Dear Annie: I am the adult child of divorced parents who divorced 25-plus years ago and both remarried 20 years ago. I have three siblings and three stepsiblings. My mom and her husband are retired, very comfortable moneywise. My dad and stepmom are semiretired and do OK, but are probably a little less financially sound. My parents don’t get along great, so they’re only invited to the same events when it’s big stuff like weddings, graduations, etc.
My problem? Mom and her hubby are extremely cheap. Whenever there’s a get-together, they never volunteer to bring anything substantial – maybe a small side – and never contribute to the main course cost. And they don’t host at their house, so it’s never on them to reciprocate. If we eat out (rare), not only do they never offer to pay, but they only pay for themselves when told that we’re getting separate checks and no one is picking up their tab.
My dad and stepmom, on the other hand, almost always pay when we go out to dinner. They also host events at their house and contribute meaningfully when they don’t host. These events happen several times throughout the year for holidays or birthdays, so it keeps happening and is becoming increasingly irritating. I can tell my brother’s wife is getting irritated, too, as she hosts and is generous with buying the $100 pieces of meat that my mom’s husband loves to go back for second and third portions of. We try to set expectations upfront in the family group text, but they’re typically ignored. Also, neither side is great in the gift-giving department, so they’re not making up for it there. What to do, if anything? – Feeling Like a Food Pantry
Dear Food: You are going to have to be explicit with your mother about your expectations. While she is obviously not generous, she doesn’t seem to be egregiously offensive in her spending habits either. After all, she is paying her fair share at restaurants and contributing side dishes to family parties. Still, I can understand your irritation – especially in comparison to the generosity of your dad.
You can’t force your mom to host, but you can be more regimented with how you divide and conquer the responsibilities. If you want to be extra-precise, you can make a spreadsheet for family events to make sure everyone is assigned equal responsibilities. Or you can call your mom beforehand and say, “Would you mind picking up two sides and a dessert and a bouquet of flowers before the party?” You’d be surprised how much progress you can make by simply asking for exactly what you want.
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