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#1377: Hosting two families with different conceptions of time. from Valerie L's blog

Hello,

I (35, she/her) have one baby and another on the way. I am exceptionally tired these days and expect to be similarly fatigued for the next, oh, 4 years or more. Anyway, I have had to be intentional about my bandwidth and have been ruthlessly cutting out anything that seems optional. I am running into the following issue with my in-laws: we just have two totally different cultural conceptions of time. I should mention: I am white and my husband is not. I was raised in a family where there were distinct start and end times and a high value placed on punctuality. Everyone in my family shows up exactly when they say they will, and this is my preferred way of operating. I bring this baggage to the whole operation, and I am aware of that.

My husband’s family is very loose with time. They will not commit to when, or even sometimes if, they are coming over at all. I have tried to view these as two different and yet totally valid ways of being but for holidays and baby events like birthdays and Trick or Treat, etc. it is just killing me. I do the majority of planning and execution for these events. I buy the food, plan the menu, cook everything, and do the majority of set-up and clean-up plus any Holiday Magic for the baby such as shopping, wrapping, decorating, ensuring the house is clean and all the guest rooms are made up nicely, etc. I do this so the baby can have nice holiday traditions and memories, I am aware I could do nothing at all and order a pizza and lock the doors, but these were fun, magical things for me and I like for her to experience them alongside the people who love her. It is worth a little (not a ton) of extra hassle to me to ensure she gets to do these things.

We always host because for me, as the only ones currently with little kids, it is just easier to have everything happen here. That way, I don’t have to lug everything to two different sides of the family, tiring out the baby and stressing me out. I can be sure she will get a decent nap in her own bed, has a high chair to eat, a play area where I don’t need to watch that she isn’t jabbing a fork into a socket, and our dog will not spend all day alone and have accidents, etc. I can also avoid showing up at 2 for something that isn’t actually HAPPENING happening until 8pm or having one side of the family angrily waiting on us when the other side makes us late. As added fun, they each live about an hour-plus in the opposite direction of one another.

We do holidays open-house style wherein I typically will have some sort of low-effort breakfast or snack available for anyone who comes early and then a dinner in the early evening. Lately, I’ve been more and more tired and am finding that having this “come whenever” policy is the worst because:

1. I have to have enough food for everyone who *might* come, which is not only expensive but also time-consuming to make so much and then end up having to store/freeze/etc. Having tons leftover and no one to send it home with can almost double my cleaning time because I have to find places to store everything or freeze it in portions etc.

2. It’s impossible to do anything because “so-and-so says she’s 10 minutes away” can mean 10 minutes or two hours and sure, I would wait 10 minutes for her but I can’t wait 2 hours, the food is getting cold and/or the baby wants to open her presents etc. It’s always tense and frustrating because it’s always “Just 5 more minutes and then we can start!” and somehow without fail whenever we start without anyone they walk in literally 2 seconds after I finally give up and are peeved that we didn’t wait for them.

3. My own family are not exactly angels, they get frustrated *with me* and also the Whole Situation when they are sitting around waiting for someone and have at times shown their displeasure vocally. Sometimes they are sick of waiting and leave before dinner or whatever and then are icy to me afterwards for “choosing” the people who “couldn’t even bother to tell you if they were going to show up” over them.

4. When husband’s family sometimes don’t come at all despite saying they were going to, they always want a Birthday or Holiday 2.0 wherein I usually have to do the whole shebang over again or travel to them the next weekend after I just kicked my own ass doing the whole thing the first time. My husband is maximally sympathetic to this and always says we should do it despite me NEEDING that next weekend to get my life back together.

5. I am frankly tired and introverted and a FULL DAY of people showing up at anytime, no warning, and needing to entertain them is nightmarish for me, I get no downtime and no breaks to enjoy the day myself. We just did Easter and I have one photo of the day, in the morning before anyone arrived, and no memories at all of the baby’s day. I am hormonal and pregnant and dramatic but I cried when I realized.

I have talked to him about how this impacts me, but he says it’s just cultural, they will never ever change, and that this is who they are. I do believe that but as the one who is having the majority of the difficulty here, I really do think we as a nuclear family could do this better or have each other’s backs to establish some better boundaries to ensure I don’t end up exhausted and recovering for days afterwards. I am pregnant, I have a toddler, and I work full-time so I don’t have a ton of bandwidth.

Any thoughts on how we can do this better?

Hello, I am exhausted reading this!

I have opinions and recommendations. Many of those involve getting your husband to do his share of hosting & family wrangling, but one principle extends through all of it:

IT IS TIME TO DO LESS. 

Right now, while the baby is a baby, and will only vaguely remember how much Holiday Magic there is, it is time to scale the hell back on all of this. Plan a holiday or two you celebrate just as a nuclear family without inviting the whole clan and without schlepping anywhere. Outsource a lot of the work when you host. Order the pizza, already!

IT IS TIME TO BE MUCH LESS ACCOMMODATING. 

I think you’ve been smart to try to do things Open House style, where people can drop in and out as they wish. But it is time to prioritize the people who actually show up, not the ones who might. Yes, there are some cultural issues at play here, but your husband married you, meaning that your joint celebrations don’t have to 100% match his family’s expectations and habits for the rest of time. When you are on your parents’ turf, let their culture take the lead. When your husband’s relatives host something, go with their flow. For example:

  1. If you drive, take separate cars or make plans around trains/buses/rideshares. That way you can show up in the afternoon with the baby, visit for exactly as long as you feel like it, and then head home when you are ready, freeing your husband up to stay however long he wants. Plan snacks/your own mealtimes so you don’t get hangry waiting for things to get underway. As a pregnant woman and new mom, you have both a duty to yourself and the authority to make your own schedule right now. Use it! “Lovely to see you all, I need to get this one home and into her jammies. Have fun!” 
  2. Plan on dinner being at 8:00 and roll up at 7:00 or so. You know by now that this is how things tend to go, so there is no reason to wait around for hours in advance. Nobody in his family is going to hassle you for being “late,” and if they do, you are free to openly laugh at them. “Hahaha, really? I’ll keep that in mind!” 

But when you host things at your home, with all the work that entails, it’s time to make it work for you. You have four years of experience that tells you that there’s no way to make everyone happy, so at least make yourself a little bit happier than you are now!

What happens if you decide, for the rest of 2022, you are having exactly one [Insert Holiday] celebration,. If you host, that’s it, that’s the one. If you don’t host, consider alternating celebrations with the various sides of the family vs. running yourselves ragged or making plans that require some to wait and others to show up on time and thereby setting everyone up for a bad time. I know there is probably a ton of pressure for everyone to SEE THE BAAAAAAABY right now, but as the baby’s parents, you have a lot of power to dictate how and when that happens. You do not have to see every relative or every set of relatives on every single holiday. It’s okay to invite just one set of in-laws some of the time, to see some people on Holiday Eve and others on Holiday Day, and it’s okay for you to miss events now and then. You and your husband might also have better luck seeing smaller groups of your various family members more frequently in more casual settings so there isn’t so much pressure for big events to be the be-all and end-all.

Before you host the next event, hash out what’s most important to you. Is it to have everybody together under one roof? Is it to decorate the place up and serve really great, special food as a treat for yourselves and your guests? Is it to make sparkling memories with and for your kids? Is it to catch up with relatives you don’t get to see very often? If you know your priorities, you can adjust your plans so you’re getting more of what you actually want. For example, if party photos are important to you, but it’s been too chaotic  for you to get good ones, maybe hand your camera off to someone who reliably shows up and has a decent eye, and ask them to take some for you. This can be a great job for teen & 20-something cousins and for shyer folks who are happier when they have something tangible to do, and it also means that you can be *in* more photos.

When you plan the next event, you could try making the schedule explicit in the invitation, and include an end time:

“We’re hosting [Holiday] from [time] to [time] on [date]. Doors open at [time]. Meal served at [time]. Cake/Presents/Etc. at roughly [time]. Baby has nap at [time], so if you plan to see her, come before then. Doors close at [time]. Let us know by [date] if you can make it so we have enough food. Can’t wait to see you all!”  

Make the total window smaller than you usually do. Say, 4-6 hours or so instead of The Entire Day, and based around one meal-time, not All of Them, Question Mark? The more open-ended you are, the less important it is that people show up at any specific time, the more the “whenever” feeling perpetuates itself. If it doesn’t matter when people show up, and they know you’ll come to their planned thing the following weekend, why should anybody adjust anything? I know you are trying to be maximally flexible, but consider that a lunch/brunch with a set start and end time frees people up to make their own evening plans and frees you up to nap with your feet up in an empty house once everyone has gone. 4-9 pm drinks/dinner window gives everyone the whole early part of the day to do other stuff. Breakfast to ??? is WAY TOO LONG an interval for people-ing!

At least 24 hours before any event, mentally convert any and all “maybes” to “no” and assume they aren’t coming. Make a generous amount of food for the people who said they were coming, which will leave a much more comfortable amount of leftovers, and don’t be afraid to ask people to bring a dish of something to share or storage containers for taking leftovers home with them. If a swarm of unconfirmed people do actually show up after all, welcome them with enthusiasm and let that go down in history as The Time You Ordered Supplemental Pizza And Nobody Died Of It. Treat it like a good, happy thing that they were able to come vs. “You’re late, again.” If people are jerks to you about not waiting for them to start things, it’s as good a time as any to say, “I’m so glad we were able to see you after all!!!!” and give ZERO apologies.

Schedule breaks for yourself. Every 2 hours of hostessing requires 1/2 hour of quietly feeding the baby and/or handing the baby to a willing grandparent and putting your feet up for a minute. Speaking of schedule, your baby has one, and it is the boss of you for the forseeable future. Use it! “Oops, gotta get the little one down for her nap.”

Then, deputize your husband to deal with *way* more stuff than he usually does.

  1. Party leftovers are your husband’s job now. He can figure out how to send them home with people, how to store them, all of it. Stackable deli containers where all the vessels use the same lid are your friend. 😉
  2. When invitation emails or messages go out, your husband should call the matriarchs/chief social directors of his side of the family and explain: You’ve both decided to switch it up for this holiday. The times on the invitation are real. If they want to eat/see the baby/hang out, it needs to happen roughly between Start Time and End Time. He is not about to let his pregnant wife throw a 12-hour party right now (not to mention TWO parties, what the entire fuck), and he’d appreciate help in spreading the word. If someone says they can’t commit to that, he can say, “Okay, we’ll be so sorry to miss you, but maybe next time!”  
  3. Your husband always has the option of asking his parents and important family members what would work for them while also advocating for your needs. “Mom, I know we all like to keep things open-ended, but I’m trying to make things easier on [Letter Writer]. She loves seeing you, and she puts so much work into these things. Is there some time window or way that we could arrange things that would make it easier for y’all to commit and reduce some of the ‘ am I cooking for 12 people or 60’ anxiety for her? How did you figure this out with your in-laws when you first got married?”  He may not get a good answer, but it’s not all on you to brainstorm new ways of accommodating his relatives and hope you’ll hit on the right one.
  4. Once the event starts, both of you can put your phones down. He can stop answering the influx of “I’m on my way!” and “We’ll be there in 10” texts, and he can definitely stop relaying that information to you in real time. If he must answer, he can say, “Great to know, drive safe!” and then move on with what you already planned. Y’all decided that lunch was at 2pm, so eat lunch by 2:30 at the latest, and whoever joins you, joins you. Stop postponing stuff for people who aren’t here! Definitely stop doing it because of magical time estimates!
  5. If his relatives are affronted because everyone didn’t wait for them to arrive, let them be affronted, and let your husband handle it, and let him wait on them! “Relative, we’re so glad you’re here!  We didn’t want the food to get cold, so we started eating already, but I’m happy to fix you a plate.” “Relative, so good to see you!  Sorry you missed the baby, she just went down for her nap and there is no way on earth I am going to wake her, but let me get you something to drink.” 
  6. When the scheduled event end-time comes, say goodbye to everyone and take yourself to bed or otherwise off the clock. YOU ARE GESTATING AN ENTIRE HUMAN. YOU NEED SLEEP. If people want to linger, your husband can play host if he wants to, and it’s his job to see them out the door and make sure you have some peace and quiet. Everyone can still have fun without a command performance from you.
  7. If your husband’s relatives miss the celebration and want Holiday 2.0 the next weekend, HE IS WELCOME TO GO OR TO HOST THEM. HIMSELF. ALL BY HIMSELF. He could bring last week’s leftovers and your daughter to their houses and hang out with them there as long as he wants to. Or, he could host at your home while you nap in comfort at your parents’ house or in sweet solitude at the fanciest nearby hotel you can reasonably afford and the expectation that you will return to a clean, quiet house. Up to him! I’m not throwing a second party for your relatives who didn’t come to the party I just threw” is beyond reasonable as a boundary.
  8. Your husband wants and expects you to accompany him to every celebration on his side of the family, and the only real way to break this cycle is if you stop going sometimes. There can be a strong pull in families to have every single person present at every single event or else it’s “ruined,” but personally I think one of the benefits of family is that you’re going to be related to each other forever so nothing has to be solved right now. Will everyone still love everyone a month from now? Yes? Great! “It’s cultural.” “This is who they are, they’ll never change.” “Okay! But I could really use some down time after last weekend, so I’m going to sit this one out. Blame it on your pregnant wife!”  

I don’t really believe in using invitations to try to teach people lessons or communicate anything besides “We’d like to see you, please come,” so I don’t expect that any of your respective relatives will “learn” anything about punctuality vs. flexibility if you and your husband change things up a little. Arguments about whose culture is better and who is technically being “rude” at any given time are also incredibly unproductive, in my opinion. “Punctuality” vs. “A relaxed open door policy for family” are different value systems, and it’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act where they collide. Fortunately, boundaries aren’t really about getting other people to feel or behave differently, they are about carving out what you need and making decisions that preserve your own comfort and sanity. In this situation, the way you defend and maintain those boundaries isn’t based on proving who’s more right, it’s based on “I’ve figured out that this is what I need, thanks for understanding, I’m really looking forward to seeing you!” As long as you’re choosing to host, you can make a few more choices to make all of that easier on yourself.

tl;dr stop this madness and do so much less


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