We’ve all seen the commercials of parents calmly and happily sitting around the perfectly-laid Thanksgiving table with their equally calm and happy children and extended family. The mashed potatoes are being passed from one end of the table to the other as guests laugh and reminisce. So sweet, so nostalgic, so unlike what goes on in most homes across the country!
Seriously, where’s the mom and her bandaged hand from trying to chop veggies before she’s had her morning coffee? Where’s the dad waiting in the most epic of lines at the bakery after the dog got into his homemade pie the night before? Also missing: the last minute scramble to make sure you have nut-free, vegetarian options so your favorite cousin has something to eat; dealing with your not-funny but won’t-stop-talking uncle; the tried-and-true family argument that just won’t go away; and oh, yes, the dishes. The piles and piles of dishes.
Truth? Thanksgiving should be a time to take a (probably much needed!) pause to celebrate all the wonderful things in our lives, and to teach our children the value of thankfulness. But who has time to really reflect when you’re too busy cooking and cleaning to even sit down and eat with the family?
“It sounds cliché, but Thanksgiving, at its core, is all about focusing on life’s riches—our loved ones, our time together, our health,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “But in this age of Instagram and foodie culture, it’s easy to get carried away trying to make everything look ‘perfect’ instead of creating a relaxing time to share stories, memories and your own family traditions with the people who matter most.”
So how can you and your family get back to the real meaning of Thanksgiving? Borrow these simple ideas from Dr. Bastiani Archibald and get ready to have one of your happiest holidays yet.
1. Ixnay on Turkey Day
Just saying the word Thanksgiving itself reminds us of the grateful and generous feelings that this holiday is all about. “Turkey Day” might be a commonly used nickname for this notoriously delicious day, but when we call it that around children, they can tend to put the focus solely on gobbling up all the food on the table rather than on the spirit of gratitude.
2. Scale Down
Take a peek at your to-do list and see what you can shave off—especially if you’re hosting. Chances are, your guests will love their meal just as much with four side dishes instead of six. (And no, they’ll never guess that your famous stuffing came out of a box this year!) Spend the time you’ve just freed up with your kids, instead. Really! Try making lists of things you’re thankful for to share as a decoration for the table, volunteering to deliver meals to people who can’t get out so easily, or even writing short thank you notes to the people who’ve made your family’s year the best yet.
3. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
So often, women take on the heavy lifting of the holidays on their own—which isn’t just exhausting and stressful, it also raises children to see cooking, cleaning, and decorating as “women’s work,” when really those things should be shared responsibilities! Instead of shouldering practically every Thanksgiving task on your own, get the whole family involved in preparing for the big day. Kids love being involved and it will really give them a feeling of pride to play such an active role in this holiday. Little ones can help stir ingredients or mix a salad, while older kids can get in on the action of chopping, peeling, and setting the table. Have your partner do dishes as you cook for a while, and then switch roles! Sure, some things might get done differently than you’d do them yourself, but remember: Thanksgiving isn’t about perfection, it’s about togetherness, community, and the joy of sharing with others.
4. Accept the Generosity of Others
Remember how this holiday is all about giving and sharing with the people you care about? Well, when your niece or uncle asks if they can help with anything, that’s actually what they’re trying to do! Instead of saying no and shooing them away, ask them if they have a favorite dish they’d like to bring or give them an easy-to-handle task here and there. Whether someone can bring the salad or you can put someone else on door-bell duty so you don’t have to leave the kitchen each time the buzzer rings, it will all help to make the day a bit less hectic for you. Make sure you let these people know how much their generosity of time means to you.
5. Shake Up Table Talk
It’s fairly common to go around the Thanksgiving dinner table asking what each family member or guest is thankful for this year—and that’s definitely a good thing, but why not make it a little more personal this year? Instead of asking what people feel grateful for in general, which almost always garners fairly generic answers, ask them to list one very specific thing they’re thankful for about the person sitting to their right. Maybe your Mother-in-Law is thankful for your son’s goofy sense of humor that never fails to cheer her up, or perhaps your girl is thankful to the neighbor who drives her to soccer practice from time to time. Whatever it is, people will feel moved to hear why they’re so valued and loved.
6. Create New Traditions
Ever feel sluggish after such a big meal? Fix that situation by taking a walk with the family around your neighborhood to see if any holiday lights have gone up yet. Consider having each dinner guest peel an apple that will be used in the pie for dessert. Or turn off the big game for a while between dinner and dessert so Grandma, Grandpa, or a beloved Aunt or Uncle can snuggle with the kids over story time. If you’re a musical family, break out the instruments and play a few family favorites for a singalong. There are a billion ways you can bring even more fun and bonding to this holiday, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
7. Focus on Girl-Led Giving
Ask each of your children to think about what kinds of organizations, efforts, and charities they would like to give back to. Older grade-school, middle school, and high school students can to do a bit of research on specific organizations, as well. If your family is fortunate enough to have some money set aside for end-of-year giving, budget a portion of your donations to the causes your children care about most. And whether or not you plan on donating financially, you can make a family commitment to donate a certain number of volunteer hours during the coming year. The gift of giving back truly is one of the most valuable things you could ever give to your child.
The point is to take a deep breath and really be present with the friends, family, and neighbors you’re lucky enough to have around you this Thanksgiving. Because, think about it: It’s not the flavor of the turkey or the texture of the mashed potatoes your children will remember nostalgically in years to come—it’s the quality time they spent with you, sustaining family traditions and making new memories all holiday long.