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How to communicate to your children that they need to help with holiday meals

Started by GalfromBrooklyn, October 16, 2011, 04:42:23 pm

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Each Thanksgiving we have to go to my son's house for the day...he complains he has children that do not like to have to be somewhere other than their home for the we are all instructed to cook food and bring it.  For years I made the turkey and my daughter brought the desserts and drinks.  My son and his wife make the side dishes.
This year I asked if we could change the order of son told me he doubts his wife knows how to cook a turkey and besides they do not have a roasting pan....I offered to show my daughter in law how to roast a turkey and offered to have her borrow the pan to roast it.  No response except we are doing as usual what we always do.  My daughter said that my daughter in law chooses not to cook not that she can't - she just won't.  Then to make matters worse my daughter said I should not have said anything not to "start" anything ---- just leave things alone and go with the status quo.  Well, Christmas, I have always had them at my house for a full course Italian meal.  Honestly, I am getting sick and tired of always doing the cooking.  I asked my daughter what would all of you do if I decided that I just won't cook anymore? and why is it that everyone can say they won't cook - it's perfectly acceptable... but  If I say something about anything...I am labeled a mother in law - I really don't meddle in anything but I am getting sick and tired of cooking when no one offers to do it for me.  Any suggestions about this issue and how to handle it differently?   This year I am out of work since January, Christmas is going to be hard on me with gift giving but I am still doing it...I think this is all my fault as I have done it for so long they feel they are entitled to it - if I "butch" about it...they say I am creating trouble...Please give me some feedback.  Thanks. 


Hey Gal-

I wouldn't have asked, I would have just said, "I'm not cooking this year so other plans need to be made."  But that's my family. It really depends on how alpha you want to be.

If you don't want to cook but can afford it, you could just tell them that if you're bringing the turkey, it'll be one that you picked up at the grocery store, pre-made or some frozen turkey thing from Costco.  Or just show up with it.   Or you could just re-iterate - I'm Not Bringing the Turkey and show up with a bowl of green beans or a can of cranberry sauce.  Or you could tell them that you're vegan now and can't stand the idea of touching a dead bird!

Let them make a big deal of it if they must and just keep your sense of humor about the whole thing. 

Keys Girl

Hey Gal,

Let's see, the kids can't (?) adapt to anyone else's house and the daughter in law doesn't have a roasting pan........lame excuses, sad to hear and sad for you to be expected to do the work and pick up the tab. 

What do *******YOU WANT ****** to do this year?  I would decide and DO IT. 

You'll get static because these people are used to getting what they want.......even if it's not what you want.   You might be creating trouble because their convenient routine of having you cater to them is getting shook up.  You gotta change the pattern and put up with the static or be cooking turkeys for them forever.  They'll whine and complain and try the blame shifting game that you are a trouble maker.

It's always such a sad state of affairs when the people that you used to love to cater to forget that you are not a free caterer, but if you want to change the output, you'll have to change the input.  You can always announce that the turkey is in your house this year, and if they want to eat it, they'll have to come and get it.  It might be the start of some hostility but it doesn't sound like they are treating you with any appreciation, and when they complain offer this explanation, over and over again "You can't please all of the people all of the time".....big smile.

"Today I will be as happy as a seagull with a french fry." Author Unknown


Either I "do it all" or there is no holiday celebration.  It was that way with my husband's family (I held Christmas for several years for everyone - over 30 people with very little help).  When I stopped, so did the "celebration".  No one ever reciprocated.  I would not be surprised if this would be "a repeat" with our own children (although I suspect one daughter-in-law would step in at first).  In my opinion, the younger people of today just don't have the same dedication to sharing holidays; in fact, many of our daughter-in-laws would be relieved not to have to "bother with us" (and sometimes, I think sons, too). 

Actually, I would have been thrilled to have my entire family together on any holiday (and there is only 11 of us - including my husband and me) - even if I had to do all of the work.  Most times, only half of my immediate family shows up and I cry again.  Lately, we have been celebrating in a local restaurant as more of our family tends to come (we pay the entire bill).  Sometimes I wonder why I try.  It's not fair, but GalfromBrooklyn - I envy you.  At least your family does attend functions.  They don't share the work but at least they come.  Mine don't do either.  Maybe there is no such thing as a "Happy Thanksgiving" ....


I don't get it, your DIL doesn't "want" to cook and she's an ogre.  Yet, you don't "want" to cook either.  So what's the difference?

I think you need a different approach - talk to your kids and say that you understand that NO ONE wants to cook and that's okay (because it is), so what solution are they offering?  Do they want to take turns with the bird?  Do they want to split the cost of a store-bought turkey dinner?  Do they want to just have a bunch of hors-d'oeuvres?  Or pizza & wings?  Because, really, it's not about the food, it's about getting together with family.

If you put it like that, what can they say?

I think though, that you really, really need to put a lid on the old "I've done it every year for XX years" spiel.  I know for me, it would make me angry, because here I thought you were doing it because you WANTED to.  It would actually de-value previous Thanksgivings in my memory.  So you put that in the past and you move forward with the words "that doesn't work for me anymore" firmly (and kindly) on your lips.


Welcome Gal and it is at this point that I normally would ask you to go read the Forum Agreement and How this Happened under Open me first.  But this morning, we have a glitch and the Forum Agreement has disappeared.  So I will ask that you monitor, and I will let you know when we get it worked out so you can go read it.  Thanks!

I agree with everyone's advice.  It is sad that they don't recognize that you are having a rough financial time and didn't step up on their own.  I will say, my Mother does the big stuff every year on Thanksgiving, because she wants to, and I go help her early in the morning and bring desserts.  It's always been that way.  Now, if I knew she was struggling financially, I would immediately call her and ask her if I could do it all this year...but that's just me.  If she called me and said that she was tired of doing it all and would I help her do it differently...not a problem there either because I am grateful for all the years she has done the majority of the work...again...just me.  That's the real issue here.  You have a DS that doesn't have that attitude.  And yes, I'm saying your DS because even if DIL doesn't want to cook, he has the ability to do it, buy it or make other arrangements just as much as she does. 

So I agree with the others here, simply decide what you are willing to do or not do and stick with it.  Your DD is right, it will probably start something.  You may get a "Well, then we are not doing Thanksgiving then" from DS if they don't want to do it.  Just be prepared for that and have a back-up plan.

I will say that I would be more than happy to do the majority of the work if it meant my family was getting together.  But, I would probably draw the line at if they wanted me to do it at their house and do the majority of the work.  I don't mind doing all the work, but I want to be in my kitchen with what I am familiar with to do it.  So I would have told my DS that I didn't mind doing the major stuff, but if they wanted me to do it, they needed to come to my house.  I wouldn't mind coming to their house if they wanted that, but then I needed to be given the stuff that was more portable and easy to bring and they needed to do the bird.

To me, your situation is different with the financial aspect and if you can't afford it, well then you can't.  If they can't understand that, then there is nothing you can do to make them understand.
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. -
Joseph Campbell


Good Morning and Welcome GalfromBrooklyn. I am not married yet, but I do have a wonderful FDH that I have been with for 3 years now. I agree with the others that perhaps you did not initially go about this situation the way I would have, at least if I wanted to 'get my way'. Something that you mentioned did hit home with me though and I thought I would comment on it. You stated that every year you do a big Italian holiday dinner - well my family is Italian and we always do a big extravaganza of food as well so I understand the degree of 'work' that goes along with the joy of the celebration. My thought is (and I apologize if this rambles, I swear I have a point): being Italian, I would say that one of the backbones of the culture is cooking - it is something that as a family growing up everyone was involved in preparing dinner, even if it was little sister making the salad, everyone had a part. It was also a great way for our parents to teach us about our culture, heritage and how to be able to cook for ourselves. My thought is then, perhaps instead of treating it as work, treat it as something fun for everyone. Maybe DS and DIL are a bit stressed being newer parents, so then asked if you can bring the kids into the mix and have them help you, perhaps it will make the process more enjoyable for you as well, as you will get to spend time with your GC. When we all gather for meals at my parents house we almost have to vie for who gets to do what, because everyone wants to be involved. I also like cooking because of the compliments I receive afterwards - I know that is a bit selfish to say, but everyone wins I guess- I get compliments and they get an awesome meal (not to toot my own horn or anything). Cooking can always be a stressful thing to do - you are cooking for X amount of people who are essentially relying on you for a good meal, but as Mary Poppins said "in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun, you find the fun, and *snap* the jobs a game!" And on a side note for other cooks - for me, if I have a big meal to cook, I try to think about what I can do a day or two before to make the day of less stressful (i.e. prep work); that way I can still enjoy the family time day of and not feel like I am stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is hanging out together.

lancaster lady

Hello Gal and Welcome ,

On this site there are many moms that would relish the thought of cooking for all the family .
I realise how tiresome it can be and also the feeling that you are not appreciated .
What are the alternatives though ?
Each family sharing their meal in their own houses and no big family get together ?
I would love if all my family would come to me for Christmas , the more the merrier !
However this year there will probably be only three of us ......think I would rather be snowed under .


GFB, welcome to the site.

I hear you on being tired of doing the major portion of the cooking, and I understand not wanting to schlepp a big bird and all the supplies to cook it over to someone else's house year after year. IMO it makes more sense for the host/hostess to cook the "main event" and for the guests to bring designated sides. You've done it out of love & a sense of responsibility and it's frustrating when others don't want to take on what you've done all these years when it's become too much for you, or when they want to cancel the entire gathering if you won't cook. I would wonder if they love me for me or for my cooking?

My AC are quick to remind me that they are adults now in every other aspect of their lives, but they haven't accepted adult roles in our family where pitching in to make a holiday happen are concerned. I guess it's another thing we need to teach them, like we taught them independence and responsibility. Or in my case, DS/DIL do all that for the ILs but not for us.

Hoping to be a non-demanding MIL, I stepped back and let them tell us what worked for them. We do what they and the ILs
prefer which doesn't work for us, but we do it anyway so we can see DS. When I suggested other arrangements I was blasted by DS/DIL.

So I'm confused: Should we MILs speak up about what we want/need (self-advocating) and run the risk of not seeing our AC at holiday gatherings or should we step back and let them tell us what they want or need (as I've been doing)? I've heard both opinions from DILs, actually! I tend to agree with JDTM who suggested a lot of this drama is another way to not have to bother with us.

I'm amazed that I still love autumn/winter and still have high hopes for the holidays even though I'm usually exhausted and frustrated afterward. Those Norman Rockwell images run deep, I guess.
Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


Welcome GFB :)

In an ideal world, I think rotating holidays between hosts would work best.  And honest communication concerning expectations and all that jazz would happen.

But that's not typically the case lol.  I think in most situations all you can say is "I'm going to do X this year."  IMO, saying you're not going to cook but still want the celebration...thereby giving someone else cooking the same as what they did to you.

You can invite others to your celebrations but can't demand an invite to their house. 

Treat your guests as family and family as guests.

A lot of the times I think these problems are exactly why it's a good idea for newly married to create their own traditions.
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift

Keys Girl

In my opinion the "big divide" is that when my generation was in their twenties, we went to visit our parents, attended all kind of family gatherings (that we might not have wanted to because of tensions between family members or because it was dead boring and a waste of an afternoon or evening).  We went anyway because we were instilled with the sense that we had an obligation to do so and because we knew that the day would come when it would be our turn to "step up to the plate" and make a wonderful Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

I think the current generation in their 20's and 30's don't have that.  These excuses about not wanting to come or cook for one reason or another are just that........ excuses. 

I think there are two options, one is to cook the "Norman Rockwell" dinner and invite everyone, friends, relatives and neighbours to join in and ask them to bring their favourite _________whatever.  The more the merrier, and whoever shows up has an enjoyable evening, and you let the chips fall where they may.

The other option is to try to make the tradition more of a "fun" celebration, for example, have a turkey made out of popcorn stuck together with cake icing, have a fireworks or sparklers event after dinner in the sky, invite a local band to play in your living room and feed them (they are always hungry), take a big picnic basket of KFC to a farm and enjoy a day on the horse drawn wagon, find a corn maze and hide packages of smarties and reeses pieces in the rows before everyone gets there. Plan to spend some time with the local baker with a behind the scenes hour or two of icing cakes and cupcakes, and have that instead of turkey.  Make a cake in the shape of a turkey, everyone ices it and digs in instead of the same ofd predictable bird.  Same deal, invited everyone you would like to spend time with, the more the merrier and whoever shows up, shows up.  End of story, and a good time will be had by all who show up.  Set up a draw for next year's event with ideas from everyone who attended this year and allow people to vote on line for next year's celebrations, so people can have something to look forward to.........and it wouldn't hurt to spend part of the day or do a food drive for the local food bank/shelter in the area.

Have a new theme every year.......mix it up and let everyone participate in choosing the theme and bringing/doing what they would like to do.

Norman Rockwell painted that portrait about 60 years ago, there were no microwaves, dishwashers, cell phones, internet, ipods or laptops.  Those images are firmly implanted in the minds of women my age as something to live up to or want to replicate, and if you don't (well, you didn't quite make the cut) but I think it's time to update the portrait.

Start a tradition in your town, have a parade, live it up, invited everyone who doesn't have a family close by to join you, like Auntie Mame said "Lie is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death"'s your banquet, live it up and have a blast, and don't worry about who does or doesn't come.
"Today I will be as happy as a seagull with a french fry." Author Unknown


I think what you said was fine - all you did was open up a conversation about future possibilities.  I get the idea that the family has strong ties (since you get together a lot) so it can support a conversation about fixing turkey, right?  Just keep your sense of humor about the whole thing. 
If I've misread and the family ties are brittle,  this may be the thing that brings a lot of issues to the surface that can be dealt with.


OP - keep in mind the simple act of HOSTING is a big deal.

As a DIL, if I was hosting my DH's family for dinner on Christmas, and I had my kids, the very act of getting us all ready, getting my home ready, and preparing meals, decorating, planning, etc on top of the gift buying, etc. That is WAY more then enough. Does DIL work on top of all of this? Maybe put yourself in her shoes. After all of that, the very fact that she's allowing this get together to take place in her home is a pretty big deal, and a lot of DIL's wouldn't bother and tell their DH good luck with that.

If you really don't want to cook the bird though - I don't know. Its getting close to holidays. Now might not be a great time to announce you're wanting to change something so central to your family meal up. However, I think its perfectly appropriate for you to announce at this dinner that you hope they enjoy the bird b/c , while you are happy to contribute to meals in the future, you are hereby retiring from making turkeys. Fair enough!


I think Aloho has a good point about all the work involved in getting the house ready, etc.  Cooking the turkey is pretty easy - and there are usually good sales on turkey at Thanksgiving - but HAULING the darn bird over to DS and DIL's house could be a big chore for Gal.  Do you live close to DS?  Could he come pick up the turkey when it is cooked?  Or could you cook it there?  Take it and the roasting pan, stick it in the oven, then leave for a few hours until it is done?  None of this works of course if Gal doesn't live close to DS and DIL.   And if you live too far away for your strong DS to come pick up the bird, then you are probably too far away to deliver a hot, cooked turkey, anyway.   ;)

As far as it needing to be at DS and DIL's house because the kids do not want to go anywhere else, I guess I'm just lazy, but I would find it easier to go there rather than try to stock up on games, toys, etc that would keep the GKs happy and busy.  Not a problem at their own home.  And having GKs not pout and whine because their bored could make any Thanksgiving more pleasant  :)

I also think Keys Girl has a very interesting point about the great divide.  Although I've been married for 30 years, when I was dating my DH (and other guys before that) - if I liked the guy, I really tried hard to establish a relationship with his FOO.  It was important to be liked and accepted by them.  I do not sense that same motivation in my DIL.  She is willing to tolerate us, is always civil, but no warmth or effort to establish any bonds.  It was puzzling to us at first - we kept wondering what we had done wrong - and kept on trying to be friendly.  Finally we realized she doesn't want much of a relationship with DS family.  And so it goes . . .

But I thought Keys made a good point - as all my girlfriends years ago were quite eager for their boyfriends', fiances', husbands' families to like and accept them. 


GAL, greetings  & peace to you across the miles.  I think you are tired, and something is going on inside of you, maybe it is a patch of depression, or a passage, but I think you are very emotionally exhausted and there might be a way out of this.  I sense that you are seen by the family as having very big shoulders, you are the Atlas of the family, but I think you're tired.  I suggest you write a photocopied card or letter to all of them, and express a different side of yourself.  " Loved ones, I am tired.  I am not strong this year.  This is not the best of times in my life right now.  I cannot explain completely, but I need all of you to carry me this holiday.  I need to not be in charge this year, I need a little tlc, dear family.  You are all capable to do this and much more.  Please be kind and understanding and lets make some wonderful family memories this year that we will always cherish. "   Give yourself permission to have a down time, dear GAL.