Just read a cautionary tale in today’s Dear Abby. The letter was from a martyr… I mean a mother describing how her two adult daughters arrive for Thanksgiving each year expecting the guest-treatment. For some mysterious reason, these “girls” never offer to help their mother with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ people. That is, not until Mom, frazzled, frustrated, and fatigued totally loses it, slumps to the kitchen floor in her gravy-stained apron and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses exchange eye-rolls (not nearly as appreciated as Parker House) and deign to lift sponge or dish towel.
As I read about this family situation my blood-pressure escalated to vein-throbbing levels. I too became frustrated and resentful, but I reserved all my exasperation for the mom. I mean, really, where did she think her lovelies learned to blithely ignore household tasks? How in God’s name had they reached adulthood without a modicum of common courtesy and awareness that demands that even if you truly are a dinner guest in the home of someone you’ve never met before, you offer to help. (In addition, as my mom taught me, you are also required to bring bakery goodies in a pink box.)
So, Dear Abby Mom, if you’re wondering where Drizella and Anatasia picked up their entitled attitudes… look in the mirror. But don’t get distracted by the smudges you see there and reach for the Windex. This is a time for self-reflection about the kind of parent you have been. But wait! Fault-finding is a waste of time and you’ve only got 3 days left til Thanksgiving! So here’s how to change the situation this holiday season and forevermore. And for the rest of us who could use some help getting some help around the house these tips are for you too.
1. Apologize to your daughters today. (I’m serious!) You’ve taught them that your job is to serve them throughout eternity. So it’s not their fault that they bought into it. But you were wrong. Your job, as their mom, is to prepare them to be fully functioning adults. By compulsively doing for them that which they should learn to do for themselves, you do them no favors. In fact, you’ve held them back in their development of a cooperative spirit. They’re adults now. They make their own choices, so how they act now is not your doing, but you certainly contributed to their self-centeredness. Admit it. Apologize. And move forward.
2. Make a list of all the things that need to be done between now and the dinner bell on Thursday. Oh, and don’t forget to add one general last item: “Clean up after dinner.”
3. Share the list with your daughters and any other able-bodied family members who will be at dinner. Say, as assertively as possible (no shouting, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) “This is what needs to be done. Which of these tasks are you going to take responsibility for?” If you have no confidence in their offers (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you.”
4. Make a statement. Get used to saying, whenever necessary (holiday or not) “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” (Notice that it isn’t a question.) There’s a good reason for that. Annie Fox Research shows that when you want something done by your spouse, son or daughter, your chances of compliance drop to a mere 20% when you pose your request in the form of a question that has a “yes” or “no” answer. Dear Abby Mom shouldn’t be asking, “Can I count on you to help?” “Will you please help me?” “Can I ask you a favor?” “Do you have a minute?” No, no, no, not now, Mom. See what I mean?
5. Know that you are loved. You don’t need to do it all to be loved, appreciated, admired. You are already all of those things. And guess what? No one will love you more if they know that you personally crushed each cranberry, and did everything else without help. But you will probably love everyone and your time together as a family much less if you do it all the work.
6. Teach them! If you don’t get the whole family involved in the process, how can they learn to a) make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day and b) teach your future grandkids how to be cooperative members of the family?
Happy Thanksgiving, from our home to yours!