Advice: I Need Some In-Law/Holiday Advice, Y’all

So, I’m taking this Friday to reach out to Tulle Nation (especially the already married ones) and ask for a wee bit o’ advice. Before we go much further, I want y’all to know that I adore my in-laws. I totally love them and love how they treat me. But anytime a new family forms, it alters an old family, and situations arise. I have a situation happening right now with my in-laws regarding Thanksgiving and it’s kind of stressing me out. I need to vent a bit and then have y’all tell me (Straight Up) if I’m overreacting. Be honest – this getting married thing and becoming our own family stuff is new for me.

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Image Courtesy of: A Place for Amy

After The Boy and I got engaged, I immediately talked to him about how we would run our new family of two. What rules would we have for our relationship? How would we spend our money? What about kids? We also talked about how we would handle holidays. See, the holidays are kind of a big deal for me – I love tradition. I love family. And I love celebrating.

And The Boy… is a wee bit different. See, his childhood was awful. It truly blew and thus, he has a detached attitude toward family rituals, holidays, and traditions. After much prodding and pushing, I was able to get him to commit to some holiday choices and voice some wants of his own (mostly ones involving our future kids). The big decisions made were that we would celebrate every other Christmas in Alaska with my family (and the others with his “adopted family” – more on that in a bit) and that I would ask his “family” if we could host the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

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Image Courtesy of: Adventures of a Betty Crocker Wannabe

Before we go much further you should know that I LOVE Thanksgiving. Oh, Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday but since I’m a grown-up with no kids (and, until this year, single), Christmas has been a lot of watching other people’s happiness and doing stuff at their homes. But Thanksgiving? Was all me for the last 12-ish years. I planned the meal, I made the décor, I cooked the dinner, I did T-Day. And I totally LOVE it.

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Image Courtesy of: Country Living

Fast forward to me discussing the hosting Thanksgiving thing with his family*. They were happy with our decisions and completely understood them (after all, the mother-in-law hosts an annual Christmas Eve buffet and my sister-in-law does Christmas morning brunch every year). They agreed to let me take Thanksgiving. Done, right?

Apparently not. A few days ago, I emailed my sister-in-law and mother-in-law to hash out a few pre-Thanksgiving details (namely, checking to see if we were doing this thing as planned this year and seeing what times worked for everyone). In the email, I talked about how I was going to host Thanksgiving this year, how I’ve done the whole meal on my own for 10+ years, and included a list of the meal items that I was planning on making. I also mentioned how people always want to help cook something so it would be lovely if people could bring pies and appetizers to share. I also asked if there was any really special dish that wasn’t on my meal plan – if so, I’d be happy to include it. And off went the email.

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Image Courtesy of: Maddycakes Muse

The next day I got a response from my sister-in-law – this is where the stress/frustration comes in. Basically, she wrote to me that a bunch of her extended family would be in town for Thanksgiving this year (no biggie – the more, the merrier) but then…

She went through my entire menu and talked about how she already had a recipe for this and that and “oh, her family loved this recipe that she does”. For every. single. thing. Here’s a sample:

  1. X’s Mom’s Sweet Dressing (X and I both know how to make, but it usually is better stuffed in the Turkey)
  2. My apple pie
  3. A pumpkin pie (I know most people like this especially X and my kiddos)
  4. Whipped cream for the pies
  5. I make a different kind of sweet potato casserole with a crunchy brown sugar and pecan topping (we could have both yours and mine)
  6. I make a cranberry sauce that has mandarin oranges and pineapple that my  family really seems to like so I’d like to add that as well (again we could have yours and mine). 
  7. I also do a layered salad that everyone really likes that I’m willing to make unless you have something else in mind.

Am I reading too much into this? I just think it’s so rude for all of us to agree to let me handle Thanksgiving and then have her volunteer to make every single item. I was so pissed off when I read the email. I really felt like I wasn’t being accepted as a member of the family. Like, hey, I know we said you could do this but I don’t think that anything you’re planning on making will be as good as what I do. Am I overreacting? Or did she overstep her bounds?

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Image Courtesy of: Rambling Renovators

Listen, Tulle Nation – I need the truth. If I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, I need y’all to tell me. If you think that she is overextending, then please give me some advice on how to handle this situation. Like, tell me exactly what to say. I’m not so much with the people skills. Help me, Tulle Nation!

***Update: Everything's been sorted out. My wonderful mother-in-law talked to me and confirmed what I had suspected – that this was not malicious just not very tactfully well-thought out. She spoke to my sister-in-law and they'll be bringing pies (lots of pies) and letting me spoil them by doing all the cooking. Thanks for all your suggestions! They were super helpful – they really helped me voice my emtions to my mother-in-law in a helpful and constructive manner 9instead of bitchy and whiny).***

*The Boy’s childhood was so awful that he left home at 16 and moved from Dallas to San Antonio where he lived in a tent and chopped wood to earn money for food. Eventually the parents of a classmate informally adopted him. This family now lives on the same street as us and refers to him as their son. The son calls him his brother and his children call The Boy “Uncle”. This is his family and I consider them my in-laws.

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  • I feel your pain. I love planning parties and it is so hard for me when people don’t behave appropriately.

    But there’s a great way to handle this Do-it-Aller: Say “I can’t ask you to make all of that yourself – a pie as delicious as yours is hours in the making by itself! Please allow me to lighten the load by making ____ and ____. And for myself, may I just say that I am so looking forward to trying your ____.”

    See if you can very politely imply that she is doing a ton of work and to ‘help her out’ you’ll graciously volunteer. I bet she’s the type who scoffs at ready-made whipped cream too. I’ve got one of those in my family. Please tell us how it goes!

  • I agree with both comments above. Here’s another alternative: are you open to trying one of the recipes her family loves? say the sweet potato casserole? If so…then say something like you don’t want her to do all that hard work, and look forward to trying her versions at christmas, etc. you’d love it if she’d make x and y, and would love to use her recipe for sweet potatoes because it sounds soooo good.

    I’d be fuming too. Seriously fuming.

  • It seems to me she’s a wee bit controlling and isn’t ready to give you the holiday. I think the Rogue Bride’s script would work really well. You’ll definitely have to stay pleasant and positive when talking to her to avoid offending her… even though what she said has offended you. I mean, what if you decided to impose on her Christmas Brunch plans and replace everything with your own recipes?

    Side note: My bf also moved out of his mother’s house and into the woods at 16 and wants nothing to do with her. His Thanksgiving tradition is to go hunting all day. Until we have kids, that means I just get to go to my parents’ for Thanksgiving; one less holiday to worry about sharing!

  • Oh holidays with the in-laws!!!
    I have been married for 3.5 years and much like you we have to travel to see my family but live very close to the in-laws. The in-laws are BIG on thier holiday traditions but I am a party planner to a t an want to put my spin on things. This being said, you have to let them be involved. Perhaps you can host the party by decorating, cooking the main course and a few sides and let eveyone pick a side or dessert they would like to bring. If it makes you feel any better my first Thanksgiving I was assinged…yes assigned, I didn’t get to pick, the green bean casserol and when we arrived my mother in-law had made an “extra” just in case!!!!! Example number two: the next year I found a great recipie for fresh cranberry sauce and it turned out great but the whole family minus my guy ate the can crap my mother in-law put out. My poor guy ate half a bowl of cranberry sauce because he kept seeing me look at it with dissapointment. The fact of the matter is that it will take them a while to let in new traditions but eventually it will be the perfect mix. Give them time and take over slowly 🙂 This year I am incharge of the whole Christmas Eve dinner and I am assigning my mother in-law the relish tray……just kidding……maybe!

  • I think it is absolutely ok that you are upset about this, but I am also a firm believer in not beating around the bush. While RogueBride’s intent is a great place to start, it is not firm or clear enough. You’ve already told her in your original email how she can help and what dishes she can help with, and that you would be willing to include a special recipe. She probably felt like the door was wide open for her rude redoing of your menu. If you tell her that you don’t want her to do that much work, she will come back with a, “No trouble at all!”

    If it were me I would let her know that you feel a little hurt about her response, and that it is very important to you that you be able to do your holiday your way. Then pick just one recipe that you will include (stuffing or sweet potato casserole) and make it yourself. Ask her for the recipe, and then say you would love for her to bring the pies. Don’t leave her any other option. That way you’ve been polite, you’ve explained your feelings, and you’ve calmly set the tone for not butting in on YOUR holiday.

  • Thanks, y’all. It’s nice to know that I’m not overreacting. It’s also SO great to get all your advice and hear from those of you who’ve had similiar experiences.

    Keep ’em coming! I’m going to have to address this soon and I’m really nervous about doing it the right way and not hurting anyone’s feelings.

  • I think I need a tiny bit more clarification before I can give my opinion. Was she saying “ok, we have to do all this stuff I’m listing”, or was she just giving a big list of what she can do for you to review? Could just be a miscommunication, lots of people are really really bad at writing emails.

  • FavorCraver: Here’s the paragraph that preceeded the list of menu items:

    “We are open to hosting at our house if you want. You can do most of the cooking/planning as indicated below or we can all share in the prep so the cost burden doesn’t fall on any one household. The only things I can think of that I might like to add are:”

    Does that change things, everybody? I’m so confused.

  • Since she’s saying “might like to add”, I think she’s just listing possible things she could do, not necessarily “must haves”. So, if I were you I’d reply and say “I’d love it if you brought X dish, thanks!” In that case, even if I’m wrong and she does want to do everything, at least you’ve already told her you only want a specific thing or two.

  • Totally agree with FavorCraver. Be polite and shut it down with a happy smile, and she can’t accuse you of being mean/rude/ungrateful. She’s probably just trying to help out and went a little too far.

  • Yeah, compromise is the key. She has 7 items on the list, give her three of them. Like, ASK her if she can make them, “Can you make x,y, and z? That would be fantastic!” See, you don’t want to give up control, but she’s in the same position of having to give up control, too. So everyone needs to go a little easy on each other. Assume she’s going to make those three, ask her when and what kitchen space she’s going to need when she gets there, and consider it a done deal.

  • I don’t think you are over reacting, but I am also a control freak, or as I like to call it a proper host. I think her offer to help could have been better received if she had said it in a better way. Saying that her family loves her recipes and thus she needs to bring them comes off as rude to me. As if her family can’t have a different pumpkin pie and also I am confident that they might not know the difference or care, they just like pumpkin pie. But I also understand going somewhere for Thanksgiving and wanting to not only to do my part by bringing something but also making sure at least one of my normal traditions is included (I went somewhere once that didn’t have sweet potatoes and I was heart broken.) I think the best compromise is to let go of something, say the cranberries, and let her bring that. It seems ridiculous/wasteful to have 2 of everything. I would just say to her, “I appreciate you wanting to help but since I offered to host it is important to me that I provide the food for everyone and I don’t consider it a burden. I love that you want to help so I’d love for you to bring your cranberry salad, I can’t wait to try it!” If she agreed to let you host, then you should be able to do just that. Deciding who brings what isn’t her job. She should relax and take advantage of the opportunity to relax and actually enjoy the holiday! Good luck!

  • OMG. I so feel your pain. Honestly, had this happen with MY OWN family a few years ago so don’t think it’s just an in-law thing. I think it’s partially a “female who loves control, I know what I’m doing in the kitchen” battle. Hopefully, you can compromise like the others have suggested to where you are still a happy host.

    Me, on the other hand, I couldn’t take it. I’m happy to report my husband and I have been vacationing on Thanksgiving for the last 6 years of our relationship. We only put up with Xmas, and that’s generally a potluck. 😉

  • I love Liz Coopersmith’s strategy, and Brynn, I can absolutely see the scenario “If you tell her that you don’t want her to do that much work, she will come back with a, “No trouble at all!” happening.

    It does seem entirely possible that it was a list of poorly phrased suggestions though, rather than mandates. Granted, your experience of the lady in question makes you more informed of her character and likely intent. The women on my dad’s side of the family are diabolical, and if an email like that came from one of them, I’d get ticked off. If it came from my future MIL, who I adore, I’d pass it off as suggestions and make a few of my own.

    I love the responses from everyone! Etiquette and entertaining are alive and well. Makes me happy.