Thanksgiving Day falls on Thursday, so any given mom in America can plan on spending Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday standing in line at the grocery store with a throng of other bedraggled women who will cart home heaping bags of food. She will also spend the week cleaning her house, setting up guest bedrooms, getting her children ready for the big day, and trying to anticipate every possible scenario that might hinder familial harmony.
For instance, if Aunt Doris bakes her famous apple pie and Aunt Lilly brings her renowned pumpkin desert, one may upstage the other. Uncle Jack snores, and Jim and Joyce will have a new baby with them—there is no way they can share guest quarters. There will be 40 hyper kids running through the house, and they will interrupt conversation; therefore, Mom will plan various activities to keep the children occupied and out of the grownups’ way.
Aside from her hostess duties, Mom will prepare the culinary wonder of the century: a six-course meal with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry relish, corn bread dressing, sweet potato casserole, Waldorf salad, and a succulent roast turkey. The food will be served on white linen and fine china—a veritable Rockwellian feast.
After everyone is satiated beyond reason, Mom will spend Friday cleaning up the mess, and Saturday and Sunday trying to coax her guests to go back to their own homes. She’s got the work of a seasoned ten-man staff cut out for her, but that’s okay. That’s what moms do during the Thanksgiving holiday, right? If Mom is worth her title, the day will proceed without a hitch. But what if the children fight, the aunts bicker, and the food is cold? What then?
Guess what? Thanksgiving is a messy affair. There! I said it. Thanksgiving is messy. No matter how hard they try, moms can’t make everything perfect. I could shout this truth from rooftops all over America, but mothers would still run themselves ragged trying to achieve the flawless Thanksgiving. How have we gotten ourselves into this fix? For most of us, the compulsion to outperform June Cleaver and Martha Stewart stems from approval addiction.
We’ve grown accustomed to taking our self-worth cues from the compliments of our peers: Fabulous mint julep tea, Malinda. The meal was exquisite! How do you do it with ten children?!? We’ve bought into the commercialized “Stovetop Holiday”: Mom stands demurely beside the table, stuffing in hand, as her children shower her with accolades and beg for a second helping. We’ve come to depend so much upon the approval of others that when we don’t get it, we assume something is terribly wrong.
Furthermore, we’ve convinced ourselves that we are personally responsible for everyone else’s well-being as long as they are in our house and dining at our table. Ironically, this assumption usually ends up setting our visitors on edge and making our children dread the day they should enjoy. I can remember my own dear mother snapping at everyone through the endless preparations of the holiday feast. By the time our guests were seated at the table, she was such a frazzled mess that we all felt too guilty to enjoy the meal. We ate in stressed silence.
If you’re a mother who considers taking painkillers at the mere thought of Thanksgiving, I hereby give you permission to let go. Let go of the picture-perfect holiday. Let go of trying to make everyone else happy. Let go of the myth that you have somehow failed if your Thanksgiving doesn’t align neatly with the preconceived notions you have about family gatherings.
Think about it. The most precious memories you have are not the carefully orchestrated ones you have manufactured, but the ones created in the spontaneity of an unexpected moment. I’ll never forget the time we miscalculated and wound up with 14 extra pies. Our entire extended family ate pie and ice cream for breakfast the following morning.
The truth of the matter is that Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful for what we have—just the way it is. It is a day to praise God for giving us food, even when it winds up burned or on the floor. It’s a day to hold our family close—gravy stains, runny noses, tantrums and all. It’s a time to reach out to others—even the strange uncle who surfaces only twice a year. Instead of overstuffing the holiday with unrealistic expectations of yourself, how about living in the magnificent reality of a truly messy Thanksgiving? In doing so, you might be pleasantly surprised how truly perfect imperfection can be!
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