Cooks Need Some Loving Attention, Too

by admin on December 19, 2011

This story is about what happened to my partner before he met me. They spent every Christmas at his ex-wife’s family’s house (her family was “more important” than his) and as my partner is a pretty good chef he used to make most of the food each year.  He told me that that meant he was stuck in a kitchen in a house on another part of the property cooking all day, with no one coming to spend time with him as he worked. He spent most Christmases alone, cooking. That’s not very nice for him but his position in that family was especially highlighted one particular Christmas.

His ex-wife’s sister was a couple of hours late for Christmas lunch, so he spent those hours trying to keep the roast meal tasty and not letting it dry out. When she finally arrived, all the food was brought out for the family. Just as they were sitting down to eat, someone noted there was no gravy, which had been overlooked when the sister finally arrived.

Not to worry, he said, I’ll nip off and make some. He said he’d be five minutes.

When he returned with freshly made hot gravy he found the entire family was most of the way through their meals, including his ex-wife and their daughter. They had not waited for him even though he had prepared most of the food, had worked hard to keep it tasty, and had only left to prepare gravy at their request.

On the upside, he is now with someone who appreciates his cooking! He said that last Christmas was the best he’d ever had, as I kept him company while cooking and was actually appreciative of the effort he went to! 1123-11

As the main meal preparer for my large family gatherings, I am tempted to feel under appreciated and out of the loop on all the fun.  So, this holiday, remember to shower some gratitude and attention on the person(s) who work so hard to feed you a lovely meal.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Green123 December 19, 2011 at 4:44 am

Sounds like he should have developed a spine both in general (‘Hey Mom / wife / sister / aunty, I think it’s your turn to cook this year – I cooked last year’) and in terms of the late sister (‘oh, well, I’m sorry you’re running late – we’ll save you a plate!’)

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TheVapors December 19, 2011 at 5:27 am

OP, how absolutely sad that they thought of him as their own personal chef…and not a member of the family who was to be included in the meal (the meal he’d only just prepared by himself none-the-less!).

This entry has me feeling grateful for my parents’ kitchen. The family table is in the same room, not a few feet from the counters and appliances. So, if you are at the table, you’re right in the middle of the kitchen. There’s no avoiding the cook! (Not that I’d ever want to avoid my mother.)

The kitchen table was always the center of our home life. Even to this day when we visit… we visit in the kitchen. It’s practically anathema to me that the cook in any home would be “alone in the kitchen” while everyone else is having their fun elsewhere. To me… the fun, all the action, all the good stuff… always took place -in- the kitchen around the cook.

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Typo Tat December 19, 2011 at 8:12 am

Seriously? Why would he agree to such an arrangement year after year? I mean, one can accidentally find themselves in the unappreciated cook position once… but the next time you just say NO.

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Jojo December 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

Erm. This story sounds all very one sided and second hand. One wonders how much exaggeration may have crept into the story since the event happened. Also, I’m curious as to what the man in question’s daughter is up to this Christmas. It sounds as if she wasn’t involved in the new couple’s happier Christmas, if that’s the case, it seems a shame that she is missing out on the fun too.
This Christmas I’d be inclined to share out food prep rather than just leave one person to do all the work alone while praising their undoubted saintliness and putting down their former family. It seems unbecoming to so enthusiastically berate a family that most likely has had very little contact with the OP herself.

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David December 19, 2011 at 9:58 am

I was raised to not start to eat until the cook was seated at the table, unless we were eating in a restaurant.

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Lucy December 19, 2011 at 9:59 am

Okay, that stinks, but people who are doormats deserve the treatment they get. Why should he have allowed himself to get railroaded into this every year? Who died and made the sister God so that the whole meal had to be held for her? Eat, and let her pick at the leftovers when she gets there. That’s what happens when you’re late. I appreciate guys who cook and help out and are considerate, but I dump guys who don’t stand up for themselves.

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Flora Louise December 19, 2011 at 10:03 am

Gratitude is a lost art. So many people feel entitled to benefit from the labor of others. On the plus side, he seems like a lovely guy. Congratulations on finding him.

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Wink-n-Smile December 19, 2011 at 10:14 am

Miss Manners says it is rude to all the prompt guests to wait the meal on a late guest. They should have started on time and saved the late one a plate.

As for being left out in the cold each year, the first year it happened, he should have told his wife that it will NEVER happen that way again, if she wants him to be with her on Christmas. She should have informed her family that they need to treat him better. Then, he cooks the next Christmas dinner, and they visit with him, and maybe even help. If not, he can spend Christmas with his family, while she spends Christmas with hers, and the child can alternate years. They had their warning, and their chance to make it right, and didn’t, therefore they don’t deserve him.

He needs to put some value on his cooking services, and on his company, or no one will value it.

I’m glad he has a more appreciative family, now.

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Terri December 19, 2011 at 10:29 am

I sure hope he wasn’t left at the table to eat by himself. Did he have clean-up duty, too? I would hope not.

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Jennifer December 19, 2011 at 10:44 am

Wow, that’s terrible – especially after doing the work of holding food. Keeping a roast ready for a COUPLE HOURS? I’m a decent cook and I would have trouble with that (the tension between keeping it warm versus keeping it from overcooking). This person is amazing for not throwing up his hands and saying “We eat when it’s ready.” Heck, I think that’s the polite thing to do rather than letting a meal get ruined by latecomers.

Also, how do you eat half of a roast meal in five minutes? With drippings, it literally takes that long to make gravy. It sounds like they scarfed it down. I just hope they didn’t stick him with the dishes.

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Margaret December 19, 2011 at 10:50 am

I can’t get over the deal where every Christmas is at ONE family’s place. Unless your family has a tradition of gathering on another day (e.g. Boxing Day), that is so unfair! Of course, if they had taken turns, I suppose someone else would have had to do the cooking, so can’t have that.

Honestly, when my kids have families, I’m just going to ask that they come and see me SOME time around Christmas, but Christmas day will be their own if they want it.

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Mary December 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

He was a lot nicer than I would have been. I would have served the meal at the appointed time and saved a plate for the latecomer.

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AMC December 19, 2011 at 11:35 am

It’s hard to have fun when you spend the whole day hosting/cooking. I learned that this year when I threw a Halloween party for all our friends. (I have several close girlfriends, and we have and agreement that every year we’ll each pick a holiday to play host.) I LOVE Halloween and spent the entire month of October buying and making decorations, food, favors, games, a costume, etc. While the whole thing was a big hit and everyone was certainly appreciative of my hard work, I remember feeling afterwards like I’d spent so much time worrying about everyone else’s good time that I forgot to have fun. I’m very grateful that I don’t have to host any other hlidays this year. It’s much more relaxing and enjoyable to be a guest.

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Politrix December 19, 2011 at 11:49 am

Amen to that! The way I was raised, we were expected to not only offer to help with the cooking (and to immediately and gracefully leave the kitchen if our offer was declined) but to help with the cleanup as well! (Again, unless our offer was rebuffed). Not only that, we were strictly forbidden to start eating until everyone was seated, served, and the one who did the cooking (usually the host/hostess… in my case, Mom) took the first bite!

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Shalamar December 19, 2011 at 11:49 am

Sounds to me like they should’ve hired a caterer, if that’s the way they’re going to treat family.

That reminds me of when my husband’s grandmother celebrated her 80th birthday. Her family threw a tea party for her in the dining hall of her retirement home. We “girls” (i.e. her granddaughters, nieces, nephews, and other female relatives) served tea and coffee. One relative (I think she was a distant cousin of my husband) treated me in the worst, most stereotypical way you can imagine that someone would treat The Help – barking orders at me, snapping her fingers when she wanted more coffee, and snapping “WHAT?” when I tried to ask if she wanted milk and sugar. Fortunately Granny loved every minute of her special day and never found out how rude one of her relatives was!

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Andie December 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

Maybe he preferred hanging out in the kitchen alone than with those boors up until they made it clear they considered him a hired cook.

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Library Diva December 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm

What a sad story. Your partner sounds like a very thoughtful person who genuinely enjoyed cooking for everyone, and rather than appreciate it, his ex-wife’s family took advantage of his goodwill and his gifts. I’m glad he’s with someone who appreciates him now!

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NOPH December 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm

My mother is a wonderful cook. I think about her Thanksgiving spread all year long. My father and I also help a great deal with everything from the shopping to the chopping. However, a few years ago we changed our Christmas tradition. Since it is usually just four to six of us for Christmas, we grill steaks and have baked potatoes. I bring several different kinds of cookies and a cousin that usually joins us brings a side dish (often something amazing). We eat and watch movies all day. There aren’t any little children in our clan and my father and I don’t like Mom slaving away on what should be her holiday,too. We’ve tried to get her to do the same thing on Thanksgiving, but she says she enjoys cooking for us and we definately don’t argue we enjoy eating. However, I’ve known of families where one or two people slave away and there’s little thought given to how hard they work. I love our little “simple but very good” meal at Christmas as I get to spend time with my mom that doesn’t involve her telling me I’m not chopping the onions correctly. =)

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Coralreef December 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm

It is wise never to tick off the person handling your food. If you behave like a mat, you will be treated as one and the pattern gets ingrained. This sounds more like an abusive relationship that the abused partner had a hard time getting away from.

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Hellbound Alleee December 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I have to wonder about those quotes around “more important.” Are the quotes from him or from his ex-wife? It makes me wonder if anyone actually said it. I mean, if I were the second wife, I would feel particularly protective of my husband on that subject, too, and would be prone to exaggerate.

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Lerah December 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm

It sounds like this guy made himself the victim. The first year he spent lonely and slaving away in the kitchen, should have been the only year. A simple “I would like to enjoy everyone’s company on Christmas and felt isolated in the kitchen last time. This year lets do a potluck meal.” could have resolved this issue.

Also, why on earth did he wait hours for the sister?

My dad and stepmother had their holiday party yesterday at 2pm. I was stuck at work due to year end reporting complications and unable to make it until 4pm. I called my dad and step-mother at 1pm to let them know I was tied up at work and would be a couple of hours late.

The buffet of food my stepmother prepared was wonderful and laid out at 2pm for all the guests who arrived on time. I can’t imagine how awful I would have felt if she had made everyone wait 2 hours for me to arrive before they could eat.

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Cat whisperer December 19, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I used to be in the position of doing the slaving in the kitchen during the holidays to put a meal on the table, while family sat in the living room watching TV. Then they’d eat the meal, go to the living room to watch more TV, and leave me to deal with the clean-up.

Then, a few years back, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. And you know what? With the pain and exhaustion that brought, it also brought a gift: BACKBONE.

I decided to hell with taking care of people for whom a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder and fries were as much of a treat as home-cooked prime rib with real mashed potatoes, not from a box, home-made gravy, freshly prepared vegetables, fresh-baked dinner rolls, and so forth. Who was I killing myself for? In the end, I was doing it because I thought I should. And any decision that is made because you believe you “should” do something needs to be analyzed for motive.

I realized that all I was doing was punishing myself. None of the people I was doing all the work for really cared, and they never would. They are who they are.

So: I educated myself about dining out options for holiday meals. And I found that I could actually take the extended family out for a nice sit-down meal or buffet for a bit more than the cost of preparing a special holiday meal for them. And I didn’t have to do any of the shopping for the meal, the prep work, the cooking, or the clean-up!

And that’s what we did from then on: I’d research the options for holiday meals out, my husband and I would come up with a budget and decide who we wanted to invite as our guests, and we’d go out for the meal. It worked out fine and literally saved me from agony and exhaustion.

The moral of the story is: when you find yourself grinding away doing something for people who do not help you and do not thank you proportional to the effort you expend, and nobody seems to care, go look in the mirror to see the person who is responsible for your martyrdom. And that is also the person who can put a stop to it.

I agree with admin that it’s important to thank the people who are offering you hospitality. I also believe that when you are a guest in the house of someone who goes to great lengths to prepare a special meal for you, you have an obligation to assist them in the set-up and clean-up if you can and if they permit it. Failure to do so is inexcusable, IMO.

But I also believe it’s important for people to stand up for themselves if they believe they are being unfairly treated. People cannot treat you as a doormat and wipe their feet on you if you do not allow them to. If your family holiday habits/traditions have you dreading the holidays instead of enjoying them, then you need to own your feelings and do what you have to do to put things right.

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Em Leigh December 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm

My family lives an hour away from my grandmother’s house. We were told to arrive at 3:00. But they finished all the food early and called us at 2:00 that all the food was on the table and they were starting to eat and “where were we?”
We got there when we suppose to but they were all done eating.

I feel bad for the OP, he probably was pressured into cooking.

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Shannon December 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I’m amazed that anyone thought it was okay. I’m the hostess/cook in my group of friends, and almost all of them will drift into the kitchen to offer to help, or bring me a cocktail, or just hang out and keep me company. It’s called being raised right – you don’t treat the host as the help. And you definitely wait for the cook to take the first bite before it’s okay to dive in.

That said, I have a friend who will serve the food, and then go putter around her kitchen or clean up for about ten to fifteen minutes. We all sit there, hungry, watching our food get cold, and waiting for the hostess to sit down and pick up her freakin’ fork so we can start eating already. (She doesn’t mean any harm, she’s just absentminded and a bit of a clean freak.) Her boyfriend has taken to just saying, “Hey, babe, food’s not getting any warmer, why don’t I help with the dishes AFTER we eat?” It’s annoying when you’re hungry, but any other time it’s kind of endearing and funny.

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Sara December 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm

“I can’t get over the deal where every Christmas is at ONE family’s place. Unless your family has a tradition of gathering on another day (e.g. Boxing Day), that is so unfair! ”

It depends on the family. My husband’s side of the family always hosts a big Thanksgiving celebration (around 40 people) but they don’t tend to have nearly as many relatives over for Christmas; and both holidays are one-day gatherings so the length of the visit is not a factor. My parents/siblings live 5 hours away and so we always spend Christmas week with them and make it an extended trip. So, Thanksgivings are with my husband’s family and Christmases are with mine and everyone (including my husband and his parents) is happy with the arrangement; spending Thanksgiving with hubby’s family allows us to see more of his relatives than if we were there in December. Our tradition is based on the different families’ traditions and definitely not the “importance” of the families.

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theother hanna December 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm

It sounds like he’s still getting stuck cooking year after year!

I have prepared meals for large gatherings for years now, and there’s no reason anyone should have to stay in a kitchen for hours by themselves. Make those really specialty items for a nice dinner party sometime, but at christmas, learn how to make great food that doesn’t take long so that you aren’t stuck away by yourself missing out on the fun, hire a caterer, or let everyone bring potluck. Sheesh.

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Calli Arcale December 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Lerah: “It sounds like this guy made himself the victim.” Nobody makes themselves the victim. It happens over time. I agree with those who remarked this seemed like an abusive relationship. While it may have been exaggerated over time (this is a second-hand version of the story, after all), it seems likely that he was being used. It happens. Dismissing him for not having a polite spine is not helpful; victims everywhere need the support to grow a polite spine, not yet more punishment for not having one. Think about it: he was punished for years for not having a polite spine, by being shut up in the kitchen while everybody else enjoyed their Christmas. It doesn’t help for us to add to that.

Having grown up in a family with lots of passive aggression and codependency issues, I can totally see how this would happen. One year, trying to impress his new inlaws, who are extremely important to his wife, he offers to put his considerable talents to work. They like it so much that he is easily persuaded to do it again next year. But this year, while they like it, they don’t shower as much praise. Ah, it’s an abberation. Maybe he can do better next year. Next year, they don’t ask if he’d do it, they ask what he’s planning on cooking, and, attempting to be polite, he starts thinking of a menu; this time it’ll be wonderful, and everyone will enjoy it. After all, this is really important to his wife. Somehow, though, it’s not quite what he expected. By year four, they’re giving instructions, not making requests, and everybody’s making plans for what to do while he’s busy in the kitchen. By year five, he’s the unpaid cook.

Obviously, at some point he did grow a spine and get out of that relationship, which was probably for the better. But don’t criticize him for becoming a victim. Most of the time, victims don’t realize what they’re getting into until they have trapped themselves in a web of obligation. It takes enormous courage to break out of that web, because you have to accept that you will be pissing people off when you do so. The key is to realize that maybe that isn’t so important, and maybe it’s about time they were out of your life anyway.

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Huh December 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm

In my family, you hung out in the kitchen with whomever was preparing the meal unless they kicked you out. That way there was plenty of help if they needed it.

With so many blended families nowdays, the reality is not everyone is going to get to spend holidays with “their” family, or even all of it. Imagine if mom has two divorced parents and dad has two divorced parents, that’s four sets of grandparents to visit and there’s no way you’re going to be able to do all of that in one day. Even if you have no kids or partner, if you’re an adult child of divorce, you’re still going to have to decide which parent to go see on the holidays.

I’m curious how would admin or other readers say is a good solution to splitting up the day or deciding which family you visit? Rotating years? Everyone gets a specific holiday? Someone gets Christmas Eve or Boxing Day?

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Emmy December 19, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I think the family treated this guy horribly, but he allowed himself to be treated that way. After the first time of being abandoned in the kitchen on his own all day, he should have insisted on a potluck or having another family member take a turn for preparing meals the next year. If it really bothered him that much, why did he keep doing it year after year?

Did the family insist they wait for the member who was hours late? I don’t blame the OP’s partner that everybody waited hours for the latecomer to arrive before eating. It can be hard to go against the crowd if he was the only person that wanted to eat if the food was ready – he can’t make everybody come to the table when the food was ready. The family sounds truly horrible by not waiting a few minutes for him after he waited hours for them. It’s sad he wasted so many years being their slave instead of getting a spine and enjoying his holidays.

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Cat December 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

You don’t always get a choice. I was the only counselor in an adult education center. Grades were due from teachers on the last day of school-the same day as our Christmas party. I spent the day entering thousands of grades into the computer system while all the other employees were eating and chatting.
Teachers could not do grades early because the district set the date for finals and the teachers had to have time to do the calculations. If grades came in early, the kids stopped coming to class. Adult education is not like day school. The party had to be on a day with no classes so we didn’t have teachers and students coming into the office.
Only two persons were allowed to enter grades by district policy. The principal had to be one because she was allowed to alter grades if she felt the student had been treated unfairly by the principal and I, as counselor, was the other. No principal was willing to miss a party to enter grades.
I never got to attend a Christmas party and felt rather left out, but that was my job and I had no choice.

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Cheryl December 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

First, this would happen to me on one Christmas and one Christmas only, when you are part of a new family, you feel it out and then grow the spine. Once a family pulled the we have finished eating routine while I was fixing gravy that would the only time it would happen and the last time I would have cooked. If any relative or sibling was late for what ever reason more than fifteen minutes, so sorry, we eat or you can heat it up in the microwave while I enjoy my hot meal. As for the ex-wife’s family “being more important” what crap, it is called compromise. Good thing these two are divorced and the ex-wife’s family along with herself sound like major douche bags.

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AS December 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I agree with what @Carri Arcale said.

The main issue here sounds like the ex’s family started taking OP’s partner for granted. It is true that he should have said a “no”; but it is easier said in retrospect, when you can see the bigger picture, than done when you are in it and seeing it unfolding.

I am not sure how much the OP is exaggerating, given that she should be feeling protective about him. But it is good that he got out of that relationship.

I totally agree with what the OP said finally. Be cognizant about the primary cook during large parties, lest he/she feels left out. They are doing you a great favor, and small things like bringing in a chocolate or a drink, or just standing and chatting with them (if they are fine with that) would help.

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jena rogers December 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm

If the ex’s family was really that bad, is it possible that’s the reason he opted to stay in the kitchen? If he insisted on doing this year after year, then the family may have gotten the impression he preferred being in the kitchen to spending time with THEM. There are at least two sides to every story, and I’m inclined to think people are never that black-and-white to begin with. There are too many unknowns to pass judgment on the family. As a reader of this scenario, I don’t know what he insisted on or acquiesced to, versus what part of the situation was thrust upon him. And one of the easiest things to do is talk badly about one’s ex-family. One of the hardest is to appreciate that in most cases, not all was bad and that most people’s behavior remains highly context-driven.

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Cat whisperer December 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Huh asked: “I’m curious how would admin or other readers say is a good solution to splitting up the day or deciding which family you visit? Rotating years? Everyone gets a specific holiday? Someone gets Christmas Eve or Boxing Day?”

You spend your time with people who you like and who like you, and wh0 are reasonable and rational about negotiating and working things out. You take into account issues like distances that have to be travelled, financial burdens, ability to accomodate the number of people, health and age of the people involved. And you come to a reasonable accomodation.

Working things out isn’t hard with people who really, truly care about each other and aren’t hoarding up grievances or “keeping score” to make absolutely sure that they don’t have to do anything more than anyone else, and that they don’t get anything less than anyone else. Reasonable, rational people who care about each other know that sometimes circumstances require that you adapt, and that some years someone is going to spend more time, effort and money than other people will. And if everyone is willing to speak up if they feel something is unfair, or if the plans are unworkable for them, then things work out.

What you have to be willing to do is cut out the people who hoard grievances and stew about every perceived slight and injustice, and who want everything to balance out to the last inch, the last penny, the last iota of effort. Some people are always going to feel aggrieved or shortchanged about arrangements, because that’s how they manipulate the people they interact with.

Do you know what’s incredibly liberating? The moment when you realize that someone in your life is never, ever going to be satisfied with the things you do for them. When you realize that if you gave that person the sun, moon and stars on a silver platter, they’d be kvetching at you because the platter wasn’t made of gold, you are liberated: you can never please them. So you are free to please yourself. Make whatever arrangements you want, knowing that you are giving them the only kind of happiness these people are capable of having: you’ve given them the opportunity to bitch about how inconsiderate you are and how awful you are treating them.

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Spike December 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm

@Huh: My parents are divorced but thankfully both of them and my boyfriend’s parents all live within about 20 minutes of each other. I’m usually tasked with figuring out who we’re going to be visiting when, and I try to take into account various things such as: with whom we spent certain portions of Christmas last year; where people live in relation to other people; whether we have our own transportation or not; and also who will and will not be alone for certain portions of Christmas. It’s a delicate decision, especially when you have such factors as, say, a MIL breathing down your neck for commitments in mid-November. We usually end up seeing my family more since they’re split up, which is fine with me. The less time I have to spend with said MIL the better (my boyfriend is in agreement).

@Cat Whisperer, your advice is great!

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Still Cookin December 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm

OP’s better half got taken for the ride and he let himself be taken for the ride after year one.

We had a very large extended family and turns were taken for all major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s), and they changed a few times until everyone had the one they were comfortable with hosting. We ended up with Thanksgiving. That meant the turkey and ham, relish trays, and a few other staples were made by us [(and I had become the only female over age 10 that could make a pie crust) so we (me) made all the pies for every holiday...] and the rest would bring some of the side dishes. (when going to the other places the pies would be what our family would bring as our share of food)

The kitchen was never just one person, there usually was a minimum of 4 women in there cooking; the kid’s table was set up in there (adults was in living room) and nobody was alone. Some years we had to eat in two sittings as that’s all the room there was; and dishes would be nonstop then until everyone was done and leftovers beat down.

If you were late you ate later sitting or whatever was left over. [an aunt and her pint bowl of potato salad had been resolved one summer, they were never that late again--that's where we adopted the 20 min rule, in days before cellphones--after 20 min we would sit down and eat]

Nobody got stuck with 100% of the cooking or the cleanup. Ever.

Glad OP’s better half has a family that treats him better.

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Stacey Frith-Smith December 20, 2011 at 12:22 am

Cooks do indeed need love, too! Having said that, however, no one can force another to endure ill treatment repeatedly without resorting to brute force. The partner who was so unappreciated in the context of his former family was indeed free to cease working for such unappreciative family and friends at any time. It is a great sadness to think of many years spent in joyless isolation in hopes of love and appreciation garnered from such unfeeling people. Fortunately, his days do seem brighter, now! And we should each practice gratitude and affection to our circles, showing respect and even reverence where due. It is a gift of more value than the trinkets and baubles under the tree, and worth even more than the food on the table, be it ever so lovingly prepared.

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Melanie December 20, 2011 at 3:10 am

Cat whisperer, your last paragraph is pure gold.

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Edhla December 20, 2011 at 4:14 am

This situation STARTED to happen with my brother-in-law and my family, though not to such a ludicrous extent. My BIL is a very good cook and began offering to cook the meat for Christmas dinner. We live in Australia, where Christmas falls in summer, and so the meat is generally done on an outside oven which frees the kitchen up for potatoes and salads and vegetables and etc, etc, etc. My parents (Christmas hosts) were at first very gracious and appreciative and certainly nobody would have dreamed of eating without him, no matter what mistake had happened with another guest. However, he did come to feel that he was not being appreciated, especially when my parents began to stipulate an earlier time for their arrival than was convenient (he and my sister have young children and want to spend some time as a family unit with them on Christmas morning!) so he could begin cooking.

Backed up by sister, he politely made this known (as politely as an informal family can do these things! :p ) and my parents realised they were making HIS Christmas Day revolve around food that they were perfectly capable of cooking themselves (though, I bet, not with his skill.) So they stepped off and peace reigned. I think initially that my parents “gave a job” to my BIL as a newlywed so he COULD feel involved- and so he and my father (who was originally co-cook) could do some male bonding stuff. This gradually evolved into “you’re the chef for this day.”

Though it sounds from the story that the husband’s in-laws were doing this so they could have their nice family day AWAY from the “outsider”, I do agree with others that this is, after all, a second-hand account from a woman regarding the way her husband’s ex-in-laws treated him.

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Edhla December 20, 2011 at 4:15 am

Oh and regarding the late meal- oh my gosh. I don’t know any family at all who would make everyone wait TWO HOURS for a meal because of a late guest or two. Ten minutes, yeah, especially if you can’t help it and phone ahead, but two hours? Forget about it. Especially if it’s self-inflicted by poor time management. Microwaves are awesome!

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Setsu December 20, 2011 at 7:07 am

@ Cat Whisperer: That last paragraph struck home for me. I finally made the realization that no matter what I did certain people in my life were never going to be happy, and I just stopped caring how they felt about things. Other people dealing with these same toxic folks constantly asked how I managed to go home so happy and I said “I simply don’t really care”
They usually responded with “Like it’s that easy” in a sarcastic manner.. but it really and truly is.

My current living situation is me trying to convince my mother-in-law that my husband is no longer the spoiled man-child that left her home 6 years ago, and she does not have to bend over backwards ’til her head hits the floor for him or for me. It’s been three months of coaxing to get her to “let” me help her, but it’s coming along and everyone seems far less stressed because of it.

I think sometimes you just get it in your head that the current situation is how it’s always going to be and you can’t just stand up and say “no” because you think “well I did it last year so they’ll be especially upset if I say no this year”, and that becomes “well I’ve done it the last five years.. imagine their reactions if I say no! I’d better just suck it up and do it”..

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Lerah December 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

Calli Arcale “…victims everywhere need the support to grow a polite spine, not yet more punishment for not having one.”

There is a certain type of personality which will go out of his/her way to be victimized. He/She will insist on doing all the setting up, cooking, cleaning, and then he/she will spend the rest of the year trying to elicit sympathy for how hard they worked and how under appreciated they are.

I am well aquainted with this because my aunt is like this. She insists on holding every holiday at her house. She insists that no one is to bring anything. She will actualy become irate if you dare to bring a bottle of wine, box of candy, or other small hostess gift. She will loudly throw you out of “her kitchen” while she is cooking. Any offers to help clean up are met with “No, no, no! You are my guest! Absolutely not!” while she snatches the plates out of your hands.

She then spends the next three months complaining about how she was up at 5am to clean and begin cooking, she slaved away to prepare the meal single handedly, and was left with all the cleaning after so she didn’t get back to bed until midnight. She explains that with a good and pure Christian’s servant heart she is happy to serve her family, but just so exhausted after…. if only her family understood how much she was sacrificing for them…. No amount of praise, thanks, or offers to help at the next holiday will appease her. What she really wants is to be the martyr. It makes me glad that I live across the country and don’t often have to be a part of that particular drama.

So yes, there are absolutely people who “make themselves the victim”.
The man in this post spent a Christmas slaving away in the kitchen for his wife’s family. He felt so taken advantage of and left out that he did it again and again and again for years. While it is sad that his Christmas memories from that time are so dark, he is an adult who allowed himself to be taken advantage of for years. Being an adult means you have to take some responsibility for your decisions and the joy or sorrow those decisions bring.

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Wink-n-Smile December 20, 2011 at 11:18 am

NOPH – I like your tradition, too.

And I would just like to point out that Thanksgiving (and Christmas) are not about turkey, goose, whatever traditional dinners. They’re still the same holiday, even if you eat balogna sandwiches.

AND, you can eat that Turkey dinner any time during the year, whenever it is most convenient.

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Huh December 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm

@ Cat whisperer: That’s great advice, thanks! That’s where I’m at with a certain set of family members, that they’ll still complain no matter what I do so I might as well do what I want with the people that actually do care about me.

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Enna December 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I think it depends on the cook – come people who can cook like doing it their way: the way my Mum does – but if she wants a hand she will have no problems calling someone to giver her a hand. This is a story second hand however if I was in the posotion of being a cook and no one appricating it I would call people in.

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Lorrie January 7, 2012 at 2:31 am

Christmas with Chinese food at the local Chinese Restaurant. It worked for Christmas story!

Actually, I have had some doozy Christmases with my ex husbands family. His Mom insisted on the Good China, ok. Which was actually nice. But as the family grew and kids came etc, the dishwashing ritual became a major chore. So we asked for a deal. Cater one year and do Good China. Then the next year, we can cook and use Chinet! We all loved Kitchen time, but doing dinner and cleanup was just too much. It worked out pretty well. I don’t know what they do now, but I have to say it was a toss up as to what was my favorite option.

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