Thanksgiving can be wonderful. As a child I remember lots of family around the table, a delicious meal made with love by my mother, and plenty of good conversation. But when I took over hosting Thanksgiving as an adult, it became clear to me what an enormous job it was—the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the serving—all while trying to give my family and my guests a pleasant day. After I hosted Thanksgiving the first time, I slept a full 12 hours.
I don’t know how my mother, who worked full-time, so gracefully created such a wonderful holiday for us. These days most women’s responsibilities are piled high, so planning and executing a major holiday can be a logistical nightmare. Here are five strategies to help you enjoy the day (and keep from losing your mind):
Plan a Thanksgiving that is right for YOUR family
There is no law that says Thanksgiving has to be a formal four-course meal. Especially if you have toddlers, it is unrealistic to think they will be able to last at the table for that long. If you serve chicken tenders, the Thanksgiving police will not come to your house. Or if it’s just you and your sweetie, getting a turkey might be a little excessive (unless you are my sister and her husband who get a 20 pound turkey every year and are thrilled to eat the leftovers for a week). You can get a chicken, or even sushi! This is a day to give thanks for the good things in your life, so you should feel free to have whatever festive meal feels right to you.
Delight in Your Loved Ones
When you are the adult in charge of a big holiday, you can get caught up in the logistics rather than the people. Thanksgiving is a nice day for the mixing of generations, so bring people into your world. Cook together, play together, and share stories. My mother used to have a recipe for pecan nut balls that took three hours of rolling and sugaring the dough, and it created the perfect time for my sisters and my daughters and I to sit with her and just let the conversation meander. We were rarely all together, so this was a special time for sharing our lives and strengthening bonds.
Neutralize Toxic Relatives
There’s always one (at least!). Relatives who bring negativity of one kind or another to the table. They can’t help it—this is who they are. They complain about everything, criticize everyone, and nothing is ever right. How do you keep from getting caught up in their black cloud? Just pretend there is a “crazy” sign on their forehead. Don’t expect them to be reasonable or rational or optimistic or sweet. Lower your expectations and you will be less likely to be disappointed.
Don’t feel compelled to engage in their critical, conflict-instigating conversations. If Aunt Gigi says “too bad the turkey is overdone” don’t get defensive. Just say “Hmmm really?” and change the subject. Don’t take anything personally because it really isn’t about you. Granted, this is not easy to do, but if you can you will save hours of indigestion.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!
If you are hosting, don’t hesitate to delegate. Delegate side dishes, desserts, and the wine. I’m not saying have a potluck Thanksgiving, just that assigning others some elements of the meal takes the pressure off you to do everything and do it perfectly.
It’s also hugely helpful to assign tasks to your partner and/or your kids. Kids over five can do lots of useful tasks like setting the table, and older kids can help you cook and clean. I always found that my husband responded really well to very specific requests like “please bring the chairs up from the basement.” He was even more helpful if in the morning I gave him a list of the things I needed him to do, and the time I needed them done by. Which leads to my final tip:
Make Lists and More Lists
I could not organize my life without lists. I make lists of ingredients, chores, when to cook things, and I even make a list of the food I’m serving so I don’t forget something. There are a lot of moving parts to a holiday like this, so lists can help you plan and feel in control. My family has seven traditional vegetables with Thanksgiving, so it’s easy to lose track of what is supposed to be out there.
Ultimately, the day is going to be what it’s going to be. To stay sane do your best, keep expectations reasonable and then let yourself off the hook. You can do what you can do, and then you have to release it to the universe.
If you are interested in getting a speaker about women’s work and health issues, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you my speaking catalog.