Blog Article

Planning Now for a Grateful Thanksgiving

Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist

For me, Fall is my favorite time of year, with cooler temperatures, plenty of comfort food, warm fires, and the anticipation of the holiday season.

However, having spent many years talking with lots of families, I know that the holidays can be very stressful for some families.

Whether you look forward to spending time with family members over the holidays or dread thinking about that, now is the time to plan for a Thanksgiving and Christmas that will leave you feeling grateful rather than overwhelmed, disillusioned, and ready to disown your family.

It starts with getting yourself in the right frame of mind and being proactive about making plans with family members and ends with a pleasant event that rewards the fact that you were thoughtful in your preparations.

Cultivating a Flexible Mindset

As grandparents, you have a lot of relationships to manage including those with your children, their spouses, your grandchildren, and other grandparents or extended members of the family.

Therefore, you have to start with the understanding that they all have ideas about the holidays that you may or may not share.

You have to be open to the idea that you may not be invited to spend time with your childrens’ families this year or that they will not be able to accept an invitation from you.

If traveling is an option for your adult children, they will often choose to spend one holiday with you and the next one with their in-laws.

If you have a number of married children and grandchildren, you may spend time with one or more families and not with the others.

Remember, too, that we as human beings change our minds a lot. Some people stick to traditions for decades while others like to change the way they celebrate and who they celebrate with from year to year.

So, don’t assume that the menu, preferred dressing for a holiday event, and the way you celebrate will always stay the same.

Change is pretty much guaranteed as grandchildren grow. Their needs and preferences change with each new developmental period.

My grandson used to love to spend more time with me than my husband, snuggling together while reading stories. Now, he clearly prefers to be active with Papa outdoors.

He welcomes my involvement but only as long as Papa is also engaging with him. He still loves stories but now he tells them, acts them out, and insists that I play along.

My granddaughter, on the other hand, bounces around from her mom and dad to me, her aunt, my husband, and her uncle, showing more affection to one of us over the others depending on the day. 

Your adult children will also change in regard to their preferences so be ready and open to experiencing things differently in regard to your relationships with grandchildren and children.

Being Proactive

Now, I’m not suggesting that you have to do all of the adjusting. You have every right to let your family members know what you’re hoping for this holiday season and hopefully, they’ll be willing to negotiate with you.

In my experience, I have found that most holiday drama between family members occurs because people are surprised by unexpected guests, event details, food, or discussion topics.

A former colleague of mine invited his wife to an Easter buffet at a local restaurant, not knowing that he had also invited his entire department to the same event.

She was understandably hurt as she was expecting to spend a quiet holiday dinner alone with her husband.

Sometimes family members recognize that two other members of the clan are not getting along well and decide to secretly throw them together at a holiday event. This is a really bad idea.

While you may be hoping for a Hallmark movie resolution, the most likely result is that they will feel awkward and there will either be very uncomfortable body language between them or unkind words spoken, thus ruining the event for everyone.

The basic rule is that well-planned events are well executed and the opposite is also true.

Here are some general guidelines for planning well (If the members of your extended family like being together and easily adapt to one another, you can do as much of the following as necessary):

  1. Start with prayer! Ask the Lord to bless your time together with family members and to give you special opportunities to speak grace and truth into their lives.
  2. Extend an invitation to your children and grandchildren to attend the holiday dinner or event at your home if you want to host this year. Let them know that you understand that they may have other plans but that you need to know by a specific date whether or not they will attend. This allows them to answer either way and you get a definitive answer. Also, if you extend the invitation first and they say “No,” it is now their opportunity to invite you or not.
  3. If they say yes, offer your ideas for:
    • a menu and whether you will be doing all of the cooking and entertaining or you would like some help (If you want help, ask them what they would like to bring and how they would like to help and be willing to adjust your menu when requests are related to allergies or seem reasonable to you)
    • who will be attending
    • your preferred dress code or a “come as you are” statement if you don’t care
    • the time they should arrive and be ready to leave
    • any games or activities you might be doing, i.e., if you like to hike after a big dinner, you might want to tell all guests to bring their hiking clothes and shoes
    • any requests they have, especially if they don’t want to discuss certain topics (This year, many families are requesting no political or COVID related discussions)
  4. Once you’ve received feedback from all guests and are relatively sure that they are in agreement with one another, send out a text or email or call them to let them know the answers to all of the above. Also, make sure you find out about the plans of any college age or young adult grandchildren. They will often want to be with family members for holiday events for a brief period of time, before they leave to hang out with their friends.
  5. Remember that in nearly every family there will be varying levels of comfort with, and tolerance for, social interaction. Some people love to be with other people for long periods of time while others start to feel a bit overwhelmed when they are around too many people for too long. For them, having a quiet place where they can go to be alone for awhile is really helpful. One member of my extended family is a funny, engaging, “life of the party” sort of person but after about an hour of contact with us, he always disappears for about 15 minutes of solitude. That’s perfectly normal and healthy for him. Along the same lines, family members should be able to choose whether or not they want to participate in athletic events, board games, or musical activities. Most of us enjoy some but not all kinds of activities so be sure not to plan things that require everyone’s participation.
  6. If your invitation is turned down, accept that and wait for an invitation to come your way. If it doesn’t, let the lack of an invitation be an indication to you that you won’t be invited this year and be careful not to assume that means that you are no longer loved by your children. Depending on the age of grandchildren, many young parents (or parents of moody adolescents, for that matter) just decide to keep holiday events in the immediate family for a year or two. You can certainly communicate with your family members virtually or by phone. Remember that getting four little ones ready – or motivating two adolescents – to attend an event that may be more enjoyable for adults than kids may be just too much for parents at times. By respecting their decisions, you will build trust with them for the future.

Experiencing and Contributing to a Pleasant Event

With an event well planned, you’re now ready to enjoy the day, week, or season with your children and grandchildren.

Start by honoring what you’ve agreed to as a family and resisting the urge to throw in unexpected food or activities unless your family members adjust well to last-minute changes.

Also, remember that it’s usually the experiences with you that your children and grandchildren will store in their memories and cherish for a lifetime.

So if you like to enhance your holiday events with special decorations, by all means, do it.

But if that just adds more stress for you, focus instead on sharing life stories with your loved ones, looking at photographs of ancestors, showing grandchildren how to prepare your grandmother’s favorite recipe, or praying a special prayer together that you’ve written that relates specifically to your family.

Invite the Holy Spirit into your home and your conversations.


I can still smell the homemade cookies that my paternal grandmother used to bring every year for Christmas and hear my maternal grandfather give the blessing over our meals.

I have fond memories of his wife (my grandmother) playing Christmas carols on her Steinway piano. An accomplished pianist, she would play while we all sang along and my other Grandpa Ted would sit quietly, tapping to the beat of the music while smiling at me.

Over half a century later, those are the moments that motivate me every day to be a loving, intentional grandparent and to be grateful for each minute I have with my children and grandchildren.  

3 thoughts on “Planning Now for a Grateful Thanksgiving”

  1. This is good information. I would also add, “Be ready to spend a quiet and maybe romantic day with Grandpa. Make special plans for the two of you if others aren’t able to come.”
    We learned this through the covid season.

  2. This entire blog is very helpful for me. Having 7 children (2 are special needs kids), 3 spouses and 15 grandkids we have a lot of people to please. 🙂
    Your number 6 point was most helpful…not to assume we are no longer loved just because the invitation is refused for this year.
    Thank you for these points and I will for sure start with #1

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