Jan looks forward to this season and her turn to host her husband’s extended family for a holiday dinner. She sets the menu, selects the wine, orders extra tables and chairs, picks a color scheme for the decor and happily tells everyone she has it all under control. She makes it very clear that they don’t need to bring a thing. When the big meal arrives everything is perfect and Jan solely reaps all the plaudits of another flawless holiday dinner. But, what if behind those compliments and recipe requests are people feeling less than satisfied because they missed out on the good feelings that come with contributing? Jan is what I call a “Greedy Giver.” Though well intended, her tendency to over-function leads others to under-function.
It’s not uncommon for the roles of givers and takers in any family or relationship system to become polarized and reinforced over time. After all, when we need something done, we ask a busy person like Jan which keeps the givers giving and the takers doing whatever it is they do. It’s possible that some folks don’t know where to start, what to give or how to give it. Or maybe they don’t envision their own contributions as measuring up to those of more seasoned givers. There’s no better time of year than Thanksgiving to shake things up, change the roles and invite others into the process of giving.
If you’re a greedy giver like Jan, this will likely be a challenge for you. First, you’ll have to take off that super-hero cape and stop making it look so easy. Then grab a page from the drama queen’s book and throw your hands up because it’s when we exaggerate the problem that someone’s more likely to offer a solution. And finally, you need to give up control and accept what and when others choose to contribute.
So before you find yourself (and your To-Do List) dragging, resist the temptation to do it all by yourself and just ask for help. You needn’t look far because at any age, there’s usually something that someone can deliver.
- preschoolers can make decorations or set the table;
- grade schoolers can gather ingredients for baking;
- middle schoolers can organize activities and games;
- high schoolers can run errands;
- 20+ year olds can provide a meal or side dish;
- senior citizens can make a favorite recipe or tell a story.
For the natural do-gooder, there’s no better time of year to ask more and give less so that others can experience the joy of giving. It’s through delegating that we help others gain confidence, develop competence and build connections. This kind of “Do Good-Feel Good” engagement is what inspires a lifelong habit of giving. The only way to be sure that everyone has a place at the table and a role in the planning is to give up on perfection in exchange for participation.