Thanksgiving officially kicks off the holiday season. As one just passed, I reflect on Thanksgivings past. Regrets, no regrets, how will I handle this holiday and others going forward?
Expectations in all aspects run high during this season; especially for someone who feel tasked with making everyone happy, feel loved and nurtured. This someone was me for too many years. I felt it was my duty to provide the best ever for all; because if I didn’t, nobody would (not the grandmas, not the husband-now ex, and not the children of course). I had to because I could. Like my mother, I cooked elaborate meals and desserts, alone. But I’m not a housewife.
For me, Thanksgiving was a multi day cooking day marathon and a multi day grocery shopping marathon. I took a lot of pride in doing it all and making everyone feel great. It meant grocery shopping for days (must find best ingredients everywhere). Followed by standing in the kitchen for 3-4 days (not joking), while holding down a demanding career for most of my life (did have a brief break from that). For some of these marathons, I was married for some not…didn’t matter, I did it all (except the dishes-that could take 2 hours at times). If it wasn’t me, my family was going to have a cold home. In my mind and heart, it was solely my duty to provide the warmth and love because nobody else would. Later complications from food allergies for one child (mostly gone now) increased those expectations even more. Yes, put together a top 8 allergen free (nuts, soy, wheat, dairy, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, peanuts) Thanksgiving Feast, that all can eat and not even detect that these ingredients are missing. The best Thanksgiving ever, for everyone, resulting from me cooking for days until 2 AM. This is how I spent most of my Thanksgivings. It was solely my duty to provide a warm nurturing home with the best family atmosphere for all. If I wasn’t going to, nobody else would. Grandmothers wouldn’t, husband, whoever wouldn’t…so who else would? Do it all alone. I probably slept a total of 10 hours in 3 days, brining turkeys, ducks, fish, making 4-5 side dishes, stuffing from scratch and at least 3 desserts. By the end of the evening of Thanksgiving I just wanted to collapse. But mission accomplished, the people in my life (children and the rest of my small family, grandmothers, husband, etc.) had the warmest and most exceptional Thanksgiving experience that money couldn’t buy. I forged those chains, link by link, yard by yard, year by year.
This year, I actually had a relaxing and exciting Thanksgiving. No grocery shopping marathons, no baking marathons and no staying in the kitchen until 2 AM for three consecutive nights. I got to dress up nicely (I used to dress up right before eating in Thanksgivings past). I decided to take my son to one of the most elegant restaurants and have a traditional turkey dinner there. It was outstanding. Did I spend more than before? No, I used to spend typically $350 to feed roughly 4 people more for 6 (often more if you include alcohol). We got to dress up nicely, talk and enjoy the day.
I was expecting to see mostly empty nesters in this fine restaurant. What family would go out; mothers must cook? But that is not what I saw. No wonder reservations are hard to get these days. I saw families with younger kids and I saw couples with younger kids. I saw a single mother with two teens. Yes, people are going out more and more as they value their free time. Yes, I love to cook, and still do but I don’t have to ALL THE TIME and make countless choices, one for the meat lover, one for the one who won’t eat meat, etc., etc. But what about the experience of not being at home? The smell of turkey roasting in the oven, people cooking together, people bringing their special dishes? Well for me that too was sort of a joke. I did all the cooking except for the last couple years where I delegated one dish to someone else. What about that ‘mom image’ of mom slaving in the kitchen and making everyone happy? Is that so important? No, ultimately the outcomes in life have nothing to do with whether the mom ‘slaved’ or not. Kids turn out this way or that way for other reasons.
So now that the ghost of Thanksgivings past, with the chains I forged, has passed. What is the optimal way to handle Thanksgiving? There isn’t one. But here is some food for thought: If you have a small family, and you are supposed to be the ONLY cook, by all means, go out, or get a Thanksgiving dinner made by someone else (many great suppliers here). This is way too much work for one person (especially those who have to work). If you have a demanding career and no help-enjoy the day off without those chains you forge for yourself and enjoy your time off, friends, family or even yourself. How your children turn out has nothing to do with how many hours you spent in the kitchen. Yes, you think providing these great memories of mothering will have some sort of positive correlation with how your family perceives you and loves you. It doesn’t. If you have a large family where everyone helps, yes, it can be a enjoyable experience. But last night I saw even a large family at this fine restaurant. Thanksgiving and holidays are all about the experience, not how many hours you have sacrificed.
Some will say, oh I’d never go out, oh that’s so cold, etc. etc. No, it’s not cold, it was fabulous. Yes, of course I will cook, but I don’t have to cram everything into three sleepless days of cooking combined with three sleepless days of grocery shopping after work. No more solo cooking marathons. These solo marathons for me would continue into making leftover marvels…turkey soup, gourmet tetrazzini, etc., etc. Again, large families where many cook – it’s different, it’s an experience of being together and creating dishes.
I used to think that there was only one way to do Thanksgiving and it was my sole duty to do it all because I’m the mother. There really isn’t. Do not forge those chains of your own free will, the links do not determine how your family feels about you or whether you enjoy that time together or not. Respect yourself, your time and your need to get more than three hours of sleep. And if you need to, and can go out (e.g., you have a small family), by all means do it, and don’t feel guilty. Don’t spend so many years in those chains as I did. Enjoy your life. The love you receive from your family members is not positively correlated with the number of sleepless nights you spend in the kitchen.
Focus on the experience, not the hours you spend in the kitchen. I saw one family went to donate food for those less fortunate. What a great experience.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” Jacob Marley, Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.
My favorite Christmas Carol movie is the 1951 version (and favorite ghost of Christmas past). Which one is yours?