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Blended Family Holiday Gatherings: when your parenting styles & expectations conflict


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Blended Family Holiday Gatherings: when your parenting styles & expectations conflict

Lovey and I have six children in total: he has four children with three different mothers (two girls, two boys) and I have two sons from my first marriage.

My first husband and I were married 13 years; prior to our divorce, our sons were brought up with the traditional American family gatherings during the holidays. After our divorce, both their father's family and I continued to observe those extended-family holiday gatherings.

The way my ex husband and I were reared, and reared our sons, the expectation is that one arrives at such gatherings at least an hour before dinner starts. Everyone helps with last-minute meal prep, such as making the gravy and setting the table, we nibble on vegetable and relish trays, and hang out with each other. After dinner, everybody pitches in for clean up, we continue grazing, and we hang out, playing games or cards, watching movies, and enjoying each others' company.

My ex husband was in the military and no matter where he was stationed throughout our marriage, this is also how the holiday dinners among shipmates and/or neighbors in military housing were done.

Lovey's daughters have never spent the holidays with him; their mothers were custodial parents, as that's how things were done in those days. He was also, at times, an admitted "deadbeat dad". He married his sons' mother; their marriage lasted 17 years, and their sons upbringing included traditional American holiday dinners with their mother's extended family, or family friends. They did things the same way my ex husband and I did.

This is not how Lovey's sons do things post-divorce.

They show up when dinner is served and leave within a few minutes of eating, like our home is their all-you-can-eat restaurant. I've never seen anything like it. Lovey and I combined households a couple of weeks before Christmas 2011. That year and every year since, we've had Christmas dinner. That year and every year since, he's handled meal prep and I've purchased the groceries...whether or not my own sons were here (my sons performed military service and were stationed on the east coast or overseas). That year and every year since, his sons rock up for dinner about 15 minutes before they've been told it will be served, and leave within 15 minutes of it being over.

I don't begrudge them the groceries; the best gift I could give Lovey is Christmas dinner with his sons, and I'd rather put out the cash for that than buy him an equal dollar amount worth of stuff he doesn't need (and packaging I'd have to nag him to toss).

Every year, we go through this thing where he's upset and cranky-ish with me because his sons haven't come to spend time with him on the holiday. I think he needs to be cranky with them rather than with me. So that's one thing.

The other thing has to do with his sons treating this place like their own private restaurant, which I've mentioned before. Yesterday it escalated. Lovey's talked to them, so they were here about 30 minutes before dinner was served and planned to stay afterward, but his younger son complained that dinner was not on the table and being served promptly at the time Lovey had told them it would be. Throughout the meal, he continued making passive aggressive comments and jokes such as thanks for the late dinner until I put an end to it by saying I'd bought all the groceries.

Both of his sons acted like they don't know how to behave at a table with a table cloth on it, until I mentioned something about it being good that I'd bought the tablecloth on clearance instead of paying $30 for it and that my sons' father's re-enlistment bonus had paid for the table.

He also complained that "Santa" had brought a gift for my son and left it under our tree, but not for either one of Lovey's sons.
A) I'm not on Santa duty for them. That's their parent's job.
B) I'd bought dinner and shopped for all the groceries.
C) Neither one of them have ever remembered me during the holidays.
D) It's not my responsibility to make sure Lovey buys them a gift, or has the money to do so.​

I would have taken my sons aside and spoken to them privately.

I think it's highly likely Lovey wouldn't talk to his sons at all if I didn't make a point of telling him that's not acceptable behavior toward him or in our home, and then grind on it until he capitulated and spoke to them...which wouldn't guarantee a change in behavior.

I told him that even though it came about by accident, he'd happened across a means of dealing with this that's pure genius: plan to serve dinner an hour to an hour and a half after the time they expect.

I think if they want to treat the place like a buffet restaurant, then I should tell them it's $X a plate and they can't take home any of the leftovers.

Now, if I could just get him to NOT SEND THE LEFTOVERS IN MY DISHES/PLASTICWARE! They don't bring it back in good shape, if they bring it back at all. If they're offended that they're on paper plates and disposable containers, that's their problem. To my way of thinking, they're lucky to be invited back.



wow. uncivilized sons. if lovey won't talk to them directly, maybe you should??? or just take lovely out of town for xmas for the next few years and be done with the hassles of hosting xmas.


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From what I remember, these ingrates have always acted this way. I'd be embarrassed and ashamed if they were my kids. If Lovey doesn't say something to them, he accepts their behavior. I'd never want to be in that position with step-children, which in essence is what they are to you, because it would be difficult for me to keep my mouth shut.


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I can't ask him about it without him getting pissy with me, but he says he's talked to them.

I do know it isn't just me. He's appalled at his sons' behavior. His daughters are appalled at his sons' behavior. My sons are appalled at his sons' behavior. It's nearly reached the point where I'd just as soon not bother with having them over.

While I feel like it's clear someone needs to say or do something, I don't want to put myself in a situation where I could rightly be accused of "running them off".

When I "put my foot down" about his older son coming over after work and hanging out until 2 or 3 am (he works 3pm-11pm) when it was not an emergency and I had to work the next day, it resulted in an argument. Rather than him go for the obvious and agree to tell his son to visit during "normal" hours--the kid could do something crazy, like roll his backside out of bed and come over before he goes to work--Lovey tried to have the "if my sons aren't welcome here" fight with me. I say "tried" because I wouldn't fall for it. Instead, I held my guns and stuck to heart of the matter: he needs to expect minimum standards of behavior from his sons rather than continue to accept this BS.

Last week while telling me how lucky Lovey is to have me, one of my friends said that at 65 it was high time Lovey met someone who expected him to grow up. That's an astute assessment of the situation if I ever heard one.

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Your step children are rude.

Maybe next time (if there is a next time), tell them that the agenda is to have at least one hour conversation before dinner is served, and presents will be handed out at least one hour after dinner is over, after they have helped with after dinner clearing.

In Panama people arrive at parties at a minimum half an hour later than the invitation hour. The polite and proper thing is to arrive one hour late. Also, the polite thing is to sit, talk and snack for at least one hour before food is served, so the whole thing depends on the time the last guest arrives. For the hostess the tricky part is to make sure that food is not burned or cold because it is hard to calculate exactly when dinner will be served, but we manage.

I woud definitely draw the line at early moring visits. Not cool at all when you have to work.


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wow. uncivilized sons. if lovey won't talk to them directly, maybe you should??? or just take lovely out of town for xmas for the next few years and be done with the hassles of hosting xmas.

I'm thinking that he can go out of town, his sons can fend for themselves, and I can spend the day however I like...whether that's playing hostess for dinner with my sons, spending the day with friends or extended family, attending a community Christmas dinner for those who have nowhere else to go, or staying home by myself eating chips and watching porn!




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That behavior is just bizarre. Were they raised by wolves? I'm no expert on etiquette, and I still find that appalling and unnatural. I've never gone anywhere and left 15 minutes after eating, except perhaps a restaurant with quick service. We always have 2-3 places to visit on the holidays, and we plan accordingly. Is it exhausting having to reserve a few hours for each place? Absolutely. But any less than that and we might as well not go at all.

I don't even know what to recommend. This shouldn't need explaining, which makes me think trying to talk to them would be futile. I do like the idea of starting dinner later than the time you told them, and setting up almost an itinerary. Tell them that between dinner and dessert you'll be opening presents. Then before opening presents, start cleaning up. All normal guests will pitch in, and at the very least they might stick around for it.


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This shouldn't need explaining, which makes me think trying to talk to them would be futile.

This. This, right here.

I'm tempted to begin greeting his son with "I'm surprised to see you; we don't have anything to eat."

I need to tell Lovey I'm serious on giving away my dishes and plastic ware. That stuff isn't free. He can't afford to replace it, and I shouldn't have to.

As for when to open gifts:

The Christmas routine I was familiar with was: nuclear family exchanges gifts Christmas morning and the extended family exchanges gifts after dinner. Sometimes "Christmas" dinner with the extended family was a few days before Christmas, sometimes it was on Christmas, and sometimes it was a few days after.

Now that my sons are grown, it's somewhat bittersweet to have nothing to do when dinner is over and everyone has gone home. To counter that, this year I suggested to Lovey that he and I open our gifts in the evening after everyone else had gone home. His sons were out of here by 6:30-7:00. It got to be 8:00 and my son hadn't ditched us yet, so we did it then.

I think it worked out well, and I think that's how we'll do it from now on. He and I will open our gifts to each other after dinner is cleared away and everyone else has left.

My son requested no gifts, so I got him a card and a chocolate bar. "Santa" gave him and Lovey each a brown paper lunch bag filled with an orange, mixed nuts in the shell, candy cane and gumdrops. If I'd thought about it earlier, I would have got enough to do one for everyone. I just didn't think of it, because my son had requested no gifts. It turned out that had enough to do two, so I did.

My son thought it was cool, and Lovey was thrilled. It was just like he got when he was a kid, and that's what I was aiming for. :)



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I talked to Lovey about one of the comments which particularly upset me.

While that comment didn't stand out to Lovey in the same way as it registered with me, he didn't go into "defend my kid" mode. He said it wouldn't stand out to him, because he's used to it.

He told me his younger son has a mouth on him; even tho' he's trying to be funny, or just doesn't think, it has made problems for him with others. He was often in trouble at school, and has been in trouble with friends, because of it.

Lovey said the best thing to do is to not get upset and just flat-out tell him "that wasn't funny" or "that was mean," inappropriate, etc.

Part of me is blown away that someone would be so used to hearing and receiving put-downs, it wouldn't register with either party that's what's being said by the speaker or how it could be received by the listener.

The *other* part of me recalls my own family of origin and extended family, and can easily envision EXACTLY how neither side would recognize it for what it is.

Good lord, people are freaks.



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It's interesting to see what different people consider to be acceptable behaviour.

My ex-husband's family are used to shouting at one another in a very unpleasant way and think nothing of it, and don't understand why anyone else would be upset by that. I was raised to be polite and reasonable even with other family members, and also was the only child in the family so had no experience of squabbling and falling out with someone close and it not meaning anything much. So obviously, my ex-husband's explosive temper that blew up and passed in an instant was a never-ending source of bafflement and insult to me. I once spoke to his sister about it, and she said that her husband made the same complaint of her. I did see a very small light go on in her head.... hopefully it made her think about her own behaviour. My ex never did, and apparently still hasn't, changed. My kids, while irritated by their father's ridiculous lack of temper control, don't seem to be upset by it, and also don't seem to have learned to behave in the same way, possibly because I never accepted it and always complained about it. They are both generally easy-going, polite and pleasant, and my daughter has chosen a partner who is even-tempered and cheerful.

My ex-husband's new wife grew up in a family where it was the norm to belittle each other and be rude, her exes have been very badly behaved, so to her, his little outbursts are nothing. I'm told she just rolls her eyes and laughs.

Lee expects to be overruled every time he disagrees with me, because that's his parents' style and is what he was used to with exes, and even after more than 3.5 years he is still pleasantly surprised every time I say I don't agree but we can discuss it and reach a compromise (usefully, it also means he doesn't bother to put up objections unless it really seems important to him, so we avoid many petty squabbles by him just saying 'ok'. I make a special effort not to take advantage of that, and also to not dig my own heels in about stuff that's not so important to me).


I had an incident during my mother-in-law's visit. I introduced her to a friend of mine from Singapore, who was very kind to prepare a nice lunch for us, but during said lunch, proceeded to say she hated the United States, and speak about the arrogance of Americans. Considering that her husband, my husband, and my mother in law are Americans, I found that inappropriate. Also after lunch she talked about redesigning her garden but not allowing her husband to participate because he had poor taste and common sense. I was so ready to go at that point that I just made an excuse and we left.

I was extremely embarrassed and regretted the introduction.