Now the “giving” part, I definitely witnessed. From my perspective, Thanksgiving was all about one or two women giving up their souls to feed a room full of others who did virtually nothing. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but for the women who found themselves in this situation, what could they really find to be thankful for other than the whole day being over? (I am aware that some women truly adore being in the kitchen and feeding droves of people, but this is not me.)
As a child and young adult, I was certainly in the receiving group—the group that should have been giving thanks. I did nothing to help, with the exception of a few last minute tasks. Maybe, on a good year, I would set the table. (Sorry for being a slug, mom! And thanks for all you did, hosting that holiday for decades on end.)
When it came time to host my first Thanksgiving dinner, I was a bit apprehensive to say the least. Once I put the offer out there, I found myself experiencing a myriad of emotions—from excitement, to nervousness, to dread.
As the day approached, I felt the anxiety build. Looking back at what typically arose for me during family gatherings, I see I had a tendency to turn simple, meaningless comments or questions by others into personal attacks. If someone suggested I use a different pot for the mashed potatoes, for example, I would hear “You don’t know what you’re doing.” If someone said, “Can I help you with that?” I would hear “You are incapable and unworthy.” These comments, ill-intended our not, were triggers for me. Due to my underlying fears of not being good enough, I found myself feeling angry, worthless, upset and fearful. My reactions reflected my own feelings of inadequacy and defensiveness, regardless of others’ intentions.
Once I became aware of this pattern of feeling triggered when hosting big family meals, I saw I had choices: I could continue generational patterns of struggling through making this entire meal myself, I could ask for help and get triggered by the multitude of comments that I would take the wrong way, or I could create an entirely new experience.
I chose to create something different for myself and my family, excited to see this holiday from a new place. Knowing that both sets of grandparents would be attending, I asked my mom and my mother-in-law for help. Prior to the big day, I made a list of five things for which I was grateful for each person who was attending. (This may seem a bit extreme, but I knew I needed to be highly intentional in order to create anew.)
Sprinkled through the lists were things like… “I’m grateful that my dad likes to show his love by helping out with projects around the house.”
My mom’s list looked something like this…
1. I’m grateful my mom has tons of experience making Thanksgiving dinner.
2. I’m grateful my mom is always willing to help in the kitchen.
3. I’m grateful my mom loves to laugh.
4. I’m grateful my mom is helpful.
5. I’m grateful my mom loves being together as a family.
The day’s events were amazing to me. At one point, my mom turned to me and said, “Let’s laugh! Tell me a funny story.” I was overjoyed to retell one of her favorite stories and hear her giggle with happiness while mashing the potatoes.
In addition, I had an activity available and requested participation from each guest, from the kiddos up to the grandparents. I asked that each person take three paper strips and write something they were grateful for on each one. Then we linked the strips to make a paper chain. Once it was complete, we strung the chain around the window in our dining area. It felt so good to me to bring gratitude into the holiday.
I also got out board games and saw genuine connection across the generations as my kids and their grandfathers played Monopoly. At one point, my son said, “Why are all of the boys playing games and the girls are all making the food?” I was astounded by his observation and took mental note.
After dinner, my father-in-law asked how he could help. Rather than the typical “Oh, don’t worry about it” response most of us women give, I asked him to clear everything from the table. As I watched my dad and my father-in-law do the dishes, I was filled with real thankfulness.
What has triggered you in the past? What holiday patterns have you been entrenched in? What choices do you see for this holiday season? What do you want to create for yourself and your family?
Make your “thank you” list for your family members and see what happens!