Nipping The Family Drama In The Bud

by admin on April 2, 2012

We recently hosted  my son’s third birthday party..a family and friends affair at our house. The party was scheduled from 3-5 p.m. As some family members had to come from a city an hour away, we told them we would have sandwiches and other food and they were welcome to stay after the party to visit and they indicated they would. My mother in law is staying at our house.

At about 5:30, most of the other guests have left and I’m left with my husband’s family (they are the ones from out of town) so I get out the sandwich fixings. I let everyone know to make themselves a plate. Next thing I know my MIL comes over to my husband and says, “My other children would like to take me out to dinner, is that okay?” Husband, rather stunned, says nothing. I mention that my daughter is going to be upset that her grandmother is leaving to go eat with everyone else and she says she knows, but that she’ll be back later. I didn’t know what else to say in the face of such rudeness.

So off they go to a dine together at a nice local restaurant, don’t invite us along and leave us with FIL (who isn’t married to MIL anymore and lives in a nursing home). I’m left with a ton of food, kids who want to know why they aren’t invited and a lot of resentment towards these folks. The people who made the holidays miserable for us because we, due to religious commitments, didn’t spend all of Christmas Eve with them.

I think MIL should have insisted everyone was invited, if there was going to be a party somewhere else, but in any case, it was rude to let us buy food they didn’t intend to eat. (We’re talking ten people, so it isn’t a small amount of food.) Am I not being reasonable? 0317-12

 

Just so I get the story straight, is your Mother-in-law living with you or merely staying with you for the night after the party?   If she lives with you, I can see how your husband’s other siblings would like some time with her.

The main issue as I see it is a lack of communication.   The “other children” are not communicating their desire to have some time with Mom and not communicating that they are declining the offer of dinner by the OP.  The OP’s husband says nothing instead of going to his siblings to ascertain what is going on.   I’m not a big fan of hoping things blow over or somehow we all will grok each others meaning via some mind meld over time and distance.  One has to speak up and say something in order to clear up the misunderstandings.   I’ve seen way too much drama nurtured in a family because of everyone’s reticence to talk about potentially offensive behavior or misunderstood words and voila!  Presumptions are made, offenses taken root and the drama has begun.    Had I been the OP, I would have gone back to the siblings and asked,  “Did I misunderstand your acceptance of my offer of dinner after the party?”  Husband may have asked, “Is there a reason we appear to be excluded from this family outing?  Have we offended you in some way?”  This places the conversational ball in their court with an expectation that a reply is being sought.

It’s a shame that Mom has been put in the middle by some of her children and I would encourage the OP and her husband to avoid any appearance of doing likewise.  Is Mom aware that the other children had been invited to stay for a casual dinner and accepted?  If she was, it is disappointing she did not address the matter with a question or two of her own.   But if there are family members who create family drama because there is only one answer you can give to them otherwise the drama commences, people cave right into it to avoid that drama.   It’s “peace at all costs”, usually they are the ones who sacrifice to keep the peace.  It’s manipulative and selfish which is why I encourage the OP and husband to do the right thing regardless of what the other relatives do.   Communicate honestly and forthrightly,  be gracious when others are not, and never, ever put Mom or the kids in the middle of a dispute as this is unkind.

 

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

lkb April 2, 2012 at 6:29 am

“The party was scheduled from 3-5 p.m. As some family members had to come from a city an hour away, we told them we would have sandwiches and other food and they were welcome to stay after the party to visit and they indicated they would. ”

I can see where this could be a miscommunication. It’s possible the family members thought there would be more food available during the party. (The way I read it, the OP didn’t not put out the sandwich stuff until after the main party was done. I’m assuming that meant the main party was strictly a cake-and-ice cream affair.) The guests may have thought, “Hmmm, not much here, let’s go out to eat.”
Also, “they indicated they would (stay and visit afterward) is a bit vague.” How did they indicate it — “Um-hmmm….” or “yes, absolutely, we’d love to stay.”

I can see where the OP is rather put out by the seemingly sudden change of plans which left the host’s family left out. But it really does sound like miscommunication all around. On a good note, if it was mainly sandwich fixings, it seems that most of it would freeze for later use, wouldn’t it?

Lastly, I can also see where MIL was between a rock and a hard place. She may have felt rather forced to go along with the other children, since she lives with the OP and her husband and the rest of the family is an hour away and presumably doesn’t get to see them as often. Maybe she was even looking to the OP and her husband for “an out”.

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Stacey Frith-Smith April 2, 2012 at 6:49 am

Good advice from Admin! The only thing I would add is that perhaps people who “made your life hell” over how Christmas Eve should unfold don’t need to be included for a 3 year old’s birthday party- just too much potential for drama. Perhaps just have immediate family.

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NotThumper April 2, 2012 at 9:21 am

I could be a bit biased since I have crazy in law drama constantly…but I agree that your MIL was rude. Even if she is living with the OP and her other children wanted to see her they could do that one of two ways, either on their own time when they weren’t visiting for a party, or with the whole family.

What really got me was when the OP told her MIL that her daughter would be upset and MIL replied that she knew. To me that indicates that she simply didn’t care and THAT would really tick me off. If that single statement is any indication as to the type of woman she is then I’d be thrilled with her leaving my presence but to upset my children? No, just no…

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LovleAnjel April 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

“The party was scheduled from 3-5 p.m. As some family members had to come from a city an hour away, we told them we would have sandwiches and other food and they were welcome to stay after the party to visit and they indicated they would.”

To me, this reads as the OP was going to have some cold cuts & bread in the kitchen, not that a full “real” dinner was on offer. My husband & I are always out-of-town guests (we live in a state devoid of our relatives) and if the choice is sandwiches at his Dad’s house or running to a restaurant, we’ll go for the meal out every time. That bit sounds like vague communication.

We will often hook up with my SIL’s family to take my MIL out for a nice meal separate from my FIL and sMIL. My MIL does not get to eat out very often, and she and my sFIL do not get along with FIL/sMIL. FIL/sMIL don’t like it, they complain about it, but sorry the kids love their mother (and the grandkids their grandmother) just as much as they love you.

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Shoegal April 2, 2012 at 10:16 am

I agree that this looks to be a case where everyone is not communicating. Just to be atraight –
The people in from out of town must be the husband’s brother or sister and their family?? Is that right? The brother or sister invited his/her mother out to dinner AFTER the party knowing that there was food being prepared just for them? Mother in law knew that food was prepared and decided to go and inform her own son that she was going out with his brother or sister and their family. Anything strange here?? Obviously the relationship with the sibiling isn’t on good terms if 1. they made your life hell over Christmas and 2. nobody felt it was appropriate to inform their brother or sister of their intent ahead of time. Something like, “Hey thanks for the offer of sandwiches but we’d like to invite Mom out for some dinner just to catch up and visit while we’re in town – if you’d like to join us that’d be great.” Obviously the siblings put their mother in between their dispute since nothing was said. The mother in law should have picked up on this and brought it out in the open in my opinion. Something like – “Your brother and his wife are putting out sandwiches just for you – and we just had a party for my granddaugher and your neice – it would be rude to leave now. We should stay or at least invite them to come.” Like the Admin says – all of this should have been out in the open and it won’t ever be cleared up if nobody is talking.

It may be just me and I know I might be out of line – but I actually found it odd that there wasn’t some food served at this birthday party. I know this could be a cake and ice cream only affair and that would be reasonable with such an obvious end time but it just seems like a rather large get together for a 3 yr old with guests driving in from out of town not to have some sandwiches served for everyone?

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GroceryGirl April 2, 2012 at 10:32 am

If someone told me they’d have sandwich fixing I don’t think I’d interpret that as a big meal that my hosts had gone out of their way to provide. Were I in that situation I might have thought that sandwiches were just some casual thing and if the idea for a big dinner came up I might not see the harm. Of course, I wouldn’t break up the group so that only some people could go out.

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Abby April 2, 2012 at 10:43 am

I agree, Lovleangel, that it sounds like the husband’s siblings weren’t that into deli sandwiches. However, I do think a heads up to OP- hey don’t worry about providing us with food, we plan to go out to dinner- would have been nice, rather than let the OP buy probably $50 of various cold cuts that they had no intention of eating.

Also, it sounds like all the husband’s siblings wanted to take their mother out, so it seems a bit rude to exclude OP and her family. The only thing I can think of is that the other siblings didn’t want to invite their father, and as he was already at the house obviously OP’s family could not just leave him there, so they were excluded by default.

I don’t think the in laws were malicious, but they sound like kind of a thoughtless group.

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MellowedOne April 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

OP, it was nice of you to offer to have sandwich fixings available. You sound like a gracious and considerate hostess. But I believe it’s a universal belief that sandwiches at home are what a person eats when nothing else is available. It’s healthy, satisfying, and tasty meal, yes, but a person will almost always choose something better if available.

Personally, I dislike sandwiches. I’ll tolerate them, that’s about it. If I were your relative, I would have very much appreciated your generous offer, but would have joined any family going out for a meal. I would have honestly been surprised to find you upset with me because you expected me to eat the sandwiches. After all, if you had invited me to dinner, I would have had the option to accept or decline, no?

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Treeang April 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

I’m the OP. To clarify:

MIL lives out of town. We only see her a few times a year as it is difficult for her to travel and we have a special needs child so we can’t travel to her for the weekend often. She was staying with us for the weekend. The other parts of the family live closer to her and see her more often.

We had asked the previous week when confirming that people were coming for the party if they were planning to stay later and if so, we would be happy to have dinner available so they could continue to visit. All families thought it was a lovely idea. So we got a deli tray with meats and cheeses from the local deli, a fruit tray and various chips, etc (during the party we had snack trays out). Not terribly expensive, but $40 I wouldn’t have spent if they hadn’t indicated they were interested in eating.

DH apparently didn’t realize that EVERYBODY was leaving at the time (he just thought it was SIL and her family) and would have said something had he known (he was talking to his dad when everyone left). He did talk to his mother the next day and she said “Well, I gave you the opportunity to say no. I didn’t know what to say when they invited me and not you. You know I don’t like conflict.”

They all returned to the house after going to dinner (to retrieve cars and drop MIL off) and were gaily chatting about the fun they’d had and how they should do it again.

I know we should have been more direct. I’m sometimes slow to do this as it isn’t my family and the last time I did speak up and hold my ground I was accused of ruining Christmas for everyone. I don’t always get the family dynamics (my family is completely different) and end up flabbergasted at what they do.

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Cat Whisperer April 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm

“…do the right thing regardless of what other relatives do.”

This is a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a grand slam home run, all rolled into one.

You are not responsible for the behavior of other sentient adults, but you are completely and absolutely responsible for your own behavior. This is the first half of an absolute upon which all good behavior is built.

The other half is: when you know what the right thing to do is, you must do it, regardless of what other people are doing. This is the other half of the absolute upon which all good behavior is built.

This is no guarantee that all will turn out well. There will still be screw-ups, miscommunications, injustices and failures. Nobody is perfect and life isn’t perfect. The pithy observation “Ca-ca happens” is so true. But that isn’t an excuse for not trying to figure out what the right thing to do is, or for not doing the right thing when we figure out what it is.

You won’t necessarily get rewarded for doing the right thing, either. You can do the right thing and still find yourself at the receiving end of injustice, unfairness, meanness and spite. But that isn’t a justification for deciding to do wrong.

I agree with admin on this scenario: OP should have spoken up and cleared the air when it became apparent that an invitation to which they were not a party had been issued to mom. This could have been cleared up and dealt with immediately. Festering bad feelings and hoarded up resentments are like a rotten fruit in a bag of good fruit: if you don’t get it out of there immediately, the rot spreads; and the longer you wait to deal with it, the worse it is to deal with and the more spoilage will be done.

OP gives the back-story to this problem: “The people who made the holidays miserable for us because we, due to religious commitments, didn’t spend all of Christmas Eve with them.” There is hoarded-up resentment and festering bad feeling lurking here, and the rot is spreading.

So what is the right thing to do? At this point, there definitely needs to be a clearing of the air, but there is also a whole lot of emotional baggage evidently loaded onto the situation. This is where it’s helpful to have an objective, neutral third party help to deal with the problem: a counselor or someone who help to get the grievances out in the open and help all the parties find the way to figure out what the right thing to do is, and to do it.

But OP needs to fall back on the first half of the absolute upon which all good behavior is built: whatever the other people do, OP is absolutely responsible for her own behavior and for finding and doing the right thing, even if nobody else in the family is doing it. Nobody ever went wrong in taking the high road of good behavior and refusing to behave badly when everyone else is behaving badly. And that’s sometimes all you can hold on to when ca-ca is happening.

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German Shepherd April 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I too read “we would have sandwiches and other food and they were welcome to stay after the party to visit” as there would be sandwiches and other food at the party and guests were welcome to relax at the OP’s home after the party. But then again, those may have not been the OP’s exact words to the guests; she may have told them “You’re welcome to stay after the party, and we’ll have sandwiches and other stuff for you to eat then.”

I’m wondering two things after re-reading this: 1. Does MIL and DH’s siblings have any issues with FIL? Maybe they wanted to get away from him and thought OP and her family could keep FIL company while they went out to dinner & 2. “My other children would like to take me out to dinner, is that okay?” Why phrase it “my other children”? It almost sounds accusatory as if MIL feels DH doesn’t do enough/anything for her (making MIL unappreciative).

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Cat April 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm

This is the sort of thing that makes me glad that I am: single, an orphan, and childless.

Sandwiches not withstanding, if you are at a family party and a group is going out to eat, everyone should be invited to come. It is rude to exclude people in such a way that they are aware that they are being excluded.

Example: one of my high school students was drowned. I asked another of his teachers if she would like to attend his funeral mass with me. She agreed and I drove to the cathdral while she left her car in my carport.

We met another teacher at the cathedral. Once the mass ended, the teacher who went with me told me that she and the teacher we had met were going out to eat together. Could she leave her car at my house so they could ride together?

I would have thought she would have let me drive us both back to my house, picked up her car (it was only about 2 miles) and then gone on to wherever she wished to go. Instead she made it clear that they would be going to lunch and that I was not invited.

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Elizabeth April 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm

OP – thanks for the clarification, it helps to understand the situation.

I think your husband’s family was quite rude. Even if they didn’t like the look of the sandwich stuff (which sounds perfectly nice), it was clear that you went out of your way to provide food for them and it was rude for them to snub your food and then snub you by not inviting you. Your MIL sounds like a piece of work – how hard is it to say “It would be great to go out to dinner, but we should all go.” Does she not remember the decades she spent laying down the law and parenting these people?? Your MIL knew she was being rude, and the other in-laws apparently didn’t care. The only thing I can think of, despite them just excluding you and not caring, is that perhaps you excluded yourself from the outset by offering to have food so “they could go on socializing.” It probably would have been better to keep control of the party, so couch in terms of yourselves “we’ll have sandwich stuff so we can keep socializing after the party ends.” Perhaps they considered your party to be over at 5pm, and hence the nature of the party up for grabs afterwards.

Since this isn’t your family, but your husband’s, it’s really up to him to address his siblings (if you and he decide to confront them at all). He could call the one he’s closest to and ask what happened? He could say that he was hurt and disappointed by the way things went down. Only you and he know whether this strategy is likely to elicit an apology and an improvement or whether they’ll dismiss your concerns and alienate you even more. If you choose not to say anything, just be more on guard for this tomfoolery in the future, perhaps by avoiding whole-family get-togethers. Perhaps it’s better to see your MIL on her own, and the siblings’ families on their own.

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Treeang April 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm

OP here again…

Yes, they don’t like FIL. He was an alcoholic when they were growing up (sober almost 30 years now) but both of the other siblings have never forgiven him for choosing drink over their family. DH has forgiven and stepped up to the plate in terms of dealing with his father’s declining health. From my observations and what I’ve seen, they really have no interest in contact with him, but DH feels that it is important to take care of him in his declining years, so we do. I don’t judge how they feel, as I didn’t live with him and I don’t know what they all went through.

Sandwiches are standard fare for the family gatherings where food is served (Christmas, birthdays, etc). They don’t want anyone to go to any work for gatherings. Sometimes we add soup for variety’s sake. So, if they knew sandwiches would be served, they know it is considered the meal. We had more snacking types of food out earlier for the birthday party along with the cake.

Apparently MIL said “my other children” to make sure that DH knew that we weren’t invited. She didn’t know how else to let him know. Later she told DH the others weren’t inviting us because they knew it would require our special needs daughter and FIL to go along and they didn’t want the hassle of a large group at a restaurant with two people who needed extra consideration.

Christmas was a mess due to SIL and her demands for the gifts for her kids (she sent us a list) and the fact that she, as the hostess, decided the date of the Christmas get-together should be Christmas Eve so that it was more festive. We couldn’t stay for the whole day because we needed to get kids home for at least a brief nap and it was an hour drive and we needed to be at Christmas Eve services at 5:00. When SIL told us the date, we told her we couldn’t stay the whole day and I stood firm that we weren’t missing Christmas Eve services (a tradition we are trying to instill in our kids and where my entire family would be). MIL told DH that it was my religious demands that had ruined Christmas because we had only spent 3 1/2 hours with the family. She was furious that I had ruined Christmas for all of them (although we’ve never held the Christmas get-together on Christmas before..usually it is on the weekend before or after). Admittedly I do still hold a bit of hostility as I thought we went out of our way to get to the Christmas celebration (I had a severe car accident two days before and could barely move and we loaded everyone up and went anyway), only to have them tell us we had ruined everything.

I don’t know if clearing the air would help….we’ve tried a few times before and all we end up getting is a whole bunch of “you’re too sensitive” and “we didn’t mean it/think about it/care so much”

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wowwow April 2, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I don’t really understand this story as to where the mother in law fits in.

It sounds like OP told everyone she would set out sandwich fixings and they were “welcome” to stay and then told them where to find the food and fix their own plates.

If someone said that to me, I’m not sure I would think it was any sort of big deal at all and that if we meanwhile made plans to go to a restaurant instead to eat and visit, that would be fine. Nice that the OP said we were welcome to visit, but it doesn’t really sound like a real invitation to me?

Now, however, why OP and family was left out is a little bizarre, but I can’t imagine why grown ups wouldn’t say, “uh, excuse me, why aren’t we invited?” if it’s all family?

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Tanz April 2, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I don’t understand why people are calling this a miscommunication – it seems pretty darn clear to me. Everyone was invited to stay at the OP’s place for dinner after the party (and one assumes they’d accepted) but at the last minute they all took off instead and, to add insult to injury, didn’t even invite the OP and her family. It’s clearly a pointed snub (really, who would turn up free sandwiches in favour of spending a huge amount of money on a restaurant meal? It’s not like eating out is cheap!) and the MIL went along with it. If I were the OP I think I’d rein back any future contact with the extended family.

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NotThumper April 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm

I think everyone is missing the point. The sandwiches are really not relevant. The problem was that the MIL as well as the other guests were incredibly rude making plans in the home of the hosts AND in front of them especially when they had no intention of inviting them.

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Sarah Jane April 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Ditto everything wowwow said. From what OP said to the family, it sounded like the sandwich stuff would be there regardless and the guests were welcome to it if they wanted.

It was rude for the guests not to invite the entire family, and I wish the MIL would have said something like, “I’m here to visit (OP and OP’s family), and if we go out, I’d like them to be invited, too.”

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German Shepherd April 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Treeang/OP – Wow. I’m sorry you had to go through that on Christmas [Eve] and after a bad car accident. You’d think family would be more understanding and be grateful that at least you all spent some time with them despite the circumstances.

I can understand why they want to exclude FIL from outings, but their behavior toward your family on Christmas and how they didn’t tell you their plans to eat out ahead of time show their true colors. You’ve tried clearing the air, but since they want to make excuses, you should focus on family that does care.

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gramma dishes April 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm

OP ~~ Maybe I missed it, but it isn’t clear to me. Does your MIL live with you?

I think your MIL is nervy to accuse you of “ruining” Christmas because you wanted to actually go to *gasp* church!! on Christmas Eve. After all, isn’t Christmas all about presents and Santa Claus and decorations and stuff? ;-)

I’m so sorry that they think your daughter and your FIL are “too much trouble” to deal with publicly. That’s really sad and doesn’t speak very highly of them. I feel bad for you, but even worse for your daughter.

Their behavior would make me not eager to continue to spend time with them. How does your husband feel about his family and their intentional exclusion of his family?

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gramma dishes April 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Oops, never mind question one. I just went back and found your second post. I see that your MIL lives out of town.

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Mabel April 2, 2012 at 8:54 pm

It sounds to me, with the OP’s extra explanation, that the siblings did not want to spend any more time with FIL than was necessary and wanted to see their mother independent of him. Leaving DH out could have been because he has relented and is caring for FIL. MIL may still be upset about Christmas. I think she hit it on the head.

Let it go, OP. There’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t get caught up in their drama.

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Cat Whisperer April 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm

OP, you aren’t responsible for the actions or attitudes of other people. Only your own.

Clearing the air in a family situation that is loaded with emotional baggage that includes a recovering alcoholic family member is not a do-it-yourself project. This is a situation that cries out for assistance of a counselor to act as an objective intermediary. This is also a situation where it’s helpful for family members to know that “clearing the air” does not mean blame-throwing, which is too often what can happen. It means getting to a place where everyone feels comfortable with letting go of past baggage so everyone can move forward in peace, rather than tearing each other to pieces.

My own experience with getting along where there are family issues that have caused pain (in my case, my father’s mental illness) is that you have to accept sometimes that you aren’t going to end up with a happily ever after where everyone walks off into the sunset singing “kumbaya” together after a group hug.

You husband’s siblings evidently experienced their father’s alcoholism and what it did to the family in a different way than your husband did. This does not make them right or wrong, and it does not make your husband right or wrong, in how they deal with their father in the here and now. If siblings choose to not spend time with their father and still feel resentment towards him, that’s their choice to make and should be respected, even if you and/or husband don’t agree with it. If they know that their desire to not spend time with their father will be respected and not be a source of disagreement, they might be more accomodating to you and your husband. By the same token, they need to be respectful of your husband’s right to decide he wants to spend time with his father and to do what he feels comfortable doing.

This can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. It might mean recalibrating some of your expectations: it might not be reasonable to expect that you, your husband and kids and your FIL will be extended invitations that include the siblings that don’t want to be around their father.

There are organizations like Al-Anon that help family members of recovering alcoholics to deal with the dynamics of families that have been damaged by alcoholism, and it might be worthwhile for you to look into an organization like this to get a better grasp of what the family you married into has experienced. It could help you to work within the dynamics of that family.

My dad was bipolar and my family experiences included dealing with mental illness in a way that my husband and his family members have no reference for. This means that in some ways, dealing with family dynamics has been a learning experience for both my husband and for me: we have different references for “normal” within our separate families. Understanding this, and accepting it, is always a work in progress. It sounds like that might also be the case for your situation.

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Jessiebird April 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm

OP, I think I can imagine what kinds of insidious things might be going on, but based on a little anecdote, it’s hard to say. In my experience, when you write the craziness out, no one who hasn’t dealt with “off” family dynamics doesn’t get it. They can’t see it. People who have, spot it immediately. I sense there is something in your gut telling you what is going on, but things seem relatively okay. The most overt part is not including your family in the dinner after you had hosted a gathering. That is not innocuous, however many justifications, rationalizations, and explanations everyone can come up. It’s not just bad manners because there isn’t merely ignorance behind it. There is a motive. And I can’t think of a justifiable motive. So I would say, take this as information. You have a lot of red flags even in this little story. Be ready to start protecting yourself and your family. The posters who mentioned rotting fruit and healing families like this is not a DIY project are right, I think. These dynamics are so natural to the people enmeshed in them that it’s the air they breathe. It doesn’t seem off or wrong and they can do a lot of damage. You don’t say how old your children are, but watch out for them. It’s good for them to know their family, in whatever craziness, until there is abuse…but help them keep their eyes and ears open and their feet on the ground. Best to you.

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MeganAmy April 3, 2012 at 1:00 am

I agree with Tanz. This was no miscommunication. It was rudeness on the ILs’ part and MIL went along with it and pretended that she was innocent.

The siblings have every right not to want to spend time with FIL. But they should have told OP in the beginning that they were not going to hang around after 5pm if FIL was there. They should not have accepted an invitation, and then blatantly disregarded it, and then robbed OP of her guest (MIL), and as Cat said, obviously excluded OP and her nuclear family and made it obvious that they weren’t invited. Rude rude rude on the ILs’ parts.

Maybe the ILs wanted to avoid their father, and didn’t realize he’d be there, who knows. Maybe the ILs just don’t like any inconvenience (a special needs child) or maybe they don’t like their brother (OP’s husband). Who knows. But they should have just said from the get go “we will be leaving at 5pm. Thanks anyway.”

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Shoegal April 3, 2012 at 8:06 am

After more explanation – this was just very rude. The MIL is not innocent in this in any respect – she intentionally and knowingly hurt her son and his family and then claimed she had no hand in that. As it has been said, however, this is no easy fix. The dysfunction in this family is clear – and a professional would have to get involved. Although they sound very selfish – I can understand not wanting to spend time with the FIL if that relationship had been a hurtful one for many years – not easy to smooth all that over either. In the process, however, they succeeded in hurting you and your family. I don’t know how they can overlook that.

I do have to say that you did the right thing by your family by insisting that you attend church on Christmas Eve. I believe that if you don’t look out for yourself – no one will do it for you. You have to make and enforce the decision to do what you know to be right – I don’t care if they can’t see it or if they don’t understand. My husband’s family makes plans based on what is good for them and then thinks that I’m inflexible when I tell them that it doesn’t work for me and I won’t be attending some holiday function. My sister in law always spends all of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning staying over at her In Laws then comes in at about 11am Christmas day and doesn’t attend anything that doesn’t work with those plans. My other sister in law comes in from out of town on whatever day works for her – sometimes she has another party etc – so she makes her plans accordingly. One year, I changed what I usually do for Christmas so that I was available for my husband’s family get together but it made me unhappy and resentful and I ended up fighting with my husband on Christmas because of it. Now – I tell them – sorry I can’t do brunch on Christmas morning – and I am not available Christmas Day because I need to go help my mother prepare my family’s Christmas dinner. I can’t fit in another thing on Christmas – sorry – that is what is good for me – we’ll have to arrange our get together some other time.

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MellowedOne April 3, 2012 at 8:39 am

In reflecting on the OP’s story and the comments of others, I felt an amendment of my earlier post is in order. In an otherwise ‘normal’ family dynamic (or one containing few issues), this story would be relatively minor. However, I feel we are looking at 2 families who are so different that they find problem understanding the other. The OP admits in her follow-up post, “I don’t always get the family dynamics (my family is completely different) and end up flabbergasted at what they do.”

I personally see a lot of the behaviors demonstrated by husband’s family as classic responses to living in a household of emotional abuse. Alcoholism not only hurts the individual, it devastates a family. Family members grow up in a household where the example set by the parent is “self before others”. What happens, quite subtly and insidiously, is that the children of alcoholic parents manifest these same qualities in one way, shape or form. Sometimes it’s a self-defense mechanism, other times it’s because it’s the only thing they’ve known and can relate to.

The OP cannot relate to this. Obviously she is the type to think of others besides self, after all she does care for a special needs child, and she did offer to provide food for the family. I think if makes a continual effort (don’t give up) to understand her family, be patient with them, and adjust her perspective she will find personal peace. She can’t control the others’ actions, but she can control how she reacts towards them.

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LovleAnjel April 3, 2012 at 8:42 am

Not that this excuses the rude behavior, but I could see the other siblings having cut ties with an abusive, alcoholic father viewing it as a betrayal that their brother was caring for him and insisted on bringing him to family gatherings. If the entire rest of the family doesn’t want to see their dad at all, it would be very upsetting for them to have him around when they are supposed to have a nice celebration. They might see this brother as taking “Dad’s side” against them, and thus not wanting to spend time with him either. If the OP had helped her husband to mend ties with and care for his father, they might see her as a part of the problem. She also insists that they leave the Xmas party early to see *her* family for *her* holiday traditions, when *his* family has never spent Xmas with them ever – I could see where the anger comes from. It’s not right, but that’s the way it is.

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Angela April 3, 2012 at 8:58 am

As the parent of a kid with Down syndrome, I can say that not wanting the special-needs kid there because it’s too much trouble tells you everything.

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Cat Too April 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

MIL asked for permission to leave as a facade. However, the way to spoke that wheel is to take it at face value:

“Is that okay?”
“Well actually, no. I have dinner here as you can see from what I’ve put out. We see you guys so rarely, we’d really like to spend the time with you while you’re here. If there’s something else you guys need for dinner here, I’ll be happy to do my best to make it happen.”

Make it clear that if, in future, they don’t want to stay for the sandwiches, they need to make that clear in advance, and make separate plans that may not include her prior to arrival, not as a spur of the moment thing when as far as she included in the time being spent together then.

That said – If they do choose to go – understand that sometimes people need that escape from situations that are stressful for them. Just make them plan for it and not commit her to doing things that are out of the way for her. Also understand that while daughter will be hurt, things cannot necessarily revolve around her, and she should actually *not* be hurt because some of her relatives choose to spend sometime with each other without her. That hurt should not be encouraged at all. It is counterproductive.

On another note – I suggest that people who state that the OP is too sensitive because they were determined to follow through on church services be told that from her perspective, if that choice to leave “ruins” Xmas for the family, then it is the rest of the family that is being too sensitive.

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Angel April 4, 2012 at 11:57 am

After reading all the posts, I have to say, I feel bad for the OP. If no other reason than she married into a family that is quite dysfunctional. And although she and her husband may see it as “stepping up to the plate” to take care of his aging dad, his siblings (and quite possibly the mother too) probably see it as a betrayal. They probably thought they were making a good compromise by coming up for the party, and staying a little while, but perhaps a couple of hours with their dad was about all they could bear. I have sympathy for the OP, don’t get me wrong, but also have sympathy for the siblings. I am wondering why her husband would even want to take care of his dad when he was probably at the very least emotionally abused growing up. I mean, I admire him for doing so and looking past the bad history–but he has to understand that not everyone in his family will feel the same way.

If it’s just because of spending time with the FIL, I have to say, I get why they were not invited. Doesn’t make it right, but I understand it. And the OP should try and understand it too, even though she did not grow up in that kind of environment.

As for the Christmas eve stuff, eff em. Do what works for you! Only they can allow someone else to ruin their Christmas. You didn’t ruin anything!

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Enna April 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I think communication is the best thing as Admin suggested. However if regardless of that people did not think to include others that is rude and thoughtless. Sandwiches can be bagged up and taken home by guests.

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Zebee April 7, 2012 at 10:55 am

I agree that the MIL actions were rude. I am also puzzled as to why everyone did not just go out to dinner together? You would think it would be a great opportunity for the whole family to eat together and celebrate each others company. I feel for you, I have the same kind of inlaws. Remeber to take deep breathes!

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Hmmm... August 24, 2012 at 7:49 am

Honestly sandwiches and a help yourself menu is not enough for out of town guests after the expense of traveling/time and a present. I would say they thought you couldn’t afford to go out to dinner if you couldn’t provide them a sturdy meal so therefore did not embarrass you by offering.

I’m often the visitor and you will be suprised how during a visit you only get a cup of tea after asking for it, let alone a proper meal! I usually eat before I arrive to the house now.

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