Family Secrets

How families are changing and not changing in our multicultural computer-centric world

The Thanksgiving Challenge

What If You’re Not Feeling So Thankful?

As we approach the Thanksgiving season, a time when families are called upon to embody a Norman Rockwell sense of togetherness and gratitude, some may feel pressured to become a family they’re not. There is a kind of national obligation to appear to be a close and happy family, even if just for this one meaningful day of the year.

But what if you don't have such great relationships with your family? What if your parents are overly critical, your children are not following a path you approve of, or you are estranged from your siblings for some significant reason? What if there are unresolved issues between members of your family and you dread the November feast because you know you’ll have to fake it, keeping your resentments and anger under wraps?  

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It is certainly true that enjoying close, loving ties to one’s family can engender feelings of inner peace and spiritual well-being, especially in a world that is both unpredictable and materialistic. But is there still a reason to be thankful—even if your family falls far short of the idealized Rockwellian portrait? First of all, I think it’s important to recognize the obvious: ideal families are just that – ideal, not real. In every group of relatives sitting around Thanksgiving tables in a few weeks there will be those suffering from marital problems, overbearing or neglectful parenting, sibling clashes, even dark secrets of misconduct or abuse.

Before we can turn our attention to gratitude, it’s necessary to grieve for the family we wish we had but do not. It’s never beneficial to ignore problems and simply tell ourselves to “appreciate what you have.” Some of us must cope with more serious family issues than others, and such difficulties require more from us than those who may be blessed with a happier family life.

After acknowledging what may be missing in our family relationships, each of us can then focus on the positive. Perhaps you had a good relationship with one of your relatives in the past, and you are working things out so that things may get better in the future. Maybe there is one family member with whom you have a special connection, with whom you feel free to be yourself. Or perhaps you have created a “family” with trusted and beloved friends, a group you feel more “related to” than the family into which you were born.    

However you arrive at that place of gratitude, take the time to let your feelings of gratefulness resonate. Being honestly thankful can be more challenging for some than for others. But sometimes those challenges enhance the true spirit of Thanksgiving. 

 - Dr. Ana Nogales

Ana Nogales is a clinical psychologist and well-known media personality, columnist, speaker, and advocate for victims of domestic violence.

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