FACT: Planning Thanksgiving and making it happen will be as stressful as you allow it to be.
Now I’m not saying Thanksgiving – or any holiday – can be 100% stress free, because that’s not going to happen unless you ship your whole family off to grandmas and stay home with a bathtub full of Calgon and a bottle of red. But we moms tend to fall into the trap of chasing perfection and I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of Thanksgiving stress and holiday stress in general comes from our need to have everything just so.
Whether it’s because we’re trying to outdo each other, impress the in-laws, or make amazing memories for our kids, we’re driven to not only put an extra special meal on the table on Thanksgiving Day but also to outperform. Our goal is multiple courses with wine pairings for each, homemade centerpieces and napkin rings, sit down service for 18, a flawlessly executed turducken, and five kinds of pie. Without help. While two or more kids amble in and out of the kitchen.
Look, I like a beautiful table and an outrageous dessert buffet as much as the next girl but am I willing to drive myself crazy to one-up Martha Stewart? Heck no. I’d personally like to be able to enjoy my Thanksgiving along with my family instead of watching from the kitchen while they enjoy the Thanksgiving I created with my blood, sweat, and tears.
That’s why I:
Make It Potluck
No one is going to give you the stink eye for suggesting a potluck Thanksgiving – heck, the truly polite in your circles will already have asked what they need to bring. If you played the martyr and said “Oh, nothing,” then now is the time to call them back and tell them how you really feel. If nothing else, assign guests the easy stuff like mashed potatoes and biscuits, thereby giving yourself time to focus on the hard stuff. Just remember that delegating does mean accepting what you get, graciously, even if it’s biscuits that were birthed from a can.
Okay, make everything possible ahead. Some things are just plain better day of, but some things… corn casserole, some sweets, etc… are better for the flavors having had a chance to mingle. If you can make it ahead and then freeze it without anyone noticing that it’s been reheated, do it.
Here’s a cautionary tale for you: Before my first child’s first birthday, I cleaned the whole house, top to bottom, including the floors. I mopped! And then right after the party, because one-year-olds aren’t at all neat, I cleaned it all again. Including the floors. You’re probably not going to have as many toddlers at your Thanksgiving, but you will have plenty of cleanup to do in the hours following your once a year feast. In the a.m., wipe down the counters, vac up the pet hair, clean the toilet, and dust if you really need to but don’t waste time wiping down picture frames or, yes, mopping the floor.
Keep It Simple, Sister
Thanksgiving is not the time to see if you’re cut out to be a Food Network starlet. Moms who routinely cook up gourmet fare after work on a Tuesday and have it all plated by 5:30 can ignore this tip, but the rest of us should not use the holiday as an excuse to move outside of our comfort zones. I mean, the turkey is already way outside of most people’s comfort zones so moving into weird territory when it comes to spice blends, cooking techniques, or foreign cuisines during a holiday is a majorly bad idea.
Clean As I Go
If you think anyone is going to jump up and volunteer to do the dishes after the gravy runs out, I have a bridge to sell you. While pots bubble and the biscuits bake, throw a load in the dishwasher and wipe down the counters. Yes, again. Watching new drips and splatters covering up old drips and splatters is just going to stress you out. You may not get a ton of help when it comes to keeping the kitchen clean but at least you’ll have less to do once all the guests have gone home.
You have this vision in your head of what the ultimate Thanksgiving looks like. Unfortunately, you also have a real home, real annoyances, real family, and an oven that smokes on low. I don’t care how hard you plan or how many lists you write out before the big day, something is going to go wrong. Something always goes wrong. Maybe you’re like me that one year the carbon monoxide detector decided steam was the enemy and went off over and over until we finally ripped it out of the wall. Or your in-laws won’t stop bickering. The turkey is dry. The centerpieces could be the star of a post on Pinterest Fail. Whatever.
What I said at the beginning of this post is totally true. If you get stressed out, your kids are going to get stressed out and not have fun and then you’re going to stress that they’re not having fun and Thanksgiving becomes the worst day ever. But if you go with the flow, make a great meal, decorate a little, clean a little, and laugh a lot, everyone is going to have an amazing time. They won’t remember the centerpieces, I promise. Neither will you. What you will remember is how much everyone smiled and how you finally got to be a part of the celebration instead of an unpaid event coordinator.
Which, I can say from experience, is a lot more fun.