The Family Holiday Dinner Survival Guide

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We just survived a holiday with my in-laws, and when I say in-laws I don’t just mean Daddy-o’s parents – I mean ALL of the in-laws.

At the top of the family pecking order is the grand matriarch, Oma. She has five grown kids, one of whom is Daddy-o. The total headcount for this communal holiday was: 1 Oma, 10 adults, and 17 grandchildren under the age of 13 years old.

Recipe for disaster? One might think so considering how many people spent almost two full weeks together. While we certainly had our moments, overall it was a raging success. At the end, I sat down with the womenfolk and autopsied the holiday.

We considered what worked and what we might do differently next time, then came up with these tips:

Set up a meal preparation and clean-up schedule.

We did this well in advance. Every day, two adults were assigned to prepare the children’s lunch, two others for their dinner and two more for the adult’s dinner. This worked extremely well. No one felt they were carrying the load in meal prep and knowing which days we had duties meant we could plan ahead.

Lay the ground rules.

During the first children’s dinner (yes, picture seventeen kids around a table) we got out the poster paper and markers and asked the kids for their ideas on what rules should make the list. They made great contributions and so did the adults. The rules were posted for everyone to view during the holidays, and we certainly had to refer children to it on occasion!

Remind your kids that all families are different.

Some families have different bedtimes, rules and expectations. Before heading out for a communal holiday, ensure your kids know this so you avoid hearing “But THEY get to stay up later, why can’t WE?”

Let parents parent their own children.

Obviously, if parents are not around, you step in and deal with a situation as it arises, but if the parents are right there, best to just let them deal with it their way. Again, remind YOURSELF that all families are different. A peanut gallery of parenting experts is not helpful in the moment.

If you find yourself getting stressed out by a situation, remove yourself and let the others deal with it.

Oma is an incredibly organized person – some of the rest of us, not so much. One morning, the dads had big plans to take the kids to the river. Watching the dads scramble around looking for last-minute supplies was enough to put an organized Oma over the edge. She took that feeling of building stress as a sign that it was a good time to grab a book and disappear into a bedroom. Holidays are not meant to be stressful so it should be avoided at all cost.

Have a money kitty.

All the families threw some money into the kitty so that food costs would be covered. When someone was heading into town they could buy enough supplies for everyone without personally going broke.

Autopsy it.

Be sure to identify stress points so you can make improvements the next time around. Also celebrate your successes. The fact that we left sadly and are missing the chaos is a very good sign!

You may think it takes a special kind of family to be able to survive a holiday like this, and I’m lucky to be part of one. But even if you think all those different personalities and family styles couldn’t survive that much quality time together – take in some of what we’ve learned and give it a shot. There is no better gift you can give your kids than time with their cousins.

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