and school and and and….there are just so many things to judge! But remember, you can only control your own response. You cannot control other people’s opinion or behaviors. So decide beforehand, if someone is making a judgement on your choice, how will you respond? Be ready; it’s so much easier in the moment if you have some self-talk ready to keep you calm.
3. Set reasonable expectations.
Virtual calls with family work great for my husband and me, but no amount of snacks will convince our kids to sit down and talk to a computer screen. We found that when we relaxed our expectations for our kids, we could enjoy the time with our family more. And the kids enjoyed their time more, too… watching a movie or playing outside. It’s hard for family not to spend more time with our kids but it isn’t reasonable for them to sit and they understand that. Our kids are busy and our goal with a virtual get together is to connect, not to increase stress. Set realistic expectations for your family and hopefully this will help reduce your stress too.
4. Stay positive AND be real.
I think many of us are suffering from some version of Covid-fatigue right now. We’ve talked at length, for months, about how hard things are. Questions like, “how are you?” or “how’s school going?” have become the hardest questions to answer. I mean, are you asking how I’m doing in general or how I’m doing given the state of the world? I think it’s important to be honest, “this past week school has been incredibly challenging actually”. But I I also think it’s important to share the positives, no matter how small, “ but we found a great book we’re reading together at night and that’s been awesome.” Spend a minute reflecting on small successes, your family will want to celebrate that with you.
5. Let go of the ‘shoulds’.
Whatever Thanksgiving is to you, whatever family means to you, whatever you are grateful for this year, I encourage you to keep that at the center of whatever you plan for your day. Let go of the Pinterest platter or the Instagramable table, and embrace the footie pajamas or mini frozen appetizers. If you love to cook, then cook! But let go of the need for your kids to be engaged in gratitude crafts while you cook. If you love Thanksgiving decor, go nuts! If you love family interactive games, set it up! But let go of the need to do it all. Pick one thing; one activity, or food, or craft or anything, and center your family’s day around that. Let go of the rest.
Happy Thanksgiving to our ELI family.We are grateful for you.