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What to Do When Mom’s Thanksgiving Helpers Disappear

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November 24, 2014

My mom refused to let my dad in the kitchen except to eat. For her generation, the kitchen was a woman’s seat of power and Mom wouldn’t even delegate dish drying to any male. Of course, she had no problem ordering me around especially during the holidays when company was coming. “Unload the groceries.” “Wash and cut the string beans.” “Peel the potatoes.” “Polish the silver.” “Set the table.” As a kid, I never minded because I felt like me and my mom were a team. If we were doing “women’s work” we were doing it together and it made me feel closer to her.

Fast-forward a few years. I’m home for Thanksgiving after my first twelve weeks of college. The feast is over and one of my brothers says to the other, “How about a game of ping-pong?” They both get up, without even picking up a napkin, and head downstairs. Emboldened by my new feminist consciousness, I yell at my mom, “How come they get to go play while I’m stuck in the kitchen?” Mom throws me a withering look and warns, “Don’t start.”

And so moms trained their boys to have a certain attitude about “helping out” around the house. Thankfully things have changed. Or have they? It seems the only change in some families is that now both boys and girls are taught to disdain work at home. As in this email …

Dear Annie,

My daughters are coming home from college for Thanksgiving. I’m excited, but I’m also dreading it. I’m hosting a dinner for 18 people and there’s so much work to do. The problem is that my daughters never help. When I ask them to give me a hand, they tell me they’re “on vacation” and they shouldn’t have to. All they do is sit around, texting or watching TV and expecting me to serve them food and do their laundry. I don’t know how they got to be so lazy and entitled. Help!

— Unhappy Mom

Dear Unhappy Mom,


Do you really need me to tell you how your daughters got this way? But wait! Finger pointing is a waste of time and you’ve only got 3 days til Thanksgiving! Here’s how to change the situation this holiday season and forever.

  1. Apologize to your children. It’s your job to prepare them to be fully functioning adults. You’ve been over-functioning and have raised under-functioning kids. You made a mistake and short-changed them in the life-skills department. Admit it. Apologize. Move on.
  2. Make a list. Tell the troops, “This is everything that needs to be done for Thursday. Which tasks are you going to take responsibility for?” If they refuse to pick one, assign it. Reiterate your expectations to each person by saying, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you to ____________.” (make the cranberry sauce!)
  3. Make a statement. When you want something done by a partner, son or daughter, compliance drops to 20% when you ask a question. For example, “Will you please help me?” “Can you do me a favor?” “Do you have a minute?” No, Not now, Mom. See what I mean? Instead get used to saying, “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” (Notice it’s not a question so don’t let your voice go up at the end.)
  4. 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!

In friendship,

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