Dear Carolyn: I have for the most part gotten along really well with my in-laws. However, their lack of planning has really started to bug me. Kids’ birthday parties, holidays, adult milestone birthdays, you name it, they always plan last-minute and expect everyone to come. It’s not uncommon to get an e-mail or phone call on a Sunday for the following weekend.
Twice this summer I asked a month ahead if there would be a party for two upcoming birthdays. Both times I was told no. My husband and I made other plans. Then, last-minute, we were told yes, there would be a get-together – and in one case that we were expected to help pay for it. I am torn between not going on principle next time this happens, and feeling that family comes first and we should cancel plans to attend family events.
Do we start canceling on principle, or should I try to broach the subject again – and if so, how? – Let’s Plan Ahead!
Define “expect.” If you don’t go, do your in-laws punish you with guilt trips, silent treatments? Or do they just hope you’ll come, and express proportionate disappointment when you can’t?
The answer wouldn’t change what you need to do about it, which is simple – attend the things you can, and miss the things you must, for plainly expressed reasons: “Oh no, we’re busy next Saturday.”
Instead, what your in-laws expect will determine the appropriate attitude toward this problem.
If you’re being treated as outlaws or ingrates for having your own plans, then you’re right to wrap yourself in principle.
If, on the other hand, they’re just hoping you’ll come versus expecting it, then your attitude needs some adjusting.
It’s normal to want to please people, and saying no is hard when you want to please someone. With in-laws, that desire to please often feels more like pressure – and from that position, saying no starts to look like a risk.