The anticipation is high: the grandchildren are coming to visit and your holiday celebration is going to be extra special. You’ve gotten the gifts, figured out where everyone will sleep, and planned out your menus. Too often though, the reality doesn’t match the celebration we’ve envisioned. The sabbath dinner is spoiled by a crying toddler, or the teenager is sullen because she hates pulp in her orange juice. While there’s not much that can be done about a sullen teenager, a conversation with your grandchildren’s parents can help to avoid some of the other holiday food landmines. Make sure to cover the following:
Ask for a grocery list so you have the right kinds of yogurt and snacks. Ask mom and dad if anything is off limits, and then respect their answer. While treats are expected at this time of year, make sure you are stocking up on healthy options that will keep everyone from going into a sugar meltdown. Have bowls of fruit and nuts more accessible than the cookies and candy. Do you have a nutcracker? A bowl of nuts to be shelled will be highly enticing!
Find out if there are any new dietary restrictions. Allergies may have been identified since their last visit, or their 10-year-old may have decided they are vegetarian. If you aren’t sure how to plan a meal around their needs, ask for advice on what to serve so everyone is happy. It doesn’t matter if you question the severity of the allergy or don’t think it’s healthy for a 10-year-old to follow a vegetarian diet: questioning their choices just creates tension you don’t need.
Get their input on meal times. If you usually serve Christmas dinner at 6, but the little ones are used to eating earlier or will be on a different time zone, plan to have an earlier kids’ meal of noodles or chicken fingers—something they love that is easy to produce while you are also preparing the main meal. Let go of the picture of everyone enjoying the roast and potatoes together—that will have to happen another year.
So many of our holiday memories are about the food, but it’s the people that are really important. Focusing on the people as you plan the food will make your holiday meals memorable for all the right reasons!
My mother-in-law has always captivated her grandchildren with the stories she tells of her childhood in a small mid-western town. Whether it’s about the time she burned the popcorn at her grandmother’s theater or the time her older siblings locked her in the basement, she is able to make another age and place come alive. But those stories do more than just entertain the kids. According to research, children and adolescents who know more of their family history have higher self-esteem, higher social and academic competence, and fewer behavior problems.
Researchers at Emory University developed the “Do You Know…?” scale to study how families pass along their history. Sometimes called “The 20 Questions”, the DYK Scale is comprised of questions that tap into different kinds of family stories. Questions like “Do you know what went on when you were being born?” and “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?” are starting points for sharing family stories. It’s not passing on the knowledge that is most important, it’s the telling of the stories that connects the generations and provides the sense of self and belonging that promotes children's well-being.
You can find the full set of twenty questions here. The last one made me laugh ("Do you know a relative whose face 'froze' in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?"), but they all sparked ideas for stories to tell. Next time you talk to your grandkids, why not use these question to guide your conversation?
Duke, M.P., Lazarus, A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 268-272.