1. Julia

    Last October, I learned that where my family usually celebrates Thanksgiving was not an option this year. My sister was having a family issue that caused her to decline and we all understood. My step-mother announced she was leaving to be with her son for the holiday and my father would be left behind. She asked that I make sure he was “taken care of” for Thanksgiving. While trying to plan where to have Thanksgiving, we realized our options were to have it at my husband’s mother’s home, our home, or my dad’s home. Since my husband would be away for Thanksgiving, it did not seem reasonable to ask his mother to host our family’s celebration. Our home is rather small for a big crowd, so the next best place was my father’s home. I talked with my sisters and they both agreed. I called my father to get his opinion and he said “fine, I will talk to (his wife)”. He called back and said ok. I asked that he cook the turkey as he always does and we would do the rest. We made our usual plans over the phone regarding the menu and said we would come to dad’s the day before and set up tables, etc. Well, surprisingly, I received a call from my step-mother saying she needed to schedule time for me to come so she could show me where all the items were that we would need for Thanksgiving and she only had a couple of days she could see me before she left for her trip. I thought this was weird because she doesn’t work and I know where things are in my own father’s home. Anyway, she them proceeded to “scold” me by saying, “You should have asked my permission and next time I would appreciate a phone call.” It never occurred to me that I needed to call her directly as I had spoken with my father and he ok’d everything. Needless to say, I cancelled the event at her home as I could not see continuing with our plan if she was so 0ffended and we celebrated Thanksgiving at our small home (elbow to elbow). The other issue is that my father then declined having it with us and flew with her to her son’s home. Our relationship has dwindled since as she turned this into a “victim” moment for her and made me the bad guy for planning a holiday celebration in “her” home without her permission. I am at a loss on what to do. My father is all I have left as my mother passed away just prior to Thanksgiving in 1997 (which is another reason this holiday is so important to us to gather and prepare the dishes as she did). Any advice? Did I fail at proper etiquette by not speaking with her directly even though I already had my father’s permission and she wasn’t going to be part of our celebration?

    • Elizabeth

      It sounds to me like Stepmom was feeling a little territorial, but from your account she never said “You can’t have it here” or “I am so offended” – she just said, “Next time I’d rather you check with me as well.” That’s actually not so unreasonable. It sounds like you exacerbated the hurt feelings by canceling the party. It would have been easier in the moment (when she brought up that she was unhappy/offended) to say, “I’m sorry, Stepmom, I did speak to Dad about it, but it is your house too and I’m sorry I didn’t contact you directly. Would you rather the party not be at your house? I understand if that’s the case.” She would have appreciated your validating her feelings, and she would have said, “no of course not, don’t cancel the party, you’re welcome to having it here.” But you sort of picked the nuclear option by treating her as if she had no right to her feelings or control over her house and canceling the party without (I assume) talking with your dad about it. (I also suspect that she did not want to celebrate the holiday without her husband/your dad and was happy to get him to come with her.)

      I know in my own family (mine, and my in-laws) that social events and parties are the domain of women. It would be so weird, for example, for me to make that kind of request of my FIL instead of my MIL. She runs the house, and she runs the social schedule. I can totally see my dad agreeing to something like that, but then hear back from my mom later why it wouldn’t actually work.

      I absolutely see your point of view as well. But there’s something else: you are treating the holidays as if they should be exactly like “things were before.” But now you actually do have a new person (with family, and feelings) to take into account. Can you imagine that she also has holiday food traditions, recipes passed down on her side, and that it might be weird for her to eat “all the dishes exactly as your mom made them before”? Traditions are wonderful, but they must also evolve to be meaningful for those who are around to participate in them. I wonder if you have not been so inclusive to your stepmom, consciously or unconsciously, and she’s now retaliating in this way?

      I think this is not an etiquette issue but rather an issue about managing relationships. I would recommend that you apologize to her (even knowing that she shares some of the blame for what happened) and try to rebuild your relationship – if only because women tend to be the gatekeeper to men (I’m grossly generalizing, but it tends to be true especially of older generations), and you will want access to your dad as he ages.

    • Alicia

      You made it worse by canceling and need to apologize. Asking you to come over and let her help you with party prep in her house is her being nice. Asking for both members of a household to be contacted about a party in their house is also reasonable. Your canceling without talking with both of them made you and both of them look bad. No wonder the relationship went colder. Apologize and mean it. Family matters and sometimes in blendig families we need to be careful not to step on toes.

  2. Clara

    Does anyone else feel overwhelmed by social obligations? I work full time and while I do not have children, I have a large family of cousins/aunts/uncles etc. These past few months every weekend has been taken up by Easter, a memorial, multiple wakes, a funeral, a baby shower, and now we will have a communion, confirmation, Mother’s Day. I also sometimes have to work one day of a weekend. My friend who does not work due to personal problems will go into “we haven’t seen each other in forever!” mode and she tries to pin me down on a group outing that I don’t necessarily want to go on. I end up feeling terribly guilty. I have made plenty of time for her in the past, but this is just such a bad time, and she never “lets you off the hook.” I think b/c she does not work she doesn’t realize that the rest of us are tired and feel overscheduled as it is. Does anyone else feel like they are scheduling in friends months ahead of time?

    • Cyra

      Hi Clara,

      I totally understand the frustration about having to schedule friends months ahead of time. Just yesterday I made dinner plans with a cousin of my husband’s for late June! I think, though, that this is just one of those instances when we must live with our choices. We also have large families and we are trying to learn to feel ok with not going to every single thing we’re invited to. It’s hard, because our families are important, but we realize that we need to invest in our non-familial relationships as well. Fortunately, etiquette does allow us to decline invitations and sometimes that is just necessary.

      Agreeing to outings and events that you don’t want to be part of are not going to solve anything. You’ll just be wasting everyone’s precious time! I would suggest answering that friend with some version of, “I know! My schedule’s a bit tight right now, but let’s get something on the calendar for….”

      I’m finding also that little notes–even emails–go a long way in showing your friends and family that they are on your mind and important to you when you’re not able to spend a lot of time with them.

    • Alicia

      Months in advance or last minute all the time. Nothing wrong with saying no thanks to an invite. For friend she could be missing you. If you two are close and you miss her too can you get together on a weeknight or even something mundane. One of my friends and I who are both very over-schedualed got to the point where we get together once every two weeks and as lame as this sounds chat and take a walk on a weekday evening

      • Joanna

        It may also help to remember that getting together doesn’t always have to be a huge ordeal. For instance, I often meet my best friend for a quick supper or even just a cup of coffee at the diner about halfway between our houses (we live 30 minutes’ drive apart). That way, we feel we’ve seen each other and get to catch up in person, but it’s not too much effort and we’re done in two hours, travel time included. In my way of thinking, it’s better to schedule more frequent little get-togethers, rather than one bigger one, but only every few months.

        Also, my close friends and I often get together at one another’s houses on a Friday or Saturday night just to watch a movie and enjoy a few simple snacks. It’s not terribly time-consuming, and it’s also conducive to many of our special needs (I have lupus and fibromyalgia, meaning I am often in pain and get exhausted if I try to overdo things; two married friends have varying work schedules and often don’t get to see one another during the week very much; another couple has a young daughter, etc.)

        So, sometimes it can just be a matter of reconfiguring the plans into something that works better for you, you know?

  3. Kendra

    It’s often schedule or flounder. I know it feels insane (and the ludicrous aspect can be a jovial bonding point for you two) but it also means you’re making her a priority and have something great to look forward to. It’s also really ok to tell your friend that you’re feeling a lot of pressure to make it all happen. She may surprise you and offer to augment the problem by backing off for a bit or try running errands together!
    I agree that texts and emails when she crosses your mind and makes you smile, can make a huge difference. Life is about boundaries so you never regret or resent a moment. Good luck, busy bee! It’s a blessing to have so many loved ones you have to color code your planner!

    • Clara

      I really appreciate all the responses and will use your suggestions. Guilt is my middle name. Most of my friends will throw out some dates and say “let me know what works for you!” This friend just doesn’t (although if she isn’t feeling well she won’t think twice about canceling). Even when you are sick she just acts so disappointed about the plans being canceled that I dread having to make the decision. Thank you so much!

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