Carolyn Hax: Kids prefer Thanksgiving where they don’t have to help

Comment

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I alternate families for Thanksgiving every year.

My in-laws have a very different way of celebrating. My mother-in-law does all the cooking and cleaning up, refusing help from anyone except me and my sister-in-law (her daughter). This means my two preteen children can sit around and watch football and play on their phones until dinnertime, they can wolf their food down while everyone watches the football game — it’s so loud that conversation is impossible — and they can then go back to their phones or the TV.

My parents expect everyone to pitch in, including my children — which I’m in favor of — and we eat our meal leisurely and everyone is encouraged to contribute to the conversation.

Because we’re going to my parents’ house this year, I’m hearing loud complaints from my children that Thanksgiving sucks at my parents’, that they hate it and that they can’t wait to go to the other grandparents’ house. My husband says I can’t blame them for feeling this way, that any 11- and 12-year-old would feel the same, but I think this says something not so nice about our children and the values we haven’t managed to instill in them.

What do you think? Are my expectations for our children unreasonable?

Anonymous: For the final outcome, no, your expectations of them are totally reasonable. Well, considering it’s an emotional thing, “goals” is a better word.

But your little cupcakes aren’t fully baked yet, so it’s okay and perfectly normal for the intermediate outcome — year by year, before they’re fully grown — to include some less-than-evolved opinions and preferences.

Your job is to (hm, how can we overwork this metaphor) keep applying even heat as they mature.

I.e., they go to sucky Thanksgiving this year and like it. And chip in, and make conversation.

It’s also good for kids to learn to process their parents’ values and rules in very different settings. If you want something different from your kids on these holidays, then you and your husband both need to agree on some lines to hold in the free-for-all house — low-key, I’d say, to avoid stepping on his parents’ hostly toes.

· I was one of those kids. My aunt finally started turning on dance music, and although it was cringeworthy to watch her and my mom dance while we meal-prepped, it was pretty funny, and I have great memories of it now. What I haven’t gotten over, however, is the rampant sexism of the women cooking and the men doing jack squat. They are the cupcakes who never baked.

· Keep at it. That was my family, and I’m sure my brother and I didn’t always appreciate those long family get-togethers. Now we do. My brother and I have a language and history all our own. Those rare times we can all be together? We laugh until our sides hurt. The dishes get done. We take long walks and laugh some more. And when we lost Dad unexpectedly, it was all hands on deck to get Mom what she needed. Because of those bonds. Your kids are lucky, and what you are giving them is a gift.

· You’re going to have to figure out what you want to do when your daughter is old enough to help out and your son can still sit back.

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