Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. For this week’s Thanksgiving edition Hillary Frey, the editor in chief of Slate, will be filling in as Prudie. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I’m a Thanksgiving traditionalist. I like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc. We usually eat with my extended family. We can’t host this year because our kitchen is being remodeled. This year the regular hosts are traveling and some nice family members have offered to host for the first time—except they’re going to make a roast. I get it. They like roasts, they’re hosting, that’s fine…except I don’t want to go then.
I want to go to a restaurant that I know does a traditional dinner. My husband has (probably wisely) left it up to me. As long as there’s football on the TV, he’d likely eat roast roadkill and not care. The family members I’ve run this by have been varying degrees of upset—on a scale from slightly annoyed to OMG, what’s wrong with you? Nothing’s wrong with me, it’s Thanksgiving and I want my turkey and stuffing and potatoes smothered in gravy with cranberry sauce! It’s not just about dinner; it’s about THAT dinner. And really, is it so much to ask that one day out of 365 days we just have the turkey, etc.? We can have roast any of the other 364 days and I will eat it happily. Should I stick to my guns or give in and have a roast with the family?
—I Want Turkey!
I have one word/acronym for you: YOLO. You love a traditional Thanksgiving meal, and you like to have it ON Thanksgiving. And this year, even if you wanted to just cook up a bird, say, on the following Saturday, you couldn’t, because you don’t have a kitchen! So I am 100 percent in favor of you pursuing your classical cravings wherever you might find them.
However, it is unclear to me if you need to find a restaurant that also has football on during the dinner to please your husband. Report back on whether you manage to find a place that will both satisfy your fowl desires AND have some 75-inch TVs tuned into the game that isn’t a buffet. Or, maybe a buffet is exactly right!
You say your family members are “nice,” so I hope that kindness extends to how they react when you let them know your plans… What are they serving for dessert? Perhaps you could save the last course and join them for some apple pie and coffee after you’ve suitably stuffed yourself with stuffing. Then you get what you want, and see the fam.
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How do I stop being the default hostess? My spouse and I live a 10-plus hour drive from each of our families. It is now the third year in a row that at least one side has invited themselves over for a holiday. This Thanksgiving, everyone’s coming—all without me extending an invite. My spouse doesn’t see a problem because we like spending time with his family and because he says, “You’re supposed to spend the holidays with your family.” I think my family knows if I don’t host, they won’t see me. But the house prep, the extra groceries (not just for the holiday meal, but we have to feed everyone breakfast and lunch for a couple of days too!), the airport shuttling—it’s a lot. How do I get my house back and set boundaries?
—Eldest Daughter Problems
Immediately call these people and tell them not to come to your house! The way you “get your house back and set boundaries” is by… setting those boundaries. Be clear, direct, and kind. Offer that you would love to see them, but having everyone descend on your place is overwhelming and more than you are able to take on right now. And tell them you’d love to find a non-holiday time to get together. I wouldn’t even get into the “uninvited” part of this—articulate what you need and will work for you. And you don’t know: maybe they don’t want to make the long journey as much as you might think. Sometimes there’s relief on both ends when you just tell the truth.
My husband’s parents have always been sweet but odd. They love to host us but I find their brand of hosting overwhelming. They constantly ask me if I need anything, trying to top what they’ve offered if I do accept (For example, “Oh, you would like a coffee? And should I make it a latte? Well, should I get some vanilla syrup?”). As I said, sweet, but after a few days, my introverted self is fully drained by their aggressive hospitality.
Unfortunately, my husband’s mom seems to be in the early stages of some kind of memory loss disease. Signs point to Alzheimer’s but since telling us would be SUCH a burden (in her opinion) and we live across the country, it’s very hard to get any information from them. However, her condition has led to an amplification of her hospitality. Now not only do I need to accept or deny a piece of pie (Which piece? And have I examined them all? And would I like it with whipped cream? And if I say no, would I prefer someone run to the store for ice cream?), but I need to do it multiple times as she seems to forget we already went through this.
As overwhelming as I find their affection normally, I can barely handle this amplification, especially as it interrupts me trying to chase two kids, take a minute to read on my “vacation,” or just have a normal conversation with them. We don’t see them many times a year and it’s becoming all the more clear that we may not have them much longer. How can I approach this Thanksgiving with grace and kindness? I can’t change them, so how can I change how I react?
—Stop Your Horrible Kindness
Dear Stop Your Horrible Kindness,
Whew, I feel for you. I am very sorry to hear about your husband’s mom, and I can only imagine that the frustration of not really knowing what is going on makes the situation that much more difficult to get through.
First, you mention that, at least in the past, you could manage this for a few days before being fully drained. So, can you limit your visit to a few days? If the duration of the visit adds to the stress, think about cutting it short. Communicating that your visit will be a bit shorter at the outset will also short-circuit any surprise at the change in the norm. Don’t make an excuse about it; just set the limit and convey it.
Second, you and your husband need to sit down with his parents and explain to them that you need to, and deserve to, know what is going on. Not wanting to “burden” adult children with bad or difficult news comes from a protective instinct, but it’s not fair or practical. I had this exact conversation with my own parents a few years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised that they listened to me. My 77-year-old father recently underwent a very invasive surgery and my mom kept me and my brother posted all through the day and the recovery. Not only that, they asked for help! I only share this to say that while we can’t change our parents and in-laws, I do believe there are ways they can adjust when we as children are very clear about our needs. They are still our parents after all.
Last, I think you are already approaching this situation with grace and kindness. You are thinking in advance about how to help, how to be patient, and how to support your husband’s parents in a difficult situation—all with the knowledge that our time with our aging relatives is dear. I will reiterate my suggestion to keep the visit short and find some time to have an honest conversation with your in-laws. Also, practice your smiles and deep breaths. Perhaps your calm will radiate outward, and you’ll only be offered one or two pieces of pie.
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