Carolyn Hax: Tardy relatives need more than a watch

SUNDAY, JULY 8, 2012

Dear Carolyn: I have some relatives who never arrive on time for family functions. When my parents were alive they chose to wait until the couple arrived, but after a few times the folks decided to start without them.

Now that my parents are gone, my sisters and I have decided to tell them to either arrive on time or just forget it. Are we being too rigid? I feel if you are given a specific time to arrive for any function, then you should make every effort to be there on time. Sometimes they have been two hours late.

Also, they never offer to bring any food or drink and usually end up drinking all the alcohol that has been provided for all the guests. What say you? – Disgruntled Relative

I say you have something to learn from “The Untouchables” version of Al Capone (but don’t we all). He said, “Somebody steals from me, I’m gonna say you stole. Not talk to him for spitting on the sidewalk. Understand?”

Tardiness is the least of the problems your letter reveals. The couple drink too much, take too much, give too little, blow off too much that matters, and have proved too much for the problem-solving skills of two generations of your family.

Unfortunately, your recourse list is short.

(1) You can choose to offer strategic indulgence, which consists of expecting the worst from them; regarding them, not you, as the real victims of their chaos; planning functions as usual, with firm resolve to embrace this couple when they behave and to starve them of attention when they don’t; and making sure the bar is lightly stocked, if at all. (Risk involved: enabling.)

(2) You can go tough-love, and say they’re not welcome if they can’t arrive at a reasonable time or contribute a reasonable amount. (Risk: alienation of relatives who are a walking cry for help.)

(3) You can take an active interest in this couple to see whether their chaos has reached the point where concerned family members need to get involved. (Risk: drama creep.)

No. 3 is a bit misleading, since all the family involvement in the world can’t help people who have no interest in owning, much less changing, their destructive behavior. (Paging Al-anon.) But given that you still include this couple, I’m guessing the attachment – or just the sense of obligation – runs deep. And in that case, doesn’t it make sense to think more broadly about what you can do?

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