Relationship Connection: How do I ask my adult kids to help buy groceries for Thanksgiving?

Stock image, St. George News


My husband and I share a large blended family of grown children and lots of grandchildren. We never have everyone home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we usually have three or four families, which can be up to a dozen or so children and last for a week or more. It’s now almost the holidays and I’m wondering how to handle a problem.

We have always bought all the groceries and supplies for these times, which can be up to $1,000 for Thanksgiving through Christmas. Usually it takes us a couple of months for our budget to catch up. Now we find ourselves retired and all of our children making salaries much larger than ours, although we are doing all right. I don’t know how to approach them and ask for help with the expenses of the holidays.

I know them so well and they all have such different personalities that any way I picture asking, I know it won’t suit all of them. One would pull out his wallet, hand me a $100 bill and ask if I needed more, while one will want to organize days for each family to make a meal (that will bring its own problems!), and one will probably say they don’t have the money, even though they could if they tried. I would prefer just getting some money, such as $50 from each family, and doing the shopping beforehand.

Do I just tell them the situation and ask for donations and not care who gets upset? Should I talk to each one individually? Should I put out a donations jar?

Having my children upset with me, which doesn’t happen often, is the absolute worst. They all seem to love and care for me, but some of the siblings don’t always see eye-to-eye, so I don’t want to exacerbate those situations.

Any solution I come up with seems to have problems. At times, I think we’ll just keep on paying for it all and avoid any contention.


When you have this many personalities to accommodate, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. You’re asking for help because you have real financial limitations that make these family gatherings extra stressful. At the same time, you also have a strong aversion to family conflict. I believe you’ll resolve this internal dilemma when you can ask for what you need and allow everyone to adjust accordingly.

You might feel responsible to pay for everything because you’re hosting. While it might be a common perk to offer your guests free food, please recognize that this is only one way to do it. There is no rulebook for these things. If you truly want to create an emotionally loving environment for your guests, it’s best to eliminate the real sources of stress. Your stress comes from financial limitations and the subsequent frustration of no one chipping in to help with food.

You have some children who are more aware and others who are not. You have some that are stingy and others who are more generous. However, I’m certain if they knew of your true need to have a simple and stress-free system for feeding everyone, they would gladly support you. But, if they want to fight it, they’ll at least know where you stand. You can have peace knowing you’ve been clear with everyone about what you need. Your honesty with yourself and your family will provide the most peace for you, even if some aren’t happy with it.

I suggest you send out an email or text to all of your children and their spouses explaining what you need from everyone. You can offer a short and simple explanation that the two of you love having everyone in your home, but no longer can financially afford to pay for the extra groceries. Be clear that this is hard for you because you’d love to be able to pay for everything and truly pamper them. Let them know that you would like each family to pay a certain amount (you mentioned $50, but make sure it’s an amount that won’t be so low that it continues to cause frustration and stress).

Pre-empt any meddling or suggestions by saying that you realize they may want to come up with their own solutions to this, but you need it to be simple and stress free. Express plenty of love and gratitude for their willingness to keep this simple and stress free for everyone.

Be careful to not give them any alternatives. If they need an exception or accommodation, they can approach you and work that out. My mom has a tongue-in-cheek sign hanging in her kitchen that says, “Dinner choices: 1) Take it 2) Leave it.” You are offering your guests one option, which is to help you pay for groceries. It’s that straightforward.

Now, what won’t feel straightforward to you are the emotions you’ll feel after you send this direct message. You’ll sympathize with all of their different struggles you can imagine they’ll have with your request. Please don’t complicate this in your own mind. If they have concerns, they can approach you directly. Let it be simple and stress free by making a request that will help offset your costs and your stress.

In my experience, most people are good and want to help. I’m certain your children are no exception and will adjust to your new request. There may have been times when you could afford to feed everyone. Now is not that time, so make sure they know how you feel and what they can do to step up and help.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: [email protected]

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  • Bill84790 October 25, 2017 at 8:29 am

    On the flip side, it bothers me when my family expects my family’s attendance at an out of state family gathering, with no considerate for the hundreds of miles to drive, time off work, pet kenneling, and lodging. Then if my step-mother asked to help pay for the meal, it would be the last straw. If you can’t afford it don’t host.

    • knobe October 26, 2017 at 9:34 am

      No law saying you ‘ Have to Attend ‘ .
      You are an adult . . . if it’s too much ,
      say ” thanks for the invite but we aren’t able to travel this year ” .
      If you are all pisssy about coming then you probably are Not pleasant company when there .

      Save everyone grief and take a pass . . .

  • mctrialsguy October 25, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Either you pay if they are coming to your house or you say that you are older & retired and on a limited income and someone else can host. Too much of a hassle otherwise, after all it is the Holiday’s and if it isn’t fun and families have issues, then…it isn’t worth it. They may also wish to have their own Holiday get together with their new families. Give them all the option of someone else hosting or their spending time with their own family if money is the real issue.

    • knobe October 26, 2017 at 9:37 am

      No one needs a write a thesis on why they will not be hosting an event .
      If you have been doing it for years , but no longer feel able . . .
      send out a note 30 days in advance saying you are Not able to host this year .

      Wish everyone an wonderful holiday & wait for those who are motivated to plan the event .

  • youcandoit October 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Or cut back on some of the side items. Give them the what is thanksgiving speech what does it mean to them or say you want to try something new family potluck or just tell the truth and if some of them have a problem they don’t have to be there then that should help with the expense. Hope this helps.

  • paul October 25, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Good luck

  • paul October 25, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    With that

  • Hataalii October 25, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    It is not only customary, but it is the polite thing to do, when you are invited to someone’s home for a meal, to make a contribution. Whether it be ice cream for desert, or wine for the dinner or something else. And the astute guest makes contact with the hosts prior to the dinner to see what it would be appropriate to bring. Cash is not out of the question here.
    You and your husband have worked all your lives to support and educate your children. It is not at all unreasonable to ask them to help you out in this situation.
    Or, you can tell the whole family that you and your husband are no longer willing, or able, to be the hosts, (read that doormats,) during the holiday season. No explanation is necessary.
    If you have a kid that is too cheap to drive the possibly hundreds of miles, to take the time off work, deal with their pet kenneling, and their own lodging, then just ignore the fact that they are so self centered, but don’t invite them.
    There is no reason that the holiday cheer has to all be held at your house. It can rotate through the family. You are not being cheap. You are looking out for you and your husband’s best interest, not only financially, but physically and mentally.
    You seem to have a large family. There are always differences of opinions in families, and the unfortunate part is that people who wouldn’t dream of yelling at, or insulting a friend won’t think twice about doing it to a relative.
    Keep in mind that if they truly care for you and/or your husband, they will understand, even if they may disagree with it. Just hold firm on the “I will not be doing this next year,” statement.

  • Bill84790 October 25, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    I am glad, I am not related to you!

    • knobe October 26, 2017 at 9:40 am

      Better said , many are glad YOU are not related to them ,
      your remarks screams . . . . “parasite” .

  • utahdiablo October 25, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    Tell them your all going to the Chuck O Rama….and everyone is paying for themselves….problem solved..and you don’t even have to do the dishes! …Ain’t life grand? Thank God for Buffets and Happy Holidays

  • .... October 26, 2017 at 1:07 am

    can’t pay ? don’t host

    • knobe October 26, 2017 at 9:42 am

      Some families have a tradition but the moocher / parasite numbers can grow slowly until they are a tumor .
      Hard to re-structure a get together . . . trying to keep the periodic family gathering but
      having to deal with some dead weight .

  • knobe October 26, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Simple – tell everyone Now that you are Not able to host this year then sit back .
    Maybe someone will invite you .

  • Wolverine October 26, 2017 at 9:44 am

    People that say, “Can’t pay, Don’t host” are not considering the whole picture. My interpretation of the article is that the Parents have always hosted for their children and grandchildren, the ones that could attend each year. In the past the cost was not as much of an issue for them. Now the Parents are on a more limited income, resulting in the dilemma.

    First of all, it doesn’t sound like anyone is forcing the children and their families to “Drive hundreds of miles, board their dogs and pay for the expense of travel to a place you don’t want to be anyway”. If you want to go, you will pay for those travel and boarding costs or stay home, you have your own family budget to work with, you know how expensive they are to feed, clothe and house. (The emotional blackmail part of it is another conversation for another day and a whole other issue.) They (the children traveling to Gma’s house) may have enjoyed the “break” from the expense of a Holiday meal in the past years, and used the money they saved from that expense to pay for other things, or Christmas gifts. (Geez, just for our family of two it’s about $40+/- when all is said and done for a Thanksgiving meal.) It’s not shameful to admit that in retirement, people are more strapped for money. Give the children the facts, a considerate child will have already thought of this, and has probably offered to help in the past as well. For the more financially strapped children, just explain it to them, and ask for what you consider to be fair, or what they could spare. They need to understand what the real issue is here.

    Many people end up spending ALOT of $$ at the Holidays buying food, baking treats, for gifts and entertainment for their families, some people have to save all year long for these expenses. Perhaps you could ask them to forgo any gifts to you and vice versa, and put the money intended for gifts towards your meal fund for the gathering instead. I’m sure they will purchase enough gifts for their kids anyway. I mean, it sounds like they love hosting their family get together, and want to spend time with them. The gift is being with loved ones, a meal is part of that I agree, but no retired person should feel ashamed that they cannot give their children and Gkids the moon. (My 88 Yr old Dad, sends his 5 children & our spouses Bday cards with money, Anniversary cards with money, the Gkids and GGkids also receive bday $. That adds up to a lot for a retired person on a limited income. We tell him every year not to do it, but we end up pooling our gift $ to buy him some thing great, or put that $ towards a travel fund so we can go visit him 3 states away.) If you would ask early enough in the year, (It’s still about a Month away from Thanksgiving and 2 months away from Christmas) it should be enough time for each family to set aside $5 bucks a week to help out with a big meal that gets prepared to feed your family. That is not a lot to ask really, I’m sure we could all come up with $5 bucks a week. Or use a change jar from all of your loose change for the year towards that Holiday meal get together, I think most people still have one of those right? Budgets take planning, and perhaps asking this year and better preparing for next year will be more helpful in the long run.

    (Makes me think of those unrealistic Jewelry store, Mercedes and Lexus commercials you see this time of year with a big red bow and a delighted recipient of such an extreme/extravagant gift. Yeah, right, like anyone in middle class America actually buys a $70 – $100K luxury car for a loved one’s Christmas gift, let’s keep making the average joe feel like we don’t love our relatives as much as others for not gifting large ticket items to them.)

    BTW, Christmas is not about things, in case you’ve forgotten. Some people don’t go anywhere to see any family, nor do they have an expensive meal, and they have a great Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Holidays are what YOU make of it. It will never be the same as when you were a kid, people grow up and have families of their own (blend traditions and time), move away, and when you want to get together and revisit childhood traditions, it’s difficult, because things change so much. Create some new traditions and enjoy your time with family.

    I like the rotating between families idea as well. Family get togethers can be gigantic (especially in UT where large families are the norm) with extended families, I’d think that pitching in $$ would be a must!
    I like the Chuck o Rama idea as well, especially the “no dishes” part of it. lol Hope you all survive your Holiday plans! Ours will be quiet, low key and enjoyable. Just the way we like it.

  • youcandoit October 26, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Oh yeah don’t forget your children don’t leave them in the car. I can’t believe I have to mention this ugh

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