Merry Christmas to you, you, you, you, but not you
November 26, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Please hope me. Christmas is important to my mother, but it over the last few years it has turned into something that she can’t stand. It has gotten to the point that she doesn’t even want to have the Traditional Family Christmas at their house anymore. She loves Christmas and this is breaking her heart. Our family needs the help of Metafilter. This is anonymous because there’s enough drama already. Christmassy flurries within.

My folks are in their mid-70’s. They have three kids – Brother, Sister, and me. Brother is married to Sister-in-law (SIL). They have two kids, who are the only grandkids on either side of their family. Sister is married to Brother-in-Law (BIL). Both Brother/SIL and Sister/BIL live in the same geographic area as my folks. I live further away but still come home for the holidays, etc. I bring along my partner, we have no kids. We are a small family but have traditions and enjoy spending time together. Brother and I are not close at all (differing political views, etc) but we are polite and get along well enough when we see each other 3-4 times a year at family get-togethers.

SIL’s family is from another country (we live in the US). For the last decade or so (since the first grandkid was born), SIL’s mother, father, brothers, and usually several cousins come to visit them for the holidays. They all stay at Brother/SIL’s house and, on Christmas, the whole crew comes over to my folk’s house. The first several years were fine. The more the merrier! It was also great for the kids because they had all of the grandparents, aunts and uncles in the same place at the same time. We bumbled over the language barrier (Brother/SIL and their kids are the only ones who speak both English and the language of SIL’s family, lots of translating going on) and introduced each other to our respective holiday traditions. It was clumsy, but overall it was a lot of fun.

The last few years have not been as much fun. SIL and Brother have been arguing a lot. SIL’s family is on “her side” and my family is on “my brother’s side”. I’m spared from a lot of the sparring because I live far away, but I sure get a healthy dose of drama updates from my sister and mother.

Two years ago the Christmas get-together was uncomfortable and strained because my brother and SIL had gotten into a fight, her family got involved, the kids got upset, and it put a huge damper on the festivities.

Last year the same thing happened – except that the arguing continued over at my folk’s house. It was horrible. Some of the relatives shouted, some sulked, some cried, the kids were upset, the English-only speakers in the house were confused (all of the shouting takes place in the language that we do not understand) and my mother was heartbroken and frustrated that this is what had happened at Christmas two years in a row. I'm going to add here that this is not just the way SIL's family interacts - not a cultural difference that we Stoic Midwesterners just don't understand. Perhaps the way they argue in front of us is different than what we would do (bury it deep within, smile, celebrate holidays, and the complain about it afterwards once we were driving away in our cars) but this is above and beyond. This is shouting and sobbing and cold-shouldering and last year it came close to blows between my brother and his mother-in-law. (seriously.)

Well. The holidays are upon us again. My SIL’s relatives are coming to town once again. The fighting continues over at Brother/SIL’s house, and my mother wants to cancel the Christmas get-together because she “just can’t take all of the fighting”. She’s crushed. She’s especially crushed because she and my niece/nephew are very close and not having Christmas with the kids just breaks her heart. I’m sad for her and want to help. I asked her if Brother/SIL could host Christmas at their house. Turns out she asked them but they will not host at their house because it is messy and full of mattresses on the floor in the common rooms for all of the relatives that have come to stay. Sister/BIL live in the same geographic area, but their house is small and the road they live on is not paved. Their Land Rover can navigate the road in the winter, Mom and Dad’s Buick probably could not. I am not in a position to call my brother and talk sense into him (seriously, we talk 3-4 times a year and that’s enough for both of us) and my house is way too far away to be convenient for a family gathering.

Does anyone have any ideas? I know that everyone’s got their own Family Dramaz around this time of year, so I’d be grateful for your thoughts about mine.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why do these people who obviously have no respect for your parents or their home need to be invited to christmas?
posted by moammargaret at 2:23 PM on November 26, 2012 [27 favorites]

When I was growing up, we did Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents' house and Christmas morning at my paternal gradnparents' house with a brief trip back later in the afternoon to my mom's family to see people we hadn't seen yet and then another brief trip back to my dad's family to see people we hadn't seen yet.

But everything for us was a 10 minute drive away, so chaotic as that sounds, it wasn't really.

What I recommend is your brother and sil do what they want with sil's family either on Christmas Eve evening or Christmas Day. You and your sister spend whichever day your brother and sil will be at your parents at your parents as well so you can see the kids and give them their presents. Then you spend the other day with your parents anyway because it's Christmas time.

Or some other division of that sort.

But I definitely think that your mother should not be hosting your sil's family if it's too much on her. Let her have a lovely Christmas with her entire family and only her entire family on Christmas Eve or for part of Christmas, and let your brother and sil deal with sil's family independently.
posted by zizzle at 2:29 PM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Can there be a hard-and-fast rule that absolutely no fighting is permitted and grandma & grandpa's house, and the minute any fighting breaks out, the two fighters must shake hands and go talk to other people about other things, and that continued fighting means that the people arguing aren't allowed to stay?

Alternatively, can the grandkids be invited over with their parents/ ralatives/ inlaws, etc., not invited on grounds that their unacceptable behaviour ruins Christmas for everyone else?
posted by windykites at 2:29 PM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

What parts of the day does everyone do together? Opening gifts? Dinner? The whole day? If it's just dinner then what about having Christmas dinner out at a nice restaurant or something? Everyone will be on their best behaviour, and there will be a definite end-time to the festivities. You and your sister/BIL can go spend some time earlier in the day with your folks and your brother/SIL can have that time to focus on SIL's family.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:29 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not worth the pain! Cancel the Christmas get-together. Spend that time with your parents. Since they live nearby, your parents can schedule another family day with your brother and his immediate family once the extended family has left.
posted by valeries at 2:29 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Perhaps a Christmas buffet out somewhere, everyone can get together, but off-site on neutral ground.

Have you talked to your brother about this? What does he say. Of everyone involved here, it's HE that needs to take care of this.

Perhaps your brother can drive the kids over on Christmas at lunch time and the rest of his family can plan dinner out.

Surely he understands how stressful and horrible this is for your mom.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on November 26, 2012

Yeah I'm a little baffled at why SIL's family is invited to your mom's house. Is the idea that if they don't come, then SIL and by extension your brother will be upset?

Anyway, if you can't un-invite these horrible inlaws for some reason, one thing that could work if you have some money is to rent a vacation cabin for the holiday, somewhere not too far from your mom's place. That way your mom can retreat to her own home if the in laws get ridiculous.

Also, I would offer the in laws including SIL a nice valium upon arrival.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:31 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I understand. If your mother does not invite everyone over to her house for Christmas, I assume that your SIL and brother will still have Christmas for their children at their house. Would they actually not invite your mother over to watch the kids open presents? Could you go over to their house for that part, and then have dinner at a restaurant?
posted by decathecting at 2:31 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't invite the in-laws. Let your bro/SIL do what every other married couple does ... spend part of Christmas with one family and part with the other.
posted by headnsouth at 2:32 PM on November 26, 2012 [19 favorites]

The extended family doesn't need to be invited to dinner. Just make it an immediate family thing for your side of the family, then it is done. If the other side of the family is coming into town and staying with them, they will have plenty of time to visit. Let your mother have the loving family get together that she wants by just keeping it her immediate family.

We've done this (or something similar) many times. We'll have one part of Christmas with my wife's family, and one part of Christmas with my family. The two different families don't all gather together as one big group (although that does happen from time to time, without the same level of drama as you are experiencing).

If the extended family feels hurt, well, they'll just have to get over it. It is only a few hours, and your mother will be so much happier.

If they can't play nice at your moms house, than they just don't get invited any more. This was the rule my parents imposed on us when we were younger with our friends, I don't see why it can't be applied here.
posted by markblasco at 2:36 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The way you describe it, it sounds to me like the fundamental problem is your brother and SiL, not the extended family. Having the extended family there just complicates problems that they create.

Best option, as suggested above, is to split up celebrations for each family. Second best is to celebrate together but for your parents to make it 110% clear that your brother and SiL not fight, and if they do, it's all over.

Your brother needs to grow up.
posted by tippiedog at 2:38 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

>Yeah I'm a little baffled at why SIL's family is invited to your mom's house.

Since SIL's family is all from another country, I'm assuming that the OP's mother invited them in an effort to be friendly to her son's inlaws, who otherwise might not experience a Christmas celebration (no idea from the question if Christmas is commonly celebrated in their country of origin). Given they are visitors, and may not have traditions of their own to observe that day, it seems like a very nice gesture to include those family members in the OP's traditional family holiday.

That said, the circumstances seem to have moved beyond the point of including them to be polite. I know you said you can't talk to your brother, but this truly is his problem to fix. Can you send him a letter or email, or link him to this thread? Failing that, I'd suggest inviting the inlaws for an abbreviated version of the festivities, perhaps a brunch/lunch and not serving alcohol (if that's a contributing factor). Otherwise, can the kids do a sleepover at Grandma's house a day or two before Christmas, or for Christmas Eve and then have the brother/SIL host something on Christmas day?
posted by handful of rain at 2:40 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you can't uninvite sister-in-law's family (and I see how awkward that might be), then maybe try heading to the source of the problem: the fighting between brother and sister-in-law. Someone needs to set them down and say that they have to keep it together for the holidays because they're making everyone miserable. And, that if they do end up fighting, they'll have to leave, or they'll be uninvited next year, or (some other consequence).
posted by chowflap at 2:42 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Handful's idea is great. Christmas Eve = sleepover for just the kids at Grandma's house. Christmas morning, consider brunch outside the house.

It's also fine to cancel the tradition of SIL's family coming into town. Sounds like it's too late for this year, but next year just tell them Mom can't handle so many guests.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:48 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The in-laws are invited because they are guests of SIL and brother. It would be a bit ride to not invite them considering they are staying with brother's family.

Anyway, neutral ground to eat and a family gathering for gifts and dessert maybe?
posted by gaspode at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2012

Someone needs to talk to your brother and SIL. If it's not you, what about your sister?
They need to be told they are ruining Christmas -easier said than done, I know.
If no one can do that, either don't invite any of them OR as mentioned, meet somewhere that is NOT your mother's house so at least she can see her grandkids.
posted by Snazzy67 at 2:54 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

The in-laws are invited because they are guests of SIL and brother. It would be a bit ride to not invite them considering they are staying with brother's family.

Well, it is now, but in the future, there's absolutely no reason for a married couple's immediate families to be forced to spend a holiday together if they don't all want to. The way we do it in my family, my sister and BIL spend one Christmas with my family and the next year with his. Nothing against his family in the slightest -- they're lovely -- but the two of them being married isn't enough of a reason for all of us to want to spend every holiday together -- not even the fact that they have kids.

I think in the long run, the solution is absolutely that you stop all this. As has been mentioned, probably too late for this year, but your parents need to tell your brother that it's too many people and too much chaos for them to handle, and they'd like to start alternating years or coming up with a split schedule. Yes, SIL and her family might not like it. Them's the breaks with rude people; you can't let them ruin everything in order to avoid having them be displeased, or they'll ruin your day/week/life.

It's a long Christmas season; there's absolutely no reason your parents can't see their grandkids, even if it's not on Christmas day. Mom may need to be a little bit flexible about when she sees the kids, but in the long run, she'll gain a lot of sanity.

I have to say, I think stopping this tradition is a lot more promising than trying to get people who would act this way in another person's home to suddenly become people who wouldn't.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:58 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

A transition comes at some point. (everyone gets older - Mom can't do as much) You might be there.

How about your brother hosts, if it falls apart then you can just leave.
posted by notned at 3:00 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, it sounds like not enough alcohol or too much. Just hard to tell which.

Second, have your mother tell everyone in the family that she is very tired this year and not up for hosting a big christmas day function. She would love it if everyone stopped by for brunch and presents for an hour or two from 11:00 to 1:00. Then she would like to rest. If you are staying with your mom, then great, you get lots of close time on Christmas.

Third, can someone tell your bro and his wife they are creating more strife than they even realize and it will stop or Christmas will go from a big family day to brunch to nothing if they cannot behave themselves this year.

Who knows, they could be arguing about having to come to your mom's for christmas when they would rather stay home.

Also, looking at it from your brother's point of view, do you realize how stressful and how much it must suck to have have your wife's family living on mattresses in your house for several weeks. There would be a fight a minute after two days if that had happened in my house and I get along with my (ex) in-laws.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

You might just have to talk to your brother. You don't have to talk specifics abut the fights or politics or anything suchlike but talk like grownups trying to solve a problem. Take some of the suggestions here and start out by asking HIM how he thinks Christmas should be handled given that your shared mother is stressing out about it. I know you don't want to talk to him, but if you are seeking solutions to this problem, which he is a part of, it is going to be 1000x more effective to deal (kindly and non judgmentally, no matter how much he may deserve a kick in the pants) direct with the source rather than trying to wrangle something behind stage. There are some good ideas here, see what he has to say first then throw some of these out as well.
You never know. it may even be bridge building...
posted by edgeways at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's ridiculous no one will simply approach Brother & SIL and tell them how unacceptable their behavior is. These two need couples counseling, and after an initial talking to, both families need to butt out!

How sad for the children.

Having children and marital problems is super tough. I hope family are pitching in and giving these two space to work on their relationship?

It sounds like this couple is drowning. I feel bad for them. That said, firm boundaries need to be drawn.

Also, her extended family MUST apologize to your folks for past bad behavior. This should be made clear to SIL in the nicest way possible.

What I am suggesting is a united front against this toxic dynamic that has started to co-opt your family holiday celebrations.

If being kind and direct doesn't work, I think your mom should keep her Christmas celebration, just cancel your Brother and SIL's invite. It will be sad, but it will make the point firm that the arguing will not be tolerated.

Ultimately, I think this is about setting a good example for the children caught in the middle. Employing good communication skills and politely enforcing firm boundaries will model positive relationship skills it sounds like they aren't seeing from their mom and dad right now.

I hope someone can find a way to approach your Brother and SIL with honesty, but without blaming. That's the right way forward for everyone.
posted by jbenben at 3:04 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Growing up, my dad's parents got Thanksgiving, and my mom's parents got Christmas. My dad's parents showed up briefly Christmas morning to open presents, and were gone before lunch.

I would consider that 5-7 years of extended crashing in the house has probably brought it's own stress. Her parents are possibly too old to be on an air bed, the kids are old enough they take up more space. Small family disputes have simmered and constant interaction just makes it more stressful than fun. So see if they would be amenable to change. They are the point of friction, so you will need to deal with them.

Maybe put some of the family up in a hotel. Or have the kids and/or parents stay with your parents. Budget the in-laws a bunch of down time. Budget them some quality alone time with their daughter, not just mornings and nights when they're crashing in a big house.

And set strong boundaries. Raised words go outside. If it's particularly chilly, offer them a hot cocoa while they settle their disagreement. I know that technically this should fall on your parents, but my mom is terrible at boundaries, and I've had success acting as the gatekeeper. There's a bit of shame in being reprimanded from a third party, rather than the host.
posted by politikitty at 3:07 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't put your parents through this again... either cancel or celebrate Christmas with a dinner at a restaurant (the day before or after if nothing is open Christmas day). If the fighting starts at the restaurant, stand up, say goodbye and leave.
posted by HuronBob at 3:12 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Is it too late to surprise your parents with a trip to somewhere away from all of this crazy?
posted by haplesschild at 3:18 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing meeting brother, SIL, and SIL's family ONLY at a public place, if the entire family must meet at all. Recently I witnessed a very loud fight between a couple at a train station; wasn't long before a cop strolled over and they shut right up. The fighty stuff just won't take on the same intensity in a public place unless people are absolutely plastered, but that will draw heat from restaurant managers (and eventually cops) pretty quickly too.

Also, HuronBob's suggestion of walking out of said public place if they start up is perfect.
posted by Currer Belfry at 3:25 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

And what does your Dear Brother have to say? He must realize that the behavior of his family is totally unacceptable. Does he have a suggestion? Perhaps he can bring the kids and himself only to your parents house for Christmas?

This is really his responsibility and he should be stepping up after his family helped to ruin 2 Christmas celebrations in a row.
posted by quince at 3:30 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

If Brother and SIl want to host her family, then they should do just that: host her family. NOT shove that hosting off onto SIL's in-laws, i.e., your parents, who didn't extend the invitation to SIL's family in the first place. If Brother and SIL don't have space to fully host their guests, then they should rethink issuing an invitation to the whole family in the first place --- dumping their hosting duties on someone else is, at the very least, rude. BUT..... family. Yikes.

If it is at all possible, the best thing to do (other than telling Brother and SIL to host their own damn guests, no matter what kind of mess they have at their house) would be to tell them SIL's family is not welcome at your parents' house..... unfortunately, if your parents then held your family's usual Christmas festivities, that would probably just cause even more fighting. Not good, since the goal here is a REDUCTION of hostilities.

So: perhaps your parents could continue to host Sister, BIL, your partner and you; Brother, SIL and the grandkids could come over sometime Christmas morning for gift-opening, then go back to their own house where their guests would have stayed all along; then the ten of you (parents, siblings & partners, grandkids) could go out to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. Alternatively, the ten of you could go to a Christmas EVE dinner, then have dinner at your parents' house on Christmas day just for your parents, Sister, BIL, your partner and you.

It's nice to have the whole family gather for Christmas day, but situations change, traditions change, and perhaps this is one of those times to accept it's time to change.
posted by easily confused at 3:31 PM on November 26, 2012

I think I would sit down and have a heart to heart with sister in law. I cannot imagine she enjoys the squabbles either. Brainstorm with HER how to manage to keep squabbles away from your mom. She needs to either tell her folks to zip it at your mom's house or she needs to take them home if they don't. And I would tell her if she doesn't think that can happen then she needs to keep her butt home because she is NOT going to ruin Christmas for everyone else-i.e. bring the grands over Christmas evening or Christmas eve and the rest of the time entertain HER folks at HER house.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:48 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you don't want to talk to your brother, but there comes a time in every family where the siblings need to make decisions together -- when your parents are old or ill, for example -- and this is one of those times. Your mom is miserable, and SOMEONE needs to talk to your brother about how to make her not-miserable.

You and your sister need to talk to him. It doesn't need to be combative. He probably is stressed about this too. But there is no way to elegantly negotiate and solve this drama in your family if you aren't willing to talk to your brother about it.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:05 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

What the fuck.

People who fought in your family's home over the past two years, are not allowed to come back this year. That includes Couple Zero.

Others have put this more kindly, but that's the essence of my advice.

Some people won't like being disinvited, but what are they going to do about it? Fight you?
posted by tel3path at 4:33 PM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

From the OP:
Since SIL's family is all from another country, I'm assuming that the OP's mother invited them in an effort to be friendly to her son's inlaws, who otherwise might not experience a Christmas celebration (no idea from the question if Christmas is commonly celebrated in their country of origin). Given they are visitors, and may not have traditions of their own to observe that day, it seems like a very nice gesture to include those family members in the OP's traditional family holiday.

Hit the nail on the head. My mother sees inviting them as "the Christian thing to do" since they are far from home and, essentially, have traveled to the States to celebrate Christmas with their daughter and her family. I suppose if they did not come to my folks' house on Christmas, they would not have their own traditions to follow. Or, to be more specific, their traditions may be tied up in their own home country and community. The combined family Christmases worked for several years, and it was great for the kids.

Thank you all for your responses. It is difficult to decide what info to put into an anonymous post - which way will the conversation go? Other things I might mention now are that my folks are not very ambulatory, so no cabins or vacations (although that would be fun...). I LOVE the sleepover idea, and will bring that up to the kids. The older one is 12 and would be fine with it. The younger one is 3, so he might be a bit young. But it's an option, and that's what I'm looking for. Anything that gives my folks something other than "cancel Christmas" or "steel yourself for more dramaz".
posted by jessamyn at 4:57 PM on November 26, 2012

Nothing in your update lessens the value of these two popular answers upthread:

Why do these people who obviously have no respect for your parents or their home need to be invited to christmas?
posted by moammargaret at 5:23 PM on November 26

Don't invite the in-laws. Let your bro/SIL do what every other married couple does ... spend part of Christmas with one family and part with the other.
posted by headnsouth at 5:32 PM on November 26

If your SIL's family travels to this country to visit your SIL, then there's no reason they need to visit your parents, too. It is not your mom's responsibility to spread christmas traditions (or your immediate family's Christmas traditions) to a bunch of non-christmas-celebrating belligerents.
posted by hhc5 at 5:16 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

SIL and Brother have been arguing a lot. SIL’s family is on “her side” and my family is on “my brother’s side”. I’m spared from a lot of the sparring because I live far away, but I sure get a healthy dose of drama updates from my sister and mother.

This is not helping things and is probably part of the reason your brother, SIL, and company feel comfortable having these arguments on Christmas at your mom's house. If she wants them to stop arguing in front of her she needs to stop taking sides, otherwise she has no credibility.

Suggest to your mother that she call up your brother and say something along the lines of "Son, I've been getting overly involved in your marital disagreements and I realize now that this was inappropriate. I no longer plan to take sides and would prefer not to hear about these issues. As part of that, I'd like to ask that you and SIL not argue in front of me, particularly on Christmas. If you do start arguing, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave. This goes for SIL's family as well."

If your mom's house is large enough, she could also just ask them to take the arguing outside or to another room where they won't be heard. Of course this only works if your mom follows through, although in this situation you or your sister or dad could play the bad cop if necessary.

The problem isn't Christmas, it's your family's overinvolvement in your brother's marriage.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:17 PM on November 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

The answer might be very simple, at least in the short term, to make your mother happy: you handle the Christmas party this year.

First, you tell your mom that you'll show up a bit earlier than usual and you'll do the setup and cleaning and cooking, although she's welcome to help you as much or as little as she wants.

Second, reach out to your other siblings and explain what you're going to do in step three, and confirm that everyone's okay with that. Make it about your mother's well-being, and yours, and theirs, because that's exactly what it is about.

Third, you suck it up on your mother's behalf and tell your brother that, because of what happened last year, he and his wife are not invited, although you'd love to have their kids over. Be up front, direct, and brief: since (not if) he and his wife can't get along, and it makes Christmas miserable for everyone (not just your mom), they can keep their drama in their own home and throw their own party for her relatives.

Fourth, stick to your guns, hard as it might be. If they drop off the kids, embrace them as the family they are and don't make an issue of it. If they show up with the kids and apologize, embrace them as the family they are and don't make an issue of it, except to say that if they misbehave during the party, they're out...and their first stop, both of them, should be to apologize to your mother.

Of course, if they show up with the extended family in tow, it's a clusterfuck no matter how you slice it.
posted by davejay at 5:19 PM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

your brother and sister in law need to start having their shit out in private. that way, they have their own sides, nobody but them has a say in their damn argument, and the kids: well, they'll feel tension, but tension is better than watching your parents and their respective families go at each other on what's supposed to be a festive holiday (ask me how i know). they need to grow the fuck up, and really, no one can do that but them, sadly.

i agree that you make some rules: have something that can easily be converted to be a shorter experience. have brunch/lunch, open the gifts, and gone, if need be. your mom/dad need(s) to tell your brother that if he don't start none, won't be none, and fighters go home tout de suite. your parents sadly need to put their collective feet down with him (as it is he and his wife who are arguing and disrespecting their home, everyone else just dogpiles, if they're comfortable talking to both of them at the same time, awesome), and he needs to be the one to bring it up with his wife (if they're not). everyone else is really collateral damage in this, so your parents need to go to the source(s). they shouldn't bring it up like marriage interference, which will just piss your brother and his wife off more - they need to bring it up practically. they're disrespecting your parents and their home by ruining an occasion that they love, and they are upsetting the children that your parents also happen to love by arguing in front of them and making people twitchy. your parents should not have to deal with that in their own home.

unfortunately, you sending your brother a letter is just going to start more shit in the family. he'll either be pissed at you and start more shit, or he'll blow you off and think you're bullshitting, that you have no idea what you're talking about. i think this needs to come from your parents.
posted by koroshiya at 6:23 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm curious about where your dad is in all this. You say he's not terribly ambulatory - is he too ill to speak to his son/DIL about what their antics are doing to your mother/his wife, and put the hammer down on it? Because they are being disrespectful of both your mother and your father by behaving this way, or bringing in people who think it's acceptable to behave this way.

If you feel very strongly, and no one else is going to say anything, you might have to brave your brother's wrath and just let him know your concerns. Believe me, I know from siblings not speaking because of political/lifestyle differences. But if you feel this strongly, it might be time to take the risk and say "look, the last few Christmases have been awful, and none of us wants to do that to mom and dad again. What can I/other sibling do to help make things easier?" It doesn't have to start out confrontational - reach out. It might actually help your relationship.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 7:47 PM on November 26, 2012

I understand not wanting to leave the in-laws out in the cold, but can the message be, "Since my parents are getting a little older, they don't feel able to invite so many guests this year, and will just be inviting Brother and SIL and kids."?

Have your family celebration on Christmas Eve or December 26 if necessary; it doesn't matter if it's not on Christmas itself. The in-laws can watch some Christmas movies for a few hours, it won't kill them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:23 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My family has adopted a fantastic rule. It's called "Christmas Day is spent with the nuclear family and everybody else can shut up about it". That takes a hell of a lot of the pressure off to make things that specific day, to ensure everyone can show up because "omg it's Christmas Day!", and to have the perfect time. You'd me amazed the impact a change in date can have on people's interpretations of the event.

Furthermore, we all have an unspoken agreement that dinner at grandma's is a no-conflict zone. If uncle Joe starts saying anti-LGBTQ things, my siblings and I pack it up and leave. If the kids start fighting? Sorry grandma, time to go! If you're going to be a bratty shit? So sorry you couldn't make it! See you next year! (This was very hard for my grandma to accept but it has worked wonderfully in a very... diverse family.)
posted by buteo at 9:59 PM on November 26, 2012

> your brother and sister in law need to start having their shit out in private.

This this this. You, your sister, your folks, and anybody else who cares to weigh in needs to make it very clear to your brother and his wife that there is NO FIGHTING AT GRANDMA AND GRANDPA'S HOUSE.

This means that your brother and his wife make it clear to her family that there is NO FIGHTING AT GRANDMA AND GRANDPA'S HOUSE.

Seriously, no excuses. There is no tradition in the whole world where this drama is remotely okay. Even the most hotheaded, "we argue because we love each other and we're loud and proud" Italians in my South Philly neighborhood would agree that bringing your drama to the holiday celebration at the aged in-laws' house is fucking rude. C'mon.
posted by desuetude at 11:33 PM on November 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

If it's too awkward to not invite in-laws, and your brother won't respect the unspoken "lets be adults and not fight and ruin Christmas for everyone" rule, I think going out Christmas Eve*, then having the grandkids stay over for a sleepover is a great idea.

*more restaurants are open then, and B and SIL can join in.

Your parents age is an excellent excuse for wanting to keep it simple. If your B doesn't like the idea, maybe you&your sister can explain to him the real reason. He ruined the last TWO Christmases, he has no reason to be high and mighty and claim to be upset if everyone tries to avoid it happening again. He is an adult and should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for what he did. If he's an A-hole and tries to keep he grandkids from seeing grandma and grandpa, then just stick to the age card: mom and dad are really tired this year, they just want to keep it quiet, etc etc etc

All else fails, have the grandkids (not brother's in-laws) come over on a Saturday or Sunday and have a faux Christmas (open presents, have nice food, etc). After all, the 25th is just an arbitrary date, not the exact birthday of Jesus. Then have your brother do his own thing on the 25th.
posted by Neekee at 6:36 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

last year it came close to blows between my brother and his mother-in-law. (seriously.)

I know you said you are not in a position to talk sense into your brother, but someone needs to do so. These are two adults who were both guests in someone else's home; what is unbelievable is that either of them expected ever to be invited back. I don't care how stoic midwestern your family is, SOMEONE needs to tell your brother that is bullshit.

That needs to happen, but not as a prelude to your parents' hosting another disaster. As far as Christmas goes, she should consider her Christian duty discharged. Mid-seventies, hardly ambulatory, and she's been doing this every Christmas for a decade?? That is... nuts. Your brother is presuming on her hospitality even apart from the fighting.

Get your sister onboard, and then tell your brother that he has to either alternate holidays or leave the ILs behind for a few hours on Christmas. Your mom's age/health are a fine reason to give for why she isn't up for this anymore. Brother can say to the ILs, "I know going to my parents' has become almost a tradition for all of us, but it's getting to be too tiring for them and we want them to take it easy this year. Wife and I are going to go over for a couple hours because we want them to see the grandkids, and then we'll celebrate with you Christmas night." Or whatever, the point is it's not hard at all to come up with a script that shouldn't offend anyone or be awkward to deliver (it's not necessary to bring up the fighting).
posted by torticat at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

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