How do parents with young children survive Thanksgiving and all the cooking, cleaning, and preparation that comes with it? First, ask yourself this question: Are you hosting or traveling? Pick one and go:
You’re not going to want to hear this, but I only speak the truth: You should clean twice. It will actually make the week easier, if counterintuitively so. Here’s how this will work: On Wednesday, whenever you can set aside like an hour after dinner and before bed, go ahead and do that first big clean. Because you know you don’t want to be scrubbing the toilet bowl on Thanksgiving morning.
But what about the kids? This is where they can be really helpful if you’re willing to press them into service (you are!). While you defrost the turkey and test out the wine, your kids can do any or all of the following 1.) clean their rooms; 2.) clean bathrooms; 3.) find homes for extra coats, shoes, and bags by the front door; 4.) gussy up the front yard; 5.) hunt for serving platters, utensils, extra dishes, and glasses; 6.) make ready a bunch of napkins; 7.) pick out their Thanksgiving clothes; and 8.) do anything else they can knock out for you the day before.
In my house, we call this a “cleaning bonanza.” We turn on peppy music (save the Christmas songs for tomorrow’s cleaning bonanza; you’ll need it). We have cleaning contests and just generally try to make it as fun as humanly possible. On the day-of, just do a quick vacuum, bathroom check, light a candle, and tidy up your own kitchen space. Then you’re good! And while you’re cooking all those dinner sides, let the kids help if they’re so inclined. But you should probably reward them with a movie.
The kids’ table is time-honored for a reason: It works. They have their space, you have yours. You don’t need a bunch of crafting to make it special, either: If you have any decorations for the big table, just steal some for the kids’ table. Or don’t! They’ll honestly make their own party. Don’t have a little table? Grab a blanket and set up a kids’ picnic in the living room.
Thanksgiving dinner is not the time to enforce strict eating rules. Give the kids a break and let them fill up on all their favorite tan foods. Get back to the food pyramid in December.
Say it with me: Mandatory Quiet Time. Whether you have napping-age children or big kids, you’ll need to carve out some time for them to just chill. Ideally, this does not involve a television or computer, as this will just make them kinda strung out. They can read, sleep, color, puzzle, whatever. But they should be independent, and they should Be. Quiet.
What time is dinner? If you have a say, then request 6 p.m. or earlier so you won’t have to hustle out right after pie to get the kids home for a reasonable bedtime.
Planning a road trip? Consult our guide to road-tripping with kids, and Godspeed.