The Family Holiday Dinner Survival Guide

We just survived a vacation with my in-laws, and when I say in-laws, I’m not just referring to Daddy-o’s parents, but ALL of the in-laws.

At the top of the family pecking order is the grand matriarch Grandma. She has five grown children, one of whom is Daddy-o. The total number of employees for this common holiday was: 1 grandma, 10 adults and 17 grandchildren under 13 years of age.

Recipe for disaster? One might think, considering how many people spent almost two full weeks together. Although we certainly had our moments, overall it was a complete success. In the end I sat down with the women and autopsied the vacation.

We thought about what works and what we could do differently next time, and then found the following tips:

Establish a schedule for preparing and cleaning meals.

We did this well in advance. Each day two adults were assigned to prepare lunch for the children, two more for dinner and two more for adult dinner. That worked very well. Nobody felt like they were carrying the load in preparing food, and knowing what days we had to-do meant we could plan ahead.

Establish the basic rules.

During the first children’s meal (yes, picture seventeen children at a table) we took out the poster paper and markers and asked the children for their ideas about which rules should be on the list. They have made great contributions, as have the adults. The rules were posted for everyone to see during the holidays, and we definitely had to point them out to kids on occasion!

Remind your children that all families are different.

Some families have different bed times, rules, and expectations. Before you go on vacation together, make sure your kids know this so that you don’t hear, “But YOU can stay up later, why can’t WE?”

Let parents raise their own children.

Of course, when the parents are away, come in and deal with a situation as it arises. However, if the parents are right there, it’s best to just let them deal with it their way. Again, remind yourself that all families are different. A peanut gallery from parenting experts isn’t helpful right now.

If you are stressed by a situation, move away and let the others deal with it.

Grandma is an incredibly organized person – some of us, not so much. One morning the fathers had big plans to take the children to the river. It was enough to watch the fathers hunt for last minute supplies to get an organized grandma over the edge. She took the feeling of building stress as a sign it was a good time to grab a book and disappear into a bedroom. Vacation shouldn’t be stressful, so it should be avoided at all costs.

Got a money kitten.

All families threw some money into the kitten to cover the food costs. If someone went to town, they could buy enough supplies for everyone without going broke personally.

Autopsy it.

Make sure you identify stress points so you can make improvements next time. Celebrate your successes too. The fact that we left sad and miss the chaos is a very good sign!

You may think it takes a special kind of family to survive a vacation like this and I am happy to be part of it. But even if you feel that all of these different personalities and family styles can’t spend that much time together, take some of what we’ve learned and give it a try. There is no better gift to give to your children than spending time with their cousins.

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