For as long as I can remember, my Dad stuffed the turkey and prepped it for the oven every Thanksgiving Day. Like every other day, this daddy’s girl stuck to him like the gravy we glommed onto potatoes. After what seemed like hours of chopping and sautéing celery and onion, we had a bowl full of breadcrumbs, seasonings, vegetables, and an egg. To finish it off, he poured warm broth over all the sage goodness.
Then came my job: squeeze and mix, knead and blend until it was all incorporated into a moist ball of stuffing goodness. (As an adult, I no longer understand the joy of squishing raw ingredients together with my hands. I now use a spoon.)
Cut forward to me as a young mom, on my first Thanksgiving in my own home. Since we were stationed in the Air Force far away from any relatives, I invited another military family over to celebrate with us. It was up to me to plan, purchase, and prepare all on my own. I thought I had it all under control, but the closer the day came, the more overwhelmed I got.
I don’t recall even one special moment with my kids that Thanksgiving. I spent so much time trying to “get it right” that I lost all focus on the joy of parenting teaching and guiding them to celebrate in gratitude. But over the years, I learned to include them in the planning and create lots of cherished memories.
Here are a couple key ways that helped me foster family togetherness on Thanksgiving that may help you do the same:
Remember that Thanksgiving is about more than the twenty-minute meal.
Have you ever felt like you spent six hours cooking only to watch your loved ones gobble up your hard work in twenty minutes, and then immediately disappear to watch football while you spend another two hours cleaning up?
That scenario (or one similar) can make a mom less than grateful.
Looking back, I have lots of sweet memories with my girls on Thanksgiving, but none of them are around the table for the official meal. Most of the laughter, fun, and joy happened either in the prep time or the card and board games we enjoyed afterward.
It took some planning in advance, but those times of family togetherness are worth every second I spent over a hot stove or with a knife and cutting board.
Use their strengths and interests to get them involved.
My husband (bless him!) is happy to wash dishes any time of the year, and this is the day I appreciate that the most.
One of my daughters loves to decorate but it’s torture for her to stand there with a knife and chop, chop, chop for hours. She has an eye for beautiful arrangements, so by the time she was a teenager, she had full reign of the table centerpiece and the other decorations.
Another daughter loves to create with food. She’s especially great at turning a plate of raw vegetables into a clever design that resembles a turkey. She’s more than happy to bake an apple pie (as long as she can make a fun design with the crust).
Our oldest daughter is servant-hearted and will do anything I ask her without complaint, but she prefers to chop and prep foods rather than stand over a hot stove.
Since I’m the opposite, we make a great team on Thanksgiving Day.
Whatever their talents and interests, children are more liable to be excited when you give them a job they love and that suits their personality.
Plan Kid-Friendly Ways to Help in Advance
Crafty kids can create their own place cards, table centerpieces, or napkin rings. Ideas for these and more can be found here.
If you prefer to decorate with the good china and cloth napkins, consider a more relaxed kids’ table. White butcher paper and some crayons or washable markers makes a tablecloth they’ll love. They can decorate their own space and have fun with all of their young relatives.
Kids who love to cook can create a fun specialty dish. If you’re busy with guests and other preparations on the day of Thanksgiving, having a young helper on the day before can add a great deal of enjoyment to the process for little ones. Here are some great recipes to consider that are kid friendly and fun.
If you’re traveling, kids can still get in on the action by creating a gift or making a dish to bring and share.
Gratitude is contagious.
Even if things don’t turn out perfectly (i.e. disasterville) with their “help,” pulling together to create a lovely celebration fosters family togetherness. If nothing else, I’m reminded each year how grateful I am for each one of my family members.
And if my girls are even half as thankful for our holiday memories as I am when I remember Thanksgiving with my dad, then I will count myself one blessed mama.
Meet the Author: Lyneta Smith
Lyneta is a writer and editor who lives near Nashville, TN with her husband and an opinionated tortoiseshell cat. They enjoy holidays and family nights with their adult daughters more than ever. Lyneta is the author of Curtain Call: A Memoir, and has been published in numerous national magazines and newspapers. Follow her on Facebook.