Dealing With Flakey Family

by admin on March 29, 2012

I invited my sister to my son’s birthday party at a restaurant. She said she could not make the date and proceeded to ask me to change the time and location of the party so that she could attend. I said no, that I would not change the time and place but that she could come by on a later date and give my son his gift. I ended up canceling the party at the restaurant related to all crap that was started when she wanted the party her way. So, the day the party was supposed to be help, right around the time it was supposed to be held, my sister calls me (and my son) and asks us if we would like to go to dinner for my son’s birthday. That’s exactly what I had planned, and she effectively ruined my son’s party. Is this tacky or what? Or is it just me? 0318-12


Your sister is flakey and unfortunately, you are her facilitator by empowering the flakiness.  The way to deal with flakey people is to make your plans after suitable input and hold firm to them.  It’s as if you have to be the firm framework upon which she lean on and cannot push against.   If she cannot come, she cannot come.  Oh, well.  Too bad…maybe another time.  When you host family events, there comes a time when you have to realize that you cannot accommodate everyone and must therefore learn to be content with the guests that do show up.  Otherwise you will go crackerdog (anyone care to guess what literary reference that word comes from?) trying to please everyone.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Barb March 29, 2012 at 7:37 am

Sounds like you need a polite spine. Tell her, it’s our party, we set the time, date and place. When YOU give a party, you can make the rules.


Jay March 29, 2012 at 8:10 am

“That’s exactly what I had planned, and she effectively ruined my son’s party”

Sorry, but you ruined it yourself, if it was in fact ruined. You had the correct answer at first, and then for some reason you don’t mention, you reorganized everything around your sister’s request.


Sybil March 29, 2012 at 8:15 am

All Creatures Great and Small by James Heriot


Phoebe161 March 29, 2012 at 8:37 am

I learned long ago that no matter how carefully you try to schedule a get-together of any sort, someone will have a time conflict. Changing the time around will only cause someone else (or more) to miss the event.

I’ve seen the word “crackerdog” once; it was in _All Creatures Great & Small_ by James Herriot. Herriot wrote that Mrs Pumfrey described her dog Tricky-Woo’s odd behavior as crackerdog. (I loved reading about Tricky-Woo’s “exploits.” LOL!) I thought it was a made-up word that Herriot used, but Urban Dictionary has it listed as a slang word, but no origin.


Jenn50 March 29, 2012 at 8:38 am

I fully agree with Admin on this one. You allowed someone to ruin your child’s birthday by caving to someone with a weird sense of entitlement about someone else’s party.

And “crackerdog” is from James Herriot. Poor Tricki Woo!


CaffeineKatie March 29, 2012 at 8:40 am

O amen indeed, Admin!!!!!! I remember thinking, even as a small child, that my aunt-induced holiday chaos would end if only my mother learned to say “No, we’ve already made plans to do XYZ.”


JillyBean March 29, 2012 at 8:48 am

I’d like to know what crap was pulled… I feel like this story is incomplete.


jehauck March 29, 2012 at 8:49 am

Crackerdog – I believe that comes from James Herriot’s book “All Creatures Great and Small” or one of the sequels – I had to think a bit before it came to me!


Wink-n-Smile March 29, 2012 at 8:51 am

I agree with Admin, in particular the making firm plans AFTER appropriate input. That is, if you want your sister there, ask her first when she’ll be available. Get a range of dates and times from all your must-have guests, and choose the date and time that works best. THEN make the arrangements with the restaurant/venue.

And then, don’t change them unless something catastrophic happens, which would make having the party just too tacky for words. Otherwise, continue as planned and those who can’t make it can’t make it.

Another thing – don’t invite someone to come by later to give your son “his gift.” You may know she has a gift planned, but it’s not the thing to mention it, nor to invite her over for the specific purpose of presenting it. You invite someone for their company, not their gifts. After all, the inconvenient circumstance that prevents her from attending at the time of the party may also prevent her from giving a gift, at all. And you want to teach your son to love his aunt for HER, not for her stuff.


Patti Purcell March 29, 2012 at 9:03 am

After reading your post, I think you are wrong. She did not ruin your son’s birthday at the restaurant, you did, you cancelled, WHY, after telling her No, you did It anyway. If any one cannot come to a event, wel,l sorry we will see you later. I come from a big family, my parents have 17 grandchildren. Sometimes, you cannot just come to everything. Why did you ask her to bring a gift later, I thik that is rude. My sister is having a 1st commuion party for her 8 yr old, and It happens to be my daughters 16th Birthday, so she does not want to share, the day. We ware staying home and doing our own party, no feelings hurt. Make sure If you say No, mean It and let your son enjoy his Birthday.


wowwow March 29, 2012 at 9:09 am

I agree with admin; however, there is always that family member that thinks you are intentionally leaving them out when you set dates and they can’t make it because of work, distance, etc. I’m not sure what to do about that situation because it is wearing on your nerves after awhile and you really do want to see your family and get together with them for celebrations, so I understand the OP trying to please her sister. My only recommendation is to set the date and stay firm–once you start changing it for one person, you gotta change it for everyone else & also maybe not make every celebration out to be the be-all and end-all of life–just tell people “oh it’s not big deal really, if you can’t come, no big deal!” and try not to allow children (or adults) to think that everyone must be there or they must not be liked, or everyone has to be there to bring me a gift, etc.

I knew a woman once that threw one of the biggest parties I have ever seen for her son’s 7th grade graduation (yeah–jr. high) on a Friday evening. She had a DJ under big tents with lots of food and even fireworks that night. Now, if that boy didn’t feel entitled after that, I don’t know who would–and let me tell you, that woman griped about who didn’t come to that for months afterwards. She did not ask for RSVPs, so no one had to tell her yes or no they would be there, and honestly, I’m thinking there were just a lot of people who thought going to this graduation from 7th grade really wasn’t necessary and just a grab for money or gifts and probably wanted to just go to bed after a hard work week. I know celebrations are important, but maybe we think too much about some of them and need to stop worrying about them so much and who can be there and not, etc.


Guardiansthree March 29, 2012 at 9:12 am

I have to agree with Admin. Trying to accommodate everyone just doesn’t work and it’s even more difficult when those someones are family because there alway seems to be an unspoken expectation that you will adjust for them no matter what. While hard, it’s best to hold to your original plans and not worry who comes or not and focus on the birthday boys smiling face. That’s what is so great about E-Hell, it helps us all to stand up for ourselves and not be taken advantage of.

Also, the crackerdog reference is from James Harriet correct? It think it’s from the book series named after the quote, just can’t remember which one 🙂


Lisa Marie March 29, 2012 at 9:18 am

Crackerdog LOL that is Tricky Woo in All Creatures. And yes, we all have flakes in the family and have to be firm with them. Advice I don’t take often enough myself. At least you don’t have to put up with Flop-Bot when they don’t get their way. But then again, maybe you do.


Pam March 29, 2012 at 9:20 am

Crackerdog…. James Herriot! : )


Natasha March 29, 2012 at 9:23 am

From the James Herriot books – Mrs Pumphrey’s peke Tricki-Woo would go Crackerdog fairly frequently.


Green123 March 29, 2012 at 9:32 am

I agree with Admin. If your sister can’t come, she can’t come, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to change your plans, particularly for something as important as a birthday party where changing the date might be inconvenient for a large number of other people and upsetting for the person who’s birthday it is.

I get the impression from the tone of the OP’s post that it’s not the first time her sister has done this, and her actions here suggest she wanted to ‘be the star of the show’. Stand your ground, OP, and don’t let her bully you into changing your plans.


Calypso March 29, 2012 at 9:44 am

Tricky Woo! (actually, his ‘Mom’, Mrs. Pumphery. I’ll leave it to someone else to name the book…


gramma dishes March 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

I’m having a little trouble following this.

Was your sister the only guests invited to your son’s party? If not, why on earth would you cancel it just because she supposedly couldn’t come at that time? Even if she were the only guest, I would still have taken my child out to dinner as planned and if she called at the last minute to suggest doing what was originally planned in the first place, I’d just tell her “No thanks. I’ve (We’ve) got it covered. See you next week (month, year, whatever).”

Or, if you were feeling especially magnanimous, you could say “Sure. We’ll be at Sloppy Sam’s at 5:00. Feel free to join us there.” Keep in mind that something may have happened to her original plans that were out of her control.

On the other hand, your suggesting to her that she could drop by sometime on a “later date” to give your son his gift seems a little presumptuous on your part.


Katie Houston March 29, 2012 at 9:56 am

Crackerdog = James Herriot – Mrs Pumphrey and her peke Tricki Woo who goes “crackerdog” (or as James says “hysteria brought on by over-feeding” – quite a good analogy of what happens when you “over feed” the drama).

Back to post – I feel like we are missing several details. Why did you cancel your son’s party just because your sister couldn’t make it? I wouldn’t describe her actions as “tacky” – rude perhaps, and inappropriate, but not “tacky”.


Aurora March 29, 2012 at 10:04 am

OP, you have my sympathies. I went through the same thing with a relative of mine. We’d make plans, then the day of she’d cancel at the last minute, show up hours late or simply not show up at all. There just comes a time when you have to admit to yourself that the individual in question is not reliable, and stop making plans with them.
Literary reference–James Herriott, isn’t it? All Creatures Great & Small, Mrs. Pumphrey’s way of describing Trickie Woo’s fits to the new young vet. The fact that I remember that a dozen years after reading the book frightens me a little. And makes me want to reread the whole set.


Elizabeth March 29, 2012 at 10:20 am

Wait, what about the poor son in all of this? Did he not get a birthday party because the adults in his life were too wrapped up in their own drama to get it together? Perspective, people!


Cat Whisperer March 29, 2012 at 10:21 am

First things first: Crackerdog, from the wonderful book “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriot, about a newly-minted vet in England’s Yorkshire countryside; “Crackerdog” is the phrase one of his clients used to refer to the behavior of her Pekingese dog.

Second things: Admin is spot on about how you deal with family flakes. One of my husband’s sisters is a very dear person, but she’s a complete flake– never on time, wants every family event changed to accomodate her, just generally very undependable and completely unaware of how her antics can upset other people.

So, my husband’s family just makes their plans and if this sister can come, that’s fine; if not, that’s fine too. If she asks them to accomodate her, sometimes they’ll change things, but if they do, it’s always with the knowledge that she may flake out anyway and that’s okay.

The one thing Admin didn’t really touch on is how a flakey person can totally screw up the family dynamics if they’re not just flakey but malicious. That’s more difficult: the flake who tries to get family members to take sides and who recruits allies and declares enemies among the family can cause a whole lot of drama and pain.

It’s much more difficult to deal with the malicious flake than someone who is just a bit spacey but not mean about it. Sometimes all you can do about that is to limit your contact with the malicious flake, which is usually not a problem; the problem comes when the malicious flake causes you to limit your contact with other family members you care about.

At some point, that kind of situation passes from an etiquette problem to a problem that requires professional help from a counselor or therapist. Unfortunately, some problems don’t have easy solutions.


L March 29, 2012 at 10:51 am

I just want to say that Admin has great taste in literature! 🙂


PurplPngn March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am

Lesson learned. Make plans and stick to ’em.

Now I’m off to Amazon to replace my James Herriot set that was lost in a move many years ago.


Margaret March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am

I agree that you should have carried on with your plans and treated her as a decline. However, your statement, “I ended up canceling the party at the restaurant related to all crap that was started when she wanted the party her way” makes me suspect that she actively interfered in your plans beyond simply requesting a change of time.


Ashley March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am

I used to be one of those people that would cave and move plans around. More trouble than it’s worth. If I set a date and time now, I stick with it.

Unfortunately, a lot of my friends are still people who cave in and change things, which always winds up being more trouble than it’s worth.


Jays March 29, 2012 at 11:41 am

I agree with Admin that the best way to deal with the whole thing would be to just say, “Sorry you can’t make it!” and carry on with your plans.

However … I think everyone’s being a bit too harsh with the OP. Yes, she needs a polite spine. But sometimes it’s hard to get there, especially if everyone else is telling you how to do things. I say this because I’ve seen how DH’s family operates. *Everyone* must be able to make the birthday parties. If they can’t, you change and change and change things until they can. Failure to do this is cause for a good deal of family drama and shenanigans. After all, birthdays are for faaaammmilllyyyy. (insert eye-roll smiley here)

It took DH a while before I convinced him that, yes, we could say “Sorry you can’t make it!” And there was a lot of drama once we did. He’s still uncomfortable with it.

Good luck, OP. Keep this in mind next time.


SV March 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Oh, how I love James Herriott!

My husband comes from a large, extended family that likes to get together several times a year. So here are the rules that have developed over time, as the nucleus of the family has grown older & then had children who have grown up, married, had children…the party is at this date and time. Would absolutely love to see you and spend time with you. If you can’t make it, we’ll miss you and will be sure to take some pictures 🙂 Life gets busy – she can either come when you arrange things or she can’t. It is up to you to stop feeding the monster.


Spuck March 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Normally I would agree with what everyone else posted, but the story teller was initially firm on her stance about the party. Then she also mentioned that her sister was doing something in the background. Depending on that situation I can sympathize with the story teller’s plight. Its one thing if a relative doesn’t show up (I have a brother like that), but if this relative starts causing trouble like getting other people to cancel on the agreed upon date. I can understand where the story teller is coming from.


Lizza March 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I want more details here! “I ended up canceling the party at the restaurant related to all crap that was started when she wanted the party her way” – what crap was this? I don’t get why you’d change a party just for one person, unless said crap also involved relatives and made them cancel/threaten not to come?


Lynne March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm

“She did not ask for RSVPs, so no one had to tell her yes or no they would be there”

I’m not sure the manner in which the invitations were issued, but actually, when somebody gives you an invitation — courtesy DOES dictates that you have to tell them “yes” or “no.” All invitations deserve responses. Even ones for Tupperware-type “parties”, which really of course are invitations to sales demonstrations, but even *they* deserve some kind of acknowledgement.

That said, I agree with all the rest of your post.

@OP — Yes, tell us more! Who else was invited to the party, and why would you cancel an evening together with them?


David March 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm

If like me you read James Herriot so long ago that you remembered seeing crackerdog but not where – when you google it, avoid the Snopes link if you like animals.

OP, I hope that you told your sister “That won’t be possible.” and learned a valuable lesson for next time. As the admin says; ” Make your plans after suitable input and stick to them.”


Sarah Jane March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I agree that the OP does not supply enough evidence to conclude that the aunt “ruined” the son’s party. However, I’m going to give the OP the benefit of the doubt with regard to the suggestion that the aunt bring him a gift later. Perhaps the OP only suggested this after being bombarded with manipulative questions, such as “But WHEN am I supposed to give him his gift????!!”. I only say this because I have been at the receiving end of pressure by the flakey family member to change plans so the gift could be given AT THE PARTY and AT THE PARTY ONLY.


Calypso March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Anyone remember the other malady Tricki Woo was subject to?


Bint March 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I found this incredibly hard to follow. Why did you cancel the party after you had told your sister no? Exactly what ‘crap’ did she start (nice way to talk about your sister there)? In what way is her ringing you to invite you out to dinner any tackier than you telling her she could come round and drop his present off another time?

I am finding it difficult to understand why you would punish your son for your sister’s behaviour. Why not cancel that reservation if you had to, and make one somewhere else?

Your sister sounds like a pain from this story but given your son is the one who suffered from your inability to handle her, I am not that sympathetic.

I am surprised at everyone reading James Herriot! I thought he was well obscure outside England!


Stacey Frith-Smith March 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I, too, fail to understand why a party would be cancelled because one or some of the guests would be unable to attend. Even if the OP’s sister is a divisive person who resorts to wheedling other relatives to intercede for her with OP in order to have the party date moved, it’s impossible for this to happen without OP’s consent. So easy. If you are old enough to host a party and pay for it, the date, time, location, entertainment, food and decor are all within your control. Your guest list should not include anyone who is overly prone to drama. Once someone has shown themselves to be truly a boor, even family ties wouldn’t necessitate their presence at these events. Life is too short to waste on folly.


AMC March 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Oooo, that drives me nuts when someone makes a big to-do and you go out of your way and change things to please them, and then they say, “Why don’t we do it [insert day, time, or way you originally planned]?” It makes me want to pull my hair out!


Kelly March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm

The post sounds like a Seinfeld episode. “I told my sister that we were not changing the plans for the party… yadda… yadda… yadda… sister invites us to dinner but the party is at the house.


Iris March 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Now I’m anxiously waiting to see “flop-bott” used on an etiquette website 🙂


boxy March 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I feel bad for the kid who, based on the OP canceling his party amid drama, is the real loser in this case.


Cat March 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm

It was flop-bottom because Tricki needed his glands expressed.I recall the episode when James took Tricki home with him to let Tricki play with other dogs and to avoid the many treats he was given by Mrs. P.It was a great series and I wish they would reshow it.

I’d like to know how old the birthday boy was. Did he want to go to a restaurant for his birthday? Was it really cancelled because Mom didn’t want to deal with her sister’s dramatics and how did she explain it? I hope it wasn’t, “Well, we can’t go to the restaurant because of your aunt!” This sounds like two drama queens using someone else’s birthday to cause a scene and to make everyone unhappy.

Most young boys want to go to a movie with their friends and then out for a pizza. Older guys may not be interested in anything, but hanging out with their girlfriends. My older brother and I shared a birthday and I can recall not being allowed to go out because my brother wasn’t home and it would be terrible if he came home on his birthday (forget it was mine too ) and I was not there. We didn’t even see him until the next day.


jess March 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm

A few posts back I was the OP and admonished for giving too much detail, the OP here was probably worried about doing that and left a bit out.

OP I understand, my sister in law is a family trouble maker, so is my mother in law. Recently my father in law dropped in to give my son a birthday card. It was a sunday and both kids were still in pj’s at 10am (we are trying to get them to learn to dress themselves without being told, so if they are not dressed they stay in pj’s and cannot go to the park ect.) They were in their room cleaning up (they are 5 and 6) and I was in my study trying to work out their homework shedule for the next week. both room’s doors were open and the doorways are about 4 meters apart (yes unfortunately this is important).

because these rooms are at the back of the house I did not hear FIL knock, so he opened the front door and shouted ‘are you there’ so the kids and I heard him at the same time and went to the door, he seemed happy and all was well. Later in the evening husband gets home from work and tells me he received a phone call from his mum about 10:30am; she told him I still had not dressed the kids and I was not watching them appropriately or paying attention because I was sitting on the computer.

I recently had to pick up my husband from work at 9pm and since my car is not going I had to have his for the day and I hat to pick him up. His mother rang him at home before he left and she asked when he worked ect. He told her what was happening and she started a lecture on how I cant leave the kids home alone it is dangerous ect ect, he told her that was not the plan and I am not stupid, she then started the lecture again.

This is a constant thing in my life, my SIL does the same thing.

I feel your pain.


Mary March 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Bint, I grew up in the United States (I’m 38) and I’ve been reading James Herriot since I was a teen. I’ve read all of his books and also read his biography written by his son. I think I admired him even more after reading that even though he at one point was having to pay 80% income tax (and still having to work despite selling millions of books), he refused to move away from England like other British writers in order to avoid paying the income tax.


SunGirl March 30, 2012 at 12:22 am

I grew up in the US as well, and James Herriot was my favorite author as a kid! When I was in 5th grade, we had to dress up as a character from a book and give a little summary to the class, so I dressed up as James Herriot and carried a little stuffed Tricki Woo. He and Cedric the farting Boxer were my favorites.


The Elf March 30, 2012 at 6:45 am

I think we all have a family member like that! You can’t let someone like that control you, and that is exactly what she’s doing. She’s rude, she’s tacky; but beyond that she’s manipulative. You need to learn to set boundaries with her and let the fallout happen.


Shoegal March 30, 2012 at 7:43 am

I agree that canceling the party – bad idea. Make your plans and be firm. Your sister was not intentionally trying to hurt you but being a flake will do just that.

I have a friend who puts together these little themed parties every once in a while. I have been unable to attend some of them due to conflicts and that’s fine. (Besides the point – her parties are a bore and I’d prefer not to go – but I do when I can to be supportive) If my sister can’t attend – my friend will always changes the date so she can. It is almost like a slap in the face – it sends a message that I don’t care if you come but I DO really care if your sister does. If you arrange a party – just stick to your time – it can offend no one.


Cat March 30, 2012 at 8:33 am

Jess: I have two suggestions for you: a deadbolt lock so no one can enter your house without your knowledge and two, the sentence, “I am sorry you disapprove of our child-rearing practices, but we are comfortable with them and are not open to criticism or suggestions from anyone.” That should be your answer to any and all critical comments made by parents or a sister-in-law, and then change the subject or have a crises that calls you away from the phone.


MellowedOne March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am

I think I got a different vibe on this story than most. I don’t know how others plan things, but if I am hosting an event that could be considered special to a particular group of people, then I check with those ones BEFORE making firm plans. I am willing to be flexible to accommodate the most, it costs me nothing and ensures the maximum number of guests and the minimum number of regrets.

As a side note, it seems as if more and more of these stories posted aren’t etiquette mishaps, but actions sprouting from a lack of emotional maturity.


Angela March 30, 2012 at 9:39 am

Sometime back we started celebrating birthdays by having birthday parties with other kids, and a separate family dinner or just some cake and ice cream where we invited grandparents, aunts, etc. If you have family issues and don’t want to plan the entire birthday celebration around flaky people, that might be a thought.


Amp2140 March 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

I don’t think people read this right. The OP held firm, but something ELSE happened. OP is mad that the sister asked to do something when the original party was to be held, as if mocking that it didn’t happen.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: