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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.
They may not realize that you don't like it. It won't change till you make it change. leaf on family tree
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
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
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
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 upIf 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
have fun! living far away for a reason
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
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
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
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!
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...
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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??
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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