My mom told my younger brother that he and his wife, who got married in 2021, needed to start taking turns cooking at least four times a year. We told them it didn’t have to be fancy; it’s about the family being together, not the food. They took their turn last week. After dinner (spaghetti with sauce in a jar, wine in a box, packaged cookies for dessert), a note was handed out to let everyone, including the children, know their personal monetary share. To be honest, it seemed a bit high, but my dad handed over a check for the full amount with a look at my brother to let him know it was going to be discussed. My dad was *not* happy with the answer he got, which was no, they don’t have money problems at all. My sister-in-law just has “problems with the money spent” – the unspoken part is “on others”, because she spends it very well on herself. My dad asked if they were really out before that dinner, and my brother said my sister-in-law felt they deserved a little something for all their hard work.
My dad is a great guy but he has a temper. He and my brother ended up yelling at each other. Now the whole family is in turmoil. I guess my brother is right in a way. We’re just going to accept this about the sister-in-law, so I offered to cover my brother and sister-in-law’s dinners. It was denied by my father, and now I’m lost. Ideas?
Dramatic dinner: It’s crazy that your brother and sister-in-law feel the need to take advantage of their family’s accommodation. That being said, they have been pressured to hold large family gatherings and whether or not they are can afford it, they obviously don’t want to. We all have our spending priorities and accommodation is clearly not theirs. Few things trigger people more than money, so a huge grocery bill to feed the family could still trigger bills alarm in your LIS’s mind.
It’s so beautiful that you like to treat your family with so much love, joy and generosity. I like to organize meals. To me, nothing feels more like home than an open door and a full plate, but feeding and hosting is not how everyone wants to spend their money, time or generosity. While I can imagine it’s frustrating to feel like they’re not delivering their fair share of the bargain, they’re probably wonderful in many other ways.
It seems to me that they are just not equipped to accommodate at this current stage of life. Not everything in the family needs to be equal, and I find keeping score a surefire way to create resentment. I would much rather love people for who are they instead of resenting them who they will never be. They will not be hostesses with the mostesses. It is very good. You can keep this crown.
Stop with point counting, keep plates full of delicious food, and focus on what you love about your brother and sister-in-law. Setting reasonable expectations for loved ones and accepting their whims will maintain peace, make life a little easier, and minimize resentment.
Dramatic dinner: You don’t have a sister-in-law problem; you have an angry brother and father problem. These dinners have been going on long enough for an in-law to catch up with tradition, and yet your brother has resisted welcoming, which means that for him, these dinners have always been more of an obligation than joyous get-togethers.
What would happen if he jumped into the past? Would there be a guilt call from mom or a capricious outburst from dad? Your immediate attempt at pacification by offering to cover the unreasonable expense of an unwelcome meal speaks volumes. In what other ways did your parents and family dictate how things should be done in this clan?
No dinner is worth walking on eggshells. The sister-in-law here puts her foot down and supports her husband – given that his tactic was in the worst possible taste. Now that the cat is out of the bag and your brother has made his feelings clear, let’s hope his wife can get out from under that bus in one piece.
— Voluntary Bus Victims Brigade
Dramatic dinner: There are so many angles to this situation: a distraught brother, a sister-in-law with emotional money issues, and an explosive father. I’m no psychologist, but it’s easy to see that there are underlying, unresolved childhood issues at play here.
The dinner, the way the bill was processed, everyone’s shock at being charged, and the father’s outburst of anger: all symptoms of dysfunctional family dynamics on many levels. It is not on dinner at all. Each child in this family grew up with an overbearing parent who used anger as a weapon to control themselves. As adults, they each handle family conflict in different ways. Some remain silent, while others want to stand up to the bully. This is a family that needs to be healed with professional help.
Each week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s episode here. New questions are usually posted on Fridays, with a Monday submission deadline. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.