The first time I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for my husband’s family, I was a new bride of only three months. I had never attended a family holiday event before my marriage because I lived out-of-state. Add to the mix my mother-in-law, three stepchildren, my husband’s ex-wife, four sister-in-laws, and assorted children and husbands. I felt like I was blindfolded and sky-diving without a parachute.
I spent that first Thanksgiving morning frantically cleaning and peeling potatoes like a madwoman. Unforeseen shortages sent me scrambling – twice - to the only open grocery store within twenty miles – in my pajamas. Now things go a lot smoother, because I’ve learned a few secrets to make hosting Thanksgiving dinner for twenty in-laws manageable, and even enjoyable.
(1) Learn the traditions combined families bring to the table, and honor both, not just one. If it means you have doubles of a few dishes – so be it. My husband’s family has a thing about stuffing – they like the old-fashioned starts-out-like-croutons-in-the-bird kind. Stove Top was the only kind of stuffing my mom ever fixed, so of course, that’s what I bought – I never knew anything else existed. Needless to say, stuffing was one of the items I had to buy at the grocery during my Thanksgiving morning mad dash – and two kinds of stuffing grace the table.
(2) Create a schedule. I’m the first to admit that those two-week dinner planning timelines don’t work for me. But if you are defrosting a frozen turkey and cooking a large meal, then you should plan when the countdown commences. If you are in a stepfamily like us, you should also plan your custody schedule ahead of time, so there is no confusion about what time the kids are at which home, and try to schedule meals so the kids aren’t forced to have meals too close together.
(3) Lower your stress level by getting basic tasks out of the way early. Check off tasks on your list that can be done ahead of time to keep your frazzle thermometer low, and don’t be afraid to parcel out job duties to others. Get busywork done ahead of time if you can. Or break down and spend a little extra for pre-cut vegetables and already-prepared side dishes. I take the day before Thanksgiving off from work to chop veggies, set tables and make desserts. Thanksgiving morning is much better spent basting a turkey and watching the Macy’s parade, instead of stressing out.
(4) Ask for and graciously accept help if you need it. My husband helps out with tidying so I don’t have to whip myself into a cleaning cyclone that terrorizes dust bunnies. I had no clue how to make gravy that first year. My mom said to buy it when I phoned for advice. So I bought a half dozen jars of turkey gravy and figured that would suffice. My mother-in-law chuckled when I sheepishly told her about the jars. She offered to help me make gravy that first Thanksgiving and even taught me a few secrets that I plan to pass on to her grandchildren.
(5) Accept that not everything will go according to plan and use creative solutions. Instead of each family arriving with one side dish and one dessert, they each brought two or three dishes and a couple of desserts. The twenty-seven side dishes (yes, 27 side dishes!) overran my serving plans, so we improvised a buffet for the extras by balancing casseroles on cookie sheets over the kitchen sink.
Finally, do your best to enjoy yourself and remember what the holiday is all about. Be thankful for the many blessings we have in our lives – even if your blessings arrive disguised as challenges. If you keep the right attitude, hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be a blessing, not a curse.
Dawn Miller writes a column on life in blended families at http://www.thestepfamilylife.com .