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Home » The Vine

The Vine: December 3, 2014

Submitted by on December 3, 2014 – 10:30 AM37 Comments

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When I was young I lived in a family where, at Christmas, the children each received a few somethings, and each adult received something nice and thoughtful.

Dinner was completely cooked by my mother, and all were welcome to bring additions if they wanted. Good conversations happened. The food was divvied up afterwards and all left with feelings of happiness and goodwill. I have now moved halfway across the country and into in-law…well, not hell, but uncomfortable-ness.

My brother-in-law and his wife moved back home (he's in his 40s) with their children (Irish triplets) who are all under age three. He is an artist, she is unemployed, letting her CNA license expire because she doesn't trust anyone else with her children. The matriarch of the family is effectively crippled, being unable to leave the house except in a scooter (so stairs are impossible) and the patriarch of the family is grumpy all the time and emotionally distant. We live 10 miles away from them in the same very small town.

In previous years when we have showed up for Thanksgiving with food, we were met by a turkey defrosting on the kitchen cabinet, dripping juices all over the floor and other foods. I attempted to clean the kitchen (a hazmat suit would have been appreciated), at which time Matriarch continued to send my daughter in demanding that she get a cup of coffee for her. When I said that I was cleaning for ten solid minute and anyone in the kitchen could help if they wanted to stay, and that Matriarch could wait for the coffee, she came in herself, and the wheels of her scooter left trails of turkey juice out into the living room and beyond. I then cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, three days before Thanksgiving, I was called with a list of sides I was expected to make at my house and bring to their house, including (but not limited to) appetizers, mashed potatoes, rolls and two kinds of pies for dessert. We showed up, laden with food. (We spent approximately $150 on cheeses and other ingredients.) Both a ham and a turkey were cooking when we got there. The turkey was way overcooked but the ham was delicious. (I know I sound rude, but really, I was a gracious guest and I helped with dishes and clean-up and corralling kids and only mentioned how good the food was.)

While I was helping to clean up, I noticed that the wife was only cleaning up the food I had brought, and she was cleaning it up right into their fridge. (I was doing dishes at the time.) Then she took all of their food, broke it down, and put it into their fridge. We were not offered any of the leftovers. (Which feels really petty, even as I write it, but it just felt really rude as there was a huge cheese log I had purchased and it was swept into their pantry and was never even remarked on…I love cheese logs…)

This year, Wife has called with a list of things that I need to bring to Christmas dinner. I informed her that I could only bring some things. The items she was requesting would take quite awhile to prepare, I work, I don't have the time to make an apple pie from scratch, etc. I said that I could only do a few things, and she got huffy about all the cooking she is going to have to do in addition to cleaning the house. (All of the people living in this house are hoarders, there are four bedrooms, and only two of them are usable as bedrooms…which is seven people living in two bedrooms. The father sleeps on the couch in the living room while watching TV.) I eventually agreed to "appetizers" which I'll probably passive-aggressively "forget" to make, rolls, pumpkin pies, ranch dips, and I'm to purchase (emphasized that I'm to buy it) a veggie tray, chips and dips.

I've attempted to invite them to my house for holidays before, and Matriarch literally bursts into hysterical sobbing because she can't go up stairs. The Patriarch gets mad at me for upsetting the Matriarch. We've already stopped my daughter from going out there because I found that there was no bed for her; she was sleeping in the living room on a different couch. They get upset that we don't bring her out to visit, but the house is so horrible, both loud (they all communicate by screaming at each other in frustration) and messy/dirty, that we're miserable when we go out there, but any time we go out there now, they guilt-trip us about coming out more often. Right now we say that we are busy with work, which is true.

I'm not really sure what my question is…maybe just a request for outside insight on ways I can handle this better? We've considered flying to a different location for the holiday just so that we can have a quiet Christmas that is just about our family, not about theirs…

My husband and child feel the same way I do, we just don't know what we can do to change the family dynamic.

Am I the family Grinch?

Dear Grinch,

First of all, look at the positive here, which is that your branch of the family tree is in agreement that the current situation is annoying. If your husband were like, "…What?", then you'd have a bigger problem. As it stands, you still have a problem, but it's that you do keep trying to change the situation, thinking that they might learn from your sanitary and generous example, or that you can passive-aggressively shame them into acting right, or that they'll figure out one day that they should clean up, or behave graciously, or offer to send home extra food with you, or whatever it is that doesn't happen that should.

But…you know. There's what should be, and there's what is. You don't actually "have to" go over there at all. You don't have to make Matriarch's overreaction, or Patriarch's blaming you for making him interact emotionally with his wife, your problem; I don't know the layout of your house or front yard, but I'm assuming it's not completely impossible to get Matriarch onto the ground floor of your domicile, where she'll eat and have access to a powder room, for one day. If you make a few adjustments, arrange to carry her and her scooter inside, whatever, and she's still not about it, well, then you're done.

Because your husband is done, your kid is done, and it's time for you to be done too. You already put your foot down about your child sleeping on a mungy couch in a hoard; you can put your foot down about cleaning up, too. If you get there and the kitchen is gross, point that out, and leave. Better yet, announce that you can't make it to Christmas this year, without giving any specifics or making any promises. "I'm sorry, we won't be able to come this year." "I'm sorry, that's not convenient for us." "I'm sorry, my allergies won't allow me to do that." I know it's easier said than done, but once you have done it a few times, it gets easier.

Like I said, the problem here isn't really your in-laws, although they sound rude and grimy. The problem is that you put up with it. You spend the money on the appetizers; you eat the dried-out bird; you clean the grotzky kitchen. And because you do that, the in-laws understand that they can act a collective fool and you'll keep coming around and bringing cheese and not asking to take any home. So: stop doing that stuff, is A. B, start your own traditions as a little family, and emphasize to the in-laws that fact — that they're welcome to join, to the extent they're able and willing, but this family is in fact its own discrete unit and you do want to have annual holiday celebrations and ceremonies that belong to you guys. Make it "we're doing this awesome thing" instead of "we're not doing the same aggro shit we've had to put up with in years past."

They're not going to like it. You have to be okay with that. You can do things your way, clean, quiet, on the stairs; or you can have everyone like you. For my money the cost of the latter is too high, and if you want anything about this dynamic to change, you will have to change it, specifically by subtracting yourselves from it and going to Hawaii. Or, hell, tell them you're leaving town, draw the shades, park the car around the block somewhere, and have a secret spy-cation.

But understand that the in-laws won't change at this point, because you've made it very comfy and free-foody for them not to bother. Design your own ideal holiday and work towards that; if they can't hang, that's on them.

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37 Comments »

  • IsisUptown says:

    We're doing our "own" Xmas this year, even though we have a lovely meal we could attend. So, yeah. Invite the in-laws or do your own.

  • Sue says:

    Fully agree; if your branch of the family tree is willing to go somewhere else for the holidays or have your own party, do it. It will get easier to say no after the first few times, and you will feel much better as a result.

    My more recent memories of certain family gatherings on my father's side are basically why we choose to spend certain holidays with my mother's side of the family. The mental relief is huge, and our enjoyment is much higher.

  • Marian H. says:

    I'm adding to the call for your own holiday. It sounds like you're feeling guilty about the idea of bailing on the in-laws, but it also sounds like you've tried to make this work on their terms and it's only made you miserable.

    After a particularly unpleasant visit home to my family three years ago, my husband and I called it quits and said we were going to do our own thing in December. To their credit, after the no-show Christmas my family got the message and has scaled back their unreasonable expectations of us at holidays. I can't promise that will be your outcome, but even if my family hadn't wised up, the stress-free holiday was SO worth it.

  • BLC says:

    Is it possible to travel to your own family's healthy holiday celebration that you described at the beginning of your letter (assuming it is still being held)?

    I think it would be easier to explain to your in-laws without major confrontation, just "we're spending Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter with my family this year, they've been asking us to for a while/we don't get to see them as often as you" or whatever works best.

    In our situation, neither spouse's family likes to be the one who misses out on a holiday, but everyone understands it's fair to have a rotating holiday schedule from year to year.

  • cv says:

    Based on the description, spending holidays with these people sounds pretty miserable. However, there's a certain tone coming through in the letter that I find a little off-putting: pointing out that the brother's kids are "irish triplets" (which has negative connotations to some people) rather than just that they have three young kids, saying that the sister-in-law is unemployed rather than that she is a SAHM, judging her reason for choosing to stay home with her kids, seeming annoyed that the mother-in-law is "crippled" (not a word most people use anymore), finding it inappropriate that the mother-in-law was saddened by the idea of the family holiday being held somewhere that she couldn't attend (I'm assuming – otherwise the reaction is pretty odd), etc.

    I wouldn't want to spend time in a dirty, loud, crowded house for the holidays, either, but I wonder if there's some underlying class or culture clash here that's hindering good relations and that the letter writer might want to think through. I'm assuming that if there are 7 people living in a 4-bedroom house that there are some financial constraints, and the relative financial position of the various parties may be playing into the feelings and actions on both sides about food contributions, leftovers, etc.

    Is the problem here the negotiation around food contributions, or is it that you just fundamentally don't like your husband's family?

  • Shannon says:

    About two years into my first marriage it dawned on me that my husband became a complete assbag generally in the week of and after a holiday. After having (GROSS) holiday meals with his family, I understood the deal. His family has a distinctively dysfunctional approach to life day to day and special occasions only amplified it. At the time his family was 10 minutes in one direction and mine was 10 minutes in the other direction so it was easy to make other plans or do our own thing. His family got an hour on Thanksgiving and if they could stay sober-ish that long an hour on Christmas Eve. And that was it. Hi, bye, how is everyone? Oh look at the time, we must going. Somewhere else, anywhere else. It IS easier said than done but after the first time, it got much easier and of course husband was on board with it so that made it a non-issue for us as a couple.

    Good luck to you and your family; the first time is the hardest but you can't worry about the feelings and (dis)comfort of people who aren't willing to consider yours.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Definitely do your own. They know they live in a horrible way, they aren't going to change for whatever reason. There is no cheese log in existence that will make it so.

    There's no way for them to like you because they don't like themselves, and let's face it, you don't like them either. Put up your own tree, roast your own turkey in your clean kitchen, extend a gracious hand, and you're done.

  • ferretrick says:

    I have another suggestion, if you think Thanksgiving at your house Will Not Fly. (And, I have to say-if your house isn't handicap accessible with NO stairs required to enter it and equipped with a 1st floor bathroom, your MIL has a legitimate problem and you should not insist on that). But you could try suggesting Thanksgiving at a restaurant. More and more are open on Thanksgiving day and offer the whole dinner with all the trimmings. That way it's on neutral territory and that might go down easier than "my house or we won't have Thanksgiving with you at all." And no one has to cook. Just tip your server generously for working on the holiday.

    But, whatever tactic you use, it comes down to what Sars said. You and your husband and daughter have to make a choice between having the holiday you want and feeling good about it, or sucking it up and putting up with theirs to whatever extent you can tolerate. Note that even if you choose option B, you can still put reasonable limits on it through the wonderful phrase "I'm afraid that won't be possible." i.e. "No, I'm afraid it won't be possible for me to make all that food. I can make X and Y, but not A, B, C, all the way down to Z." Don't give reasons, just repeat as needed.

    Cut your sister off at the pass with the cleanup. Bring your own cheap storage containers (saving the ones from Chinese restaurants is great for this purpose) and start divvying up the leftovers equally. SIL bitches? "I'm sorry; I'm afraid it won't be possible to give you all of this food THAT I MADE." SIL manages to get to it first and puts it in the refrigerator? Take it back out and divide it anyway. *Cue screaming* "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I've already planned this for another meal. I can give you X amount, but that's all." Etc., etc.

    It comes down to-decide as a family in advance what boundaries you can live with, then set them, and do not deviate. Think of it as teaching your daughter a good lesson about being gracious while still standing up for yourself.

  • JenV says:

    Not to defend these people, because they sound awful, but regarding the leftovers thing: unless you were leaving immediately, doesn't it make sense for all the food to go into the fridge until further notice, instead of sitting out? Aside from that, I don't think you need permission to take some of your own food home. Shortly before leaving, I would have matter-of-factually stated that I was packing up some leftovers of the things I had brought, as though it wasn't even a question. And then maybe started wheeling and dealing: "So if I leave you half of these mashed potatoes, can I take home some of that delicious ham?" etc. At that point if the wife had refused, she would have been the one to look like a jerk.

  • JenV says:

    For the record, "matter-of-factually" was a spellcheck accident. I know it's "matter-of-factly."

  • Beth C. says:

    I agree with Sars, even if you just try it out for one year, do your own thing this Christmas. I normally don't encourage lying to family just because, well, a) you shouldn't have to and b) it's just not great to set up that dynamic and then you all have to remember your cover story but in this specific case a little while one might help ease the blow up and make you feel better about the whole thing. Just tell them the day before (or so) that one of you has the flu and so all of you can't make it. No one can get pissed at you for not showing up if one of you is puking. This way you have an easy out this year, you can try the on your own thing, and if you love it you have opened the door to NEXT year saying "We really loved having the whole 'Christmas at home' last year, I think we're going to do it again. You guys are welcome to join us, but if you don't want to we totally understand…"

    Then, if you do want to get a little of the family time in you can pop by and drop off gifts and such a week or two later so it's informal, low maintenance, and SHORT but you still at least get to say hi and give hugs.

  • Meri says:

    One of the reasons I loved Christmas growing up is it was always just immediate family- Mom, Dad, my sister and me. Thanksgiving was the big family event at my grandparent's house; they weren't anywhere near what you describe, but there was always some tension, while Christmas was nice and peaceful.

    Call them, say "We're just doing a small family dinner at home this year. Merry Christmas!" Hang up the phone, and have the dinner you want.

  • BahHumbug says:

    Grinch, Sars is so very right (as usual).
    I don't have any of your good health/sanity reasons for not participating in my family's holiday celebration, but I haven't joined in for years. It was hard for the first couple of years – lots of my mom's patented Sad Face while I muttered about not being able to get away from work – but it got easier after a while, and she no longer expects me.
    Establishing boundaries with family is hard, and enforcing them is harder, but the rewards are worth it. I hope you can fashion a holiday that is happy and healthy and fun for you and your little family unit. Good luck!

  • Jenny says:

    One thing that my parents did was make sure that both of their families knew that having a real holiday with just them and their own kids.

    I think this caused some hurt feelings and probably caused our family not to be as close to some of our cousins. But it did eliminate problems like that. Just this year, we skipped the extended family Thanksgiving.

    So I think you could easily get out of it by saying that it is important to us that we have our own Christmas traditions, so we won't be able to make it this. Then offer to come celebrate a few weeks before or after and offer to pick up takeout.

    But as far as the 'mom makes the food and everyone brings the leftovers home' part goes—some of that is just how other families celebrate.

  • OneoftheJanes says:

    Grinch, I'm thinking about the fact that you started this out with a rhapsodic description of family holidays of your youth, which didn't initially to me relate to the problem you're asking about.

    But maybe it does; maybe this is also about attempting to recreate those holiday experiences and how much hard work you put into this effort without getting that success or even cooperation. Which puts me right where Sars is if in a slightly different framing: it's time to stop trying to make Holiday B (in-laws) become Holiday A (youth) and to forge ahead to create Holiday C (cool meaningful loving holiday experience you create anew for yourself).

  • Kimber says:

    I think that I was lucky in that my parents always made Christmas about our own little family unit. Some of it was imposed by location (Mom's family was in NC, we lived in MN), some of it was sheer volume (family in MN was ginormous and had a separate get-together at another time). Anyone who wanted to was welcome to stop by – when they were alive, Grandma and Grandpa would usually be there, various people would spend an hour here or there and, if someone had no where else to be, they were invited to join. But, the holiday itself was about the four of us. So, think of it as starting a wonderful tradition for your child. If the others want to be peevish and miserable, that isn't for you to own. Happy holidays!

  • B says:

    Even the urban dictionary thinks the term Irish triplets is derogatory. You already said she has three under three, why make a rude comment about it? You lost me there TBH.

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=irish%20triplets

    Full disclosure: my sis has three under 3. The twins came as quite a surprise. And her husband is Irish.

    Also, everything cv said.

  • mspaul says:

    I have to disagree on "Irish triplets/twins" being derogatory. The first time I ever heard the term was from my 100% parents-grew-up-in-Ireland Irish sister-in-law, describing her own two children who were born less than a year apart. She certainly didn't seem to think it was a slur.

  • esttelle says:

    If you're already cleaning the kitchen and cooking dinner, what's the big deal with not getting the lady a cup of coffee while she waits?

  • Kathleen says:

    Dear Grinch,
    By all means, make plans to visit your family and to travel. I would not cut this family off completely, but you can reduce your exposure to them. Go over a few days before Thanksgiving, and bring turkey sandwiches and a pie, for example. finding a way to spend time and acknowledge them without torpedoing your holiday.
    One of my dear childhood friends had parents who were somewhat hoarders. ( Her dad spent some years in POW camp) My friend's house is quite clean and tidy. Those cousins may grow up to be quite different.
    I'm guessing that things weren't as bad as all this when your husband was a kid. This must be painful for him. There are several books about dealing with hoarding relatives. Go to any book site and do a topic search on hoarding. Reading a few of those might be helpful for him. Mother in law actually sounds a little agoraphobic too. If your daughter is old enough, at some point explaining mental health issues may help. "Some people in my family have a problem" feels a lot better than "some people in my family are bad…"
    the good part is that your immediate family is in agreement. Now you just need to make a plan and go. good luck!

  • Anon says:

    Something stuck out to me that hasn't been mentioned yet: these people, or some of these people, made the decision to have your daughter sleep in the same room as an older, male relative (couldn't tell from your description if it was her uncle or grandpa but either way). That seems like a bigger boundary violation than anything else you listed. I know that families can have different levels of comfort with nudity, physical affection, etc, but I consider it giant red flag if there are a lack of concern about sleeping arrangements for the kids. I definitely think it's time to set some hard boundaries here, and maybe not regret so much if these people don't like you for it.

  • D says:

    I completely agree with the advice to make the holiday your own, and don't feel badly about it, and don't let anyone guilt trip you about it. We are in a similar situation (nasty personality conflicts in my case). We decided after last year that we were not putting ourselves through misery again, and made it clear that this year we are doing our own thing. It has been such a relief knowing we don't have to deal with their BS this year. Best decision ever.

    We did set up an alternative day to celebrate and exchange gifts, but it is lower key, and less involved, and… I dunno. I don't look forward to it, but I don't mind dealing with them as much on the non-holiday. I guess it is because there is so much emotional energy tied up in the holiday – I resent having to be unhappy on Christmas far more than I do on some other random day.

    One additional thought: consider asking your husband to be the one to tell his family y'all are doing something different this year. There will be hurt feelings; matriarch is more likely to take it better from her son than her daughter-in-law.

    Make the decision now; don't wait til last minute, and don't lie about it. All y'all have to say is, "you know, we love you all, but this year we have decided we need a quiet Christmas at home, just the three of us." And stick with that.

    Good luck! And, hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas no matter what decision you make.

  • B says:

    Fair enough, but the way the OP uses it seems judgemental :-/

  • Missicat says:

    Grinch? Not at all – personally I think you deserve a medal for putting up as much as you do. If I saw turkey juice being trailed into other parts of the house by a scooter I would have been out of there so fast I would have left a cartoon cloud of dust behind me.
    Also, I am an Irish triplet – have a twin sister and a sister 11 months younger. Have never in my 50 years thought it was a derogatory term.
    Make other plans. Don't feel guilty, life is too short.

  • attica says:

    The last thing I would want in your sitch, Grinch, is to have my daughter come to see this kind of holiday dysfunction as normal, which, kids being adaptable, is really possible. So I'd be motivated to changed the celebrations pronto if not faster.

    I agree with Sars. Don't go anymore.

    If there is an obligation to the family, it has already been met. Your dues are paid. Furthermore, they aren't renewable annually, as it turns out. You are entitled to surround yourself with people who love and value you, you are entitled to eschew the company of those who don't. Simple as that.

    And when they try to guilt you with cries of "…but Faaaaaaamily," you can remind yourself that you've got one of those, right at home. Celebrate the holidays there, or remove yourselves to points exotic — lots of other people do that (hi!), so you're not exactly a Freak of Nature by doing so.

  • patricia says:

    On one hand, the hygiene issues sound awful. And the people sound kind of rude. I don't blame you for wanting to do your own thing, and absolutely you should do that, especially since your husband and child are on board. Just go and do, and have no guilt. Stop by for pie afterward if you must.

    But…I'm going to agree with B and cv. There's definitely A Tone that makes me wonder whether you, Grinch, are responding to your in-laws as different from your family, and interpreting that difference as rude, when it isn't necessarily. For example, dividing cooking duties among various participants isn't rude; it may be that's how it's done in your husband's family, as opposed to yours, where your mom does all the cooking. Given the socioeconomic differences that seem somewhat apparent from your letter, that's a reasonable position to take. Dictating what will be brought and in what state (homemade versus store-bought) is totally rude and over the top. But query whether their rudeness has developed from what comes off from your letter as snobbery towards them? There's a huge undercurrent of disdain that cv pointed out pretty well (and I think the discussion of whether Irish triplets is derogatory is a derail; the point is that you seem to look down on your sister-in-law for having three small children). The way you described your own family holiday meals to me seems like you're trying a bit too hard to show just how perfect your own family is, next to this hot mess you have to deal with.

    You are absolutely entitled to spend your holidays how you want. And don't misunderstand me; I'm not suggesting you need to ever like your husband's family, and they do sound kind of gross from a cleanliness standpoint, and they do sound kind of rude. I'd just consider whether some of that rudeness has developed as a response to your attitude towards them.

  • scout1222 says:

    OneoftheJanes, that stood out to me, too. And I had to stop myself and think about whether I was biased. Not all of us come from functional families. Some of us have bad holiday experiences, family that has split up or doesn't get along. That's the reality of it.

    I kind of feel bad for my husband, because his parents are still married and they have lovely holidays. My family is…trying…and it always makes me a little neurotic this time of year.

    One thing it has taught me is that you can't change other people, and that as an adult, you get to make choices about who you spend your time with. The second I stopped feeling OBLIGATED to do certain things around the holidays, the less neurotic I felt. (although I still have agita, so I'm by no means "cured"!)

  • MizShrew says:

    I agree that there is a tone in the letter, but I feel like it may be a chicken-or-egg discussion: Some of their behavior might come from her attitude towards them, but it's equally possible that her attitude developed based on their treatment of her.

    But none of that takes away from the fact that her in-laws were OK with her daughter sleeping on a grubby couch in the same room with grandpa, that they've allowed two bedrooms to get so overrun with stuff that they are unusable, or that the entire environment feels unclean, unsafe, and unwelcoming.

    I do think she's letting the details about who gets the cheese log/leftovers cloud the bigger picture: it's a poor environment for her daughter, she feels taken advantage of, it's awkward for her husband, and her family doesn't enjoy the holiday as a result.

    The three of them would prefer to have their own traditions. And I think they should, without lies to the in-laws and without guilt. "We're spending Christmas together at home this year." End. Of. Story. I also agree with whomever said that it would a message best delivered by her husband.

    Good luck Grinch, and happy holidays!

  • DriverB says:

    I just wanted to shout out this little gem: "Or, hell, tell them you're leaving town, draw the shades, park the car around the block somewhere, and have a secret spy-cation."

    I am going to start planning me some spy-cation very soon. :)

  • Sean says:

    The question is: tell me I'm not a bad person for not wanting to put up with these people on the holidays.

    Answer: You are not a bad person for not wanting to put up with these people on the holidays.

    In terms of how to handle the in-laws, though, OP needs to separate a few different aspects of the situation:

    1. MIL has a mobility disability. As other commenters have pointed out, you need to invite her somewhere that is actually accessible. People with disabilities can't just get "carried around" by other people. That's not an option. If you are serious about spending time when MIL and she's able to get out with a scooter, you need to go places that are accessible or have a ramp or whatever else is necessary to make your home one that she can visit.

    2. Some (maybe all?) of the adults living in that house are hoarders or enablers of hoarders, which is a form of mental illness. At this point, I'd be worried about the three small nieces/nephews being raised to view a house that routinely needs hazmat as normal!

    3. Money is likely an issue here. OP doesn't say that money is why BIL, the artist, and wife (SAHM) moved back in with the parents but implies it with a lot of judgment about their career/family planning choices. It's clear that OP feels taken advantage of in terms of food demands and not getting any leftovers. OP needs to decide how much she's willing to bring food that is clearly intended to feed the in-laws beyond the specific holiday meal in question, especially when it's seen as splurges like holiday cheese log!

    4. These do not sound like people who are pleasant to be around. Sometimes, that's just the way it is.

    My problem with how OP frames the issue is that it conflates all of these things as one. People who have a disability or a mental illness can be nice and kind and wonderful. They can also be terrible, awful people. Sometimes, it's the disability or illness itself that makes them difficult to be around.

    OP needs to figure out with her husband just how much they want to interact with his family and what they want to teach their daughter about how to handle interacting with people who have challenges of various sorts, whether these people are pleasant or not.

    In planning, I would hope that OP thinks about how she might be able to create family traditions for her daughter, that she also considers what opportunities she might have to create traditions for the kids who are stuck living in that house all the time as those kids grow older and will be forming holiday memories of their own.

  • patricia says:

    @MizShrew: I completely agree with all your points. I didn't mean for any of that to get lost in my comment. When I'm mentioning thinking about Grinch's response and how it might have factored into the current situation, I should have been clearer that I was thinking of this as a reflective exercise for Grinch, and maybe a way to detente in the future. Or maybe not- I just think that self-reflection, especially as filtered through others, can sometimes be useful. But that's not in any way meant to be a suggestion that it's not untenable or that s/he should put up with it. I didn't mean that at all, Grinch. I want to reiterate- spend holidays with just your immediate family. Enjoy them without guilt. Life is too short to hang out with people who make you crazy. :-)

  • MizShrew says:

    @Patricia: I think you're absolutely right that it would help Grinch and her husband to consider the hows and whys of their feelings, especially once they get past the holidays. Would probably help them decide how to set parameters for visiting his family in general.

    And I second the pie suggestion if they absolutely must visit for a little while.

  • Liz says:

    I agree with what Sars said. And just from another viewpoint, it's important to start your own family traditions! I had kind of the opposite upbringing that the LW, as we lived nowhere near any family, so when we *did* get to see them it was a real treat. But, we had the space (and maybe more importantly, lack of where-will-we-celebrate-type tension) to create our own traditions. You really don't want to look back years from now & say "Oh, our tradition is cleaning someone else's kitchen, being a nervous wreck, and having no leftovers the next day." So stand firm! Have a small Xmas! You can do it! And it will be fabulous!

  • Shanchan says:

    As a daughter of a man with this family- I was incredibly happy when we stopped going to Grandma's for Christmas when I was a kid. She was a hoarder and often unbearably rude and awful, and her place was nasty, unclean, and cold. My mother and aunts were expected to do everything including clean the house, all the while listening to comments about the state of their own houses, proper child rearing, and how terrible their husbands (her sons) were. My dad would be unhappy and stressed for days before and after. I can't remember what the final straw was but she said something particularly awful. We stopped going over for any major holidays, and rarely any other time. Out of some sad sense of duty my dad would make us take a pre-decorated Christmas tree over a week or so before Christmas, spend an unhappy half-hour while she berated him about not coming over more, and that was it. And I feel free to judge all I want- we were all working class families and it is no excuse.

  • polly says:

    Here's an angle you may not have considered – your daughter might turn out later to care more about her relationship with this part of the family than you do. They are not your genetic family, but they are hers; and when she is older and has a sense of her own character and personality she may be interested in where those come from. I would be a bit careful about portraying her grandparents or uncle to her as dirty, or dislikeable.

  • Grinchy McGrincherson says:

    My family is close, clean and orderly, and we genuinely like each other. His family distant, annoying, loud and obnoxious. Hoarders and more family drama I'm not even going to get into. So what I did is relegate myself to two events a year. Usually one in the summer and one the weekend after Thanksgiving. I push my husband to do some stuff in the New Year and in the Spring so he stays in touch with everyone but sadly, I'm usually too busy to attend.

    When it's one of these two events, we provide everything. We purchase the food, I cook and if we're going to the ocean I pack everything and bring it with me, set it all up and wait for everyone to eat everything including the basket. Not sure if that might work for you, but I found if I just put on by big girl panties, it was easier for me because I had control of the situation.

    I do it for my husband. I tell myself it's twice a year, fortify myself with a glass or two of wine and as soon as it's done for the year toast to not having to do the next one until the summer.

  • Hillary says:

    If you do go your own way, and want to soften the blow, or think that maybe they seriously count on you for anything edible at the holidays, then maybe bring something ahead of time that can be heated or served for themselves? That purchased veggie platter with dip, plus a store bought pie that can be heated in the oven, might go a long way to soothing the "they don't care about us and want to see us starve" overreaction that is sure to follow.

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