Thanksgiving is upon us and with it the many collective "feels" people have about the day. I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Thanksgiving. I hated it as a kid, grew to enjoy it as an adult, and have always wary of the problematic cultural implications it has on every level. It can be a tightrope, and this is particularly true for parents, who are navigating all that baggage themselves and instructing their kids on what the day means as well. So, for the moment, I have Thanksgiving rules kids do and don't have to follow.
People bring a lot to the Thanksgiving table, including delicious, fatty foodstuffs but also ideas about how the day should unfold. The contradiction of goals for the day can be the source of a lot of stress, too. Basically, my Thanksgiving rules follow the same general philosophy I apply to my every day parenting: don't be a garbage person. And once we've established you're not a garbage person, try your best to be a good person. This means not giving up your principles in order to "play nice" for the sake of essentially meaningless (or downright problematic) family traditions or "unity." It also means remembering that you're a member of a big, beautiful, loud-ass family that loves you, and you need to recognize that, sometimes it's not all about you.
So with that in mind, here are some of the things I make my kids do for the sake of the holiday... and other things I absolutely do not:
Don't: Have To Try Everything
I'm always going to encourage my kids to try everything. I may even attempt a little bit of a bribe from time to time. But I'll never force them to eat anything they don't want to.
Yes, it's frustrating AF when you know your kid would like a particular food if they'd only try, but you know what? This has more or less been my philosophy and, when my kids were ready, they've tried all kinds of things. For example, my son and daughter are big sushi fans and they came to that entirely on their own. It may take time, but when they're ready they will go for it.
And, honestly, if they never try stuffing or green bean casserole their lives may be less flavorful but hardly ruined.
Do: Don't "Yuck The Food"
It's fine if they don't like a particular dish, but they aren't allowed to talk smack about it. A co-worker referred to this practice — scoffing at foods you don't enjoy in front of people who are eating it — as "yucking the food," and it's rude AF. Let people like what they like and don't go on about how "gross" it is.
Don't: Have to Clean Your Plate
I try to make sure my kids take reasonable serving sizes to avoid waste (you can always have more if you want it), but if they had a moment where their eyes were bigger than their stomachs I'm not going to make them clear their plates to make a point. Someone will eat that food.
On a related note, they don't have to finish their dinner in order to get dessert. In every day life I like to make sure they make an honest effort on dinner before they get sweets, but Thanksgiving? It's a holiday and basically everything being served is "bad" for you anyway, so am I really going force my children to eat their butter matches potatoes and gravy before they have some pie? Come on now.
Do: Have To Respect The Family
There's a lot of crap associated with Thanksgiving, it is, potentially, a good opportunity to strengthen bonds with your family and remember that you are a part of something bigger. I like for my kids to remember that and actually socialize with their cousins, uncles, aunts, and the "chosen family" members who come to our table every year.
Don't: Have To Hug/Kiss Anyone You Don't Want To
You can respect your family without giving up the idea that they need to respect your boundaries. For my kids, I require a greeting and eye contact, but their body is their own and they don't require sharing it to prove love, loyalty, or respect.
Do: Respect The Host's Space
You weren't raised in a barn, so don't act like it. Sure, some of that nonsense will fly in our house because I'm exhausted and gave up about five years ago, but this is a nice house with nice things and we have to pretend that it's not weird that we're existing in a space that isn't entirely smeared with yogurt.
Don't: Have To Dress Up
I'm very much of the mind that if you want to dress up then go ahead and dress up, because it's fun and there's no harm in it. But we're going to my uncle's house to eat an unseemly amount of carbs, so why on earth would I bring pantyhose into this equation? So if I'm not going to get gussied up I'm certainly not going to make my kids. Even if I got gussied up I wouldn't make my kids, because they're going to be running around and eating truly horrifying amounts of cranberry sauce. They don't need to be uncomfortable for all this or pressured to limit their play because you don't want them to get dirty. Yes, put some clean clothes on the kid, but just let them be a kid, ya know?
Do: Abstain From Pilgrim/Indian Costumes
So much no. Having my white children dress up like Indians is racist AF. Having them dress up as pilgrims encourages them to buy into a whitewashed version of Thanksgiving that never existed. Hard pass on both.
Don't: Have To Buy Into The White Supremacist Mythology Of Thanksgiving
Like so many American holidays, Thanksgiving is deeply problematic. I observe it as a day off to spend with my family, but I try to actively and vocally recognize that the origin of the day itself celebrates a genocide... and that's damn horrible. So I'm not going to make my kids go in for the "the Indigenous people helped the kindly Pilgrims and everyone was friends and they sat around a table and everything turned out so super great!" mythology that pervades school curriculum and family tables at this time of year. In fact, I try to highlight in the most age-appropriate ways I can how troubling Thanksgiving was and is to my children, because I'm trying to raise mindful citizens here.
I'm going to eat your turkey, friends, but I'm not going to pretend the origins of this nonsense are pure or cute or child-friendly in the slightest.
Do: Have To Help Clean
My kids are 4 and 7 so I'm probably not going to ask them to do too much, because they're really bad at cleaning and trying to make them do it properly will be more trouble than it's worth. But, again, I'm trying to raise responsible, thoughtful human beings who don't just think of themselves, so I will at least make them clear their plates or help set the table or some minor show of participation to get them in the habit of contributing to the flow of the holiday.
Don't: Have To Put Up With Body Shaming
They are fully empowered to shut that sh*t down and I will help them do it, I don't care if Great Aunt Tessa is old and we need to respect her. Great Aunt Tessa needs to GTFO with that toxic crap.
Don't: Have To Say Grace
My immediate family is not religious and we're not going to pretend to be on Thanksgiving. We won't talk while you say grace — we'll be respectful of your beliefs — but we're not going to participate if we don't want to.
Do: Have To Listen To Christmas Carols On The Way Home
Because, really, what is Thanksgiving if not the first acceptable day dialing the holiday cheer up to 11?