Opinions needed, how old is "too old" to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal alone?

Asked by

Hi all, Mom, 73, degenerative disk disease in neck, lower back, mild heart valve leak, colitis, expected to cook Thanksgiving meal, (by herself, no other cooks to help), for my Stepfather, his brother, his nephew, and the nephew's new girlfriend.

She had a TIA a few years ago when my niece, her kid, and her boyfriend came for their birthdays. Guess several days of cooking, baking separate cakes, wrapping was too much. Lady up the street died making Easter dinner for her grandkids a few years ago, so I am kind of nervous about this.

They used to go out for buffet for Thanksgiving, when I lived way out of state. Then Stepfather decided he wanted left overs, got her to make him turkey breast, potatoes and gravy, pie, for him to take to work for a few days every year after guests left.

I moved here a few years ago, 3 years ago I told him I thought it was too much on her and we should go back to the buffet tradition. No go, but said just one last one. I agreed. Last year, reneged on his agreement, said he wouldn't get any left overs if we went out. I told him he knew full well she was too old, he said he'd cater it, which he did. Mom begged me to come help, and bring other things too, (I had other plans elsewhere), said she plain couldn't do it, so I caved. She was right in that they didn't have enough food from the cater purchase, was surprised how small the portions were for the cost, and I also was surprised how much work it still was for her to get all the stuff ready. I took bird, giblet gravy, potatoes, stuffing that I made at home. THAT was supposed to be the last year. This year he announced once again he'd invited everyone to their house for the dinner. I flat said NO, and I'll have no part of it, my husband and myself are going out to a buffet, (which we never have done, but I've got it by myself for 32 years when we lived in a different state and I'd like a break myself).

Have stuck to my guns hoping they'd change their mind and go out with us. No go. As a matter of fact, he went from going to cater her part again, to now she's getting it from scratch since I'm not participating, he's afraid there won't be enough left overs for him to gore for 3 days. Ugh. I am worried. I don't want her to have another stroke, or worse. Most days that I go see her for an hour in the afternoon she's on no sleep, (chronic pain keeps her awake), she's often confused and has a lot of trouble just getting a cup of coffee made from their little single serving deal they've had for years. Am I wrong? How old is "too old" for this?

Answers 1 to 10 of 10
Top Answer
My grandmother could turn out a meal for 30 till the age of 88. But she was mighty unusual in that.

I'm 61. I'm DONE doing all the cooking, prep and cleanup. My hubby was upset one year b/c I didn't haul out the china and crystal. The next year I DID and made the men clean up. Since then, I have had no complaints about high quality plastic or paperware.

NO ONE should put the "expectations" of such a meal on anyone else. ONE TIME my DH commented that I had not made the best pumpkin pie that year (he was right, forgot the sugar) but I blew up at him. Really, told him it takes 3 days to prep for a meal for 30 people, our house is tiny, he doesn't help at all....sleeps until 2 pm and is often jumping in the shower when the first guests arrive...since then he has been much more grateful for what I do. Or, rather, did. I am going to my daughter's this year, and if I have my way, won't be hosting the whole shebang ever again.

Your mom needs some backup....seriously? Her husband has to have his leftovers? I don't know the guy and I wanna smack him.

It is not too late to plan to go out, or have the meal catered.
How old is too old to prepare a holiday feast alone? I'd say about 30.

I don't remember ever having a holiday meal prepared by one person, at least since I've had adult children, and before that my husband did half of the work. This year my sister is hosting a Thanksgiving feast. She has been prepping for weeks. Part of that was assigning dishes to bring. I'm bringing an awesome wild rice/mushroom side dish and a chocolate roulade. The non-cooks have been assigned wine, etc. Everyone brings something. Sis is a fabulous cook and she loves doing this, but even she wouldn't tackle this single-handed. Just hosting is a huge job, let alone preparing all the food. One person hosting and preparing all the food? I just can't comprehend that expectation.

The catered meal is too skimpy? Order two. Find a more generous source. Or, best of all, go out to eat where the prep and cleanup is done for you! Order and pay for some take-out for leftovers.
Has your mother's marriage always been abusive?
To answer your first question, when is too old? It is not an age, but an ability. My mum is 83 and perfectly capable of preparing a big meal. Not that I would suggest she do so. My former mil decided when she was in her 50's that she could not possibly manage to prepare a family meal of any size.

Me, I decided after preparing many a family meal that I would not do one more unless the men got off their backsides and did all the clean up. Boy were they surprised when I followed through and told them all to get up and clean up.

But for your mother, why is she agreeing to this? Step-dad wants left overs, I want a basement reno, doesn't mean I will get one. Safeway has lovely pumpkin pies, so does Costco if he needs lots of left over pie. The deli at my local store has real roast turkey.

Why does your mum feel she must do as he wants when it is not good for her? Why is he so selfish?
WHO is expecting this challenged woman to cook? The men in the family. And what are they doing except continuing (if not enforcing) a chauvinist attitude that women still perform the mule's worth of work in the kitchen.

Grrrr! This makes my blood boil!

Your poor mother is struggling while she's literally too physically challenged to even think about cooking a dinner. I support your efforts to change, but it sounds like you're up against a practiced controller and dominator.

Could you get her to come with you on Thanksgiving, and perhaps spend some time with you while the volcano erupts and finally extinguishes over anger that he's not being served as he wishes to be?

I suspect your mother would be afraid to do this. So the focal point is their relationship, and her subordination. And figuring out a way to stop this now before she suffers even more.

Something else you could try is enlist the new GF; if she's going to eat, she can help prepare it. You could also advise everyone that there will be no leftovers unless they all pitch in, one way or the other, and contribute. But I suspect that won't work either.

I think the insistence on leftovers by your father is an obvious manipulative tactic to control his wife. The fact that she reaches otu to you to help with the dinner suggests that she realizes the men in the family won't help.

How old is your father, and he's still working? Couldn't a caterer just be requested to provide double the portions for the leftovers?

This issue of leftovers is such an ill disguised manipulative one.

There's another way, but it's sneaky, and your mother would have to cooperate: she could collapse the day before and ask you (not your father) to take her to the ER. Even if they don't keep her for observation, you might be able to keep her out of the house on Thanksgiving Day.

If you pick her up and take her home, you can always fudge the advice given, i.e., that her medical condition prevents her from cooking a massive meal and that she needs to spend the next several days resting.

Further, the ER doctors advise that she should NOT prepare any large meals again if she wishes to avoid further spinal deterioration.

It wouldn't hurt to also speak with her regular doctors even if you aren't HIPAA authorized. Her back issues concern me as much as the anxiety and stress.

I've seen a similar situation in my extended family. It only stopped when the wife was too ill to cook, and by then her health was severely compromised.
New, I've seen that kind of putdown by a man to his wife. I don't know all the psychological background that contributed to it, but I was just as offended as you were. Not that that's any excuse, as tolerance is also enabling.

You've gotten some really good suggestions. Maybe you just need to take the bull by the horns and order a catered meal if your mother just isn't up to challenging of going through arguments at this time of the year, a few days away from Thanksgiving.

Or just take the whole bunch out and ask for separate checks so you don't end up paying for the new GF.

I still get annoyed at these men every time I read one of the responses; that is such inconsiderate treatment for your mother.

Me, being a smart derriere that I can be, I might just rebel and embarrass the men by putting out a few loaves of bread and some hormone free packages of meat, condiments, lettuce, and a few pumpkin pies and tell them to fix what they want (paper plates of course), and go at it while I go sit down and read or watch something like one of the parades on tv.
I had a WONDERFUL thanksgiving. I come from a family of foodies (and I don't mean pretentious gourmands) who celebrate family around food. My sister hosted. She LOVES to do it. Three tables were set with plain tablecloths and colorful print harvest-theme place mats (which she made several years ago). Each table had a centerpiece and candles. Napkins were harvest-theme fingertip towels I'd given her some time ago. Lovely and welcoming tables!

Each person was assigned a dish to bring, commensurate with their skill levels. (I brought an amazing wild-rice/mushroom side dish with Gruyere cheese topping, and a decadent chocolate roulade from Jacques Pepin's recipe.) My nephew's dressing with apples and cranberries was awesome. The buttered, roll-up lefse disappeared moments after it was set on the buffet. There was horseradish sauce for the smoked beef, apricot sauce for the pork tenderloin roast, and, of course, gravy for the turkey. Another nephew brought a huge quantity of garlic mashed potatoes -- his annual specialty. A few of my sister's older grandchildren brought appetizers they had made. All of the food was amazing, and was made with love by people who love making it.

There were no shots (or any guns in sight), but the venison sausage gave testimony to some shooting in the past.

There are always tons of planned-over food. One of my sons bought several packages of food containers of various sizes, washed them the night before, and contributed them. We built two complete meals for persons who couldn't attend, and then packed take-out packages. (I'm working on turkey, pork, and mashed potatoes here at home. Plus a slice of pumpkin pie.)

We ate on a vintage set of stoneware dishes. My two sons washed the dishes, and silverware, and pots and pans, displacing my brother-in-law who usually does that. The younger folks brought the full platters down the stairs to the party room and back up the stairs not-so-full for the food packers and then to the dishwashers.

Two of my nephews were really interested in the pan I brought my rice in. They hefted it for weight and decided it was enameled cast aluminum. They asked what else I made in it. (Did I mention that the entire family is into food in all of its aspects?)

The most contentious discussion all day was whether cream of mushroom soup was a basic ingredient, qualifying a recipe for a "from scratch" designation.

I had a WONDERFUL holiday. I hope (and expect) that as the older generation slows down on these kinds of activities some of the next generation will take over.

Pass the gravy, please.
There was an early decline in the Thanksgiving hostess one year at an in-laws home.
Every event has some snafu inevitably. But when everyone allowed in the kitchen disappeared, I went in there for some cola, and there sat a huge pot of mashed potatoes upside down on the kitchen floor. No one was in the kitchen! The dysfunctional family's rule of 'the food is okay if you get it off the floor within 5 minutes' lol, was broken, but the potatoes were served anyway. An elderly aunt had unsafely transported her ham contribution for several hours, and some people got sick.
It may be pride that keeps a hostess going way beyond her ability to serve THE BIG MEAL. Or, illness, alcoholism, just not knowing when to stop. Or, like Barb mentions, abuse.
Maybe when someone no longer enjoys the preparation, is fraught with resentment, or is just too ill (not old), other plans could be made.

A hostess should alway consider the guests, are they going to enjoy your family's chaos?

I get that nothing is perfect. But leave me out of it. I have no plans whatsoever, and am fine with being spared.

Otherwise, catered is a great way.  Still hard on the hostess without help.

I think that I would get that man who wants leftovers, a fresh cooked turkey delivered the next day, with all the trimmings.  Then go out on Thanksgiving.  Last year, smaller portions of every item were found at trader joes just before the day.

My take on Thanksgiving.....make sure there is something to be thankful for.
I am worried for your mother, New...keep an eye on your step dad. My dad was a slave driver and in my opinion, he guilted and worked my Mother to death. How about you get ahold of your Mom's credit card and order a triple portion precooked meal from a Kroger or Safeway store. Most of these stores also will bring it out "curbside" to you. You could pick it up and deliver it to Mom's house. Call the girlfriend and guilt her into doing the heating, setting table, doing dishes. Argh! Makes me so mad. The last time I served a big family dinner for 18 people, only one person stayed in kitchen with me to do dishes, clean up, put away.....time for some retraining of the troops!!!!
While I agree with everything GardenArtist has said I have a different take on this. Its not so much the hosting at home that is the problem, it's the unrealistic expectation that she is to do it without help and turn out a special feast. Frankly I think the person who needs an attitude adjustment is your mother (not that all the others don't need a good swift kick up the, er, backside). She needs to stand up for herself and insist that if she is going to host a gathering she needs help, it takes a man to put a heavy turkey into and out of the oven and to mash the potatoes. And she needs to insist that a store bough dessert and simple side dishes are all she is willing to do. And then she can call everyone into the kitchen after the meal to package up leftovers and start the dishes. (Speaking of dishes I have two words, paper plates) And forget cleaning for days and all the other things that go along with the it's got to be perfect mindset, chances are the guests don't notice or care, and if they do they might actually realize that poor mom isn't up to the task. A gathering is only as stressful and physically demanding as you allow it to be.
And given that thanksgiving is only days away, isn't it a little late to be making this an issue? The time to make any meaningful changes passed weeks ago.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support