When Your Family Is a Mess and It’s Hard to Give Thanks

November 25, 2015 Taylor Arthur

Giving thanks is hard when your family is a mess. When I started thinking about writing this Thanksgiving post, I almost wrote my manager to let her know I’m not qualified to write about mental illness in the family. Do you know why? Because I feel like a fraud. My family relationships are not all cleaned up and pretty like I'd like them to be. Rather, the messiness in my family amplifies as we make plans for the holidays. I want to wave a magic wand and make all of my relationships work, if only on these special days. I know what it's like when your family is a mess and it's hard to give thanks.

I wish I could somehow become a big enough, strong enough, not-bipolar-enough person to single-handedly change the many dynamics in my family. But even if I somehow could magically transform myself into a not-bipolar-Taylor for the holidays, I still wouldn't be powerful enough to change everyone else’s behavior.

Even if I bend over backwards to people-please past where I am able, it always ends up costing me too much. I can’t people please to gain good relationships. I can only do the right and healthy thing for my little family, hoping that those healthy decisions cause a ripple effect of healthiness through all of my circles.

So, instead of taking my usual route of wand waving, magical thinking and people pleasing, I am going to do what is actually in my power this holiday season.

I Can Give Thanks for My Family Anyway

I am going to give thanks even though my family is a mess. I’m going to write down the things I’m grateful for this holiday season, even if my relationships are messy and unresolved. Did you know practicing gratitude could increase your happiness level by 25 percent? Did you know that writing for a few hours a month in a gratitude journal can have lasting effects, up to six months, on your happiness levels?

It is so easy to get caught up in the problems in our families, to see the tangle in the string of Christmas lights we’ve been trying to unravel for years (Bipolar Primes You To Focus On The Negative). Maybe we should try a different technique: let the tangle be. Try, instead, to acknowledge the individual strands of goodness and love caught up in the mess.

Giving Thanks in the Midst of a Mess Family Can Help Your Focus on the Positive

Even when there is mental illness in our families, even when there is so much brokenness there doesn’t seem to be any way to fix it, there are still strands of love. There are pieces, however small, of affection. And if you’re like me, those glistening threads fill my heart with longing.

That longing can either lead me to despair or it can give me hope. I choose hope and I choose to count those family members I struggle with as some of my greatest blessings because they have made me who I am. And even if I struggle to find the right way to relate with them, the history of love we share lingers in my heart like the embers of a great fire. Even if all we have is one beautiful memory of a loved one long lost, that memory is enough to give thanks for. That memory has added to the beauty in our lives today.

Self Care Helps Me Stay Grounded and Positive Throughout the Holidays

When your family is a mess, it can be difficult to feel thankful. Even so, there is one thing you can do to create peace of mind. What is it? Read this.

Along with giving thanks in a messy family, I’m also going to work very hard to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. I’m not going to blindly believe that I can attend three or four holiday get togethers in a weekend and magically remain stable. I’m going to create buffers around our holidays, so that there is ample downtime for me to rest before and afterward (Why Self-Care is Important for Your Physical and Mental Health).

After years of family holidays, I have discovered I need my husband to take the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas off so that I can rest and prepare without running myself into the ground. These little changes in our routine afford me a cushion around the holidays. If Christmas dinner gets burned or family drama ratchets up a few notches, I have extra time and space built into my holiday to respond well.

I know I’m not going to fix all of the world’s problems by giving thanks and knowing my own limits. But, shifting my focus to gratitude and avoiding exhaustion puts me in a much better place to deal with unexpected complications. I want to be in a peaceful state of mind as I enter into this season of love and gratitude. Then maybe I will be able to see the strands of love weaving through my family, no matter how overwhelming the tangle might seem.

Happy messy, glorious Thanksgiving. May you find that as you look through grateful eyes, there is more beauty in your family tangle than you first thought possible.

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APA Reference
Arthur, T. (2015, November 25). When Your Family Is a Mess and It’s Hard to Give Thanks, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Taylor Arthur

November, 26 2015 at 7:12 pm

Thank you so much for your honesty. I relate on so many levels and it was really good to read and know that I am not alone in this. God bless you and your willingness to help others feel not alone as well and to share some hope.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Taylor Arthur
December, 7 2015 at 7:33 am

You're so welcome, Sarah! I know there are so many families out there struggling. Knowing we are not alone is a huge comfort.
Blessings this holiday season,

Laura Longville
November, 26 2015 at 6:22 am

I to was ruminating about how crazy and ungrateful my family is. How they never....... and Why do I always.......... only to find myself angry and disillusioned.
Thanks God I have readings and bible studies that bring me back to what is real and truthful. I have written in a gratitude journal over the years and it's a good thing to pull out when I get to my self-pity place.
I do practice self care and pray a lot. May you be blessed for your transparency and honesty Taylor.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Taylor Arthur
December, 7 2015 at 7:35 am

I love Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts" to keep things in perspective. There will always be problems with people, things they're doing wrong, ways they hurt us. But whenever I can force my brain to think about the good gifts in my life, it always seems that there is more to be thankful for than there is to despair about.
Have a wonderful holiday season!

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