Several years ago when I had a young family, I attempted to host an extended family holiday dinner at my house.  This is no small task, as I have 7 siblings and am the second to the youngest with several nieces and nephews too!  I’m not sure what I was thinking about trying to take on this job but there I was, hosting over 25 people for the first time ever.  Before I tell you about the disastrous events that took place that day, I want to back up a little bit.

When I was a little girl I didn’t spend any time in the kitchen.  I mean I ate of course but when it came to cooking and baking, I preferred to be in my room reading or outside in the treehouse with my Barbie Airplane (remember the pink one with a Barbie flight attendant complete with a cart on wheels?) pretending I lived in Manhattan instead of a suburb of Colorado. 

Apparently some of my siblings did spend time in the kitchen with my mother.  As adults, my brothers and sisters and I share stories of our childhood and many of them have memories of hours spent in the kitchen with my mom baking cookies, cakes, cooking dinners for 10 and even making jams and jellies!  It is still amazing to me that I have zero memory of any of these activities except for when it came time to eat! I do remember being on the cleanup crew occasionally and learning how to stack a dishwasher so that 10 plates and all of the serving dishes for a meal that size could fit in one dishwasher load but that is another blog for another day!

The reason I am sharing these particular childhood stories with you is to explain why I might have been out of my depth when I decided to host my family for a holiday dinner!  Because…


So fast forward to a house full of family gathering for the holidays!  To say I was stressed was probably an understatement but I had a vision in my head and I was determined to bring it into a reality.

Things were initially going well.  The house was full, everyone had brought side dishes and drinks and the holiday spirit was in full swing.  I had planned a potluck style meal with every family bringing their favorite side dish. As the early part of the evening continued, we all had a chance to catch up on each other’s lives and we enjoyed appetizers and drinks along the way.

“I’m doing this,” I whispered to myself, feeling the tension begin to subside just a little bit.  I don’t know about you but when you plan a get together, there is no better feeling than watching everyone have a good time.  Maybe it was the noise level of this large group in my home, or the excitement of the day that led my distraction from my main role in this potluck dinner but it became clear at some point there was no lovely smell of a honey glazed ham coming from the kitchen.

As my brother and I approached the oven I believe we both identified the problem before we even opened the door to stare at the ice cold ham inside.  

Someone had forgotten to turn on the oven (and that someone was me)!  

I couldn’t believe it!  I had over 25 people in my house waiting to eat and the main dish was sitting ice cold in my oven!  I remember my brother’s disappointed face as he turned to me and said, “Now what are you going to do?”.

So there was a huge lesson learned that day.  Besides the obvious (turn on the oven), I realized some pretty basic things about myself.  

I didn’t know how to cook and I didn’t know how to host over 25 people for a major holiday dinner!

When I think back to that day and several subsequent less than stellar holiday dinners I can see the problem so clearly.  I could have saved myself years of self criticism if I had only realized this back then.  

You see my image of what the holiday was supposed to look like was seared in my brain from my childhood.  I got to enjoy the fruits of my mother and sibling’s labor every holiday but had no idea how to make that same magic happen.  It wasn’t because I was unable to learn how to manage a large holiday meal, it was just that I had never been taught.  

As I was tucked in my bed reading the latest paperback novel from my school library, some of my brothers and sisters were being taught specific skills in the kitchen.  Year after year and meal after meal, they were taught the craft of planning, shopping, baking, and cooking all the wonderful food we enjoyed each holiday. I, on the other hand, was busy teaching myself other things that were more suited to my personality.  I wasn’t drawn to the kitchen and therefore did not learn the necessary skills to manage such large and sometimes complicated meals.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how I would have served myself and all of my dinner guests better by managing my expectations for the level of skills I had at the time.  Perhaps I was better suited to attend someone else’s dinner with my offering of a cheese plate and a bottle of wine. This isn’t a bad thing, it is just about recognizing my abilities at the time.

I have gone on to learn how to manage large holiday meals and remarkably remembered to turn on the oven most of the time!  But I have learned from others and taught myself the lessons necessary to accomplish this. Does my holiday dinner look exactly like my mother’s I so fondly remember?  No, no they most definitely do not. But I think I’ve actually learned how to make some things better and my immediate family and I have created our own new traditional dishes.

Learning how to match expectations with abilities is not a disappointment.  It is necessary so that we can enjoy doing what we are capable of doing. If you are lucky enough to have a Martha Stewart wannabe in your family, then sit back and enjoy!  We all have our talents and just because those talents may be more appropriate in a support role for the big holiday meal, doesn’t make our contribution any less important.

Dr. Bonnie Wims

Counselling Psychologist

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