A friend made a comment to me after Thanksgiving. She noticed that when she went to her extended family dinner, all the adults did the work.
When I talked to another friend about this, she said at her dinner, her grandchildren were so happy to see and play with each other “they disappeared and for three days, just coming and going” because cousins playing and being together is pure paradise. I get that. Really I do. I like paradise too.
Am I a Grinch? Am I like the Child Catcher in Chitty, Chitty Bang bang that says, “There are children—not helping– here! I CAN SMELL THEM!”
Remember, we want to have our children know how to have their own holidays when they grow up.
Unless you want to do all the work forever. And ever. And ever.
When you are sidelined by age and infirmity, will you still shuffle in your slippers to get dinner on the table while your children expectantly wait to be served?
Another friend said when they prepare Sunday dinner, her college son, who knows better, will come and sit with his girlfriend on the couch. I too, have couch sitters from time to time and the antidote is to sweetly ask for them to do a particular job, instead of generally saying, “We need your help”. That won’t rouse them. Once they are in the kitchen, keep warmly validating a job well done and keep serving up requests for a helping hand.
My mother-in-law was a master at training and counting on all of our assistance. My father-in-law was not a typical husband of the 1950’s marriage they had. That was one of the big requirements on my marriage list of Extremely Desirable Traits when Craig and I were dating. His Dad blew me out of the water with how much he contributed and worked to make each family meal a success. Especially with clean-up. That’s where the true cook shines in my eyes. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but how long do you let the pan sit in the sink?
Your holiday helpers can…
put ice in glasses
empty the silverware container in the dishwasher
wash the lettuce
put the butter on the table
fill up salt and pepper shakers
mist and stretch the tablecloth (I don’t iron)
carry in extra chairs
sweep the floor
vacuum a room
make a salad dressing (usually 4 ingredients)
take out the trash
put the candles on the table
put a prepared pie crust in a pie tin
wipe off the counters
put dishes in the dishwasher
wipe off the bathroom sink with a Clorox wipe
take the dog for a walk
fill the lower rack of the dishwasher—that request is one I use often. Somehow not having to fill or empty the whole thing helps.
Put all the glasses in the dishwasher.
Dry the pots
All of the above an eight year old can do, and yet sometimes we feel hesitant asking an eighteen or twenty-eight year old to help. Your children don’t have to be in the kitchen for 5 hours preparing and sweating over a hot stove. When you feel they have helped enough, when they ask you one more time, “What else can I do?”– because you have trained them that way, when they get one job done, to ask for another–you can gratefully say, “You have really made a difference here! There is nothing else for you to do until it’s time to clean up,” they will skip away. Because their hearts will be light and happy that they contributed. It really, really works that way. When you help, you feel better about yourself.
I know you can do all of the above better yourself.
I know that it takes patience, and long-suffering to work with your children.
It can make the meal more hectic, instead of them off on their phones somewhere.
But it is like a retirement account that you put money into your whole life, and then you enjoy your golden years with a fat check coming every month. Except it is much, much better. Because not only are you reaping the benefits of your steady focus–your children are collecting dividends as well.
Ask, so they will know how to do life. It is a blessing to their future selves to be well equipped to jump in, follow a recipe, set a table and clean up the mess. Who knows if their future spouse is watching?
Or…you can hire me as your Child Catcher! I SMELL CHILDREN!