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Stressgiving to Thanksgiving Week 1: Sharing Sucks

Stressgiving to Thanksgiving Week 1: Sharing Sucks

guest author graphicToday middleSage is featuring Guest Author Jen Ludwigsen.

This is Week 1 of my November “Stressgiving to Thanksgiving” series. Each week, I’ll be dedicating my posts to finding the “thanks” in Thanksgiving again.

No, this isn’t going to be one of those guilt-inducing, you-should-be-more-grateful blog series. I will not be filling my posts with ways to host a better dinner or somehow transform your table into a Norman Rockwell scene. This month, I’ll be focusing on my flaw-filled perception of Thanksgiving – and week by week, I’ll detail how I’m working to hopefullygosh dang willing quiet the incessant attacks of Sir Stress-A-Lot.

Halloween ended about 14 hours ago and already, I see thousands of  headlines jumping out at me~

Stress-Free Thanksgiving for Whole Family
How to Prepare a Feast They’ll Never Forget
Cozy, Creative, and Comfortable Thanksgiving Tablescapes
Craft Your Own Turkey Tablecloths, Runners, Napkins, and More

Where’s the resources for those of us who just want to make it through the day in one piece? Those of us with multiple houses to visit, work schedules to coordinate, and aging family members to consider? Where can I find out how to keep my sanity when yet another family argument breaks out over dinner rolls? How in the world do I stop setting the bar at the seemingly-glorious experiences I see in the magazines?

To answer these questions, I guess I have to start at the beginning.

When I was a little girl, my mom, sister, and I would all head to my Grandma Bonnie’s house at the same time, every year. Dinner would be on the table by 4PM, dessert approximately 45 minutes later. We’d sit in egg-shaped, 60’s-mod dinner chairs and talk quietly, my Grandpa Ray and Great Grandma livening the conversation with their colorful personalities and my Grandma Bonnie fluttering around and pushing people to eat more of this, more of that. My Grandpa Bill would read a prayer off a notecard. I’d answer questions about my grades at school, what I wanted to be when I grew up, and how I was liking the weather. We’d spend at least ten minutes talking about the turkey…how it tasted, how it was cooked, how much it weighed, where it was purchased. It was small, useless chitter-chatter but it was my family and I looked forward to it every year.

Flash forward a little bit. My Great Grandma, our lovely, 1st-generation Norwegian ball of energy and joy, has passed. My Grandpa Ray, while still feisty, is starting to wear the signs of old age like a heavy blanket. Our family is very small and when he too is taken to heaven, our table seems to lose its light. My Grandma Bonnie and Grandpa Bill continue to host Thanksgiving and soon, I have a baby with me at the table. She’s hope and new life and love.

A few short months after that first Thanksgiving with my wee one, Aaron, Anya, and I move to Germany. You’d think the holidays would be sad and depressing while you’re away from home, but you know what? They were surprisingly enjoyable. I learned how to cook, and bake, and make Thanksgiving crafts to decorate the home. It was nice to sleep in and not leave the home all day. I missed my family dearly, but I also really enjoyed having that time to ourselves. I didn’t have to share a thing about the day with anyone – we did exactly how we pleased, wearing PJ’s until noon, picking out our favorite foods and desserts, putting our baby down on time and drinking wine together in front of the TV. It was very relaxing, the Thanksgivings we didn’t need to share.

When we returned to the states a few years later, we were greeted by the arms and kisses of those we’d missed for years. It was a sparkling, glorious feeling and when I noticed a few new laugh lines around my mother’s beautiful blue eyes, I realized just how much I’d missed while living overseas. My family was getting older. Age and time didn’t stop and wait for me and I’d missed so much. I couldn’t wait to get to the holidays.

And then came the sharing.

I had a new job and two extended families to juggle. Gone were the days of sitting around the house in our PJs and doing exactly as we pleased. There was an unspoken expectation…whether I placed it upon myself or had it placed upon me by my family is irrelevant. I felt pressure – enormous pressure – to make everyone happy….and often, at the expense of my own comfort and convenience. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it…..I’m saying it was hard. The contrast between our German Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving was inescapable.

As I type this, three years after that homecoming, I am still surprised by how much things have changed. My Grandma Bonnie, bless her heart, became exhausted by the time dinner was served. I knew it was her last year hosting when she served on paper plates. To my Grandma, this was the equivalent of throwing up the white flag. I surrender. Too tired. Too much. Done. It was the end of dinners in the egg chairs, little feet on the brown, marbled carpet, and scanning the yard for the deer that frequented Grandpa Bill’s garden.

My mom’s first Thanksgiving was last year and…It. Was. Awesome. She had the most adorable setup, with beautiful placecards and a huge turkey and a special high chair for my newest addition. It was a delicious meal and for the most part, a drama-free day. I remember, though, agreeing to stop by my in-laws afterwards for pie. I felt bad for missing dinner with them and absolutely could not say no. So with a six year old and a six-month old, we made the 90 minute drive from my mom’s house to my in-laws. I remember exhaustion. I was happy to see everyone, but it was shadowed by fatigue, two tired kids who’d been around people they rarely saw all day, and a deep longing for my home, my comfort, my PJs.

So here comes my huge, giant, Stressgiving admission.

The desire to please has bubbled into resentment. Call it selfishness, call it realism, call it whatever you like. When I think “Thanksgiving,” I think impossible choices. Who will be eating with who? Can we fit in two dinners? What if my long-lost dad wants to get together? Can we make everyone happy and walk away with our minds intact?

The answer, simply, is no. I will miss out on someone’s dinner. I will have to share a portion of what should be a peaceful day driving on the road with a bunch of non-commuters… people who fire up the old Lincoln three times a year, Thanksgiving being one of those times. I will fail to make everyone happy….and I will fail to make myself happy if I continue to base my joy on the approval and acceptance of others.

This is my life. I share it closely with my husband and my kids. What’s best for them is what’s best for me….and this year….. it will have to be what’s best for everyone else. I can’t let the fear of losing my extended family, both literally and figuratively, deteriorate what could be a most joyous day. So onward I go, with a commitment to alternate the holiday with my mom and my in-laws. My in-laws are heading to another town so we’re going to double-down and go to my mom’s again this year. Next year we’ll be with Aaron’s side of the family.

This is the normal way to go about it, right? Why was this so hard for me to figure out?

My family was 100% supportive when I explained our decision to alternate holidays…..another fear of mine *poof* dissolved to dust. I really am surrounded by love. What was this horrible argument I concocted in my head?

I guess the bottom line is, sharing sucks….but only when you’re trying to share with everyone. There’s a delicate balance to doing what’s right for you and doing what’s right for everyone else. A give-and-take. A compromise. The whole objective of the day is to bathe in ceaseless gratuity and thankfulness for all the blessings we’ve been given. And I’ve been given so, so many.

So as you’re working out your dinner plans for the 28th, remember your happiness is important. Don’t try to do it all. Don’t agree to things that are guaranteed to leave you exhausted. Find a compromise, a balance, and stick with it.

Jennifer Ludwigsen is a Guest Author at middleSage. You can read more of her work on her Blog: Concentrated Creativity.


*Disclaimer: All Guest Author publications are written exclusively by the featured author. Guest author is responsible for giving credit for quotes used from other sources, as well as obtaining permission/paying user fee for all photographs not from their own library. We’re looking to respect and play nice with everybody!



  1. Lee Aldrich

    11 November

    Jen – I feel your pain. When I was married to my 1st husband, it was a struggle every year trying to get to both sides of the families at the holiday. It was way too stressful, was a ton of driving, and made me dread the outcome.

    One year I suggested we start alternating the holidays between both sides of the families. I was worried people would take issue “we don’t see you very much” kinda stuff. But as it turned out, the families had no issues with it…the person doing most of the worrying was me.

    Great post. You’ll find the holidays won’t carry the worry and exhaustion they did in the past.

  2. Barbara Coleman

    11 November

    Jen, early on when my kids had both gotten married we had just finished Thanksgiving Dinner, I asked them to decide how they wanted to work the holidays. I was conscious of their need to make their own memories and traditions. They chose to spend every Thanksgiving with me and Christmas was theirs. I’m a planner and didn’t want to have to think about it with every holiday. Getting it out in the open really helped.

  3. Sue Shoemaker

    12 November

    As new family members come to the table…to fill the vacant chairs no longer occupied by those who were there before…it is “clear” that life is transitional. As much as we may yearn for the “way it used to be” and familiar “traditions”…there were some of the old ways of doing the holidays that may be eliminated joyously.

    Life is about the “living” and as we mature and become the elders of our families, there comes a time when “new traditions” make the most sense. Getting input from everyone involved is healthy and functional.

    My brothers and I used to laugh about our “FAMILY dysFUNCTIONS.” We figured that we put the “fun” in dysfunction…and now that the “elders” in our lives have left this earthly plane, we make choices each year to celebrate (or not) in the ways that make the most sense to everyone involved.

    It may also be that since I have only brothers (no sisters) and two sons (who have brought wonderful daughters-in-law into our lives)…that the “holiday traditions,” which usually become the responsibility of women, are being relinquished to the next generation. I am so happy when my daughters-in-law come up with a “plan” for us to get together…and I am more than willing to “do my part.” I am grateful to have young female energy in my life and whatever works for them works for me.

    So, Jen…it looks like you have come to many of the same conclusions. Our sanity, energy, attitude and happiness are an “inside job” and are affected by the choices we make. I choose to be grateful and stress-free on Thanksgiving and to enjoy the company of everyone who gathers at the table to share a delicious meal that has been lovingly prepared by many hands.

    • Jen

      12 November

      Yes! Thank you Sue. Your description of Thanksgiving sounds beautiful and you are right, it is all about the choices we make. I’ve always loved the phrase, “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.” It inspires my strength and helps me think outside the box. I hope to someday pass down my traditions and holiday hostess abilities to my daughters. Thank you so much for reading!

    • Barbara Coleman

      13 November

      Sue, I really love your comments! I hope someday you’ll write something we can post in our Guest Author area! You offer such wisdom and compassion!

  4. Bouncin Barb

    14 November

    Great post! Now that I live in Florida and my family is all up north, it’s easy and simple. I have always believed that you’re supposed to enjoy the holidays and not stress over them. We tend to put so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves, don’t we?

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