Uncomfortable questions: How to survive Thanksgiving with relatives

Conversation can be a major cause of stress during Thanksgiving break (Archive Photo | The Collegian)

How do you deal with awkward or stressful questions from family during the holiday break?

“Avoid, avoid, avoid,” Anna Kleibohmer, fifth-year senior in industrial engineering, said.

But what happens when you are cornered by a relative or the conversation at the dinner table during the Thanksgiving meal finally makes its way to you?

“I put food in my mouth,” Kleibohmer said. “I just probably eat some more pie…tell them I need to talk to someone else. I have a really big extended family, so it’s pretty easy to go from one group of people to the next while we’re actually at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.”

Many college students have either seen this situation play out on television or experienced it for themselves. School is out for Thanksgiving break and the only thought on students’ minds is going home and finally getting some sleep, eating home-cooked meals, seeing old friends from high school and watching TV. Then the thought of having to answer questions from family members sets in.

They may ask about grades, new relationships, majors or post-graduation plans.

Spencer McIntire, senior in music, who has a family that doesn’t take these questions too seriously and may even jokingly ask him about these kinds of things.

He still may take some precautions, he said.

“Usually, I don’t really do anything about it because I think of it as my family genuinely wanting to know kind of how I’m doing, what’s going on in my life,” McIntire said. “But I guess sometimes I do, like, kind of think about steps that I could take maybe to make sure that they stop asking those questions.”

McIntire said he also realizes that these questions are just his family wanting to catch up with him.

“But they are usually intrigued and want to know about how my life is going since a lot of them don’t see me anymore as much as they used to,” McIntire said.

Even in the midst of trying to avoid these stressful situations, Kleibohmer said she looks forward to hearing about her relatives and also realizes, like McIntire, that her family just cares about her.

“I think if anything, talking about my future makes the bonds I have with my extended family even stronger because they’re not asking to ask,” Kleibohmer said. “They’re asking because they genuinely care and because they are invested in my future as a professional and as a member of the family.”

One reason holiday breaks are not very stressful for Kleibohmer, she said, is because her major, industrial engineering, is in the same area of study as many of her relatives’ professions.

Kleibohmer said this is not exactly the case for her brother.

“I’m majoring in engineering and a lot of my family is in STEM fields,” Kleibohmer said. “But my brother is majoring in English and I think there is kind of a little more judgment for him just because there’s not necessarily as good of job stability or financial stability in that field, per se, but he’s done really well for himself. I could see how you would feel judged when your family is very successful, not only professionally but also in their personal lives.”

For those students who may feel some of this pressure, judgement or stress over the holidays, Marcie Lechtenberg, clinical assistant professor in K-State’s School of Family Counseling and Human Services, said that trying to see the situation from the relative’s point of view can go a long way.

“Maybe the parents or the family may not have seen the student since they left for college in August and so this is the first time in three months that they’re actually in the same space and so they may want to find a way to delve into the life more as a way of reconnecting,” Lechtenberg said. “Maybe they are wanting to assuage some of their own fears about, ‘oh my gosh, is he buckling down and doing his homework or is he just off partying or whatever?’”

Lechtenberg also said parents may also see holiday breaks as an opportunity for mentoring and giving advice to their kids.

Some other tips from Lechtenberg for making these situations less stressful include finding an activity where you can reconnect with a relative, finding a way to not answer the questions without being rude and also realizing that sometimes, if you know your relatives aren’t going to be happy about the answer you give, a tough conversation simply has to be had.

“It takes time to connect with somebody,” Lechtenberg said. “We’re so used to having really short conversations via social media or, you know, we want the mic-drop statement where we say something mean and that’s it. But the fact of the matter is that reconnecting and connecting takes time. It takes conversations and so a tough conversation may not be possible when there’s 25 people there, but it may be possible going for a walk on Saturday morning.”

For some college students, unfortunately, home isn’t always a place where the struggles of college can be discussed.

Lechtenberg said students who find these struggles are making it difficult to focus on their studies, among other things, can find help at various locations around K-State such as the Office of Student Life, Counseling Services and the K-State Family Center.