copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
As Americans ponder the Thanksgiving Day, holiday expectations are high. Young children look forward to all the activities loved ones plan. School age individuals are told tales of the Pilgrims and the Indians that befriended early settlers. Most imagine that on this November day, people come together peaceably. That, for the little ones, is a welcome thought. Too often, tension exists in the parent child relationship. Some say angst increases as the offspring age. Whilst many wish to believe the strain occurs over time, as a child becomes more autonomous, indeed, recent research shows early interactions give rise to the relationship that will be.
Toddlers and tots rarely have opportunities to quietly, calmly, and genuinely converse with parents or the caregivers they are fond of. Hence, lads and lasses feel a sense of loss. By the teen years, the thought of another Thanksgiving celebration with relatives evokes an almost automatic response, “No thanks.”
Many know the routine and the rhetoric. Yet, adolescent and adults live the truth. Mostly Mama or Papa chats are instant, online, and consists of more banter than conversation.
Thankfully, a second stolen in the car, a tender thought expressed while on the run, these are life’s little riches. Yet, these treasures occur infrequently. Oh, how much Mike and Michelle yearn for a few hours of tête-à-tête with the Moms and Dads they love. Juanita and Jorge, too, hunger for a long and heartfelt talk, followed by a hug. Angelique and Akil desire discourse. A deep discussion with Mama and Papa would mean so much. Children crave a balance, parental involvement coupled with reciprocal reverence. A baby, a boy, a girl, or a blossoming adult wants a hand to hold gingerly rather than a hand that guides.
While mothers and fathers also hope to establish a strong relationship with their offspring and other relatives, what occurs at home is often other than fulfilling. Time together on Thanksgiving Day does provide for a new normal. Superficial exchanges are as common during the commemoration as they are day to day. We dream of the good times and too frequently feel the holidays are not it. Nevertheless, individuals still hold on to hope. Let there be a reason to give thanks.
In some, Thanksgiving Day, and the entire celebratory season, elicits memories of fight or flight. Nonetheless, there is a thought that usually associated with appreciation; a turkey feast will likely be featured on the menu. Pumpkin pie will probably be served, too. Oh my!
Thank goodness for food. With childhood memories intact, men and women who reflect on the delicious delicacies expect to feel fulfilled or full even if they feel forced to endure the company of family. Sights, smells and that ever-present sense of loss will stimulate emotional overeating. Elders promise themselves, just this once, they will indulge. After all, Thanksgiving Day is special occasion. At least food is a fine distraction from feelings of loneliness or a lack of involvement. Indeed, as headlines howl, Isolated Americans try to connect . . . not with Mom, Pop, and siblings, with all the other more welcome traditions.
A time to party, to perform, to watch football, to prove to ourselves that we are [authentically] close to others, and to pretend. Thanks for the distractions.
Those who wish to act in the spirit of the national holiday can also take refuge. After all, the intent of the celebration is good. Community Service acts of kindness can be even better. A Christmas Gift Drive, Homeless Shelters and Soup Kitchens, helping the elderly, animals, and others in need can never be wrong. However, even when engaged in an honorable pursuit, so many say they feel alone in the crowd. The sensation can be as it is in a home full of holiday lore and little love. Grateful? For what?
Thanksgiving Day, and more so the day after, illustrate an American truth. “People are increasingly busy,” said Margaret Gibbs, a psychologist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “We’ve become a society where we expect things instantly, and don’t spend the time it takes to have real intimacy with another person.”
Author and clinical psychologist Madeline Levine reflects on what she sees in her practice. As recounted in a Washington Post article, the mother of three observes that over-involved parents who pressure their children to be stars — in school, on athletic fields, among their peers — have created a generation that is “extremely unhappy, disconnected and passive.” Immodestly materialistic and indifferent to worldly affairs, young persons, from an early age on are both bored and “often boring,” writes Psychologist Levine.
When the apathetic, acquisitive find themselves lost and without a cause, they do what is familiar. People shop until they drop. Much to the delight of retailers, the parents and their children shop. Bye-bye forced family togetherness. Hello , buy, buy, buy. Thanks for the gifts.
Purveyors are happiest whence the Thanksgiving holiday arrives. During these November and December days, people rush to the stores with a greater sense of purpose. The Friday after the traditional Thursday celebration begins their best time of year. People purchase presents to give to one and all. It seems that love is in the air from late November until the New Year. In truth, even when individuals meet with family or friends in the winter, when they mix, and mingle in the spirit of gratitude, few feel connected.
Indeed, Americans express a sense of separation. It is no wonder we hope a holiday will console us, help us feel connected.
Yet, as John Powell, a Psychologist at the University of Illinois Counseling Center, states “The frequency of contact and volume of contact does not necessarily translate into the quality of contact.” The observer of social behavior understands; most persons, young or old, do what is comfortable, even if that means stay a safe distance apart from the persons he or she most wants in their lives.
Thus on this Thanksgiving Day, it may be important to reflect on all the hours before and after. Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University Sociologist offers, “We know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times. “We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com [a popular networking Web site] and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.” Nor are these persons, when home, engaged in conversations that communicate much.
Possibly, parents and children can find more personal ways to establish and then retain a reciprocally reverent relationship. On this day of thanks, and the eve of Black Friday people may ponder; food, fun with those we barely know, and material finds are not golden.
Levine, who authored The Price of Privilege, proclaims advantages are not always as they appear to be. Affluence does not breed brotherly alliances. Nor does money beget benevolence. Children do not connect to cash givers. Possessions may not leave a loved one proud. Moms and Dads cannot bequeath material goods and hope to receive emotional gifts in return. However . . .
There are several thing parents can do: Families should eat dinner together [and truly talk] as much as possible, and kids should be involved in rituals — at church, the synagogue, at Meals on Wheels or wherever.
Parents need to impose consistent discipline, which will help kids develop self-control, which is vital.
Kids should never, ever, be paid for grades. Real learning is about effort and improvement, not performance. Your kid’s C actually may be the far greater achievement than the A that comes easily.
And they should have chores. A lot of kids I see don’t have to do anything except shine. And if you turn out kids who aren’t expected to do anything but shine, you turn out narcissistic or self-centered kids. As one girl I see told me, “If I’m so special, why do I have to clear the table?”
Ah, the mundane deeds can be so divine. Everyday errands and exchanges can build character and give birth to a quality bond. On any date we can choose to be more open and honest in our interactions.
Thanksgiving Day and the holiday season are a good time to slow down, chat, and pay homage to the humanity that resides within your home. With relatives near or far, everyday deference would be even better. It is never too late to learn how to relate, to change habits, and to bring into being the tenderness that might not have existed in the early years. Expressions of gratitude and kindheartedness have no season, and need no reason. Thankful. Hopefully that is what each of us might feel. Beginning today, we can chose to consciously create togetherness from birth, in childhood, as adults, and always.
References and relationships . . .
- Tension common in parent-child relationships. Live Science. MSNBC. May 7, 2009
- Gene–Environment Interplay and the Origins of Individual Differences in Behavior, Frances A. Champagne and Rahia Mashoodh. Columbia University. Association for Psychological Science Volume 18—Number 3. Copyright 2009
- More Parent-Child Quality Time? Thank Harvard, BV Catherine Rampell. The New York Times. August 26, 2009, 2:25 PM
- That Parent-Child Conversation Is Becoming Instant, and Online, John Schwartz. The New York Times. January 3, 2004
- Fathers Gain Respect From Experts (and Mothers), By Laurie Tarkan. The New York Times. November 3, 2009
- When parents are too hands-on, By Stephanie Dunnewind. The Seattle Times. September 4, 2004
- I’m dreaming of a right-size Christmas, By Carolyn Butler. Washington Post. Monday, November 23, 2009 3:44 PM
- stimulate Mindful Emotional Eating: Leveraging More Coping per Calorie, By Pavel G. Somov PH.D. Psych Central. November 24, 2009
- Community Service Projects for Kids,Youth,& Families. Families With Purpose.
- Isolated Americans trying to connect. The Associated Press. USA Today. August 5, 2006
- Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says, The Number of People Who Say They Have No One to Confide In Has Risen. By Shankar Vedantam. Washington Post. Friday, June 23, 2006
- ?Parents create ‘disconnected’ generation.” UPI NewsTrack. 2006. Retrieved November 01, 2009 from accessmylibrary
- National Young Readers Week November 9 through the 13, 2009.