How to keep the family harmony this Thanksgiving

We all have this picture of what a Thanksgiving meal should be: Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" from a 1943 Saturday Evening Post. Be careful that your expectations are not too high. Curtis Publishing.

We all have this picture of what a Thanksgiving meal should be: Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” from a 1943 Saturday Evening Post. Be careful that your expectations are not too high. Curtis Publishing.

Gathering multigenerations of family members under one roof for Thanksgiving and beyond can be stressful.

Carolyn Rosenblatt, a nurse and attorney focusing on elder law, wrote the book “The Family Guide to Aging Parents: Answers to Your Legal, Financial and Healthcare Questions” and runs the website agingparents.com.

Families, she says, usually fight over one thing: something that happened in the past.

You can avoid that conflict and others by doing these things:

  • Don’t be the person who baits another family member by bringing up the ugly past incident.
  • If someone does bring it up, have something at the ready to change the subject to even if it’s something as mundane as weather and traffic.
  • Find some way to get every family member involved in the making of the meal and thank them for doing their part.
  • Avoid setting the expectations too high. Thanksgiving is one meal.
  • Use the generations well. Have the youngest generation engage with the older generation by asking questions about what life was life when they were growing up.
  • Have generations teach each other skills. This might be a chance for Grandma to teach the grandson how to make her famous pumpkin pie. This also might be when the granddaughter shows her grandfather what this Snapchat is all about.
  • Leave the house. Plan one fun activity to do a day during the visit, but make it optional. It’s OK to choose to stay home while others go out. You can even take a survey beforehand to find out what people are interested in doing.
  • Schedule in downtime and make it OK to retreat. Everyone doesn’t have to be in the same room all the time.
  • Play group games like charades — but only if your family isn’t overly competitive and has a sense of humor.
  • Create a “no complaining zone.” So, Aunt Sue’s mashed potatoes were disgusting. You don’t have to eat them or mention their grossness.
  • P.S. If your family fell on different sides of the voting ballot, this isn’t the time to talk politics. It’s time to remember above all else, you’re family — even if you don’t agree.
Clockwise from left, Michelle Gleason, her daughter, Allison, 17, sister Susie Krejci, parents Diane and Joe Krejci, nephew Tommy Krejci, 5, daughter Emily, 14, and husband Jake share conversation during a Thanksgiving dinner at the Bakehouse in 2011. Keep Thanksgiving conversations light and don't bring up past wounds. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2011

Clockwise from left, Michelle Gleason, her daughter, Allison, 17, sister Susie Krejci, parents Diane and Joe Krejci, nephew Tommy Krejci, 5, daughter Emily, 14, and husband Jake share conversation during a Thanksgiving dinner at the Bakehouse in 2011. Keep Thanksgiving conversations light and don’t bring up past wounds. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2011

Thanksgiving also can be one of those times when changes in parents’ mental and physical abilities might become more apparent. You might not have seen them recently and the difference between last time and this time is something you can’t quite capture in a phone call.

Thanksgiving or Christmas can be a time to take stock in how they are doing.

Here are some of the red flags to watch out for:

  • Are there changes in the way they think or do things?
  • Are they leaving out ingredients or seem unsure of how to make a recipe they’ve made for years?
  • Do they seem unable to find things or do things seem out of place ?
  • If you happen to see a lot of bills laying around, are there a lot of “past due” notices?
  • Do they seem more emotional or angry? Is their personality different?
  • Have their hygiene habits slipped?
  • Have they lost or gained a lot of weight?

If you see some of these signs, it could be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. (The risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years.)

So, what should you do? During the Thanksgiving meal or even Thanksgiving day is not the time to bring it up. “That’s disrespectful and hurtful,” Rosenblatt says. Instead, take notes and talk to your parent at a later time. Bring other siblings or loved ones into the conversation, too. Together, you might have more information than just what one of you has witnessed.

When you do talk to them, approach it as an offer to help, not an accounting of all the things they are doing wrong. Be matter of fact, but treat them with respect and compassion.

Put yourself in their shoes. “It’s terrifying,” she says. “No one wants to lose control over one’s life.”

Even if you are in conflict or are seeing some troublesome signs, remember, you’ve only got one family. Enjoy them while they are here — even if you don’t think you can stand them. There is good in all of us. Find it and focus on that as a reason to be thankful.