Get me out of here! Tactfully.
November 26, 2010 7:47 AM   Subscribe

How can I peacefully and tactfully get out of the huge family Thanksgiving celebration for next year, or years after that? I've finally reached the end of my rope, I think.

Every year, I swear it is my last going to my family's Thanksgiving as I'm starving, waiting to eat, but I end up going again and again.

My family isn't terrible by any means, and they're not bad hosts, there's just a lot of them and it's very chaotic. My mother has three siblings, all with 2-3 kids from 10-18 years old. Thanksgiving is about 20-23 people at two tables. I've tried to bow out, only to get a bunch of guilt from my mom, my grandmother, and others. Also complicating things: my in-laws also attend and get along well with my family, as they're both only children and have no other family.

I dislike attending because I'm told to be there at X hour (I've taken to showing up at X+45), only dinner isn't served until 2-3 hours later - this year, nearly 4 hours later. I spent 7 hours there yesterday before I could escape, and I was the first to do so. Isn't that excessive?

I am 36 weeks pregnant and was not only starving, but had to pacify my toddler in a non-kidproofed house for four hours while he was also starving. I realize it takes a hell of a lot of effort to make a meal for so many people and I don't mean to be ungrateful, but three hours late every year is really annoying (I usually bring a side dish that requires only microwaving). There's never enough chairs to sit in and socialize, I'm always stuck at the kid's table with misbehaving youngsters while their parents socialize in another room.

I just want to stay home and have Thanksgiving at my house, and my husband has wanted the same for awhile. Without all the people - who I see at least 5 other times a year at various other events such as group birthday parties, graduations, etc. If my immediate family would like to, they could come.

I want to mitigate the guilt and passive-aggressiveness, especially from my mom, when I finally put my foot down. I realize I'm also unfortunately putting my inlaws in a weird spot - and it's not like I have a terrible time, I just... don't want to go. How can I tactfully decline when I've gone every year since my birth and live within an hour and a half and it's what Everyone Just Does? Next year we'll have a toddler and a baby. We're going to have the same issue with Christmas, I think. I just want my family to have its own traditions and make things really low-key and non-stressful for my kids.

Or should I just suck it up and keep going because it's about my family and not me?
posted by kpht to Human Relations (58 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If it's just about not eating on time, why not prepare in advance? Either eat before you go, or bring some appetizers to share with everyone.

But if it's just about the general aggravation... book a cruise for Thanksgiving, or something similar. Non refundable, too good a deal to pass up, etc. :)
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:53 AM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

If food being served late is your main issue (it would be with me, especially with kids) you could go, but address that. At most holiday gatherings where it takes a while for the meal to be served, people put out pre-meal food, often precisely for kids who will get hungry. You may have to take charge of bringing this food; you can probably rope in other people with small kids because I bet some of them feel this way. You could also just go late and feed your kids a meal first, and have a snack yourself. Everything seems irritating when you are starving.
posted by BibiRose at 7:54 AM on November 26, 2010

Like it or not, it's kind of a required family thing. However, now that you have your own family, you can do what many people do and have their own Thanksgiving then go to your family's house later in the day. So #1, you don't have to stay long, #2 you won't be hungry because you already ate, and #3 you haven't ditched them completly. We had plenty of people that had to visit both theirs and their spouse's family yesterday and showed up later in the day but the important thing was that they made an appearance.
p.s For what it's worth, they shouldn't have made a pregnant lady or a toddler wait for food!
posted by MsKim at 7:54 AM on November 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Okay, you're pregnant, already have kids, and a husband... I'm guessing you're over 21?

Time to start your own family traditions.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:56 AM on November 26, 2010 [40 favorites]

Perhaps the compromise is simply to do create solutions that work for you. If you know dinner will be served hours after you arrive and you'll be hungry, just eat a (small) meal before you arrive. Arrive an hour late (but call ahead and say you are having car trouble or there's traffic or something). At some point, say that toddler is getting restless and that you're taking him out for a walk, and be gone for 30 minutes.

That said, I have carved out a small Thanksgiving--and I highly recommend it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:56 AM on November 26, 2010

Adding: either invite your inlaws to your new Thanksgiving tradition, or encourage them to have a good time at your parent's place without you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:58 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like it or not, it's kind of a required family thing.

No, it's absolutely not. If you don't want to go, you don't want to go, whether it's about the food or being bored or you just don't wanna (which is, I suspect, closes to the truth).

I would tell the extended family that you're starting your own family tradition of having Thanksgiving at your home, just the four of you. Take into account, though, that it does come at a cost of your kids getting to know their family, if y'all don't get together at other times.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:59 AM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

I haven't went to a family Thanksgiving in seven years, and I will share with you my secret!

I tell my family I have to work. They whine and cry a bit, but the anger is displaced onto my mean employer, who forces me to work on the holiday. Particularly with the economy in the state it's in, no one is unsympathetic when I shrug and say well, at least I still have work.

I spent the whole day yesterday watching Flight of the Conchords and drinking wine and eating appetizers, but as far as my family knows I spent the day working.

There is no reason to suffer in the service of some ridiculous soft focused Hallmark ideal Family Thanksgiving that never happens because everyone is too busy screaming at each other to remember that holidays shouldn't be about what Bobby said about our Steffie and the Doulton that Grandmama promised Cathy that Rita took.
posted by winna at 8:01 AM on November 26, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Next year we'll have a toddler and a baby. [...] I just want my family to have its own traditions and make things really low-key and non-stressful for my kids.

I think you've answered your own question here. You can tell your extended family (and by that, I really mean just your traditional Thanksgiving hosts, and maybe give your in-laws a heads-up, too) that you feel it's time for you and your children to start a Thanksgiving tradition of your own. It doesn't matter if that tradition is pajamas and toaster waffles: it's yours.

And here's the tricky part: you stick to that. They may criticize your choice, they may try to argue you out of it, they may tell you that they rely on having you and your little 'uns with them at Thanksgiving. You stick to your guns: "It's time for us to make our own traditions" (or whatever phrasing feels authentic to you).

Or you can simply opt out next year with the (almost certainly equally true) excuse that with a toddler and a baby, it's just too darned chaotic for you to pack them up and spend a full day (seven hours is a full work day!) at someone else's home, so you're going to spend Thanksgiving at home. After you've done it once, it's easier to say you're starting your own tradition. And it's true!

The real thing to take away from this: remember that it's an invitation, not an order. Even though traditional, annually repeated family gatherings can feel like something carved in stone, they're not. You have the power to change them, simply by speaking up and sticking to that decision.

I am proof of that. My husband and I often spend two days devoted to Thanksgiving trips: first his family, then mine. That means a total of ~10 hours on the road. This year, we stayed home in our pajamas, and I'm happy to report that none of our family said anything other than "We'd love to have you" and "We'll miss you" and "Happy Thanksgiving!"
posted by Elsa at 8:02 AM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

It sounds like your issues could be solved by eating before you show up, bringing folding chairs so you know you'll have somewhere to sit and telling your mum that you're not happy sitting at the kids table each year and its someone else's turn.
posted by missmagenta at 8:03 AM on November 26, 2010

It sounds like the main problem is not allowing yourself to be manipulated by guilt-tripping behavior of your mother. All the other stuff is just details. Your new task is to learn not to let guilt-trips change your mind. If you want to spend Thanksgiving at your house that's perfectly legitimate.

Also: seeing your family at Thanksgiving is most definitely not a required family thing.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:04 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

'we just can't do it with 2 little ones/disrupts their schedule. Individual visits please.'
posted by k8t at 8:04 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Let me chip back in with a story about the tendency to not give yourself permission to be a grownup.

My parents and in-laws go to church where me and my family go, and for 20+ years I was in business with my Dad. Love my family, but I could write a book about delaying the transition into adulthood. Anyway, father's day was one Sunday, as it tends to be, and we're all standing around after church, as we tend to wind up on Sundays around lunchtime, and the plan is discussed to go to - Dad's favorite restaurant. All 12 of us.

I don't hate this restaurant, but it's not my favorite thing, and as the official restaurant of old folks in my smallish town, it's hell getting in there on Sundays, and you wait for the food up to 30-40 minutes when they're busy.

So as I'm about to reluctantly agree (I may have, in fact, already said we'd go), my then-11 year old son actually starts crying. He's not a drama addict, and he's normally fairly well-adjusted, but the prospect of waiting an hour to eat put him over the edge.

And that's when it hit me (and I actually said this out loud):

I'm a father too.

Inside of 30 minutes it was just me and Mrs. RKS and the two junior RKSs, eating at a deli we really like. Happy father's day to me. And my parents and in-laws presumably felt it was worth the wait for their favorite old-folks restaurant...
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:07 AM on November 26, 2010 [37 favorites]

Go out for an early Thanksgiving dinner by yourselves, then show up already secretly full and not bothered about the wait and delayed food.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:09 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just so you have a benchmark for these things, 23 people and a 7 hour day is pretty typical for a big family Thanksgiving. I don't think it's excessive.

There's that old joke about "Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I keep banging my head on the wall." "So stop banging your head on the wall." And while that's an option, I'd point out that padding the wall is also an option. There is an extent to which a 7 hour day and a 3 hour delay is something that shouldn't be a surprise to you at this point. You can work with that. Bring snacks for yourself and your kids, and bring entertainment for your toddler like you would for any other extended outing. Plan for a long day so that you can enjoy it.

Having said that, you can use your pregnancy or the birth of your second child as an excuse to start your own family traditions, and this Christmas at home seems like a great time to do that. But maybe be really firm about Christmas and make compromises for Thanksgiving, which it seems would be manageable if you planned for the inevitable. It seems extremely, well, unfriendly to withdraw yourselves and your in-laws from all of these big family events, you know?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:09 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have addressed the somewhat obvious: I usually do try to eat beforehand, and show up a bit later, but I have gotten crap for showing up late and "holding people up", too (I didn't, dinner was still an hour later). Dinner is never served at the same time , it's a crapshoot to try to guess, or I'd always show up an hour beforehand.

This year my husband stayed home (with his dad) since he had surgery Monday - I was rushed trying to get out the door with the baby and should have eaten, but I was also preoccupied with making him food to last the day. As for appetizers, there's usually some veggies and other things. There was only a little cheese plate this year, but it was mostly gone by the time I arrived. So I think this year was just a perfect storm of Annoying Things.

I've thought about just going for part of the later evening, but it's an hour and a half each way. Even if we stay for only an hour and a half, that's 4.5 hours. We'd be eating sandwiches at home on Thanksgiving just to carve out the time to go.

OH! And last year there was a 2 hour gap between dinner and dessert. We bailed before we even got to eat the dessert we brought, just to get home before 10PM.
posted by kpht at 8:11 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You simply don't enjoy the experience. That's enough of a reason not to go. Give yourself permission.
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:12 AM on November 26, 2010 [19 favorites]

Just suck it up and keep going because it's about your family and not you. Honestly, this is something you might feel a little silly about in future years. I understand the irritation of going unfed, because I am a vegetarian and periodically end up stuck somewhere where available food = stale crackers and some sort of soup-mix "dip," and I start fussing it up. It sounds like a lot of your upset with this is coming from that one waiting-for-food hassle.

But the solution here is to bail for twenty minutes to hit the fast-food place down the road, not to bail on your whole family. Unless your family is uniquely unpleasant, these big gatherings are great for small children. Hungry toddler for four hours...what? Snack in the purse, easily sorted. Bored toddler...what? Palm him off on any nearby aunt or uncle.

This does have 'reasonable family obligation' written all over it -- I doubt there is a way to bow out that will not cause offence -- and your objections are so trivial and so easily fixed that, again, I fear you will feel foolish in future years. Family members start to die off, you'll wish you took what time was available... This isn't a week-long reunion in the bush where you have to live in a tent or something; it's one day, suck it up. Another thing you will be grateful for later on: other people hosting. It sounds like D-I-Y is less chaotic, yes, but it will mean you do all the work. It is a luxury to show up elsewhere and eat, even if you show up 2-3h before it hits the table.
posted by kmennie at 8:17 AM on November 26, 2010 [7 favorites]

I don't thing there's anything wrong with reinventing your Thanksgiving habits to suit yourself.

My wife's family gets together in similar numbers, with similar-sounding levels of chaos, but there's always a potluck snack/hors d'Ĺ“uvre table covered with goodies ranging from a fresh fruit platter to chips 'n salsa, to one of the aunties' crackers with cheesy artichoke dip. There's a cooler of beer and soda, and an open bottle of Pinot Grigio on the counter. The amounts of food available in the runup to "the meal" feel a little silly, but nobody goes hungry, and the pressure on the hostess to get dinner on the table is greatly reduced.
posted by jon1270 at 8:20 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't tactfully decline. Actively make other plans. "This year, we're going to be doing XYZ. I hope you guys have a great time. We'll see you at (insert next event here)."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:20 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Letting yourself be a grown up is true, but a band-aid for the general pervasive issue is of course having a reason not to go anyway--plan a trip or small vacation or something. If you find you like it, you could make it a new ritual. Of course, it sounds like you want the T-day experience, just on your own terms in your own home, so that might not be the solution, but the general response I give anyone who's like "I'm tired of the usual holiday traditions" is "go off the wall and make weird new ones, or travel."
posted by ifjuly at 8:22 AM on November 26, 2010

Do you want these things changed, or do you not care and just want to stop going? Because if you want to make your own traditions even if this Thanksgiving with your parents would be perfect, then the answers are different than if you'd love to do one of the big family meals but it's just too frustrating to be there because it is so disorganised.

(I also think you should choose one of the two big holidays and go see the family and keep the other at home. I don't think it matters which, but seeing your family 5 times a year isn't really a lot to me. But it's not clear to me whether you see your parents 5 times a year or the entire extended family.)

If you do want to go, but with it more organised -- bring an appetizer, tell your mother in advance you need to leave at 8 to be home for bedtime (and bring home a slice of dessert if necessary), buy a half dozen folding chairs so you can sit with the adults, etc. Would your mother not help with some of these things, especially if the other option were you not coming?
posted by jeather at 8:28 AM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

Have it at your house and invite your inlaws.

Tell your mom that you refuse to put yourself thru thankgiving hell again if she complains. You have already said your husband wants to stay home, you want to stay home, and frankly those are the only two people that need consulting.

If she gets mad, she gets mad. She'll live.

When your children are a little older you might decide to rejoin the large family gathering, but no, I wouldn't want to put myself thru that with little ones either.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:29 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would pick either Thanksgiving or Christmas to make my new, small-family tradition, and suck it up for the other holiday.

Also I would simply inform people in no uncertain terms that, "I'm pregnant, I have a toddler, we will be bringing food to eat when the toddler is hungry and I will eat when I am hungry; neither of us can wait for the uncertainty of the big meal. It puts the toddler off his schedule and makes me ill. We will be delighted to sit down with you at the big meal, but we have to continue with our regular schedules for food." And if they refuse to understand that, that's when I'd be like, "I'm done."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

This year my husband stayed home (with his dad) since he had surgery Monday - I was rushed trying to get out the door with the baby and should have eaten, but I was also preoccupied with making him food to last the day.

If you continue to do, I'd leave the kids at home with the dad eliminated the child proofing issue and making it easier to do your own thing at the parent's house. It will be much less stressful for you with no kids at the house to feed and worry about. Call dad 1/2 hour before meal time (it should be much more accurate with you there to gauge cooking times) and he can show up then with the kids. If the parents complain, say it's right during nap time and you don't think having 2 crying kids there for hours on end is a great idea. If it's the grandparent deal where they just cannot live without seeing the grandkids for more hours, compromise with offering another night soon devoted to grandkid + grandparent fun time.
posted by jmd82 at 8:33 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can't be the only one having these issues. All the other people involved are OK with the scenario you describe? I would bet they are not. What do they do? Are you the only sadface there? Who do you commiserate with as your stomach growls and the hours tick on? Get some backup and make a new plan.

Or, stay home. Trust me- this all bothers you WAY more than it will bother them. If it's as chaotic as you say, no one will notice or care that you are not in attendance.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:35 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's a 90-minute drive???

Seriously, give yourself permission not to go and schedule an alternate activity that you "can't" break. Your family will forgive you.
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 36 weeks pregnant and you drove 90 minutes alone with a toddler in the car only to be starved for 4 hours upon arrival? And family members who allegedly love you would guilt you over not wanting to relive this nightmare next year?

The people who are insinuating that you are somehow selfish for not wanting to deal with this again are bad people who probably kick puppies while twirling their moustaches.

Unfortunately, I think you missed a prime opportunity to bow out this year - between the last month of your pregnancy and your husband's (presumably) bedridden recovery, you had the perfect excuse for all of you not to attend.
posted by elizardbits at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2010 [15 favorites]

Just suck it up and keep going because it's about your family and not you. Honestly, this is something you might feel a little silly about in future years.

Just as likely, you might feel silly in future years that you never did what you wanted to do on Thanksgiving.

You can still love your family unconditionally, and be a full member of your clan, without participating in every tradition and event in which they want you to participate. If it bothers you enough for you to be soliciting our advice, then obviously it's important enough to do your own thing and not feel bad about it.
posted by jayder at 8:43 AM on November 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You don't really need anyone's permission to do this. All you really need is suggestions about the way to do this gently with as few hurt feelings as possible. What would work with my mother is something like this: Sometime nowhere near the Holidays--say April--while Mom & I were talking about nothing important, I'd say "You know, Mom, Husband and I were thinking about having Thanksgiving dinner at home this year. Just us and Child 1 and Child 2. Unless just you and Dad want to join us?" and she'd ask why and say something like "I don't know, Dad and I host Thanksgiving with everyone" and I'd say "Well, last year was too chaotic for Child 1 and Child 2 will just be too little. So we thought we'd stay home and have a quiet Thanksgiving. Let me know if you think you and Dad will join us." and then I'd change the subject back to something totally unimportant.

Then as the holidays got closer and the holiday madness started to grow, I'd just gently and firmly remind anyone who said "we'll see you at Thanksgiving, right?" that no, Husband and I were going to stay home with just the kids this year.

Even though you don't have any immediate plans to go back to the madness, you don't need to draw a dramatic line. You're creating a very gentle boundary. The less fuss you make about it, but the more clear you are about it, the easier it is on everyone. Especially, if--as you say--you see all the family pretty regularly.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:45 AM on November 26, 2010 [14 favorites]

I feel your pain. My mother goes overboard for Christmas. It's *her* holiday (she had a rough childhood) so everything must be perfect. It's gotten better in recent years as my mother has gotten older, but my two sisters have now kind of taken over policing things so everything is perfect.

It irritates the hell out of me to be guilted into doing things, with little or no thought to the logistics of getting children up to the house, keeping them entertained for from breaking things, or from crying while they are hungry.

My situation is not the same as yours, but it does vex me that me and my wife and my kids are merely props for someone else's version Christmas.

I don't know what to say, except to advise you to be reasonable. If you're pregnant and it's uncomfortable for you to hang out at the house for hours and hours, show up late.

If you want to eat at the adult table, bring your child with you.

If you're tired of preventing your toddler from breaking things, let him break things.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:49 AM on November 26, 2010

You don't really need anyone's permission to do this.

It sounds to me like kpht needs her own permission to do it.

You're a grown-up with your own family. You can give yourself permission to have your own celebrations. That doesn't make you selfish or unkind. It only means that you want a different celebration for your own family.

You might try it for a year (next year, with the very valid reason that a new baby + toddler makes travel and waiting around to eat a lot harder) and see if that feels good to you. If it does, congratulations: you've started a tradition!
posted by Elsa at 8:52 AM on November 26, 2010

Just say you have other plans. The more you say, the digger the hole you are digging for yourself, especially if you feel your family is the kind that will enjoy building drama around it.

Spending holidays in ways you don't enjoy out of a sense of obligation? Once in awhile, sure, but life is short and days free from obligation are few.
posted by quarterframer at 8:55 AM on November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving is about both you and your family. It's about seeing everyone and visiting, more than about the food, despite the outward focus on food.

If it's just the food issues that are keeping you from going, then bring appetizers instead of a side dish. But, of course, it isn't. It's about not wanting to be relegated to the kiddie table every year, and not wanting to deal with the chaos and not wanting to spend 7 hours with your family. And all of those are perfectly valid reasons not to go.

But recognize that by not going, you're deciding that a peaceful day is more important than being with your family.

That's okay. You're allowed to feel that way. It's totally acceptable.

But it's still going to hurt your mother's feelings like crazy. And that's also okay, she's allowed to feel that way, and it's totally acceptable.

It's an unfortunately reality that not every decision can be perfect -- sometimes it's a lesser of two evils situation. Decide which evil is less.

If staying home and enjoying Thanksgiving is your choice, then tell your mother that you and your growing family want to establish some Thanksgiving traditions of your own. But also make arrangements to either invite her for dinner at your house or come to dinner at her house, a couple of weeks before or after Thanksgiving to demonstrate that you're not shutting her out of your lives, you're just skipping Thanksgiving.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:55 AM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

it's not about you...but it is about you. you're a part of this family too. i think next year it's totally fine to say that with the two little kids, you and your husband are going to stay home and have a quiet family thanksgiving. if you must explain further, tell your mom, privately, that you love the family but that you haven't been able to enjoy thanksgiving for many years because it's too difficult to juggle the chaos and your small child and you have decided to stick to small family gatherings until the kids are a bit older.

people may fuss, but stand your ground--honestly, they may be fussing more because they are jealous that you have the chutzpah to do what they may also have been wanting to do for some time. i wouldn't be surprised if the year after you stay home, others will suddenly start articulating reasons to stay home and/or speed things along. i'm sure a big part of the reason that the chaos has spiraled out of control is because everybody -does- grin and bear it, allowing it to happen. by refusing to put up with it anymore, you will be helping not just yourself, but other silent sufferers as well.

if nothing else, once you break the routine for the first time, it'll be easier to either suggest alterations to the big family tradition or make alternative plans in the future.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:56 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not every relationship in a family that size is equally important; maybe think up a pre- or post-Thanksgiving tradition you can do with the key people (i.e., your parents) and have your own tradition at home. 'Thanksgiving Pizza and Trivial Pursuit Night -- second to last Thursday in November or something. OR go overnight and get a nearby hotel room so you can escape and not have to do all that eating and driving in one day.

Sounds hellacious, I feel for you, and there's no regret like looking back on wasted time.

On behalf of all of us who suffer through such things, do us a vicarious favor and have a grand and quiet Thanksgiving tradition with your husband and kids.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:57 AM on November 26, 2010

Make other plans. Simple as that. "We've decided to have Thanksgiving at home for us and the children. You're welcome to come, or to come over during the weekend for turkey sandwiches."

Christmas dinner at home was always immediate family, with a buffet tea at the grandparents for one side of the extended family, then Boxing Day tea with the other side. That generally spread out the family obligation, and stopped people getting too annoyed with heroic catering.
posted by holgate at 8:59 AM on November 26, 2010

You're sort of characterizing it the way you would if you were 16 and had no choice but to be there. Of course you're going to get pushback from your mom and grandma if you ask permission not to attend! But you don't need to ask permission. Do you want a small holiday dinner? Plan one. Consider also inviting your parents to do something, like a post-Christmas or post-Thanksgiving weekend brunch, in order to include them without forcing them to choose between their large holiday gathering and your small one. Also, consider giving your mom a heads up the first time or two you do your small family holiday, simply because she'll be expecting you at hers and it's nice to let her know ahead of time.

If you get grief about family tradition, you can briefly explain that you're interested in creating or celebrating other family traditions and say you'll see everyone at Aunt Edna's birthday part in January. Don't complain about what you don't like at the big family event, just explain what you've decided to do instead of it. Then change the subject. It's not up for negotiation.

The family events you need to "suck it up and go" are generally funerals and close relatives' weddings--and even then there are exceptions. Holidays? Make them joyous and meaningful for your kids. Don't teach your kids that it's ok for family members to bully and guilt you into accepting their plans.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:04 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your family is shooting for this, and either falling short or else it's just not the way you want to do it:

The way such things work in my family is that it's meant to be an all-day meetup. Everyone plans to show up early to help with getting dinner ready. There are a lot of pre-dinner snacks, with several people bringing their favorites so they're available for them as well as everyone else. Some people make particularly good snacks and we look forward to them every year as well as to the actual dinner.

The time pre-meal is spent socializing, getting things ready, bustling and enjoying company. There are people we hardly ever see, and the meal is just the setting for the socializing; getting food itself is secondary, while preparing the food (and cleanup after) for such a huge gathering is an enormous chore that we try to share out among all the people present.

We eat so much at dinner that we need a few hours afterwards before we can have dessert. We know this and plan for it. Some people may leave before dessert, in which case they're urged to take some of everything or perhaps even a whole pie if it's their favorite. We have a couple of people who just can't stand the crowds and duck out throughout the day, or sometimes do get a call when dinner is about to be put in the table (sometimes a turkey just doesn't cook at the rate expected) so they can show up just for the dinner part.

It sounds like this is what your family is trying to do. Maybe you don't want to have this sort of a socializing get-together, you just want to be there for food; maybe you just have never thought about it this way, and you'd appreciate it more if you did. Maybe everything together is just too much for you to care whether it's a meal get-together or an all-day family social, you just don't want to BE there; that's certainly your option. Maybe it would help to talk to the host/ess and try to figure out what is really expected of guests, instead of coming at it with expectations you know won't be fulfilled, and then being resentful that it's not working out the way you want it to.

And if you just don't want to BE there, but your family wants to guilt you into being there, then tell them outright that you don't appreciate being manipulated. Their guilting you isn't making you want to be there, and guilting you in fact makes you less happy about attending. Either you'll come or you won't, but if they don't make it an *actual invitation* (where one of the potential answers is NO) then you're LESS likely to show up. (And you could add that you certainly don't want to be the babysitter at every get-together--where are all the other mothers??)
posted by galadriel at 9:11 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

The guilt-tripping is the problem. I'd have the conversation with your family about your alternate plans at a juncture far removed from certain hoildays (March?). Tell them what you want to do (have your own celebration at home) and state it - don't ask. Because it is reasonable (90 minutes is a long distance, for example) it will be easy for you to present it as such. They might grumble and begin to attempt to guilt you into things. Take it as one might a compliment, it's so great that want us there, and, we love you, too! Then return the conversation to your decision/plan as a fact that has already been decided.
posted by marimeko at 9:15 AM on November 26, 2010

The year we had a toddler (18 months) and a newborn (2 months) is when I stopped on Christmas. It was too much. I flat out told Mom that we weren't going anywhere. I invited them over for brunch and they came. They left at 1PM and we were free to have the day to ourselves.

We now live 1200 miles from the nearest relative, so I no longer have that problem.

My MIL does the day-after Thanksgivigng turkey fry and invites everyone. You may want to start some Black Friday or Saturday tradition to replace the nonsense. Just a thought!
posted by beachhead2 at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2010

Well, as jeather said, it boils down to, "I'd go, except I hate XYZ" vs "I hate EVERYTHING and don't want to go ever again." Which one do you want?

And also, are you willing to pay the price of hearing the bitching and whining from the relatives if you stop going? Yes, that sounds awful, but with my relatives I factor the long-term bitchery in. Is it worth 7 hours of my life on this one day to not have to hear about this all year long?

Though really, with 23 people, of COURSE they are going to be late. Hell, we had 8 people and ate at 6 p.m. last night. That's why there's a 3 p.m. snackfest.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:53 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Strange: the Thanksgiving issue I'm more familiar with is people are too stuffed full of chips, dips, nuts, cheese and wine to have any appetite once the turkey and fixings arrive.

"Hey, Mom, I was thinking that we didn't have enough appetizers last year. Let me make a trunk full of Costco my contribution to the party ... oh, and by the way, can you please assign someone else to the kids' table, I think I've done my share."
posted by MattD at 10:09 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To add some leverage and justification to hosting your own holiday dinners, see if you can invite, say, 2 close friends or another couple who otherwise have no plans.

The arm twisters are likely to try to pull the "but, you have have a quiet family dinner alone anytime, this is special !" card. By sharing dinner with a couple of others you can come back with "we don't want our friends to be lonely this holiday, but they're not into big noisy gatherings, and neither are our young children".

The invited friends may not want to impose at first, but you can always reassure them they're welcome since because of the kids you don't get out to see friends such as them as much as you'd like to, probably true. And, are they sure they would rather have a microwave dinner alone rather than turkey and the fixings, and a couple of glasses or wine or beer (reassure them there will be something to calm their nerves about it, if any)?

Then just have a nice enjoyable dinner with _your_ family and invited friends.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:38 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think no matter what you decide to do, you should become a bit more assertive and pro-active. You could change the situation at your parents house: actively plan to have more appetizers, chairs, planned activities to keep the kids entertained. There are many useful suggestions upthread. Or you can plan your own holiday: tell the relatives you're starting your own tradition, invite them over for later in the week, invite your in-laws. Again, there are already many great suggestions for how to do it.

Your post sounds like in a house full of people related to you, you felt alone and uncared for. That's gotta hurt and right now you sound like you feel very sorry for yourself. While that feeling is very familiar to me, it never really pushes anyone to make things better in the long run. You are not a passive observer of your own life, you can make changes! No one's permission is required for that.
posted by Shusha at 10:57 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you're the eldest of the children if your mother's siblings' kids are between 10 and 18.

If so, that probably goes some way in explaining why it sucks for you, but not so much for everyone else. And by opting out you'll be paving the way for your cousins to also choose their own Thanksgiving traditions.

In any case, you can choose not to go and it'll probably work out for the best. Claim that with a toddler and new baby you just can't face it (added bonus of being true). Don't make excuses or back down, don't ask, but tell people well in advance - especially your in-laws. If you can manage to do this 3 years in a row, it'll be the new tradition.
posted by plonkee at 11:11 AM on November 26, 2010

Seconding what jacquilynne said:

Yes, you absolutely have permission to start your own tradition, or to just bow out, if that's your choice. You do have a family of your own, with needs of your own. You have to do what's right for you and your family.

You don't have the right - or the ability - to make your extended family feel wonderful about your choice. It means a lot to some people to have everyone be there. Their feelings won't just be guilt or manipulation, they'll be genuine. The fact that they are hurt doesn't mean that you should give in and go to their Thanksgiving anyway. It just means that some of them will have those feelings, and that being angry or upset with you does not mean they are bad people.

You are the only one capable of deciding whether the hurt and anger you'll get from the rest of your family is worth it for a better Thanksgiving experience for you and your family. But the fact that some folks will be hurt and angry is not in and of itself a reason to keep going back year after year.
posted by Chanther at 11:12 AM on November 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, guys. I think this gives me the nerve to just tell the family that for a few years, we're going to skip Thanksgiving and do things on our own. My in-laws will come over, I'm sure, and my own family can do whatever they please. I realized as I was reading the responses that I don't get to see my own brother or sister much aside from these completely chaotic holidays (whereas my parents, I see them every few weeks). It'd be nice to hang out with just them on holidays. I grew up not being able to play with my new toys on Christmas because we had to immediately pack up and go to the family gatherings. I know that's not really the worst thing in the world for a kid, but that's not really what I want for my kids.

I think the compromise will be making it to more Other Family Events, like birthdays and graduations - I was making about 60% of those before. Those are less stressful because it's usually a burger cookout or deli platters, and people are allowed to eat buffet-style - and it's therefore not a whole day wasted. Because in reality, they're not bad people and I enjoy socializing with them, it's just the holiday part of it that makes me crazy.
posted by kpht at 11:16 AM on November 26, 2010

If I understand correctly you will be 40+ weeks pregnant at Christmas, or you will have a newborn. You don't even need another excuse to get out of going this year. It would be insane to travel 1 1/2 hours away from your doctor when you could have the baby at any moment, and likewise insane to take a newborn into a situation where there will be so many people in such an enclosed space. RSV is nothing to mess around with. Take those 'excuses' and run with them.

As for next year crush-onastick has it exactly right. You are an adult now and you have your own family. You can let everyone know that you and your hubby have decided that now that Kid 1 is old enough to start remembering and you'll have Kid 2 also you think it's time to start your own family traditions.

If you want a longer, ease-them-into-it kind of solution you could do what crush-onastick says, but blame it on the kids being so young. "Mom, with the kids being so little I don't think I can handle them with so much going on at big family gatherings. This year Mr. kpht and I have decide it'll be better for everyone's sanity if we just do our own little dinner at our place. We're inviting Mr.'s parents, and of course you and Dad are welcome to come too. That's the extent of it though, we want to keep it low key." After you do it once you can claim that you and your little family enjoyed it so much that you've decided to do the low-key thing every year.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2010

OK, just for a minute, let's forget about what you want, what your spouse wants, and what your extended family wants (though I'm totally on your side). Your #1 obligation here is to your children -- to provide them with the healthiest and happiest atmosphere.

The dirty secret most people won't admit is that little kids do not enjoy those giant, overstimulating, sugar-loaded, loud, shiny-shiny crowded marathon events. Sure, they may run around screaming in ostensible happiness some of the time, but most of that is stress from too much sensory input (just as my dogs look "happy" when they're overstimulated and stressed out too). And then they inevitably get overtired, pissy, bored, frazzled, and miserable.

So your point at the end of your question about wanting a low-key and non-stressful holiday for your kids is the one to hold onto with both hands if you feel yourself wavering -- and it's also a great way to defuse the guilt-tripping: "No, it's best if we stay home and have a quiet family holiday. The travel and excitement is really hard on kpht jr."

Thus, if your relatives push, they get to look like the jerks for trying to make you do something not in your children's best interest.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:18 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you've already made up you mind, but I'll just share what worked for my family or mostly introverts.

My family in the past has picked one holiday to go to visit, and one to stay at home. So, for example, we'll stay home for Thanksgiving and go visit for Christmas on year and the next it will be the reverse. We live about 10 hours from all of the rest of our relatives, so we're able to make a case for this. But maybe this would be a good compromise for your family? You'll still be able to develop your own family traditions (which I think your family will respond to positively whatever you decide!) and also visit with the rest of the family.

I didn't really get to know my cousins outside of these yearly visits, but it sounds like your children will get to know their cousins anyway. I will say this, though. A couple of years ago we made the decision as a family to do both holidays with the grandparents. Why? My grandmother is losing her memory to Alzheimer's. I just missed my first Thanksgiving in years and even though I got to Skype with my grandmother, it was really hard. It sounds like that's not something you have to deal with yet, but be prepared to use some of the coping techniques mentioned above for these hectic visits if you end up going more often.
posted by Mouse Army at 12:40 PM on November 26, 2010

I really wish I'd gotten to know my aunts and uncles and cousins, but because of parents' annoyances, we never saw them very much...

It seems like it would be completely OK to bring some snacks for yourself (especially since you are pregnant) and for your toddler (so he doesn't get too cranky), instead of waiting for hours with no food. I mean, it doesn't sound like anyone is awful, it's just crowded and takes a long time? That's all? I'd try to find a way to go. It sounds nice to make your own traditions with only a few of you, today, but what happens in 25 years when your kids are grown up and moved away, and maybe too far to come home every year, and you'd like to spend time with all your family on Thanksgiving again?
posted by citron at 2:25 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Telling someone 12 months in advance that you can't make it to Thanksgiving next year will likely only garner eye them plenty of time to get used to the idea so that when you actually really for real dont show up, they have no backbone to their poutery.
posted by ian1977 at 6:34 PM on November 26, 2010

Well, the wimpy (but easy, and completely understandable) way would be to bring up, a couple of weeks before, Toddler's sniffles. And then in another conversation, they're getting worse. And then the day before Turkey day, oh no, you just can't come, the little one is sick and you don't want to spread it around the family or make them miserable. No one's going to want you to bring a sick kid to a chaotic family dinner.

Or you could stand up and say, time for our own traditions, etc - which everyone SHOULD respect and appreciate. Especially if you start bringing it up several months before the holiday. Lots of warning so everyone can get used to the idea is a good plan.

And you can always soften the blow with a qualifier. "This year, we're staying home. We'll see what we want to do next year." It leaves the possibility that you'll be up for the big family gathering in the future, and may be just enough to soothe any ruffled feathers.
posted by lemniskate at 6:50 PM on November 26, 2010

I dislike attending because I'm told to be there at X hour (I've taken to showing up at X+45), only dinner isn't served until 2-3 hours later - this year, nearly 4 hours later. I spent 7 hours there yesterday before I could escape, and I was the first to do so. Isn't that excessive?

My family Thanksgiving - arrived at my mother's house Wednesday afternoon, spent all afternoon cooking and kibbitzing with her, my aunt, and various siblings, cousins, husbands, etc. Slept over there. Woke up early Thursday morning to continue the cooking, cleaning, prepping, etc. all with a side order of family togetherness as more and more relatives arrived (20-25 in all). Thanksgiving dinner happened, then football and visiting - I'd estimate that I got out of there around 8pm. So, no, 7 hours is not "excessive" in my book. I'd love to be able to attend a big family Thanksgiving celebration for only 7 hours.

That said, I'm not pregnant, and I don't have a child. I also traveled across the country to be there, and many of the other guests are family members I see only once every few years. So my situation is different. But, no, there's no universal rule for how long is normal vs. excessive to spend celebrating a holiday with family. It takes as long as it takes, and if you're not happy then it's your responsibility to change things.

I am 36 weeks pregnant and was not only starving, but had to pacify my toddler in a non-kidproofed house for four hours while he was also starving.

Was the food locked in a safe or something? Maybe my family is different, but there are always snacks out prior to actually sitting down to the formal meal. There are pots bubbling on the stove and people plating up various elements of the meal. We're going in and out of the kitchen, which has a fully stocked fridge and pantry. Food is everywhere. You really couldn't eat ANYTHING until you'd waited several hours to sit down to the meal itself?

I realize it takes a hell of a lot of effort to make a meal for so many people and I don't mean to be ungrateful, but three hours late every year is really annoying (I usually bring a side dish that requires only microwaving).

Maybe you should be the one to change things. This could be as simple as planning to arrive at a more realistic time, despite what others might say. Or maybe you could bring a veggie tray or cheese plate or something to share if standing around hungry for several hours is a common problem for everyone.

There's never enough chairs to sit in and socialize, I'm always stuck at the kid's table with misbehaving youngsters while their parents socialize in another room.

Again, this is something you have the power to change. Who has determined that you always have to be at The Kids' Table, while ALL OTHER ADULTS are somewhere else? Can you switch it up? If there aren't enough chairs, what about getting together with other family members to rent some from a party rental company? Also, errrr, if you're 36 weeks pregnant, just ask someone to let you sit the frak down! You're pregnant! I'm sorry if your family is so thoughtless as to make you stand around all day without ever offering you a seat, but in my world you ought to get first dibs on a chair. Even if it means asking for one.

I also see nothing wrong with circumventing all this and simply saying, "I'm sorry, but we won't be able to make it this year," if you really don't want to go. With two small children to contend with next year, I'm sure people will understand.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is very striking to me about this is that you had such clearly significant compelling, reasonable, tactful, and true reasons for not attending this year. Your husband couldn't make it because he was recovering from surgery? For me, that would be an absolute hands-down bow-out no matter what. Plus late stage of pregnancy and a toddler? Wow. Crazy. This was pretty much a perfect storm for not attending, gracefully.

The fact that you didn't jump on this opportunity suggests a couple of possibilities: a) you have holiday amnesia (a very common condition!) wherein you forget from year to year how annoying and exhausting the event can be, and go forward feeling like woo! Family Thanksgiving will be festive and fun! only to remember afterward that you didn't have fun last year, or the year before, etc.; b) you are hyper-concerned with disappointing anyone in any way, to the degree that you find it very, very difficult voice protests or challenge the (family) orthodoxy, even to your own detriment and unhappiness; c) your family members are really, really good at wielding the guilt bludgeon, and you are sort of programmed to submit. Or some combination of a, b and c.

I think a good approach for resolving these issues will be to make up your mind in advance (before things get crazy hectic and you have time to coolly analyze what you want and need to do for the holiday season) and plan out your own schedule and how you will deal with objections. Next year, with an infant and a toddler, you'll again have a very good reason for skipping the big event and fashioning other plans. Maybe you can have the in-laws over Thanksgiving day, then go visit the folks during the weekend (perhaps also with the in-laws), and/or you can propose a summer potluck family fling that's more relaxed and easier for everyone to negotiate as an alternative way you can see the whole group.

Or, perhaps there is a way to do the Thanksgiving thing if that's actually what you'd prefer, but you must make everyone fully aware in advance that, for example, no matter what, your family has to leave and will be leaving by X O'Clock. There are many ways to approach the issue that will make it clear that you aren't rejecting your family. Make your personal plan well in advance, involve your husband (much easier to approach things and support each other as a team!), let your family know early so that they have time to adjust to the new plan(s), and remain gently firm no matter what. You don't need to lay out all your specific reasons, because they will feel attacked; the exhaustion and demands of dealing with a toddler and infant (plus what's best for them) over a chaotic several-hour period that also demands driving for 3 hours in heavy traffic are perfectly legitimate and sufficient reasons for making different arrangements. Prepare your head and your plan in advance, and you'll be able to deflect your mom's insistence.
posted by taz at 11:57 PM on November 26, 2010

kmennie: Unless your family is uniquely unpleasant, these big gatherings are great for small children. Hungry toddler for four hours...what? Snack in the purse, easily sorted. Bored toddler...what? Palm him off on any nearby aunt or uncle.

Good god no. Toddler Anachronism doesn't just get 'palmed off' because chances are she hasn't seen said aunts and uncles enough to bond. And even if she has, we're in a non-childproofed place and there's nothing like turning around and Uncle "I'm Watching Her" has his back turned and is having a chat as she pitches head first into the (expensive, irreplaceable) antique cabinet. Or everyone else is drunk and/or cooking and it's 'your job' anyway. Then there's the endless discussion about her temperament and behaviour because she's so 'sensitive' and 'whiny' and 'sooky' and it's certainly NOT because it's been hours since she had a decent meal (as opposed to snacks). And if you're lucky, Grandpa (and others) think you're overreacting about food and feed her things she either shouldn't have or things that provoke bad reactions.

Add in the chaos of too many people, strange place, odd food and you've got a really really PISSY kid who isn't having fun at all. And those are ones that run on time and without drama. Toddlers aren't small replicas of children, they have unique needs and the 'running about with other kids' is a small portion of their day. The rest of it tends to be regimented and regulated. And the fallout comes the next day, on the way home, the next night, that night, the night after.

Yet we keep doing it for the 'memories'?

My family has taken to doing breakfast on big days - a BBQ for meat, baked other stuff, cereal for kids and others. Then, some do a BIG meal, other go home and do their thing. Or go to the in-laws. It means I get to spend time with people I love, but not be wanting to kill them or myself the whole time. It means memories aren't tainted with 'oh god I hated that day'. So making it to the low key events it a good step, pulling back on the energy is good too, but I cannot recommend the "you are your own family" enough. Because YOU are family too and YOUR needs are important. Drop the guilt, or at least cram it down far enough you forget about it because it isn't helpful to ANYONE. You or them.

(and if they give you stick, point to the seven hours, four hour late food, no chairs, heavily pregnant bit from this year)
posted by geek anachronism at 3:19 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would keep to yourself your feelings about how long it takes dinner to be served and how long it took to get to dessert. I agree with galadriel that this is probably their plan for the day. It doesn't work for you and that's fine, but don't make the conversation about blaming them, because it will make it sound like if they fixed this that you would then want to come.
posted by salvia at 11:28 AM on November 28, 2010

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