Thanksgiving Teamwork

Getting the kids involved will leave Solo Moms grateful not grouchy

Getting through the holiday season can feel like navigating a minefield, no matter what your family looks like. But for Solo Moms, the holidays come with their own cornucopia of challenges. As Thanksgiving approaches, you might find it easier to count your worries than your blessings.

To name a few: Will the kids spend the day with you or with your ex? Will your friends take pity on you and invite you over for dinner? (And do you even want to be pitied? Perish the thought!) Does your family expect you to host Thanksgiving this year and do the lion’s share of the cooking? If you’re far from family, will you and the kids make your own feast and end up with a fridge full of leftover turkey? How will the kids occupy themselves while you’re slaving away in the kitchen or trying your hardest to put on a happy face and be a pleasant dinner guest?

Fear not! If you’re on your own with the kids this year and feeling overwhelmed, you can make the day more fun and less stressful by enlisting their help. Remember: you’re a team. Here are five ways your kids can pitch in on Thanksgiving (and actually enjoy doing it):

  1. Be the keeper of the lists. Whether you’re traveling, staying home, or going to someone else’s place, there are bound to be logistics involved. Menus need to be planned; shopping, packing, and guest lists made; and schedules mapped out. Arm your kids with notepads and pencils (or have them download an app like the List App) and put them in charge of list-making. It’s a win-win: your kids get to have a say in what you’re doing and practice their writing skills, while you get a personal assistant. If they’re not old enough to write yet, they can still help make lists — you just might have to take dictation (or employ the voice memo feature on your phone).
  2. Practice their culinary skills. Depending on their age and dexterity, kids can help out with different tasks in the kitchen. Yes, it might take a little longer for small hands to accomplish things you can easily do yourself — but they’ve got to learn this stuff sometime, and they’ll (probably) be proud they helped. Picky eaters are more likely to want to try things they helped prepare with their own adorable hands. So find something they can do without hurting themselves or causing a kitchen disaster. Snapping the ends off green beans doesn’t involve the use of sharp objects; neither does mashing potatoes. Older kids can practice more advanced skills by peeling and chopping potatoes, rolling out pie crusts, and shaping dinner rolls (Smitten Kitchen has an incredible recipe for Parker House rolls; but a word to the wise, use baking soda not lye to pretzel those suckers).
  3. Head up the decoration and entertainment committee. Break out the construction paper and glitter glue and have your kids make place cards for everyone who will gather around the table. They can make crafts while you baste the turkey or bake a pie to take to a friend’s place. Have them create a holiday-themed playlist on Spotify or come up with fun games to play at dinner. A good one for Thanksgiving: together everyone thinks of things they’ve been grateful for this year, until you’ve got something for every letter of the alphabet. Get specific: animal videos on YouTube, beach vacations, cotton candy at the circus, doughnuts after soccer practice, elementary school teachers who don’t give too much homework — you get the idea. Write them all down and make a banner to hang up and add to next year.
  4. Coordinate the cleanup effort. Kids love to boss people around, so let them! We all know that letting kids wash dishes or mop floors often results in broken glasses and sticky spots getting smeared around. Instead of asking kids to do things you can do faster and better yourself, put them in charge of making sure dishes get cleared from the table to the kitchen, table linens are collected, trash gets taken out, and everyone has a job. Sure, they can pitch in and help, too, but assigning them the job of coordinator will satisfy their little dictator-ish instincts and might even prevent a post-dinner meltdown by keeping them occupied (just tell them to give Grandma a break).
  5. Stay out of the way. Let’s be honest: sometimes, we Solo Moms just want our kids to occupy themselves quietly while we get shit done. The holidays are stressful enough without worrying about how much screen time your child is logging. This is a day to be grateful for whatever keeps everyone happy and busy. So don’t feel guilty about letting them watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and sneak leftover Halloween candy in the other room or play Subway Surfer for an hour, if it lets you do what you need to do in relative peace. And hey — even if you end up having toast, popcorn, and jelly beans like the Peanuts gang, it’s not the worst holiday anyone ever had. In fact, it could just be the best.

Elizabeth Laura Nelson is a Solo Mom to two daughters. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate-chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. You can follow Nelson on Twitter at @AnotherAnnie.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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