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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Secrets for A Successful Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Simple guidelines for keeping peace in the family during the holidays. How to beg off from attending the Thanksgiving feast and what to do when nobody loves grandma, were the best questions at Didi's Manners this week.

Your benefits as grandparents

Q.  Good morning! We’re two seniors living in South Carolina, who have two grown married daughters in Washington, D.C.. Every year they invite us up, and we drive up, vowing never to fight the traffic again. This year they want us to come because it’s the first time they will have hosted thanksgiving and they’ve totally renovated their houses which, by the way, we saw and visited just four weeks ago. We had a great time since it was just us, and didn’t have to share our only grandson with anyone else. We don’t really have a relationship with Robert’s in-laws at all… Can’t we just stay here and see them over Christmas when they always come down and we host? I don’t want to hurt their feelings but it’s too long a drive and too much togetherness for us!  –Anonymous, South Carolina

A.  Your question about how grandparents can set limitations on what they are able and willing to do and what they cannot do, or don’t want to do, is a concern to many of us.

How to handle boundaries with success is not so simple. As you’ve discovered, they often lead to feelings of guilt; or, on the other hand, of having been slighted.

This year begging out of the Thanksgiving tradition should be easy because you recently drove to Washington, D.C., to see your daughters in their newly renovated houses.

I understand their wanting to include you in the holiday housewarming festivities at their newly refurbished digs.

Nonetheless, the current theory is that babies and very young children need to bond with grandparents often so that they remember them when they reappear, say, at Christmas with a sleigh full of gifts. As very young children are often territorial, they are apt to be rude to interlopers unless there is a lot of prompting ahead of time by their parents.

Or, as in your situation where your grandson will come for Christmas, and could  possibly become withdrawn or overreact in other ways to the unfamiliar surroundings. Your daughter wants you to bond with her child.

On the other hand, it is OK to tell your daughters what you’ve told me. Thanksgiving is a miserable time to be on the roads and you would rather be snuggled up at home than stuck in gridlock. Remember, your children don’t understand that for you and your husband, your comfort is becoming more and more important.

If any of these statements apply, here is a list of things you can say to get you off the hook:

*As much as we love being with you and the tradition itself, Thanksgiving is the worst time of year to take a road trip.

*You no longer drive long distances after dark.

*You’ve made a commitment to friends who have nowhere else to go for Thanksgiving dinner.

*This year you’re volunteering at the local soup kitchen to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless.

*It is too long of a trip for you to take for such a short period of time.

*Your dog is slowing down and since the wretched drive would be too uncomfortable for him, you don’t want to leave him in a dog motel for such an extended period of time.

In other words, you love your family and its holiday traditions and are especially looking forward to their coming home for Christmas, but you are not up to being on the roads at Thanksgiving — the most traveled holiday of the year.

You don’t want your daughters feeling guilty because they’re not with you, and you want to say no gracefully.

On the other hand, you could compromise by starting out on your trip a day earlier and driving back to South Carolina a day sooner to avoid the most congested travel days.  ~Didi

Guidelines when nobody likes her

Q.  Nobody likes my mother-in-law. She's rude, mean, and says whatever is on her mind without thinking of the consequences. She says hurtful things to the children such as, "You're too short for your age." "Tell your mother to help you clear up that acne?" "A boy your age should have better table manners." How do we control her at Thanksgiving dinner? My father-in-law is no help because he has selective hearing and only listens when the topic of conversation is football or politics. There will be six children between the ages of three and thirteen, and we don't want their feelings hurt. Any suggests as to how to handle her?  J.K., Providence

A.  This is a common problem when the generations get together. There are several ways to reduce chances for your mother-in-law to criticize the children. Invite your in-laws to arrive closer to the Thanksgiving dinner hour. The shorter the visit the less time she'll have to do damage. Ahead of time think of things to keep her occupied by asking her to pitch in and read to the younger children or play a board game with them. When it is time to sit down have a separate children's table where the older children can help the younger ones with their dinner.

*Make a specific timeframe for your in-laws, say, 5:00 until 7:00. If you're serving the dinner at five o'clock invite her to come "after 4:30."

*Have the children greet your in-laws with pictures or other artwork they've made for them, which they'll have to admire and remember to take home.

*When possible have a separate children's table. They'll love it.

*Keep your mother-in-law busy making place cards with the children; she writes the name and they decorate the card.

*Put someone in charge of making sure your mother-in-law's wine glass is not being replenished frequently.

*Stick to the end time so there is no lingering after the meal by having all the children kiss their grandparents goodnight.

Lastly -- but most importantly -- between now and Thanksgiving be optimistic and talk up your in-laws. The probverb "Little pitchers have big ears" is never more apt then when it comes to family gatherings. Children overhear what grownups are saying about someone more than is realized.

Within hearing distance talk about your mother-in-law generously in a kind and loving manner. Encourage everyone else to do so, too. ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researchers all matters of manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners. This is where the best questions appear weekly.


Related Slideshow: 10 Tips For A Healthy Thanksgiving Day

Here are 10 tips and tricks to keep your diet and exercise goals in tact on the biggest food holiday of the year. 

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Do NOT Skip Meals

Limit your intake of calories leading up to the big day. Eat breakfast and a protein-packed lunch before the big feast. If you starve yourself during the day, you could wind up SO hungry that by the time you sit down at the dinner table you eat WAY too much food. 

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Lean Meat

Go for lean, white meat turkey to get the most bank for your calorie-buck. Dark meat has about 15 % more calories and 30-40% more fat than light meat. If you prefer the dark meat, then at least take off the skin since that is where most of the fat (added calories) is. 

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Protein First

Start with the protein (animal or vegetarian). Start with your protein choice and then work on the vegetables. Leave the starchy carbs until the end. The protein will help slow the brake down of the starchy carbs. All that chewing will help you to feel full before you get to the starch. 

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Pause and take some breaths. After you finish each dish on your plate put your fork town. Take a couple of slow deep breaths. Enjoy what you've previously eaten before starting on the next dish. The deep breaths don't have to be obvious. Taking pauses and some deep breaths will also help aid digestion.

Photo Credit: shawnzrossi via Compfight cc

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Choose calorie free beverages. If you are going to be having alcoholic beverages then everything else you drink should be calorie free. Skip the pop, coffees and juices. Drink lots of water to avoid the dehydration that comes along with drinking too much. 

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Side Dish

Ask if you can make a side dish - make it an easy guilt free dish so you will have at least one thing to splurge on. Veggie dishes don't have to be boring.

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Burn calories! The more calories you burn with activity, the more food you can consume without feeling terrible about it. Do not skip the exercise leading up to the feast or on the day of. Make time to get to exercise and raise your heart rate. Your metabolism will thank you for it.

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Your Outfit

Wear form fitting clothing and you will be less likely to overeat. No sweat pants or stretchy pants. No one wants to see you with your pants unbuttoned after the meal. 

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Your Plate

Use a salad plate instead of a regular dinner plate. If your plate is smaller you will not have as much room on it and won't overload it with too much of the stuff you shouldn't have a lot of. Also, this helps trick your eye; no one likes to see half their plate empty.

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Keep your goal in mind! Although you may only overindulge a couple times over the holidays- a little plus a little plus a little adds up to a whole lot. Remind yourself why you are choosing to lose weight and keep that goal in the forefront of your mind. 

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Bonus Tip!

Have a hard boiled egg or 10  nuts about 45 minutes prior to the main meal. Having approximately 70 - 100 calories will help you to minimize your level of hunger so you can better control your portion sizes. 


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