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Kids are teens now, family get-togethers are exhausting!

April 2009

I have an unusual issue and I'm eager to get someone else's perspective. I come from a largish family (5 children) who still live in the general area. We're all in our fifties now, married with our own children aged 13 to 25. We still get together at one of our houses for every holiday, four times a year (usually numbering 18-23 people). I have to admit, I absolutely dread these get-togethers. For one thing, my sister, aged mother and I do most of the work. The three brothers do less, and the sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews do nothing. As we get older, it gets more and more exhausting, and it seems like I hardly see my siblings other than these get-togethers, where I'm usually irritated and too busy to really talk much to anyone. Is it unusual to get together this often at our ages? Shouldn't the nieces and nephews be contributing by the time they're out of college? I suggested no easter egg hunt this year, saying the kids are getting too old, but was shot down completely (and of course, guess who ends up putting on the easter egg hunt?). Am I a Grinch or is my family over-the-top? Every time I suggest limiting the parties, I am shot down (and probably talked about). I feel too much pressure to just opt out at this point. Really, I'd just like to hear from others whether or not this is unusual.


I wish I could get together with my large family more often. I ADORE them all. It's not about what's a normal amount of times, it's about what works adn what you want or don't want. It sounds like you need to change the format. You need to tell the others that someone else needs to host the gatherings and that you won't do it anymore. You can say this nicely, but you need to let your sibs know that it's not fun for you or your sister or mother anymore.

They may not realize that you don't like it. It won't change till you make it change. leaf on family tree


Hi, I think you have many good reasons to streamline your family gatherings. I come from a very large family who mostly live in another city but have formal gatherings with local family members a few times throughout the year. We also make time outside of the holidays to visit each other so that helps to stay close. I don't think that you are being a Grinch or asking too much to want to rethink your gatherings. I think it makes holidays a lot less stressful and more fun if everyone contributes something to the cause. At our holiday time I avoid the gigantic family gatherings except for very special occasions and celebrate with our local family members. Then I take time to visit individual families on a rotational basis. With a family as big as mine I feel like I spread myself too thin otherwise. When we get together we split the hosting duties, share the cooking and decide ahead of time who will bring what that way we make sure to cover all of the traditional foods and drink that we all like, and are flexible about how those foods are prepared which makes it more fun for the cooks. Whoever hosts usually makes the main dish and maybe a few side dishes. Everyone else covers the rest. Also those who don't cook pitch in to set up and/or clean up. Don't give up. Holidays and family gatherings can be fun and less stressful with a little planning. Have you tried to speak to your family members individually to make your case? I think you'll be surprised how many of them will express a willingness to pitch in to help you figure out ways to make family gatherings a more pleasant experience for everyone. When you pitch ideas in a large group I think there's kind of a mob mentality that can make people a little quick to give their thumbs up or thumbs down. One on one phone calls or e mails may be a more fruitful tactic to get your family on board with you. Best of luck! Many hands make light work and more fun!
I also am one of five kids who are in their 40s and 50s, and I'm the one that usually hosts the family gatherings. We have several a year. I actually like them quite a bit but I know what you mean about the work. The older members of our family no longer cook or even help out anymore. We have a number of kids in their twenties as well as teens and younger ones. Here is what we do:

1. Delegate. Parcel out the duties *in advance*. Get buy-in from your siblings and make sure everyone knows what their job is. You decide who does what if it's at your house. After you do this a few times, it will become the status quo and no one will complain.

2. It's time for the younger generation to step up to the plate. It sounds like they value the gatherings, so they need to start pitching in now so they can carry the torch once we all wear out. Start out by having them bring something easy or something they can pick up on the way like a pie, or wine, or bread and cheese, or appetizers. Some of them may want to cook something. Our big boys know they are responsible for each making a pie every Thanksgiving, for instance. They complained about it for a few years but now they are quite proud of their pies.

3. Everyone has a job except for the old ladies. Nobody gets to come over and just sit and wait for dinner. If they aren't helping with the food, then they are driving the old ladies over, or washing dishes and stacking the dishwasher, or taking drink orders, or setting the tables, or entertaining the younger ones. Even the little ones can help - they decide where everyone sits and make place cards. The older kids in your family ought to be able to organize an egg hunt - you shouldn't have to do that!

Of course this all assumes that you are willing to have less than perfect food and activities. They won't do as good a job as you'd do if you did it all yourself. Last year one of my 20-something nephews who is in to raw food made an apple pie for T-giving that was really quite gross, but we all ate a bite anyway. I think there is still some left in the freezer! G


Lots of families have these types of get-togethers for holidays, but as time goes on, there can be changes in who hosts the holiday dinners and what each person contributes. It seems like the time has come for your sister, mother and you to tell everyone you cannot do most of the work anymore, and suggest an alternative. The alternative could be a pot-luck where everyone over 21 brings a dish, or you could have two siblings take the responsibility for cooking for each holiday, or whatever. Probably the best plan would be for you to agree that you will lay out the tasks for each holiday- -for example, food items, cleaning up, organizing the Easter egg hunt--and ask that three weeks before the event, all family members 21 and over sign up for what they will do or bring. If no one signs up to bring dessert, then you skip dessert. Ditto for the Easter egg hunt. You have to develop some backbone so that you ignore your siblings' criticism. Just say you can't continue as it has been in the past. Period. Then stick to it.

Another alternative is to plan a vacation at the time of one of these holidays and then inform your family (at least a month in advance) that you won't be there. Suggest that they follow the signup plan for arranging the holiday dinner. Then don't budge on the issue and go on vacation. You could take your mother with you if she wants to go. Ignore all criticism and have a great time. Anonymous


Are you my sister-in-law? My husband comes from a large family. All his siblings, with spouses and kids, get together several times a year, including all major holidays. None of the husbands and none of the ''kids'', all of whom are in their 20s and 30s except ours, lift a finger! The wives cook all day while everyone else watches TV. Only after I started making a LOT of pointed comments, has the younger generation started to help clean up. The men still seem to be oblivious. Gender/work division-wise, I feel like I'm back (way back) in the 20th century.

I married into the family fairly recently. At first I really appreciated all the togetherness, but now I feel locked in to doing everything exactly the way it's always been done. This past Christmas our own family just stayed home by ourselves. Unfortunately, we did not communicate well with the others - we suggested some changes to the usual routine, no one listened to us, and so we decided just to do our own thing. Lots of feelings got hurt and it's still not really resolved. So I don't have any advice but I do have sympathy. Going to Tahoe next year - alone


I think it's really hard to maintain good extended family ties in this day and age, but it's really worth the effort. There are ways you can make sure you enjoy it more, though. There are lots of ways to make such gatherings less onerous. One is to email ahead of time and assign jobs to people (food, setup, cleanup, etc) - putting it nicely, but making it clear that if they don't do it, it doesn't get done and that person (not you) gets the flak. You may have to explain that you're getting older and don't have the stamina you once did. You may have to lower your standards and make things more casual. Potlucks have stood my family get-togethers in good stead for many years (and with 50-60 people it would be impossible any other way). If you can, pick a place to meet that's neutral territory like a park for a picnic, a hotel or some other rented space. That can be a hassle in some ways, but it means that other people don't feel it's YOUR space, particularly if they help pay for it. Whatever the solution you find, you don't need to grumble or nag, just let them know what they need to do to make it work. It's a shame if you don't get to enjoy what is a really great tradition. fiona
Hi, I can sympathize, cause I tend to do a lot of the work for family gatherings, but not nearly to the extent you do! I have one of the bigger houses in our family and host a lot.

Here are some strategies that work for me--give out assignments ahead of time.

So  if I invite people for an event, I send out the very specific
assignments in the invite:
Mom and Dad--main course for 16
Aunt Sue--wine (cause I know she can't cook)
Billy and Maria--soft drinks (cause I know they are broke and have a
new baby, so no time to cook)
Trinh--dessert for 16

I've never tried this, but you could also include
niece: come early to set the table
nephew: help clean up
If you feel weird about doing this, maybe include a little note upfront--I look forward to having you over for the 4th of July and want time to enjoy your company, so I'm trying a new system and hope you'll all be willing to help out.

Another approach that has worked for me is to not plan some events. Like I will tell my partner: your dad's bday is coming up. If he wants to plan something he will. It is hard to let go, but I am getting better at it. Decide which events you want to host. If someone brings up the easter egg hunt and you don't want to host/organize it, just say, ''sounds fun! let me know when you get the plans worked out and what you want me to bring.''

Another thing we do is get together sometimes at a park or for a hike or family ferry ride to Angel Island (with picnic/hike on the island). Much less work for me, though I do usually organize who brings what!

Sometimes we meet at restaurants (we are usually 12-15 people). Pick someplace that you know won't be crowded and is within everyone's budget.

I would encourage you to find a way that works, cause I am guessing the family really does appreciate the time together (notice how they responded to the suggestion of not doing easter). They just need to step up to make it happen in a more equitable way. good luck


I would find other activities that your immediate family HAS TO participate in that conflicts with the larger family gathering. This conflicting activity should arise suddenly, like a couple of days before. Plan one of your own if there isn't one. That would be a way to opt out that might get you talked about, but isn't as hard as saying ''I just don't like being with you.'' And it might inspire you to take up some fun new hobbies with your kids and husband.

have fun! living far away for a reason


I have two suggestions. First, try to get together with your sibs and their families in smaller groups. Like, have one sib and his/her family over for a potluck BBQ on a Sunday afternoon or something. Or if you're going on an outing, suggest they come along. You'll reconnect with your family that way and get more one-on-one time.

Secondly, if you're hosting these holiday gatherings, assign jobs. And if people balk, then say, ''Okay, then I guess we just won't do the (egg hunt, etc.) this year.'' If you get too much resistance, just be totally honest. ''I'm kind of worn out from doing it all every year and I think it is time we switched up duties. Let's start some new traditions.'' Honesty is the Best Policy


What you need to do is have a family meeting to talk about how all of you handle these family gatherings. It doesn't sound like it's fair or fun for everyone to expect you and your sisters to host these regular events and no one else helps out. But they might not know how much you resent this. I got into a similar pattern with my family about Thanksgiving (I did everything), and when I told people that I was tired of it, they were surprised and said that they thought I LOVED doing Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people every year. You and your sisters need to sit everyone down, tell them that the family gatherings need to evolve, brainstorm ideas for how to make them work, and get everyone involved in creating the solution. Maybe you create a rotating schedule for whose house you meet at, sometimes you just order pizzas, one time the younger generation decides on a theme and puts it together, one time ''the guys'' put it together, and so on. It's time to shake it up!

Frankly, it sounds nice that your family wants to get together so often. But it isn't fair that so many people expect it all to happen without helping out. anon


Logistics of hosting large family holidays

December 2005

Hi - I'm looking for advice on hosting a large family group. We'll have 23 people during the peak 3 days at Christmas (fewer on either side of the peak), all from out of town, ranging in age from 2 (my youngest) to 85. We've found places for everyone to stay, some with us, but all the big meals and events will be in our small house.

We cook and entertain a lot, and feel at ease hosting a group 12 or so, and are excited to have the chance to have both sides of the family here for Christmas. Yet the prospect is a little daunting. I'm inclined to obsessive lists as a way to manage logistics. Are there suggestions for how to relax and enjoy it all and not get so hung up on making it work (yet still make it work)? Handy tips for big groups (meals or otherwise)? I'm worried I'll be surprised by something that is quick and easy if you're working with a small group but not with a large one. Or that I'll be so worried about details that it won't be as much fun as it should be... I'm also concerned about hosting so many big meals/events back to back with little time to regroup in between. Charis


A little bit of help goes a long way!

When I was young, I handwashed crystal and fine china for a family on Christmases. I would show up mid-way through their holiday dinner. This freed them up to enjoy their company without having a mountain of work to do after very filling meals. It also provided me much-needed cash. My own family had our Christmas dinner a little earlier to accomodate my need to go to the other house. It worked splendidly.

They usually paid me $50 cash for the job, and this was 16 years ago. If you or friends have a housekeeper, ask them if they will do it, or know someone who will.

If you can afford it, get someone to help with kitchen prep too, such as chopping, etc. Merry Christmas!


Happy holidays to you! I just got back from a huge gathering in the Midwest where my sister-in-law was in the same situation as you. One thing that seemed key to everyone's happiness was a certain degree of independence (coming and going as they pleased when possible, having their own vehicles or means of getting around, serving themselves, etc.). My sister-in-law had people who lived in the area or who could cook where they were staying bring things to the feast, which was served festively but as serve-yourself. She decorated the house, made the large dishes (turkey) and drinks, and other people provided sides and desserts. At the other (not major holiday) meals, we all went in on pizza and take-out. We established when meals would take place and those who wanted to be there would show up. Then someone would be sent out for take-out for the whole group. She kept drinks available and on-hand at all times for self-service, and there were snacks as well for early comer! s.

Outings were planned to match the impulses of various sub- groups -- shopping at the mall, golfing (brrr), trips to the gym (I took four of my nieces and nephews), etc. So we went our separate ways -- cell phones were key. At one point we were all out and about and we managed to meet up at a local Mexican restaurant for a lunch of fifteen. We had great fun and it was casual.

Good luck! looking forward to more holiday...


Costco! Plan to use as many of their pre-made or packaged items as possible (for example, there are huge ready to make salads that have the lettuce, dressing, and other items ready to make). Also a honeybaked ham is easy and can go a long ways. With that large of a crowd, forget about being perfect and doing everything ''homemade''. In the end you won't enjoy yourself or your crowd. Or, if you want to do ''homemade'' make up as many of the items as possibe in advance, freeze and ready to take out and bake if you have the room. Quiches are great for breakfast and easy, ''mexican'' is easy to fix for a crowd (beans, rice, enchildadas). Also consider what you can do in a crockpot. You can make it up early in the day and it will be ready for lunch or dinner. Have fun! anon
Delegate. Give everyone a job - people love to cook together and contribute. Also, I would consider ordering take out. Pizza, Le Medeterrane, Indian food, tamales - the options are endless. My two cents
One quick tip - when my family gets together en masse, the ''host'' assigns every family group (or however the division works) a specific meal ... post-Xmas breakfast, Sunday dinner, etc. If not everybody cooks, they are welcome to order pizza, whatever. And everyone pitches in with cleanup where possible. There's no reason you should have to do everything! Anon
I have a few ideas:

1) One meal/day. Have food available so everyone can make their own breakfasts and lunches.

2) Assign others to be in charge of the main meal for the other days -- you take care of Christmas dinner only (or whichever meal you want).

3) ''Beach House rules'': everyone washes their own plate, glass, fork, etc. ALL DAY LONG! Keep a soapy container in the sink and have them wash, dry and put away each item as they use them.

4) Have a turkey or ham available. Eat leftovers.

5) Make your lists early, do a huge shopping, then let go! They'll all be fine! They're family, not guests. And you have fun too!

6) Encourage everyone to go out each day (and you can stay home if you want!)

Have a wonderful time -- some of my best memories of being a little kid include the excitement of relatives coming in for holidays. Barbara


That's a lot of family. On occasion we've had to accommmodate 18 in our two bedroom house but usually for just a big holiday meal (one). But, I also come from a large familiy and have taken trips with large groups and this is what I recommend:

1. Don't try and coordinate everything and everybody the entire time. State which things will be for the whole group and what it entails (carry out, pot luck, you're doing the cooking). Be sure to state the start time.

2. If the weather is mild, use outside as much as possible. Usually for Thanksgivng, we set up tables out in the yard. This year, it was colder, so we actually had a table set up in the living room.

3. Start the meal with a casual ''stand-up'' soup. I heat it in a crock pot and ladle it out in coffee cups and people walk around eating it.

4. Use disposable plates, napkins, etc. or at least make sure they're helping with the dishes.

5. Hire a maid service when they all leave.

6. Make sure kids nap and have a place to go away from the crowds cuz they will get over stimulated.

Good luck. one of many


Dreading dinners with the sister-in-law from hell

December 2002

I've just found out that my s-i-l has been bitching about me for many years about how critical I am about how she parents and I am devastated. She and I have never been close, but over the years I've accepted our differences and *had* thought that we had an amicable working relationship. Now, I realize that she's created this tempest where I am an (unknowing) tormentor, and she's the victim.

And, now it's my turn to feel betrayed, victimized, mistrustful, and on the outs with my husband's family. And, unfortunately, this is a very close family that mostly lives in Berkeley. I used to think it was a bonus to get together every Sunday for dinner, but now dread any interaction with her and the rest of that family.

The most ironic bit to this sad story is that I like her kids, I don't care how she parents her children, and I've been too busy with my life (that's been going really well) to even think about her. Her parenting style is definitely not beyond the pale.

Seems her problem lies with my and and her children's interactions: she has two older girls, and when they get together with their two girl cousins, they pick on, exclude, tease and are really nasty to my kid - a boy half the older girls age.

So I don't feel that I can not go over for the weekly get-together b/c no one else in that family (my own husband included) will monitor what those kids are doing; go investigate when screams, whines, etc. are heard. My kid's four. I've found my normally calm son so agitated that his body was twitching, tongue darting in and out.

When I've found him locked out of a room that his cousins were in, or with the girls screaming in his face, I've done all the conflict resolution stuff that I've learned while working at my son's coop preschool: asking each kid how he/she feels about the situation, narrating what I'm seeing, etc. to try and develop some empathy. This used to work. But now my nieces are behaving in such a hateful and disrespectful way - toward myself and my son - that another family member pointed out that they may just be angry with me b/c their mother is.

When this Lord of the Flies behavior erupts, no one else in this family will come to my and the kids' aid. If I didn't have the back-up of the conflict resolution training and sense of community from our preschool, I would feel even more alienated and powerless in these situations.

I would love to miss these family events - I'm pregnant and not really up for dealing with all this negative and stressful crap - but my husband and son really look forward to these get-togethers - plus I HATE to be scapegoated and pushed out of this family by an increasingly spiteful/insecure(?) s-i-l.

Any advice, short of moving to Buffalo, would be appreciated. Bummed in Berkeley


Hmmm... not an easy situation. I'll be brief:

Start by sitting your husband down and painstakingly explaining your views to him. He HAS to listen to you, after all; he's your spouse. Tell him that you need him to back you from now on. I feel it is not acceptable for parents to have such diverging views on such a sensitive situation. Parents need to be in accord on things and come up with a mutual game plan for many conceivable situations. My wife and I try to do this as much as possible. Come up with an agreement and game plan on what you will say to your SIL and how you will say it.

Once you have convinced your husband to back you, approach your SIL. You may even want to have your husband help in this regard. Then, tell her very clearly but without rancor that you have absolutely no problem with her parenting; and that you are earnestly concerned about maintaining a good relationship with her and her family. You might also want to mention that you are ''uncomfortable'' with how your little boy is reacting in social situations at the Sunday gatherings and see if you can find a common ground to work with her on solving this problem. However, without your husband's support, this probably won't help much. It is paramount to have your husband 100% on board.

Good luck. Rich in Berkeley


Your situation sounds horrible. I know how I've felt in similar (one-time, not chronic) situations, and the feeling of having to protect your little child from older bullies is awful. My only suggestion is to get your husband involved as a mediator of some type. Let him know what's going on, and ask for his help in dealing with the problem, whether it's talking some sense into his sister (which sounds like it would be difficult, if not impossible), enlisting the support of other family members by explaining what's going on with the kids, or just getting your husband to be your son's constant bodyguard at family gatherings, so you can skip a few, or at least not have to be at your son's side every minute.

If nothing works, stay home, and keep your little boy home with you. If the family wonders why, tell them! Print out this posting you just wrote and let them read it. You and your son shouldn't have to deal with the ongoing abuse of the girls, and the lack of respect and concern shown by their mother. Good luck, stay strong, and best wishes with your pregnancy! Heidi


I can't speak to the SIL problem - I only have brother-in-laws and so far they have been pretty good, but my kids are the "older cousins" so I want to put in a word in their defense. They complain that the little ones pester them continually to be let into their rooms, that they break & lose their toys, interrupt them when they are hanging out with their friends, etc. When they do take the time to play with the little ones, "out of the goodness of our hearts", even though they don't want to, their reward is they get tattled on for something they didn't do. On Thanksgiving, after waiting a very long time to use the toilet, I found a little one who had locked himself in the bathroom so he could pound on the door of his older cousin's bedroom with a plastic golf club without adult intervention. He had been at it for 15 minutes! The older kids, who were doing teen-type things, (the little one is eight) were just patiently ignoring him. We have found that the little cousin loves wrestling sessions with his older cousins, and begs for them till he gets them, but these sessions often end in tears, resulting in the older kids being accused of torture, inflicting brain injuries, etc. So I started saying to the little one "But remember last time you said you didn't like it when Joe and Jake had a pillowfight with you." This doesn't work, by the way. The little one still whines for the pillowfight and still cries after getting it. Sigh. But we also found it useful to tell the big kids how far they can go (toss pillows gently but don't hurl them with all your might). While I think it is worth it to remind the older kids that they need to be super gentle with the little ones, it also is not fair to the older kids to always insist that they play at the level of a younger child, or to allow the little ones to run roughshod through their stuff. My suggestion: make sure either an adult is watching your child at all times, both for his protection as well as out of consideration to the older children, or obtain agreement from the older cousins that they will babysit your child, and consider paying them some nominal amount or otherwise bribing them. Ginger
This is a situation with two parts: your sister-in-law's feelings and the children's behavior. I think your sister-in-law feels threatened when you intervene in her daughters' play. I am wondering if she feels her position in the family is undermined, and/or her parenting criticized by implication. Is she your husband's sister, or his sister-in-law? In either case, the fact that she doesn't talk to you directly suggests that she is, in fact, insecure. You could initiate a conversation with her about this, if you think it could be successful (if you think she's too insecure even to discuss this, then don't). If you and she could talk about what bugs each of you and what each of you wants from these family get-togethers, then you could probably solve this problem right there. In any case, you now know that you have to show some extra sensitivity to her.

I think your style of intervention with the children is good, but I suspect the problem goes a little deeper than a lack of empathy on the children's parts. How long do these dinner visits last? What are the children supposed to be doing? Do they have places to play and things to play with? Do the adults take time to play with them, or at least talk to them? It sounds to me as though these children are bored, and bored children often misbehave. With that in mind, here are some possible strategies for helping your son through these visits:

1. Talk to your son ahead of time. Tell him that if he isn't having fun with his cousins to come and see you. Bring some books, toys and games and you or your husband play quietly with him yourselves.

2. Since your son is only four, he may have a hard time disengaging when the play turns nasty. If you don't like what's going on, remove him as quietly as possible and give him something else to do for a while. Don't make a big deal of this; if he wants to return to his cousins after a "cooling off" period, let him give it a try.

3. Bring a game or two that all the children might enjoy. If they show an interest, think of yourself as a facilitator, not an organizer. Let them do it their way, but make it clear the game only continues if everyone is having fun. The desire to continue the play provides motivation for sociable behavior.

4. Take your son outside for a walk or a ball game. Maybe other children will want to join you.

5. Have your son help with dinner preparations and cleanup, as he is able. This is good training for him and will help him feel connected to and valued by his adult family.

6. Maybe, in time, you can all play whole-family games (Charades, Sardines, Murder), or do other group activities like making music, playing board or card games, or some pastime unique to this family.

7. Maybe he could occasionally have a playdate and not attend the Sunday dinner; also, if it's OK with your hosts, maybe he could occasionally bring a friend. This will dilute the intensity of these gatherings.

In general, children will tend to misbehave if left unsupervised and without anything to do. Your job is to keep your son reasonably happy during these visits. Since you've gotten the message that dealing with the problem directly upsets your sister-in-law (at least), you will have to find ways to do this indirectly. Whatever strategies you use, make a point of downplaying what you are doing and minimizing the drama.

I understand from your posting that you care about this family and want to be accepted by them and you feel, at this point, that you are not being accepted. I hope your husband, at least, is being supportive. I think whether or not your in-laws accept you is not related to how excellently you parent; or, indeed, however wonderful you are in any way. Being the parent of a married adult evokes complicated feelings in people, and siblings can feel invaded when marriage brings newcomers into their family. There's not much you can do about that. Pay attention to how you are coming across to them and make a point of being kind. In time, things may get easier. Louise S.


First of all the sister-in-law. You don't REALLY know what she is saying about you. Give her the benefit of the doubt. And don't say anything about her to anyone except your therapist.

Then the kids. Do I have the story straight? Four girls against a boy? Bring a friend for the boy to the family dinners. Then he doesn't have to interact with them. Then, when you arrive, tell all the kids your expectations and the consequences they will face if undesirable behavior ensues. Maybe time-out for everyone is anyone is unhappy. If you feel like it, you could bribe them. Bring something special to give to them if they behave. anon


I am curious about how you found out that your sister-in-law has been bad-mouthing you for years...did someone tell you, is it accurate information? Is it possible for you to talk to her about this and resolve not only 1) what she thinks you have been saying about her parenting style (which you deny, but which you clearly have some problem with), but, more importantly, 2) the problem that does occur when her daughters and the cousins pick on your son. Does she see this as a problem? What does she do/say about it? Where are the other adults when this is going on and why are you the only one who does anything? Specifically, where is your husband?! He needs to not only also step in and set limits with all children (let all of the children know what is and what is not safe and/or acceptable behavior)and also help the children resolve conflicts, but to also deal with his sister. I am a firm believer that when there are conflicts with in-laws, the spouse whose family of origin is involved needs to deal with his or her family and not leave his/her spouse hanging in the wind and appear like the ''bad guy.'' That said, it is interesting that your son wants to continue to visit. It seems to me that if he were truly tortured by the cousins that he would be fearful or not want to be with them...is it possible that you are overreacting for him? I hope that this doesn't sound like I am blaming you, I am just curious about what is really going on...it's time for everyone involved to have a talk. Good luck
I feel for you. If you really don't want to move to Buffalo and can't find a place to live that is an hour away from your relatives, but where you can still keep your job, I see only one option - do what you are doing. Do not attend his family's social functions. You have the right to keep your children away from ''Toxic Inlaws''. You have a right to say ''No, we won't be coming - we have our OWN family plans.'' You have a right to protect your child from those who would be a bad influence on him, or those who could be emotionally damaging or physically abusive.

My husband also is from a large family and almost all of them live in Berkeley or very nearby. I have no family in this area. For over 10 years I attended Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter all those major holidays, and not to mention innumerable birthday parties for members of his family.

For ten years I bought most of the gifts for his family, neices, nephews, etc, while he did no shopping. He met my father twice before he passed away and yet he talks about how my ''father'' treated me ,as if he knew him. (NOT!) I, on the other hand, know his family better than anyone should have to know their inlaws. For many years I had to go to various ''family'' meetings for interventions for this alcoholic relative, or some ''loser'' relative, etc., etc. I sat at a dinner table with people who scoffed at my ideas, regardless of the fact that I have more education and life experience than anyone in his family. they had, Some of his relatives are okay. The ones who are not okay are intolerable. Additionally, I am sure they talk about me behind my back anyway and about what a ''b..h'' because I try to instill a sense of responsibility in my children.

I expect my children to behave in a socially acceptable manner and to obey common rules of courtesy such as: When you go out to a restaurant you sit in your seat and eat dinner; you do not run around and play tag under the tables;when you make a mess you are resposible for cleaning up after yourself; if you use the bathroom or the kitchen you clean up after yourself and leave it in an acceptable manner so that the next person does not have to come through with a bulldozer before they can use the facilities. You do not write on furniture. You do not go into people's desks or closets and take things out and use them without asking, you knock first if a door is closed, if you use the last piece of toilet paper you replace the roll.

You do not tell lies, and if you are caught in a lie you don't make up another lie to cover it up. I don't feel like common courtesy, hard work and strength of character were stressed in his family. Attending parties and sporting events was.

A few years ago I had an absolutely infuriating situation occur and since then have been so utterly fed up with the lot of them that I refuse to attend any of their ''family'' functions - which has been for about 2 years now. And you know what my husband says? ''You never go to any family functions with me.'' I think 10 years is quite enough time to contemplate a one-sided view of someone else's reality. Some Christmas I hope to have the money to bring my children to visit their grandmother (my mother) for Christmas and I wish I could leave them there so that they could learn that there are places in this country where there really are people brought up with polite manners,who say ''please'' and ''thank you''. If they see you struggling with something they ask right off if you need help; they don't just stand there slack-jawed while you work.

I once had blocked the telephone numbers of the most irritating family members (the alcoholics and the pathological liars)to keep them from calling and draining my energy and tying up my phone lines. But they didn't get the hint and satrted using cellular, and/or, pay phones. They call and if I answer, they hang up - or worse, they lie about who they are. If I had a choice I would move away - very far away - and and take my children out of the influence of this dysfunctional nonsense. However, my husband will not even move to Concord or Benecia. Good Luck to you! Another seriously bummed in Berkeley


O.K. There's an answer to dealing with your s.i.l. but it may not be the one you want. I recommend being nice to her -- Maybe even nicer than you've been being. The chance that you are the ONLY person she is catty about is virtually nil. If she's this much of a creep -- everyone already knows it so you don't need to tell them or be embarrassed about it.

Your job is to give her no reason to do it, not to worry about her doing it. Good luck, its hard...but think of it as a game, or a challenge.

I'm more concerned about your son -- physically shaking with the frustration of being left out seems like a strong response, especially if it happens EVERY week. I think you and your husband (its HIS family, right?) and the other parents might try to agree about how the kids treat one another. In this case you could include times that the big kids play without your son, and times that they all play together. Maybe that way he can learn to cope with the frustration without the torment. Heather


Your sister-in-law sounds like my husband's s.i.l.! After years of trying to ignore her behavior and hostility, I decided to confront her on it, and I am glad that I did. I called her up one night and just asked her very directly as to why she was so angry with me. I told her that if she was upset with me, that she needed to find some way to communicate this to me, and I promised to listen to her gripes. I can't say I learned much from the conversation--frankly, I think I really caught her off guard--but I did come away from it feeeling like I had done all I could to improve the situation, and that the ball was now in her court. We do have a better relationship now (meaning we can be in the same room together), and I think a lot of it has to do with her being less insecure, unhappy, and bitter than she was in the past (due to changes in her life situation). To be honest, I dreaded that phone call to my s.i.l. with every cell in my body. I was so angry with her for all of the horrible things she had said about me and how terrible she had treated me, my husband, and my children. It was hard to forgive her. But I decided that I loved my husband and children enough that I had to give it one last shot to work things out with her--so that we could have some kind of mutual tolerance for the sake of everyone involved. I hope that you can try to talk to her and not isolate yourself from everyone else in the family. It's hard, I know, when someone has been unfair and judgmental and harsh toward you. But I think it would be worth your while to be the bigger person here. Best of luck to you. been there

Mom insists on inviting irritating relatives

December 2002

I need a reality check! I am an only child and am quite close to my small extended family on my dad's side. We don't agree, but we agree to disagree and have not had any major arguments that disrupted family gatherings.

A few years ago, one of my mother's nephews showed up and since then he and his girlfriend (they are older--probably in their 50s) have embedded themselves into my parents' lives. In fact, they actually lived with them for almost 1 year. For some reason, maybe jealousy, I don't trust them and I find their personalities quite irritating. They have helped my parents out, but also have caused some problems with projects they started, but never finished, etc. Somehow, my mother always seems to find an excuse for their behavior.

It has come to the point that I simply cannot remember visiting my parents without them being there. However, until now, they have never been involved in our Christmas with my dad's side of the family. I just learned that these cousins of mine will be spending Christmas with us at my parents' house. When I learned of this, I was very upset and I told my mother that they should not be there. My mother basically refused to tell them not to come and said that they have no where to go (in their 50s and no friends????). My dad has been unsuccessful in changing my mom's mind.

This will be my only daughter's 3rd Christmas and I am considering visiting for Christmas day ONLY, but not for the week--which is what we had planned to do. Am I being ridiculous? Am I scrooge??


What is Christmas about to you? To me, it is about celebratingt life with family. We don't necessaraly like all of our family members, but this is the time to try to find positive traits in the people that are a part of our lives. This is the time to model tollerance towards people, so our children learn to get along with their community. At this point, you have probably ruined Christmas for your parents, who are being forced to ''choose'' between people they like. I think you should go, make plans to spend some time doing other things, and make time to find out more about your cousin and his girlfriend. If your parents like them, there might be something you overlooked. Good luck and Merry Christmas. Someone from a big family
There are some members of our family I would be happy to jettison forever into outer space myself, but I think this is an etiquette question even though your feelings are very complicated and obviously strong. I would never presume to tell my parents (or anyone else who invited me to their home for that matter) whom to invite or not invite to their own home. If you feel strongly that you don't want to be around these people, you can either choose not to attend or just to attend in a more limited fashion as you suggest for the day instead of the week. Holidays are not the best time for one on one interaction between family members anyway, with extended families in mind. If you want your child to have special time with her grandparents, perhaps it would be better to visit another time with her. Holidays to some extent are about family and frequently involve both overstimulation and some degree of chaos for small children. DO NOT force your parents to choose between their extended family and yours. Taking the high road and making your choice about your own visit based on your feelings and sticking to it without making it their fault is my advice for both good manners and family harmony in the future. Complicated Family Dynamics Too!
Whatever your motives--and it doesn't really matter if they're jerks or you're just oversensitive -- you have to be nice to people invited to your parents' house. And you do not get to choose whom your parents invite, no more than you can choose your parents' friends or influence whom they like.

Everyone has this problem with family at some point. As an only child, you have avoided it for longer than most. I happen to think my brother-in-law is a lout. The day he went from boyfriend to husband--and I had to tell my son to call him uncle--I just about choked on the words. But he's family, and I have to be nice to him, and it wouldn't be fair for me to make anyone else in the family choose between us at a holiday gathering. My advice, in a nutshell: Grin and bear it. The lout's sister-in-law


Want to opt out of family Thanksgiving

November 2002

This is sort of my last ditch effort, then I'm withdrawing from my husband's family. He, doesn't have a problem with me withdrawing right now, though I expect that it will be come an issue at a later date.

My in-laws, that is to say my sister-in-law, and mother-in-law are pushy and very Martha Stewart-ish. They get very irrate when things don't go their way. Yet, they make uni-lateral decisions that effect everyone. For example, they planned a big birthday celebration for my husband the year before I met him. They planned it for an evening that he worked. He lived in San Franciscio, them in San Jose. He didn't have a vehicle at the time. They told him about their plans 24 hours in advance. They are still angry that he didn't show up.

We have an 18month old daughter now. Last year we spent Thanksgiving with them. It was a large, formal, sit down dinner that lasted about 2 hours. We were the only people with kids there. SIL's friends are childless and rather snooty. MIL's friends have grown children, and are sometimes amused by our active daughter's antics.

This year, we politely declined their invitation to Thanksgiving. Our daughter is far to active and outspoken. The evening would be miserable for her and us. We're opting for a quiet evening at home, and even offered to prepare a small family celebration of the holiday the week before or after Thanksgiving. My in-laws have insulted our previous dinner parties. Called us snotty and stuck up. Took our saying that we couldn't make to mean that we feel their house is ''child hostile'' despite us frequently visiting.

I feel like nothing _I_ do (of course while these e-mail flames were directed at ''us'' they took my husband aside to find out if I'd hacked his account) is right. Any suggestions? anon


My heart really goes out to you. This sounds very similar to the family situation I walked into when I met my husband 10 years ago. Being the youngest and a peaceable sort, he put up with all sorts of incredibly inconsiderate behavior on the part of his two older sisters and sometimes, although to a lesser extent and mostly out of letting the sisters decide everything, from his parents. Basically, his sisters called the shots and everyone in the family, especially my husband, was expected to just hop to and meet their demands.

After I came on the scene, I was frankly shocked and appalled at their behavior but tried to make do and not make waves. I am not really the sit back and be quiet type, so that didn't last too long. Things came to a head for us shortly after we were married as a result of some couples therapy we (my husband and I) did. I was very unhappy with some very petty and mean things his sisters did regarding our wedding and, frankly, so was he. I think it was the first time that he started to really see just how inappropriate their behavior was. I encouraged him to start standing up to his family, and amazingly enough, he did.

Our situation came to a head Thanksgiving of 1994. Like you, we had had enough and decided to have a small Thanksgiving just ourselves. I wish I could tell you that they all understood and it worked out great, but that's not what happened. What happened instead is that his sisters blew up and his parents backed his sisters. It was ugly and we were both very hurt and things did not get better for awhile. However, here's the good news: 8 years later, hubbie has the best relationship with his parents he has ever had. They respect him, treat him like an adult, and never, ever, ever presume or take him or us for granted. That part could not have worked out better.

In terms of his sisters, well that part is not so great. They have never spoken to him since. Granted, these are two of the most difficult, unforgiving, self-righteous people I have ever met, so your mileage may vary (I really hope it does). For us, there was no choice. One of his sisters, the one that speaks for both of them, told him way back when, that ''yes, it's true, we don't like you and we do not treat you well, but it's what you DESERVE.'' I am not making this up. She actually said this to him. There's really no place to go with a relationship like that, now is there? We have never regretted our decision and we enjoy peaceful holidays with friends and family that we choose to be with. What could be better than that?

Good luck and my advice is to follow your heart. Been there and back


My husband and I have issues with his father and step-mother, as well as a little with my mother. It's very hard, especially once you start having children because they want so much to do the grandparent thing. I too had to take myself out of the situation with my in-laws because my feelings and the things I said were being completely misunderstood, like they didn't know me at all. I decided that my husband's relationship with his father (and step-mother if he wanted) was his business, and if he wanted them to have a relationship with our daughter, that was also up to him. Of course, I'm perfectly civil, polite and even friendly (especially since my husband is having so many problems with his health), but I don't personally reach out to them.

The thing that occured to us is that our nuclear family is what matters most, that we have to do (for holidays or whatever) what makes us happy. We both have divorced and remarried parents, so it gets very difficult to divide our time and energy equally. Besides that, everyone is in different geographical locations, spread out over California, Oregon and Washington.

I totally understand wanting to do what will work best for you and your husband, AND your child. We spent our daughter's first Thanksgiving with my best friend from high school, and are spending this Thanksgiving with other good friends and THEIR families. Partly because of geography, but also partly because they UNDERSTAND what it's like to have small children.

Bottom line, do what feels right for your family. You aren't obligated to do things your extended family wants you to. If you don't want to spend a holiday with anyone, there are other ways to let them know you are thinking of them and care. Send them a fruit basket! Good luck, I know it's hard. Jennifer


Hi, I am the husband of been there and back. I absolutely agree with what my wife said. I would like to add a few comments. One, I doubt your in-laws, like my sisters, will ever change. If you agree and want to have happy holidays, then the course of action becomes fairly clear. DON'T SPEND YOUR HOLIDAYS WITH THEM! It sounds like your husband is aware of his families issues and is willing to stand up to them. Your family (your daughter, husband and you) are the most important. Maybe they will come around (my parents have to a degree after several years) or not (I doubt I will ever talk to my sisters again). However, I have a great relationship and am very happy with my life. We are going to Lake Tahoe for the first time this Thanksgiving and I couldn't be happier! Good luck. BTB2
Tis the season for parents of toddlers to tremble in fear at the thought of formal dinners, unsteady yet compelling Christmas trees, and other such seasonal tortures! Although I adore my in laws, I can relate to your stress about this. My son is now two and a half and weathered his first and second holiday seasons at 6 mos and 18 mos. I am fortunate to have family living extremely close by and my mother in law makes all holiday meals without expecting me to do anything at all except show up (let me tell you this is way easier than trying to make a whole dinner at your house with a toddler clinging to your leg waving a copy of ''Moo Baa La La La'' for the fifth time that hour!) Even though my in laws are very child friendly and informal, most holidays have been for me long days of toddler steeplechase through their house equipped with few toys telling him ''don't touch, don't touch'' while my husband sips wine and discusses the family business, followed by generally sitting down to eat two hours after the time estimated by my trying-to-be-accomodating mother in law, and either attempting foolishly to restrain my child at the table without any projectiles hitting anyone, or sitting in the kitchen with the peanut gallery (sometimes less stressful.) It's not that my in-laws don't love their grandchild, it's just that they haven't had kids around for forty years! BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT IT GETS BETTER! My sister told me this and it was true: that holidays are about family, and your kids should be part of it too, including the chaos they bring. And that they learn by going through it. Like you, one of my brother in laws does not have kids and shoots dirty looks at my kid whenever he acts like a kid. It's very tiresome and I personally feel he rather than my son needs to be corrected at these times, but what can you do? My advice is to attend, but to make sure you prepare by 1) taking toys, books, etc to amuse your child before dinner and maybe even bringing some of your kid's favorite ''bribe'' food along to keep them at the table (potato chips work for us in desperate situations) 2) feeling free to leave the table if your child isn't enjoying it and adjourn to a neighboring room where they can play and you can eat off your lap and 3) making sure you aren't parked in so you can leave early if you feel your kid is maxxing out. I have found it useful to tell other guests that we are leaving because ''our son is tired and needs to go to bed and we want everyone else to enjoy their meal'' instead of saying that they all make me crazy and I've had enough. In the bigger picture your child will benefit by the experience and having time to interact with their relatives (my son is down a grandfather this year, so please enjoy while you have them!!!!) and really, in two years will be able to sit at table like a little angel (and you will be able to go to restaurants that don't have balloons again!!) so just take a deep breath, count to ten and dig in to that Turkey dinner instead of not being part of it all. A Holiday Survivor

The In-laws insist on Thanksgiving dinner out

October 1998

Whenever my husband's parents visit us (they live out of town) they tell us they want to take us out to dinner so I don't have to cook. I don't enjoy these outings. It takes a lot of effort to get the children cleaned up and ready to go (they are 9 and 5) and they complain and squirm all through dinner. I end up having a terrible time. How can I tell my in-laws thanks but no thanks without hurting their feelings?


A friend once gave me very good advice that my spouse and I usually follow.

Let your spouse handle his/her parents

Especially for hard problems -- children and parents have usually got long established ways to resolve conflicts. If your in-laws are complaining, let your spouse set them straight. Among other things, most parents don't like to think of their own children as wicked.... a Dad


Why is going out to dinner with a 9 and a 5 year old NOT a treat? I'd do some training and practicing, then go out every night! Barbara
Try accepting the invitation to dinner as long as you get to choose the place. We had good luck taking our kids to Sizzler's (there are still a few around), Lyons, Chevy's or anyplace with an informal atmosphere where they welcome children with their own menus and don't mind the (sometimes) messes. If the inlaws won't help with the kids on your first trip, next time let them take the kids by themselves! Roger
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