How Not To Kill Your Family on Thanksgiving

November 20, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Dear Kathy,

     Every holiday my mother, step-father, brother, and sister spend the day with my family. It is sheer hell and I am dreading the upcoming winter holidays.

     I am fine with my parents joining us, but my siblings drive me right over the edge. My sister is in her 40’s and single. She feels like the world owes her a living because she doesn’t have a family of her own.

     She complains about anything and everything and feels like the least we can all do for her is to cater to her every need because she’s alone (never mind that she turned away guy after good guy when she was younger because this one was too short, that one was too cheap, and another one was too much of a mama’s boy). She could have been married with 10 kids if she weren’t so impossibly picky.

     She makes my parents, who are both in their 80’s, pick her up and drive her both ways to my home and back, even though it takes them over an hour more time each way. She says that she has to commute to work by public transportation, she shouldn’t have to commute on her time off when family members have cars.

     She calls me weeks before every family get-together to make requests regarding what she wants on the table. She doesn’t cook for herself because “she’s only one person” and therefore expects me to accommodate her every gastronomic whim. On Thanksgiving I can’t eat my own stuffing because I hate the raisins she insists on; it is so aggravating!

    While I’m doing all the cooking and cleaning, she hangs out in the living room enjoying the company. If she loaded the dishwasher once, I’d probably have a stroke from the shock. She contributes absolutely nothing, not even bringing a pie to add to the table. She has actually had the gall to intimate that my husband and I should be grateful to her for being willing to travel to Connecticut for the holidays as it’s an inconvenience for her.

     My brother has been perpetually moody since his divorce a few years ago. He sits there in silence like a lump the whole day, eats his food without comment, and comes and goes without a “hello” or “good-bye.” He’s like a human rain cloud.

     The only one who helps me besides my husband and kids is my mother and I’d prefer if she’d just sit down and relax. She has arthritis in both knees and it’s painful for her to stand. She knows how much work it is to prepare a large holiday meal and she always compliments the food and the effort I put into making it a special day for everyone. My step-dad usually slips me a couple of twenties toward the food cost, which I appreciate. I know that’s his way of saying “thank you.”

     How can I get my siblings to wake up and smell the coffee? It is our joint responsibility to make the holidays nice for our extended family, not my obligation alone to do all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning up afterwards. Even my children, who are 6 and 8 years old, have asked me why my sister doesn’t help me. I don’t want to belittle her in front of them because they love her, but I feel like slapping her. Honestly, if it weren’t for my mother I wouldn’t invite them anymore. She would be heart-broken not to have us all together, though, and I don’t know how many more years she’ll still be here. Do you have any suggestions for making Thanksgiving bearable?

At wit’s end,


Dear Kayla,

    I suggest that you decide what contributions you want from your brother and sister in terms of food they bring or financial contribution they make towards the meal, as well as specifically what help you want from them (setting the table, clearing the table, etc.). Then, make your menu and inform them (note: I stated “inform them,” not negotiate with them) what foods you will be preparing as well as what specific help you want from them.

     Let the past be the past. Berating them for what they didn’t contribute last year or the year before will only engender bad feelings. Rather, be proactive and focus on the now. Explain that you need their help and tell them in very specific terms what you want.

     If your sister attempts to get her way, inform her that she is welcome to cook or purchase those foods you will not be providing. Be gentle but firm. She’ll get the message. Though she may squawk at the outset, if you hold your ground she’ll likely back down.

     It is far better to set some ground rules now than to bottle up your feelings, resentments simmering ever more under the surface. If things continue as they are, you will probably explode and be prone to say things you regret later. It would be sad for all if your anxiety regarding addressing your siblings’ unacceptable behaviors trumped your desire to resolve the situation, resulting in a family rift.

     Giving your siblings the benefit of the doubt, they are most likely unaware of their outward behavior. Holidays tend to be a lightning rod for unresolved emotions. It may be hard for them to spend holidays with your happy family of 4 when they have been unlucky in love, themselves. (I am not suggesting that you excuse their behavior or enable it, just reframe your paradigm when you address it). I wish you the best of luck in refraining from killing your family on Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day,