S. Todd Townsend

S. Todd Townsend with his book 

If Thanksgiving fills you with dread rather than joy due to complicated family relationships, you are certainly not alone.

S. Todd Townsend knows about family dysfunction. The Wilmington pastor, author and counselor / therapist was raised in inner city Philadelphia with a loving mother but an abusive stepfather. He lived a life of crime before he was able to turn his life around.

More mundane types of family dysfunction can manifest themselves around holidays such as Thanksgiving. They might be considered mundane, but they also have the potential to create further division - as well as togetherness.

"The holiday season is loaded emotionally. It's loaded with so many variations. It's obviously designed and expected to be fun," Townsend said. "But very often that expectation is complicated by family dynamics and conflict."

"When families come back together or attempt to come back together, often it can be combustible."

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, but Townsend pointed out that family relationships take work. He suggested trying to reach out not just during holidays but throughout the year to loved ones, including those with whom it's a challenge to spend time together.

Townsend also suggested that games and outings be built into holiday time together so it's not all just sitting at the table.

Also: don't give up. Every family, he said, has some degree of dysfunctionality.

"How about if we come together and recognize we have shortcomings and use them as motivations to build the best possible family we can," Townsend said.

"Because, time is limited."

(S Todd. Townsend Sr., PhD, EdD is author of "Getting Up From Being Down: Stand Up, Reach High, Finish Strong)