family sits around Thanksgiving table
Notice the placement of babies. Getty Images

Holiday Dinners As A Parent Vs. As A Grandparent

SCENE: A parent exits a car holding a casserole in one hand, with a bottle of wine tucked into their elbow, an infant carrier hooked over the crook of the other, and wariness etched onto their face — although dinner won't be served for another three hours, they are already six hours into the holiday, after #1 woke up at 5:30 a.m. and got into the lollipops. Stumbling inside the front door, the parent greets the crowd of waiting relatives. “Happy Thanksgiving, where should I put…” they ask, trailing off and gesturing confusedly at their general existence.

The grandparents scoop up the excited grandkids and immediately begin feeding them sugar and sugar-derivatives. Carrot-shaped napkin holders have been arranged on the table at leisure — imagine having the time!

You've just imagined... the difference between being a parent and being a grandparent during the holidays. To wit:


Parent: Starving and stuck holding G8 Summit-level negotiations with their toddler over every single food offered at the buffet line, while keeping the baby on their hip from grabbing the serving spoons. “Mason, you can have mashed potatoes, but you also have to eat some turkey. No gravy? That’s OK, but—” Mason attacks the pie counter with his fork. His parent shifts the baby to their other hip, balances Mason’s plate on their forearm, and grabs the fork from his hand in one swift movement, “No, honey. It’s not time for dessert quite yet. We have to eat dinner first.”

Grandparent: Has spent actual days shopping and cooking for this meal, and would just like to enjoy 30 minutes where everyone can sit at the table and eat said feast. If Mason wants to have some pie as his starter course, what is the harm? It's not like you're setting a dangerous precedent, how many four-course meals at a 14-seat dining table does he eat in a typical week?


Parent: Bounces baby on knee, while trying to distract toddler from the perils of Great-Aunt Ruth’s concrete basement stairs with a box of dominoes — the only “toys” Great-Aunt Ruth has in her house.

Grandparent: Glances over the family photo albums, notices the toddler packing the tiles into his mouth like he's storing them up for winter, and casts her mind back to the time she had to back blow a Lego brick out of John, now a chartered financial planner who hardly ever tries to put things in his mouth just to see if they fit. "Might he choke on that?" she asks politely.

Playing Outside

Parent: Responding to toddler's demands to "go outside," they begin frantically searching through the pile on the guest bed for the junior Canada Goose coats. Then Rifling through the baby bag for hats and gloves. Wrangling toddler’s inflexible feet into the Chinese finger trap of his winter boots. Squatting on the tile floor, wet with the sweat dripping from their forehead, they zip their toddler’s puffer jacket, and finally shove a beanie firmly onto their kid’s bobbling head.

Grandparent: Passing by with a piece of pie in hand, Grandpa looks through the window at the freezing rain sheeting the front steps. "Are you going outside? I think I heard some of the other kids going downstairs to watch cartoons. He might have more fun with his cousins." No one is listening, but this is why he salted those steps this morning. *taps head*

Bathroom Break

Parent: Notices toddler clinching their thighs and walk-dancing across the room. “Mason do you have to go potty? No? Are you sure? You do too! Let’s go right now. I’ll take you.” Drops literally everything in their hands to drag toddler at a full sprint to the nearest restroom.

Grandparent: Noticing the trademark shadow on the back of the toddlers pants, leans back in their recliner for an after-dinner nap. As an "Are you kidding me" wail erupts from the restroom, they adjust the throw pillow behind their back, and remember holiday parties of years gone by. Payback's a b*tch.

Toddler Emergency

Parent: Soothes toddler’s screams, interprets toddler’s unintelligible wails, asks where it hurts, scrounges up a bag of frozen peas, applies a Band-Aid, and issues a stern lecture about the natural consequences of jumping on beds.

Grandparent: This is the one time the grandkid prefers its parents to its softy grandparents, so, what can you do? Ah yes, eat some Lindt balls.


Parent: “Screw it, Mason is finally settled in front of the television. He didn’t eat any of this the first time around. I’ll just grab myself a plate now and feed him later.”

Grandparent, recently harassed by the 3-year-old dictator for chicken nuggets, asks: “Mason said he was hungry, should I…?” voice trails off listlessly as cousin Karen suggests a round of Spades. They disappear together to find the cards.

Bed Time

Parent: Spends a full hour deliberating over whether to put their toddler to sleep in the guest room, allow them to stay up late, or offend Great Aunt Ruth by leaving early. They eventually settle on sitting in the den, pinned to the couch by their sleepy, but resolutely wakeful toddler, watching the 1987 Rose Bowl with Uncle Larry, who is using the relative privacy of this moment to floss.

Grandparent: Realizing both grandchild and parent have been AWOL going on two hours now, shakes head as they pour themselves another glass of wine. It seems that no matter how old the kids are, they will never be polite to Aunt Ruth. Which has been true of children dating back to the '80s. It's like they knowww.


Parent: Carries toddler, recently terrorized by waking in an unfamiliar room to the sight of an old man picking his teeth and now screaming himself back into unconsciousness, over one shoulder while holding the infant carrier over the other, the weight of the empty casserole dish threatening to slip from their hands.

Grandparent: Remembering the freezing rain with concern, asks, “Does Mason need his shoes on? It’s cold out there,” holding tiny brown loafers out expectantly. Packs away 45 pounds of food remnants, and smiles at how well it went.