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Along with goodwill and good cheer, the holiday season is just as likely to bring gaffes and grinchiness. Here are a few of the sticky situations sent in by Canadian Living Magazine readers, and my suggestions for unsticking them.
Who's coming for dinner?
My brother-in-law is bipolar. He has been violent but refuses treatment, so the rest of the family doesn't want him around. Last Christmas, we invited my in-laws, but my mother-in-law insisted that we invite him, too. We didn't want him to ruin yet another Christmas, so we refused. So she didn't come last year. What should we do this year?
The sticky part of this situation is trying to make everyone happy when doing so seems impossible. Sometimes you need to put the needs of your own family ahead of the needs of your extended family, as you and your mother-in-law both did in this case. Your mother-in-law must have felt torn between her children and she probably couldn't bring herself to leave her son alone on Christmas day. A solution here might be timing – can you invite your inlaws and brother-in-law on Boxing Day for a small gathering? Or perhaps meet at a restaurant, so you can leave if things get too difficult. As well, perhaps your brother-in-law would be more controlled in a public place.
My in-laws hate my husband and me. They have told us so and have not spoken to us directly in the past six months. Now they are demanding that our two boys (aged three and 22 months) spend the entire Christmas vacation with them. We have said no. My family lives two hours away from us, and we alternate Christmas holidays every year; this year happens to be the year that we go to my parents' place in Muskoka, Ont. I feel that our children are too young to be that far away from us for such a long time, and we spent the entire Christmas holiday with my husband's family last year so this year is for my family. Also, to get the two families together for one big happy family Christmas isn't going to work, either, as they can't stand each other.
Page 1 of 3 -- Do grandparents have child visitation rights to thier grandkids? Our ethics expert offers this mom clear advice on page 2
Grandparents do have legal access rights in many provinces, and intergenerational contact is good for children. But what kids really need from grandparents is a close relationship throughout the year, not a big splash at Christmas. Pay attention to your intuition that your children are too young for an extended visit at your in-laws' home. I would also be very wary of leaving my children with people who refuse to talk to me. There needs to be communication about the children's routines, habits, food preferences and other arrangements, and you need to be able to trust that they will contact you if any problems arise. Tell your in-laws that when they are ready to deal with you in a respectful way, you will try a test overnight visit.
Sis is OK, but her boyfriend isn't
My parents are separated but both came one Christmas Day to the house I shared with my sister. It was nice, all of us getting along together on the holiday – until my sister wanted to invite her boyfriend over. I wanted just an immediate family gathering, but she felt more inclined to have him there as well. Number 1, he was her boyfriend of a couple of years after all, and his family was thousands of miles away, as well. We ended up fighting about whether or not he should be there. I felt guilty about trying to stop him from spending Christmas with someone he loved, but also angry that he was interfering with my valuable family time. (In the end, he did come, and things weren't so bad.) But what would you have recommended?
This is another example of the challenge of integrating new family members. Perhaps if the family meal seems sacrosanct, you could invite the boyfriend for dessert. The fact that you say “things weren't so bad” shows that your possessiveness of your family members may be unnecessary, and opening our homes to others at this time of year is, after all, part of the spirit of the holiday.
Nephew's ex brings boyfriend and stays to visit
My nephew lives with us and my ex niece-in-law always comes by with the children to drop them off to spend some time with their father. She brings the man that she ran off with and their new child, and plunks herself down for a visit. I can't say anything in front of the children and no matter how much I hint to her privately, it runs right off her back. It's as though she is rubbing everyone's face in her “freedom” and I find it uncomfortable. What can I do?
Page 2 of 3 -- How should you react when someone gives an obvious thoughtless gift? Find out on page 3
Presents of mind
My sister doesn't Christmas shop until the 24th of December. As a result, my children often get inappropriate gifts (loud and obnoxious) or poor-quality gifts that break within a day, or things they already have. How can I get her to choose more carefully without seeming ungrateful?
Tell her your kids are collecting (insert here the name of reasonably priced collectible toy they like) and would she like a list that will take the pressure off her trying to find last-minute gifts for them. Then add other items to the list.
Kids can't be home on Christmas Eve
The only request I ever made of my children was that all of them come home to celebrate Christmas Eve. With six kids, I should have known better. My eldest son went to stay away in a small town to study his craft, and he met this girl with whom he lives now. So far, so good, but a few days before Christmas I got a call from my son saying he couldn't be there with us this year. He told me he would come at New Year's for a few days. It had never occurred to me that this could happen, let alone what followed. On Christmas Eve, my eldest daughter says, "Since my brother isn't here, and I believed that we had an obligation to be here, my husband and I have decided that we will be at his mother's next year." I drank a sip of wine, looked at my husband, and felt like everything I had worked for had walked out the door. It took a while for me to get over this, but I did. I don't know what this Christmas will bring, but I have decided to celebrate Christmas with the people that will be there. I will never tell them again that they have to be there on Christmas Eve.
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