We are entering into the holiday season once again, with the first holiday on the horizon, Thanksgiving. This is my favorite holiday, because it reminds me that gratitude is the most important ingredient for a happy family reunion.

Each family member carries something that is unique and relevant to the whole. As a result, his or her expectations may influence his or her perceptions. Thus, with a little pinch of gratitude, a dash of empathy, and a lot of compassion, you will find that home is where the heart is.

Here are some tips that can help your holiday experience be a happy one.

1. Be tolerant and flexible in how you perceive your family members. Remember the perfect family does not exist…even on TV.

2. Have a plan. That plan should contain the ground rules for holiday fun. For example, if you are the hostess for Thanksgiving, you should communicate to all guests that your home is a “safe zone,” a place for fun and family but not for resurrecting painful issues, squabbles, or historical injuries. Meet your guests at the threshold of your doorway and remind them once they cross into your house all family problems must be left behind. Reassure them they can pick those problems back up, when they leave. As the song goes: “Grab you coat and grab your hat, leave your troubles on your doorstep.”

3. Delegate. As the hostess, it is essential to recognize that no one can do it all by themselves – nor should they. There’s an unspoken rule in psychology, that if you let others do things for you, they like you more, because they feel invested. So, feel free to ask for help in the kitchen and let a cousin, aunt, child, or grandchild bring his or her favorite dish. This also gives him or her a chance to receive both attention and compliments for his or her contribution.

4. Take a time-out. Whether you are visiting a relative’s home for the holidays or you are entertaining, remember to take time out. If you are arriving at someone’s home, take 30 minutes before engaging socially, by meditating, having a warm bath, drinking a hot cup of tea, or just closing your eyes for a few minutes. If you are tired, you feel more fragile. And, tired and fragile people often make mistakes, get cranky, and become magnets for trouble. If you are the hostess, the same rules apply. Take time down and alone, so that you can manage your stress and have the energy necessary for socializing.

5. Reduce alcohol intake. When confronted with family, resist the temptation to drink alcohol in order calm your nerves. On the contrary, too much alcohol will reduce your inhibitions and allow you to say and do something you may be sorry for.

6. Resist acting out for approval. Instead of making you feel better, or more successful, competitive-bragging only makes you feel diminished and demeaned.

7. Postpone business talks and intimate questions. Just because someone asks you something, doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything. Practice and rehearse ahead of time simple phrases, such as, “Let’s talk about it next week when we’re not with the family,” or “I’ll call you later and we can chat about it.” Remember it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

8. Be tolerant. Give your relatives the benefit of the doubt. Remember when families come together, they often have unrealistic goals for one another and may try to recreate childhood fantasies. This can cause regressive and childish behavior. So step back, breath-in and give him or her the benefit of the doubt.

9. Don’t ambush family members with your problems. Holiday get-togethers should be the one time you can get together and suspend all problems and judgments.

10. Make it easy on yourself. Less time in the kitchen affords you more time to feel the love that only family get-togethers can bring. Without any extra financial expenditure, you can buy foods that are pre-made or found on a shelf. For example, canned sweet potatoes instead of fresh ones…everyone knows it’s all about the marshmallows anyway.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.