Peaceful holiday meals may still be the ideal, but they are not the norm. The image shows part of a World War II propaganda poster by Norman Rockwell, proclaiming, “OURS… to fight for: Freedom from want,” via Wikimedia Commons.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, many people look forward to sharing a warm meal with their family and friends. Others dread the holiday, gearing up to argue with their relatives or answer nosey questions. TSP has written about the political minefield that holiday meals can be in the past. This year we want to point out that the roots of difficult dinners actually run deep in everyday family mealtime. Thanksgiving, like any family mealtime, has the potential for conflict. 

Scholars have documented how important meal time can be for families in terms of cultivating relationships and family intimacy. However, they also show that despite widespread belief that families should share “happy meals” together, meals can be emotionally painful and difficult for some families and family members.
Disagreements between parents and children arise at mealtime, in part, because of the meal itself. Some caregivers go to battle with “picky eaters.” Migrant parents struggle to pass cultural food traditions to children born in the United States. Low income parents worry that their children will not like or eat the food they can afford.
Family meals also reproduce conflict between heterosexual partners. Buying, preparing, and serving food are important ways that women fulfill gendered expectations. At family meal-times men continue to do less work but hold more power about how and when dinner is served.
Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, can involve disagreements. However, that is not altogether surprising considering that everyday family meals are full of conflicts and tension.