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Vacation Expectation

My spouse’s family going on a family vacation every year for one week. There are around 32 people sharing a house. The eight siblings and parents are the main invites. Since the family, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and spouses  are steadily increasing, the family has decided not to invite any unmarried family members.  (To clarify for readers, the LW means girlfriends, boyfriends of family members.  – Admin)

Now, the brother is invited but not his girlfriend and her children. They also do not include these people in their gift exchange at Xmas. This year they  forbid one of their brothers to bring his girl friend and two sons. They felt he should come alone with only his son from his first marriage. He had already told his girlfriend about the vacation and she had gone on the vacation before. She had arranged to take the week off before the family made the new rule. Keep in mind that they had a messy break up last year and have recently gotten back together. Many of the family members do not care for the brother’s girl friend. Because of the bad feelings caused by this “Rule Change” the brother did not come at all. This brother had never missed a vacation prior to the new rule. He is only one of two who is divorced and has to deal with girlfriends and step children. I think this is very heartless and selfish of the family. The brothers and sisters are in their 40’s and 50”s.

What is the etiquette in this situation?

The larger the group of people, the greater the potential for misunderstandings and ugly relationship dynamics.   I suspect there is a whole lot more background to this story than is being given in one paragraph.   There is just not enough information as to how the decision was made (did everyone vote?), who pays for the rental,  whether the main invitees knew the GF had already been making plans to attend based on the prior year’s attendance, what the opinions of other family members were about having someone there who was the reason for some serious awkwardness, etc…..  I’m not sure I can adjudicate these situation accurately with so little information.

My first thought is that no one is entitled to someone else’s vacation.   If a family vacation has been the tradition for years, one can get on some pretty shaky ground having an assumption that a dating relationship is an entry ticket to all of the family events.    Particularly if there was an ugly, messy breakup at some point. Believe what you will but you don’t just break up or divorce the spouse, you end up breaking up with the entire family, in varying degrees.    I and my husband fund the annual family vacation which is a very treasured, high priority family time.  It ranks up right behind Christmas Eve.  I’m not sure I would want someone not knit into our family sharing that precious family time in a way that taints it.  In other words, I think we’d need time to trust that this relationship was going to last before opening up the guest list, our home, our hearts.   As you wrote, Brother and GF only “recently” got back together after being apart since last year….I’m betting the rest of the family hasn’t processed this new development yet.

How was this decision reached?  Group consensus?  Parental command?  At minimum, there should have been some courtesy given to the girlfriend to inform her before her plans were made.    And what of the dynamic between Brother’s son and his girlfriend’s two sons?  Is that healthy?  Could the rest of the family be seeing something the Brother refuses to see and are taking steps to protect the grandson/nephew?   Too many loose ends here to make any determination.   I hesitate to make a definitive statement lest it be done in ignorance of the total family dynamics and my words used inappropriately to justify one behavior over another.

And btw, at 32 people sharing one house, I think it is time to rent two houses side by side.   Most of my friends with large families who do the annual or semi annual family vacation end up renting two houses side by side when numbers get big.   It works out great in that you can put the geezers in one house and have the youngsters in another, people can be housed with members they are closest to or away from those that irritate them.


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  • Mona August 9, 2011, 11:06 pm

    I liked to say this though I’m married and had a bad break up with my husband, and we get back together again, doesn’t change anybody’s feelings, because family always gets involve no matter what.

    There’s no winning or losing here. Everybody should take their own vacation, and avoid all the other. Traditional values are made up and can be broken.

    Enjoy your family, and pay your own expenses. Whom you love and spent it with is more important.

  • Bint August 10, 2011, 7:48 am

    Could everyone *please* stop telling the OP not to go on holiday in a house with 32 people? For goodness’ sake, what business is it of ours? We have no idea how big the house is (they might be renting a 30-bed chateau) and since the OP mentioned no problems with it, none of us has any right to cavil.

    “I’m shocked by how many people would exclude a long term partner on the grounds the couple weren’t married.”

    I could understand that some people may have religious or moral objections to unmarried couples being invited, even though I don’t share them, but that clearly isn’t the case here. Using this as a basis to exclude is awful – if the part about the ‘legitimate’ children is as we think, that’s just disgusting. I could do without the superior attitude to marriage as well. Being married doesn’t automatically make you more committed. Where I got married, if you don’t have children then you can divorce for under £100 very easily. Am I really more committed marrying a man there after six months than my friend who has been with her partner for 15 years and owns a house with him? Please. They just aren’t interested in marriage. They shouldn’t be penalised for it.

  • Heather August 10, 2011, 8:33 am

    Ellen CA, why did the brothers resent the sister for not going UNLESS they actually planned to use her as a babysitter and “resented” her for upsetting their plans. Was that it?

  • Hemi Halliwell August 10, 2011, 8:51 am

    1 house for 32 people? That would create conflict even without the GF being there.

    I agree that there is not enough of the backstory to accurately ascertain why the “no marrieds” rule was created. If they thought that having the GF would be akward, they should just explain that to the brother and let him decide whether or not to join “the family”. The situation with brother #2 about only bringing child from 1st marriage to Christmas is disgusting. If the chilren of GF are also his children, then why should they be excluded? Just because mom & dad aren’t married? It’s not like the children had a say in whether or not their parents married!

    Trying to pick and choose who qualifies as “family” is absurd. My mother was with her “boyfriend” for 25 years (he passed recently). If either family tried to exclude the other because they were not technically married, the would have been having their vacation/holiday/reunion/whatever minus 1. A piece of paper may make you legally family, but *real* family are the one who love you, faults and all.

  • Natalie August 10, 2011, 11:11 am

    Well said, Krista. I had a similar experience with my father’s family (I was treated noticeably different than my same-age cousin because I was born out of wedlock) and it still hurts even well into my twenties. And I know it can be done differently – my stepfather’s mother loved all of her grandkids dearly, regardless of their legal or blood relationship to her. I got a very sweet letter from her when my mother and stepfather divorced making sure I knew it didn’t change our relationship one bit.

  • The Elf August 10, 2011, 11:35 am

    Bint, I do think for some this is a terrible idea for a vacation. I don’t care how big the place is, there is no way in hell I’d share a vacation house with 32 people, especially if they were all family. It does sound like hell on earth to me. I find it hard to believe that all 32 people would disagree with me and think that this really is their idea of a lovely vaction! Surely there are some introverts in there! And none of the 8 children ever miss it? That makes me wonder if this isn’t something imposed by controlling parents, an impression reinforced by the “rules”. But we don’t have enough information to tell.

    That’s why my advice is for the brother to take a vacation that he’d actually enjoy, with people he wants to vacation with, instead of caving to imposed rules.

  • AQS August 10, 2011, 11:55 am

    The girlfriend is lucky – she found out how exclusive the family is before making a permanent commitment. She should take heed and know that if she does end up marrying the brother, she will be marrying into a family that picks and chooses whom they will love.

    The family itself could use a few pointers too. They should know that the minute they invite the brother and not his girlfriend, they are setting up instant bad karma. The girlfriend WILL remember that incident and her children WILL remember her being upset, and that will come back to haunt the family one way or another. The family is creating bad karma for themselves by excluding significant others of blood relatives. It is fine etiquette-wise to not invite whomever they please, however.

    Besides, it could be fun to see what kind of things happen when you get a passle of people like that together. As long as no one gets arrested, you could end up with some interesting family vacation stories at the end of it all.

    Oh yeah, and do I even have to mention that even the most solid of marriages can end? Nothing is permanent except taxes and death.

  • Ann August 10, 2011, 12:16 pm

    I suspect that families who plan “Family Vacations” when the kids are past grade school like trouble. Enjoy!

  • Ginger August 10, 2011, 2:19 pm

    My boyfriend’s family does the same thing and they always say “The More the Merrier!” Of course, there aren’t 32 people, but I think that if a sibling has a significant other that he/she wants to invite, maybe they can rent a hotel room near the family’s rental house. They can be part of all the festivities, beach days, etc…but not take up any room in the house. I agree with what the brother did – not go. He is obviously serious about his girlfriend and her children.

    It sounds like this family is a bit controlling – everyone HAS to attend the vacation? If these siblings are in their 40’s anf 50’s, they should be able to say NO! I’m thinking this control has been going on a long time and the parents expect their grown children to obey them at every whim.

    Forbidding the children of a serious significant other is also very cruel and heartless. If there are that many people inthe household, perhaps gifts should be given to just the children (ALL the kids!) and the adults can have a Secret Santa. That way, no one has to shell out all that money for 32 people. Many large families do this – kids gifts only! Then no one is offended.

    I hope this family learns to lossen the reigns and enjoy their large and extended family!

  • Chris August 10, 2011, 2:45 pm

    I really would like to know who pays for this. If the parents pay the entire bill, they can invite anyone they want. If brother wanted to bring his gf and her kids, they should have found a motel close by. If the majority chooses to define family as married or engaged, then that would be another issue.

    I also think brother’s gf should have insisted he spend the time with his family. I would wager she was the one who was insulted and “convinced” him not to go.

  • Bint August 10, 2011, 3:32 pm

    Elf: “Bint, I do think for some this is a terrible idea for a vacation. ”

    Yes – SOME do. Others don’t. Another poster has already said she doesn’t. Who are we to tell the OP it’s a terrible idea? What a rude assumption – that we *must* be right and the OP somehow wrong.

    32 of my relations on holiday in one big house? Awesome. I love it. I’ve gone on holiday with 20 in one house and it was brilliant. How very rude of anyone to tell me I shouldn’t do that, it’s hell on earth and asking for trouble. The OP didn’t ask for opinions on this aspect or express any dissatisfaction with 32 in one house. Everyone telling her it’s a bad idea is so presumptuous – it isn’t a bad idea per se, it’s simply an idea that isn’t to everyone’s taste and that’s irrelevant here.

    • admin August 11, 2011, 6:36 am

      Bint, if one of the problems is a lack of convivial feelings among certain family members, one solution is to have some distance between them, i.e. separate side by side vacation houses. Everyone is together for the important moments, dinner, play time, etc. but the distance ensures some can retire to their privacy without adding to more tension. In this story, the problem is that due to a messy break up previously, some siblings felt awkward around the brother’s GF….put them in one house and she in another to minimize that awkwardness. The goal of afamily vacation gets achieved without forcing people to get along 24/7.

  • Enna August 10, 2011, 3:53 pm

    @ Chris, we don’t know that the gf had conivinced him not to go. From the sounds of it the gf took the time off for it, the brother may have thought gf would have been able to come.

    I do agree with Admin on this one 32 is a lot to have in one house, unless it is a hotel.

  • The Elf August 11, 2011, 6:51 am

    Sorry, Bint, I must not have been clear. Yes, I could see how an extrovert with a loving and easy going extended family would like such a vacation, and I in no way meant to imply that one style of vacation is better than another. I would find it surprising that all 32 people would be so enthusiastic about it, though. You’d have to figure that at least a few of them would be introverts, and I would wager that most introverts would find the level of activity, noise, and lack of privacy to be disruptive and are just going along with the crowd because they don’t know any different / don’t want to start a fight with the rest of the family.

    There’s a lot of missing information here. But we do know that brother nixed the vacation because of the bad feelings created by this. I wonder if he is among the not-crazy-about-this-idea crowd and this is the motivation he needed to break away from the pack. And further, I wonder if they went on a different vacation anyway, since they both already had the time off. I wonder if they enjoyed it more.

    But we’ll never know.

  • Bint August 11, 2011, 8:32 am

    Admin, that’s fair enough, but you didn’t give this reason in your answer to the OP and neither did most posters. It was simply stated 32 people in one house is too many, and that isn’t quite the same thing.

  • Leela August 11, 2011, 11:20 am

    I’ve got the unlucky experience of being the unwanted SO. Oh, it’s nothing overt, it’s just that his family is conservative and tends to unconsciously close ranks. I’m the only spouse who hasn’t made any grandchildren, so I’m not sure if I’m quite accepted yet. There’s also one member of this family who I don’t get along with, who actively worked to bust up our relationship; if I had to spend more than a few hours with her, there’d probably be a fist fight.

    If there was a family vacation planned, you bet my husband would be expected to go. It’s not said outright, but he’s missed a few holiday gatherings due to distance and budget (and we had a LOVELY time on our own, let me tell you.) As a result we tend to get ‘forgotten’ when other invites go out and this hurts him. So, if we could go, I’d bite my tongue and go— but it’d be just for him.

  • AS August 12, 2011, 2:43 pm

    Lot of things seems to be missing from the story. But I’ll start off broadly assuming the children and all are not influencing any decision. My boyfriend’s (bf) family goes on an annual family beach vacation every year. I have joined them a couple of years since I started dating bf. This year I couldn’t go because of heavy work load and some other messy situations (work wise) that I am going through. BF decided not to join them for the vacation too because he wanted to be with me and not leave me alone when I was going through hard times. I had to go out for a week on some official work, and he decided to meet his family during that time (they had just returned home from the beach, and hence his siblings were still around). BTW, bf hadn’t missed a vacation prior to this time either (we are in our late 20s).
    His family is very close, and they definitely missed him. In fact, he is his mother’s darling in several ways. But they understand that BF is an adult and in a serious relationship, and he’ll make sure that his partner’s needs will be taken care of.

    What I am getting at is that the family in the story seemed to be controlling. As the OP said, it is very heartless and selfish of the family. IMO, the family (whoever makes the decision) can probably decide whom to call and whom not to. But they have no say on who is going to come and who is not. The girlfriend probably knew that brother’s family didn’t care much about her. Yet, she decided to make arrangements for the vacation for him . I think it is commendable that brother decided not to join his family when she got disinvited. It shows deep respect for they have for each other.

  • maggieprincess August 12, 2011, 11:19 pm

    This makes perfect sense to me?

    Why would I want tons of people at a family reunion/vacation (that I may be paying for?) that I don’t know? Besides, some in my family change partners at a drop of a hat, but I’m suppose to spend precious vacation time with these folks? Other non-family members also see this as a chance to get a free vacation and party on someone else’s dime. I’m not going to do that either.

    I have a friend who said at a Christmas party recently, her sister in law brought her current boyfriend–who my friend was forced to buy a present for because she had drawn his name out of a hat. So she had to go shopping for him, spend her hard earned money on him, sit through Christmas with him, only to find out he dumped said sister in law in a drunken rage soon after Christmas. She refused to do any christmas with anyone who was not truly a family member after that. And I don’t blame her–for the same reasons I don’t blame this family for making the “family only rule” here.

  • MellowedOne August 13, 2011, 7:06 am

    I don’t think it’s fair to call people rude or presumptuous when they express their opinion of a story, especially when they suggest what they may feel they would do in similar circumstances.

    This forum constitutes expression of opinion. We are presented with stories that never truly tell ‘all the facts’. To do so would mean information from all parties involved. So, we make do with what we have. And it is an interesting journey of personal opinion. Nothing more, nothing less 🙂

  • Enna August 13, 2011, 10:23 am

    @ Bint, the OP is asking for advice, and as for “For goodness’ sake, what business is it of ours?” – that could be applied to all stories posted on this sight. There are no religious reasons specified – and even if the places is big enough for 32 people which it could like you said why not have a couple of “female” and “male” rooms for those unmarried to cater to those religious opinions? If it’s going to cause real tention and a family fall out then it might be an idea for the person to bow out gracefully.

  • The Other Amber August 13, 2011, 3:41 pm

    Sharing a house with my inlaws for vacation would be my idea of hell. Unfortunately I’ve already done it – twice. And there were only 9 of them at the time, I can’t imagine 30+.

    In my case the inlaw’s culture is that women are expected to do all the cooking and cleaning. For everyone. So the first time we all shared a house I made the mistake of going shopping and buying groceries for the household, then having the audacity to only make sandwiches for my husband and I. The loaves of bread (from the bakery) were on the counter, the meat was in the fridge, anyone was welcome to it but MIL publicly scolded me for being “selfish” and not making food for everyone.

    The 2nd time we shared a house it was actually 2 smaller houses but I still ended up buying the groceries and doing the cooking. Which I didn’t complain about too much (although I don’t like cooking for people who don’t appreciate it) because after all BIL had specifically stated he was paying for the rental because he wanted to “take the family on vacation”. When we got home he sent us a bill.

    So for me, no way on this earth would I spend another vacation in a rental house with the inlaws. Just not happening.

  • Roslyn August 15, 2011, 1:57 pm

    I think that there is more to the story as well. Did this girlfriend do something horrid when she was with the family? Did she get drunk and run around naked? Sure, they don’t like her, but why? Or is it just another family excluding ANY human that isn’t “blood”.

    I too, like Anon, have felt the sting of a in-law family who has yet to welcome me, or hardly even speak to me. I’ve attended all their horrid picnics and the annual Christmas Eve get together pot-luck. For 20 years I have sat there and openly been ignored. Now that my kids are older we three sit and be ignored while my husband talks to the few family members that will bother with him. I have always contributed to the pot-luck (as a Chef I contribute quite well) and if anyone has ever spoken to me I have always been polite and respectful. I’m not blood. Never will be. I’m married to the leg of the family who they openly ostracize (my husband’s father is just about done with these get togethers) so I think that it’s just “them” and not me.

    I don’t even try anymore and I take my knitting. At least I have something to do after dinner until we can leave.

  • Jayn August 17, 2011, 9:55 am

    Leaving out the unmarrieds (if you’re trying to limit size) sounds like a decent hard-and-fast rule to go by, assuming no one is dating someone they can’t legally marry. If you start trying to decide who’s committed and who isn’t, then you’re going to run into judgment calls and potential for other conflicts. It’s not perfect, but what is?

    That they broke up and then got back together does make things a little harrier though, depending on what exactly went on. I’m suspecting some drama among my own in-laws about it, as there’s a similar situation going on there currently (short version–he left her in a way that has no charitable interpretations, so no one but her wants him around anymore)