Carolyn Hax: Unplanned family get-togethers are pushing her away

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Friday, September 10, 2010

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 prior plans to attend family events.

I nicely tried to mention to one of the family ringleaders that it would be helpful if we could all plan ahead more, and she told me she is too busy to think ahead. That makes no sense to me.

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, histrionics, 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. Don't skip anything just to make a point, gack -- getting huffy never solved anything -- but do have the courage to decide what you want and stick to it, histrionics notwithstanding.

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