Dear Amy: How Do I Deal With My Family For The Holidays?

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Let's face it, while Thanksgiving get-togethers can be joyful, they can also be stressful. Audie Cornish talks with Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated column "Ask Amy," about how to navigate tricky family relationships during the Thanksgiving holiday.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Let's face it: while Thanksgiving get-togethers can be joyful, they can also be stressful. And if you're gearing up for a family gathering right now, you're likely awaiting the arrival of a few loved ones who may be a little hard to love sometimes.

Knowing that, we've called on Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated column "Ask Amy," for some advice on how to get through the holiday. Hey there, Amy.

AMY DICKINSON: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: All right, so right now there are planes landing, cars packed with luggage pulling into driveways. What are some good ground rules for keeping Thanksgiving peaceful and, dare I say it, happy?

DICKINSON: (Laughter) I think it's really important to remember that Thanksgiving is a once-a-year event. For some of us, it's the only time we see some of our family members. It's very important to remember that this is not the place to air your long-buried family secrets, your dirty laundry. And sometimes you have to concentrate really, really hard to do that because some family members didn't get that memo.

CORNISH: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: And this is where I love the idea of - I call it misdirection. When somebody starts on a topic that you know is just going to lead to heartache, you say: Look, there's a comet.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: You know, you just - you really do sometimes have to work a little hard to keep everyone - first of all, keeping everybody involved. I think it's very important for people at the table to feel that everybody has a voice, everybody can share; and people are involved. And there are some great ways to promote conversations. And they can be questions like: What's your funniest Thanksgiving memory?

This way, everybody gets a chance to talk and weigh in. It can start off the meal in a more light and joyful way than plunging right into the latest political dispute or religious issue or, you know, these more challenging topics.

CORNISH: Now, for me, when in doubt, I ask about the kids. So this leads to the question of whether or not children should be at the Thanksgiving table, or at their own kids' table.

DICKINSON: I realize there is a - actually, a terrific sort of separate tradition of kids' tables. And many of us have really, really fun and funny memories about being at the kids' table. Then you get to a certain point where you feel like it's - you're in exile.

CORNISH: Right, it's the year that you leave the kids' table that's the most exciting.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: Right. I actually like the idea of incorporating - bringing the children to the big table, partly because you can use them as a sort of human shield when things get tense. Look - little Bobby. How cute.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: But I really believe that children should be encouraged to participate. They can do a little arts project for the table. I like the idea of starting a meal, sometimes, with toasts; and they can give a little toast. So I very much like the idea of having children at the table. And then, usually at around dessert time when the coffee comes out, I think it's also a good idea to send the kids to their own little spot.

CORNISH: What if you're doing Thanksgiving with just one other person - say, you and a parent? What are the ways that you can make it special, considering that Thanksgiving is so much geared towards that kind of big event, big gathering?

DICKINSON: Pull out the best stuff, light the candles; try to make a special meal. I know a lot of us have elderly parents who maybe don't live at home and in their homes, and you're going maybe to an assisted living center or somewhere else. Just do your best to make it a special meal. And then, if you can, I love the idea of taking an outing after the meal. Whether you go to a movie, or go for a walk or a drive, these are ways to sort of just seal that day as a special day that's different from other days.

CORNISH: But not shopping.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: Not shopping, ugh. This Black Thursday thing is making me so sad. The idea that families will race away from the table, into their cars and off to the mall, it just makes me really sad.

CORNISH: Amy Dickinson - she writes the syndicated column "Ask Amy." Amy, thanks and Happy Thanksgiving.

DICKINSON: Same to you, Audie. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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