As we approach this Thanksgiving holiday, many people think about the things they feel grateful for and how often they take these things for granted. Showing gratitude in meaningful ways can come in small doses; it may be through simple gestures of giving back, sharing, and contributing to our families and our communities.
As I contemplate all of this, I am also considering the daunting prospect of having almost 40 people at our two-day Thanksgiving celebration, an annual family reunion filled with lots of sharing, laughing, eating, and more eating. But what a job to pull all this off! The cooking, baking, serving, clearing, and cleaning up seems to go on and on.
Sharing the Responsibility
But last year I realized for the first time that most of the guests had been involved in only minimal ways in making this major event take place; they reap the benefits of the work of the few. The same small group of people helps every year with set up and clean up, and essentially spends hours doing it with joy and grace.
Thinking about this, I felt that something had been missing from our Thanksgiving celebration. How could I help my extended family of 40 people give thanks on this day of thanksgiving?
With the dual goals of giving my guests the opportunity to contribute to the massive undertaking so they feel like an important and needed part of the event, and finding a way to share the work load so that it does not fall on the shoulders of just the willing few, my husband and I came up with the idea of assigning “kitchen duty” to each person over the age of three.
We had the soup brigade, the meal prep, the meal clean-up, the dessert prep and the dessert clean up teams. We mixed up the team members, split up nuclear families, had multi-generations on each team, and both genders. No one was exempt; everyone was given equal responsibility and was expected to participate. I was not sure what to expect as our guests realized that there was a new protocol that involved everyone working for their meal!
The reaction was far better than I ever anticipated. There was good-natured grumbling, talks of switching teams, threats of strikes and mutiny, discussions of who were the slackers on each team, and humorous competition among the teams. Everyone took their responsibilities ultra-seriously. Team spirit developed, mingling and comaraderie that might not have otherwise occurred took place, people felt involved and knew that they were seriously helping out. Nobody felt guilty, exploited or resentful!
Growing from Giving Back
What a lesson for me and for all of us. What an opportunity for everyone to contribute, to give back, to show thankfulness for this meal and this celebration, and for other things in their lives. Being involved in an effort like this is a way of giving thanks, and gave our guests felt a sense of connection, competency, importance, and being needed – all of which builds self-esteem.
It occurred to me that these lessons apply to our efforts to encourage a sense of shared responsibility for the tasks that make a household function. Presenting ordinary chores in such a way that they are meaningful to the child, useful for the family, and part of the harmonious order of your home, your children may be more likely to do them without (much) complaint. If you can demonstrate good humor and acceptance toward your own “chores” and assign children’s responsibilities with the same attitude, they may do them with less resistance. Expecting children to do their chores tells them “you are important members of our family; we need you, and we are counting on you to help.” It is helpful to children’s healthy development to believe that they can make a contribution.
Often parents don’t insist on children following through on chores and responsibilities – they feel guilty assigning them, it takes too much effort to enforce that they be done, or they find it easier to do it themselves. While all this may be true, by not assigning chores, parents deny children the opportunity to feel capable, connected, involved, and needed. Meeting commitments is a powerful way for children to build their sense of self-esteem while showing their appreciation for the good things they have. In this way, our children may feel grateful for, rather than entitled to, the blessings in their lives.
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