Dear Annie: I felt compelled to respond to the letter from “Bah Humbug.” She hosts the family dinners, which are never reciprocated, and her in-laws leave with all the food at the end.
This is similar to my situation. Your options for her were good ones. May I suggest a few more I’ve learned from experience?
1) Have gatherings at times other than the actual holiday. Keep the actual day for plans with your immediate family.
2) Assign specific types of dishes family members are requested to bring, and announce what you will provide.
3) Cook smaller portions for dinner and/or separate out your own “leftovers” in different pans, or cook ahead of time and keep yours in the fridge or freezer. (I learned to do this a long time ago. Works great.)
4) Structure the time of the event. Say: “Plan on being at our house at noon. We will eat at 1 and finish by 4.”
5) Plan to go to a movie, see holiday lights or do something that gets everyone out the door. No one else has to go, but make clear that everyone has to leave your home when you do.
6) Keep in mind that this will feel uncomfortable the first time. It will get easier and become expected after a couple of times. You will be teaching your children how to manage these situations throughout their own lives. And you will meet your own needs and have freedom of choice about your own holidays. It will change your expectations of the extended family members and make them responsible for whatever relationship they choose to continue with one another, and you will be happier in the end.
Obviously, I feel strongly about this. I went through about 20 years of these dinners falling in my lap and feeling taken advantage of. As I started taking steps to structure these events, things improved greatly. Happy holidays!
— The Main Host
Dear Main Host: You’re clearly a pro. Though this season’s holidays are nearly done, I’m sure there are some hosts already dreading next year’s. Your plan of attack might offer hope.
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