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Thanksgiving Dis”fun”ctional Family

Nobody quite puts the fun in dysfunctional like family and the holiday make that even more clear.

My immediate family, when I was young, usually did holidays on our own. Just mom, dad and four kids. Only occasionally did we try to get with extended family for the holidays.

One year, for Thanksgiving, my Mom and us four kids tried to get with one of Mom’s siblings, D and her three daughters. D’s oldest daughter, C was supposed to meet my family not far from where D lived and lead us to the house instead of us trying to find our way. We got to the meeting location about at the agreed upon time and don’t see C anywhere. So we wait. And wait. We tried calling after a while, no answer so we keep waiting. Sometime after the agreed meeting time we finally hear word from C about why she is so late. Apparently D and one of her daughters starting arguing. The fight escalated to the point of the daughter punching the mother. So C was busy trying to put out those flames instead of meeting my family.

Thanksgiving dinner was put in “endangered” status. Might not happen but hold on, let’s see how it goes. So we waited some more. The brawling daughter got kicked out of the house so dinner was off. Then the daughter came back but was grumpy so dinner was “maybe”. Eventually C came out and met us and led us to the house where daughter and mother were fine, no longer arguing and even joking around with each other.

Still, in the uproar dinner had been forgotten and now it was late so Thanksgiving dinner that year ended up being at a Shoney’s restaurant.

A few years later my husband and I made plans with C to join her family (now married with kids) for Thanksgiving. She then added in her mother who, at the last minute, decided making a meal was too much trouble and we again ended up at Shoney’s for Thanksgiving dinner. 1008-12

{ 39 comments… add one }
  • o_gal November 19, 2012, 7:41 am

    No comments posted yet, but I wanted to put in something about having dinner in a restaurant. Please do not disrespect restaurants for a meal like Thanksgiving. For some families, it is the option that works best for them. In my family, we do a restaurant for my half and home cooked for the other half. Going to a restaurant works best for my half time-wise and location-wise. We also go to a buffet restaurant which has a wide variety of dishes, so everyone can get the stuff that they like and avoid the stuff they don’t. We also get time together to talk, reconnect, share funny stories, etc. Then we can leave and go on to any other Thanksgiving gatherings that we’re invited to.

  • Lo November 19, 2012, 8:30 am

    Yikes! This would be enough to keep me home for all holidays. Why not celebrate with your husband’s family or just your siblings and immediate family? Some family is just for weddings and funerals.

    We too have our share of family dysfunction but we use words, not fists. Easier to clean up after. I don’t feel safe around people who have so little self control that they resort to physical violence. Maybe in light of this you could even include C’s family in your own celebration but settle ahead of time who’s doing the cooking or do a potluck Thanksgiving. C’s family would probably enjoy a less toxic enviornment.

  • Sarah Jane November 19, 2012, 8:51 am

    Eating a Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant is not at all terrible.

    Your aunt and her daughter’s behavior, however, was most terrible.

  • MamaToreen November 19, 2012, 8:53 am

    Nothing wrong with a Restaurant Thanksgiving dinner. The people who can’t control their behavior for one day? Another story entirely.

  • TylerBelle November 19, 2012, 8:54 am

    I’ve never done the restaurant T-Day dinner, but I think it’d be somewhat adventurous to do so. And if everyone’s getting together, I’d honestly would rather go there than to have it at a house (mine or kinfolk’s). Otherwise, I’d prefer doing my own thing for Thanksgiving as getting something nifty for dinner while watching the football games.

    Anyways, I hope in the future that D’s family doesn’t come to blows any more, and whether the family does holiday get-togethers at home or other places, I hope they are more joyful ones.

  • Margo November 19, 2012, 9:00 am

    yikes. I think after the first incident I would have decided that any joint celebrations would either be at my home, or planned to be at a restaurant, so that last minutes delays and changes of plan by the other family would have minimal impact on my own family’s meal.

    O-Gal – I didn’t read it as a critisism of holiday meals in restaurants, but more a critisism of the bait-and-switch which turned a home cooked, family meal, to a restaurant meal at the last minute (I can’t help wondering whether OP’s aunt/cousin picked up the restaurant bill, or if they expected OP’s family to cover their own share, even though it wasn’t what had been agreed..

  • egl November 19, 2012, 9:17 am

    It sounds like if you want to include that branch of the family in a Thanksgiving meal, you should probably just make reservations at Shoney’s before hand. It might be less traditional than you’d like, but you get to have a meal with family, which would seem to be the main point of the endeavor.

    On the plus side, no dishes to wash.

  • Angel November 19, 2012, 9:39 am

    Why is it that Thanksgiving is the one time of the year where people need to air their grievances with one another? I will never understand why families cannot put aside their bad feelings for even one afternoon to have a peaceful meal.

  • Michellep November 19, 2012, 10:22 am

    The letter didn’t criticise restaurant meals for holidays, but I sure wouldn’t make any plans with that family anymore.

    I wasn’t a big fan of going to restaurants for holidays, but now I wouldn’t do anything else. I’m the cook in my immediate family, and after years of doing the work and dealing with picky eaters, to Ryan’s we go.

  • Library Diva November 19, 2012, 10:23 am

    They don’t have them in my part of the country, Southerners help me out, but isn’t Shoney’s more like a lower-end diner-type place than a nice restaurant? Similar to a Denny’s or a Perkins sort of place, except less focused on pancakes? So for those criticizing OP, I think that had she planned to eat out for Thanksgiving, she wouldn’t say “oooh, let’s go to Shoney’s, it’s really nice there!” Somewhat like that scene in The Santa Clause where Tim Allen takes his son to the only place open on Christmas — Denny’s — because he burned the meal, and the place is full of divorced dads who also burned dinner, it seems more like a place she ended up because it was open, convenient and wouldn’t break the bank rather than a desirable local restaurant.

  • Wendy B November 19, 2012, 10:25 am

    After being told that Thanksgiving was a “maybe” you probably should have just given it up for loss and gone elsewhere. If their family arguments are that wild, I’m not sure I’d want to take my chances, personally.

  • Audra November 19, 2012, 10:40 am

    Oh wow. I think after I found out why C was late meeting us, I would have headed home. Even though D and the oldets daughter had made up by the time you arrived, I would be worried about something sparking another fistfight.

    I tried to do the joint celebration with my family and my husband’s family for the first few years after we were married. My parents are divorced and so are his. My father lives out of state but that still left 3 sets of grandparents that wanted us visit. Our boys were small at the time and none of us (kids, husband, myself) could eat 3 large meals in one day so someone always felt slighted. Then there were the little things that were “off”- husband’s nephew would eat at home before the family gathering so when it was time to eat, he would go straight for the desserts (great-aunt made a fabulous banana pudding and nephew would seriously scoop half the dish in his plate!) while the other children had to eat “real” food first. Then there was the year I made a Paula Deen side dish, cranberry sandwiches, that no one even tried!

    My husband’s stepmother’s family were really strange-they would all sit in the kitchen and “pick” at the food. If you walked in to get a drink or whatever, they would all stop talking and not speak again until you left the kitchen! At my mother’s house, my sister and BIL would show up with extra, odd people. One year, BIL made friends with some guy that lived in the same apartment complex the day before Thanksgiving and invited him to join us! I don’t mind being friendly and welcoming folks but this guy chain smoked like a freight train. Since there were children present and no one else smoked, he had to go outside to smoke, so he was basically hanging around on the back porch smoking all day. He stopped long enough to eat, then pulled out a joint and asked if anyone wanted to join him!

    The next year I told all the grandparents that I was making dinner at my house and they were welcome to drop in or come stay all day or whatever. I told my sister she and BIL was welcome as long as no “surprise” guests showed up. They came, sans guests, but at Christmas that year (I offered to host Christmas that year, too) she showed up with an “extra”. When I pulled her to the pantry and asked why she brought this person, she said she thought I only meant Thanksgiving!

  • Princess Buttercup November 19, 2012, 10:54 am

    OP here.

    The problem was not that we ate at a restaurant, it’s that we planned a personal at home dinner and after lots of waiting (both times actually) we ended up not with the planned home meal. However, I can say that Hubby and I both have agreed that wherever Thankgiving meal is, we never want to do Shoney’s again. Both times (different restaurants) the buffet was cold and flavorless.

    I can’t remember who picked up the first bill but the second time the mother (who wanted Shoney’s) covered us.

    We usually either do Thanksgiving alone or with Hubby’s parents now. However, they are _very_ strict vegan so most dishes are changed greatly and not near as good in my opinion, but no chance of physical fights!

  • Robert November 19, 2012, 11:01 am

    When my grandmother was in a nursing home and wheelchair bound we would go to a restaurant for T-Day (home wasn’t handicap accessible). It was actually a lot of fun. They had the traditional turkey dinner option but I liked being able to try different things (filet minion, duck a l’orange, etc.).

    Funniest (in a way) T-Day story I ever heard was from a former coworker. Her first T-Day with her new husband and the in-laws were supposed to come. The in-laws hated her and weren’t shy about telling her that they thought their son had made a huge mistake marrying her. The in-laws called to cancel because of a light dusting of snow. Apparently FIL had a four wheel drive truck and was known to drive through snowstorms so it was clear the dusting of snow was just an excuse. Her husband called them on it by saying he would make the three hour round trip to pick them up and would then drive them home.

    My co-worker said she had been drinking wine while making dinner and switched to harder stuff. She said the more she drank the more furious she became at her in-laws. By the time her husband showed up with his parents in tow the T-Day dinner, turkey and all, was scattered across the front lawn.

  • LiLi November 19, 2012, 11:46 am

    @Library Diva

    You are correct, Shoney’s is a buffet style budget restaurant more along the lines of a Denny’s or an IHOP in feel. It’s not exactly the type of place one thinks of for a “special occasion.”

    Not that there is anything wrong with eating there for T-day if that’w what you want to do! But I can understand being disappointed by being “forced” to eat there if you were expecting a certain family home-cooked tradition.

  • Lisa November 19, 2012, 11:49 am

    Robert – excellent story.

  • Bint November 19, 2012, 11:50 am

    I’m glad the OP addressed the ‘Please do not disrespect restaurants for a meal like Thanksgiving’ posts, because there was a *massive* assumption against her right there. She said she went to Shoney’s. That was it. How anyone could read disrespect into that amazes me, although there’d be nothing wrong if she’d said she didn’t like buffet restaurants anyway. If you don’t like them and wouldn’t choose to go to one, wouldn’t you be annoyed that *someone’s bad behaviour* meant you ended up there? I would be. By contrast, if the kitchen caught fire or my hosts loved the place, I’d be happy to go.

    I don’t appreciate having any of my arrangements disrupted by someone’s tantrums , violence or other nastiness, regardless of the result, let alone a major event.

  • PM November 19, 2012, 12:00 pm

    @Audra, re: the add-ons from other guests. A friend of mine has an aunt that was notorious for this. Honestly, when they’re making dinner plans, it goes something like, “OK, so with SIL’s family, that’s 18, and then whomever aunt meets at a gas station on her way to the house and invites along.” For years, the hosts told aunt that bringing unexpected guests to a holiday dinner was inappropriate and put the hosts in a bad spot, and were met with, “But they have (tragic backstory) and have no place to go!”

    Finally, the hosts stopped making accommodations for unexpected guests. No more adding extra chairs to the table, squeezing the people who were actually invited and making them uncomfortable. No more extra place settings. No more leaving a few extra adorable handmade place cards blank so they could scribble in the guests names at the last minute. Aunt’s add-on guests were welcome to find space to sit where they could, usually in the living room at the coffee table and Aunt was directed to join them and make sure her guests had plenty to eat and drink.

    Yes, the hosts felt bad for not being gracious as possible to the unexpected, uninvited extra people, but they were more worried/irritated with aunt’s behavior. Without all of the perks (provided by other people), aunt’s vicarious hospitality lost some of its sheen. She grumbled about the lack of holiday spirit in the hosts, but stopped dragging extra people along. Occasionally, she still tries to “add on” before the dinner date, but she is quickly shut down by friend and her relatives.

  • Serenity November 19, 2012, 12:29 pm

    As someone who works in a restaurant that is open on holidays, I can testify that I see the worst behavior in families on holidays. It’s usually the larger groups, where obviously not everyone gets along. I have seen people gang up on each other to the point where someone gets reduced to tears, entitled children being rude to relatives and staff while the parents say nothing, etc. etc. It’s sad to see and I personally think if you can’t get along for a holiday at least, then don’t join your relatives that you dislike just for holiday’s sake. You’re only making yourself, and everyone around you, miserable. On a side note, if you do go out to eat, remember that the person waiting on you is missing out on their Thanksgiving while you enjoy yours, so be extra nice. I don’t mind working holidays, but it really sucks when people are being rude to me because they don’t like the family they are with!

  • acr November 19, 2012, 2:24 pm

    I wonder if the relatives in this story are the kind of people who just crave an audience for their drama? I’d be willing to wager that anytime they have more than the usual group (whatever that is) scheduled to come for a holiday that some sort of “disaster” strikes.

  • The Elf November 19, 2012, 4:14 pm

    There’s one in every family. Two in mine.

    When in comes to some families and holidays, I find the best policy is to celebrate some other time. Get together for Christmas in January, that sort of thing. Because if you want to enjoy your holiday, it won’t be with them.

  • Angela November 19, 2012, 4:34 pm

    I have had some great Thanksgiving meals at restaurants. Not Shoney’s, though!

    I can’t understand why adults can’t act like adults for a few hours. I have a few volatile members of my own family but they behave themselves for special occasions.

  • Library Diva November 19, 2012, 4:58 pm

    Thanks for clarifying about Shoney’s, Lili. All I knew about the chain was that it apparently serves good pecan pie, and that in the Southern US, you often see them listed on highway exit signs. Normally, you don’t see anything other than budget restaurants listed on exit signs, so I figured it couldn’t be a very fancy place.

    I also loved Robert’s story. At least his co-worker didn’t wait until the in-laws arrived to throw the dinner directly at them!

  • Snarkastic November 19, 2012, 5:16 pm

    I’ll say it: There’s no way you’d get me into a Shoney’s for Thanksgiving. That’s the point I’d turn the damn car around and say, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out this year.” Canned soup for everyone!

  • Challis November 19, 2012, 5:22 pm

    roberts story– I bet the parents we thankful to have a valid reason to dislike her after that. How thoughtful of her to go ahead and give them ammunition.

  • Tallulah November 19, 2012, 5:43 pm

    On the one day set aside to be thankful for our bounty, I couldn’t dream of turning away an unexpected guest. But, our Thanksgivings are casual affairs, and there is always plenty of food. The host does the turkey, and everyone else contributes their “best” dish. Friends, family, “transient” boyfriends/girlfriends, all are welcome. I went to a restaurant once for Thanksgiving and hated it. I missed the family, and the leftovers!
    I know we wouldn’t have waited as long as OP waited to get dinner. We would have been on our way after the second excuse.

  • Jenn50 November 19, 2012, 5:49 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong with Thanksgiving in a restaurant if that is the advertised plan. That way, you can have other plans if a restaurant doesn’t feel like the cozy family gathering you envisioned. I know it wouldn’t be how *I* wanted to spend a holiday, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a perfectly acceptable choice. But I would NOT put up with being jerked around with the whole “Thanksgiving is on/off/maybe if we can stop fighting long enough….” The first hint of that, and I’d say “You’ve clearly got a lot to deal with. We’ll catch up another time. ” and gone somewhere else.

  • GleanerGirl November 19, 2012, 7:06 pm

    One year, my parents and I had to help my brother and his family move on Thanskgiving! Yep, the whole house had to be packed and moved in one day, because their landlord surprised them and told them that he and his family wanted the rented house back and wanted to move in on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Please don’t start about laws and renters rights. This was a private rental agreement between friends. The landlord had to move elsewhere, for work, and he had also been surprised by HIS new landlord, and was also packing and driving out of state on Thanksgiving.

    In short – we worked hard all morning packing, loading the moving van, and unloading into the new house as fast as we could. There would be no home-cooked family meal. We were OK with that, as we have always been rather casual, agreeing that the celebration of family time is more important than having everything just-Norman-Rockwell-so. However, since it was last minute, we could not make reservations at a restaurant in the big city.
    Furthermore, we live in a small town, where the gas stations close at 9 pm. It has, YAAAAY! grown since then, but at the time, there were two restaurants open on Thanksgiving: Jack-in-the-box and the bad Chinese buffet.
    Basically, that day, we ate to get nutrition and revitalize our exhausted bodies. We worried about “Thanksgiving Dinner” a day later, when the good restaurants opened.

    So, for the OP, I think I would have headed home at the first sign of fighting, made sandwiches and just enjoyed the day with my family.

  • Cat November 19, 2012, 7:16 pm

    The point was not that it is a bad thing to go to a restaurant for a holiday meal, but rather that they were invited to a home for a Thanksgiving family get-together and the family was so ungracious that they fought one another and there was no dinner at home. Shoney’s would not be my first choice for Thanksgiving dinner either.
    I have seen so many ugly family get-togethers that I eat alone at a restaurant and enjoy it. I would suggest to the lady that she have dinner with her family in her home and let the trouble-makers have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at home. (There is nothing wrong with P&J sandwiches. I only mean that it’s easier to fight if you don’t have to fool with a turkey dinner or going out to eat.)

  • The Elf November 19, 2012, 8:18 pm

    Some of the best holiday meals I’ve had have been with non-family guests. Usually close friends who can’t get to their families this year, or who have to work that day and don’t have time to cook something special. It makes for more interesting conversation! I remember one time two friends just dropped by one the way back from their own dinner (one friend’s family, the other friend was a guest there). We were just sitting down to ours. I invited them to stay – to have food if they want it, but to otherwise just enjoy the company. They ended up staying the whole evening (and eating!) because it turned out that one friend works now where my Dad used to, and they knew some of the same people and had some of the same interests. It was pretty awesome, even if at one point I just didn’t understand what the hell they were talking about.

  • Iris November 20, 2012, 12:18 am

    Challis – that was my thought exactly.

  • Kit November 20, 2012, 1:13 am

    Everybody’s talking about trying to behave for at least one day… how do you know they aren’t behaving well all the rest of days? I know I do tend to become more easily irritable myself when I’m trying to cook a dinner for guests to come and at the same time my family is not even just not helping but rather disturbing me. šŸ˜‰

    Challis – how do you know that the in-laws didn’t already have a good reason enough for disliking that woman in Robert’s story? Say, maybe they knew already that she was a drinker – would make quite a good reason for not wanting to spend holidays with her. It had to be a very humilating situation for the husband – to stand up for his wife to his parents, and as a “reward” see her giving all support she could to his parents belief of him being wrong to marry her.

  • Kate November 20, 2012, 3:37 am

    @Angel, Christmas is the ‘airing of grievances’ season in my family. It’s started early this year – grandmother wants us all to have Christmas dinner at a hotel, with set meals at $150 per head. There is absolutely no way my parents, my sister, my fiance and I can afford this. We informed grandmother that it’s impossible given our financial situation and she’s been making snide comments towards us ever since.

  • The Elf November 20, 2012, 8:12 am

    My husband’s job is one of those that doesn’t close, ever. So naturally he’s worked his share of holidays. It’s not fun, but it goes with the job. After a couple of Christmases/Thanksgivings of trying to balance work and family, we threw up our hands and decided one year to have a “lonely” Christmas just the two of us, after he got home from work.

    Best. Christmas. Ever.

    Both of our families are small, and mine is particularly low key and laid back, but just this idea that we could just relax on Christmas instead of trying somehow to be the Norman Rockwell ideal is just awesome. I don’t know what it is about the holidays, but it brings out this idea that we can’t just be ourselves. We need to be some idealized version of ourselves to have a magic day. Christmas is worse than Thanksgiving in this respect.

    We then get together with my family and his in the week that follows, or sometimes before.

    So we still do a family get-together on Thanksgiving, when husband’s work permits. But Christmas? Whether he has it off or not, we’re not going anywhere. We plan a crock-pot meal or casserole (or Chinese take-out) and just chill all day long. Bliss! I cannot recommend this enough. If holidays with the extended family are getting you down, consider a day to yourself or just with your spouse/children.

  • Kristin November 20, 2012, 11:23 am

    As for going to Shoney’s: a lot of nicer restaurants are completely booked for Thanksgiving and you can’t get in without a reservation. If they were hungry, Shoney’s may have been their best bet. And if OP lives in a small town, it may have been the only place open. Still, I’d rather tell D and company that dinner was off and just go home to a regular meal.

  • just4kicks November 21, 2012, 11:04 am

    Oh my. Not knowing all the circumstances of the fight, of course, but it would be a cold day in hell before I would sit down to a happy meal with one of my children who had punched me earlier in the day! First off, I do not think said child would have any teeth left to eat. Unbelievable!!!

  • Ann November 21, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Someone above wrote — “Why is it that Thanksgiving is the one time of the year where people need to air their grievances with one another? I will never understand why families cannot put aside their bad feelings for even one afternoon to have a peaceful meal.”

    That’s so funny. In a sad, dysfunctional family, hauling off and hitting someone is, believe me, so much “healthier” than “putting aside bad feelings” to “have a peaceful meal”. THAT kind of enabling and wishful thinking is truly dysfunctional.

  • Enna November 24, 2012, 4:40 am

    There is nothing wrong with have a holiday meal at a restruant. What is the issue is the fighting – sometimes families do have argurments but for it to get physical and the daughter to get kicked out is bad. I would be concerned about the way the two would behave in public.

    The next thanks giving meal, again there is nothing wrong with a resturant but a last minute change of plan can be inconsiderate to others.

  • Enna November 24, 2012, 4:42 am

    P.S if something goes wrong like say the people cooking the food are too tired because of a bad night’s sleep or the oven breaks then a change of plan is fine. But for no reason I think that is a bit inconsiderate.

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