What to do about my parents' unbearable friend?
January 7, 2017 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My siblings and I have plans to get together at my parents' house for a belated holiday get-together in a few weeks. I just found out that my parents invited their friend Magda. We can't STAND Magda but have never said anything about it to my parents. How should we handle this?

My family has been struggling with scheduling our holiday party but we finally set a date for late January. Today I was chatting with my parents when they mentioned that Magda was invited and planning on coming. We siblings and our families don't want to spend our hard-won holiday with Magda. She's a crass chain-smoking cat hoarder who encourages my mother's own cat hoarding tendencies and once dropped the n-word at the dinner table (my parents acted like nothing happened).

The problem in my eyes is that one, it's my parents' house. I'm not totally comfortable telling my parents who they can invite into their own home. And yes, we could politely request that they not have Magda over, but the invitation has already been issued and accepted. As odious as I find Magda, I still don't want her feelings to be hurt or to put my parents in the position of retracting an already-accepted invitation.

Not to mention that we're one hell of an avoidant family. The way we usually handle things like this by us siblings going for a coffee run and bitching about our parents and then coming back and pretending everything's fine. Also, it would expose our dislike of Magda, and I'm not sure if anything good would come of that. I talk to my parents weekly (my siblings less frequently) but Magda sees my mother multiple times a week and is one of her best friends. I am appalled by my mother's taste in friends but I can't deny that it's good that she has a strong support network.

Additionally, tensions have been brewing under the surface since the election; we could not be more divided politically and my parents are unsufferably smug about the election. I'm not sure I want to introduce any more strife in the mix.

So there are a lot of reasons not to say anything and we all may just take the easy way out. But I am still super bummed to have Magda intruding on our holiday. So I'm hoping people have ideas I'm not thinking of on how we can have the holiday without her or at least how to mitigate the pain. And any suggestions for phrasing would be awesome - I'm kind of at a loss for words.
posted by Neely O'Hara to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Make the coffee run, as per usual. It's a done deal at this point, unless you want drama.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:38 AM on January 7, 2017 [20 favorites]

"Mom, I was hoping we'd have some time together just to ourselves, as a family. Do you think you and Magda could see each other separately from our mini-family re-union? I wouldn't like to hurt her feelings but I just miss seeing you one on one."

Alternatively, could you re-schedule and arrange to meet your parents at a different location?

I'm sorry you are in this situation. My name, too, is Magda - and I promise if it was me, I'd totally bow out of your family re-union ;)
posted by M. at 11:42 AM on January 7, 2017 [32 favorites]

I think the only way to even attempt this would be to try saying something along the lines of wanting just-family time and that being really important to you, hard to schedule with everything that folks have going on, etc. But, if you want to avoid drama, I would let it go this year but next year voice your preferences for a family-only event early, before scheduling/invitations have happened.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:45 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

You don't like Magda, but it sounds like she is important to your parents. If you can't convince them to make this family only, you might want to think about why they are friends with her, what role she plays in their lives (that you might not play... Companionship, etc.).
posted by k8t at 11:53 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who went through something similar --- our parents' friends included Al, a stinky-cigar chain-smoking loudmouth with opinions on everything, and his wife Flo, who would've put both the Stasi and the KGB to shame with her interrogation techniques. (God knows why our parents liked these people, because they were unlike anyone else in their extended circle.)

Anyhow, the good news about your parents' friends: Magda is aging. And someday, preferably someday soon, she'll die. Or heaven forbid your parents will die, but either way means that you will never need to see her or hear from her again.

Hold on to that thought, it's what got my sisters and I through Al and Flo.
posted by easily confused at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

My suggestion: talk to your mom about it, expressing surprise that Magda will be there for a family event. Not disappointment, just surprise. Say that now that Magda's been invited, of course you don't want your parents to have to un-invite her, but that you were looking forward to spending time with them.

Then, the very next time you have a family get together (say, Mother's Day or Father's Day, if you get together for those), make it clear that it's family-only. Continue to do so until Magda's presence is not the norm.

When Magda is there, focus on asking her about what she's been up to with your parents. Focus on the benefits her friendship brings them. Have some subjects ready to go for strategic subject changes. By all means, do the coffee run or strategically remember that you forgot something for the party in the car. Bring a game for everyone to play.
posted by Pearl928 at 12:11 PM on January 7, 2017 [13 favorites]

Suddenly all of the siblings can't make it that day!

Skip the holiday this year. Later, tell your mom the truth.

But you know what? I think your mom invited Magda because of the tensions around the election + I think you might be avoiding looking at your parents in a more truthful light. Apparently they agree with Magda on some level.

When you really think about it, what are your parents being smug about? Unless they are part of the .oooo1% of the population on Earth blessed with billions or trillions of dollars, they're just being smug about what "team" gets to denigrate and subjugate them (and the rest of us.) In other words, your parents are being smug about something they don't understand, and they are hiding behind Magda's cigarette smoke and piles of cats.

Underneath ALL of that, your parents are terrified in life, and they want to be accepted and loved like the rest of us do. So... What to do?

I think you go to this event with the understanding that life is not ideal, and here are 3 people that can use some compassion. If you can go and bring some compassion, do that.

Come up with a simple script for when Magda or your parents venture into unpleasant territory, get your siblings on board, and use the script.

"This is our holiday celebration. Aren't the cookies sister Judy made this year delicious!"

I hope this helps you guys get together and keep it together. Sorry you are being baited like this. If you are a conflict avoidant group, then let this one go. A year from now your parents won't be so smug, don't waste precious good times on instigators and details. Magda is like that aunt no one can stand, that's OK, just avoid getting into any skirmishes. You're right, she can not be disinvited so that's that. Be brave!
posted by jbenben at 12:47 PM on January 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

Does anyone else smoke? If you or one of your kids has "suddenly become very sensitive to smoke" you could see if the no smoking requirement will discourage her from coming. If it doesn't, it would still get rid of her while goes outside to smoke. Whoever can't tolerate smoke can "go upstairs to lie down, massive headache". You can take turns sitting by their bedside and laying cold cloths on their head. Point out that even the smell of cigarette smoke can set them off.
I was coming in to say to give the family only request.
Maybe something like "We don't care for Magda's company like you do, can't we make it just family this time? We hardly ever get all of us together, we'd rather it just be us please.
It's not unlikely that your parents have heard this before and she's being invited because no one else will have her. Your Mom is hoping you will just grin and bear it though everyone else has flat out said "and don't bring Magda.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:48 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your only hope might be to ask your mom if Magda could come after your family has been together a while ie Magda arrives just in time to sit down for the meal. As mentioned above frame is you wanting just-family time first.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Hey Mom, we were all hoping for just family. I know you've already invited her, just tell her us kids have requested it just be family. I'll call her if you don't feel comfortable doing it."
Make sure that everyone will back you up ahead of time. No backsliding. A united front is essential
posted by BoscosMom at 1:03 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

If it were me, I think I'd say it's too late to uninvite Magda, and I'd just go and work with my siblings to have a plan to deal with her presence, whether that's coffee breaks, just going out in the yard to lean against the fence and get some air, having the family arrive a little earlier as ThatCanadianGirl suggests, etc. But then what I would do—and have done, in the case of a friend of my mother's who none of us like—is be honest and tell my mother afterward that I don't actually want to hang out with said friend in the future, and I want more control over the invitation list for gatherings that are ostensibly for family. I respect that she has her own friends and her own life, but my mother is kind of all about geek social fallacy No. 4, friendship is transitive, and that's been a hard thing to surmount.
posted by limeonaire at 1:21 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I say split the party in some way. Invite mom and dad out to a special dinner at like 5. And have Magda come over afterwards, like 8-10. So you can go to your folks early, spend a couple hours with them, go to dinner and come back to the house for coffee, dessert, and drinks.

Even I understand totally where you are coming from, it looks a little jerky to not include your moms best friend, in her own home.

If it were me I would go buy a gift certificate to the restaurant, say you got it at Christmas and want to use it up. That's the ridiculousness I would go to to avoid drama with my mother.
posted by beccaj at 1:30 PM on January 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

The kids in my extended family have some obnoxious friends, when I'm at their homes I put up with them. If they tried to tell me who's welcome at my house, I'ld tell them its not their call. The next move would be on them.
posted by ridgerunner at 3:15 PM on January 7, 2017

My mother's best friend is an asshole. All the kids think she is an ass, and I particularly loathe her rapist eldest son who she believes can do no wrong. When my father was receiving treatment for cancer, she was ny mother's support person and oh lord that was shit. This woman did her usual 'blah blah blah alternative medicine' shtick as my father is prepping for surgery. I warned my sister because I knew she was already on edge and didn't want her to walk in unprepared.

What we did is tag teamed this shit. My sister's husband takes the brunt to be honest, because he likes to debate people like her. I make sure my sister got breathers and time alone. I was sometimes outright rude (looking at my phone as she regaled me with eldest son stories). My mother is not an idiot, she knows this woman is irritating, but loves her anyway. It's the opposite political scale but similar obnoxiousness.

That said, we were all prepping for a grueling emotional march, not fun holiday times. In that situation I usually send my apologies since it is no longer a family gathering but their party, and I don't do parties.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:47 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

If it were me, I'd just not go, and would find some other way to connect with my siblings. Other options: go but stay in a hotel and connect with your siblings outside your parents' home, and invite your parents out to a nice dinner somewhere.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:23 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can all of your siblings agree to go a day or so in advance of the party? Then you ll have some family time before Magda shows up. She might see your mom multiple times a week but maybe she won't come by 2 days in a row.
posted by charlielxxv at 8:53 PM on January 7, 2017

You're not thinking about this from your mom's perspective.

It's possible that as much as your mom loves her buddy Magda, there's some tension between them. I would bet that Magda has made remarks about how none of you kids ever come to visit and how your mom has failed in some way because she never has all you grown kids over together. That can be a pretty competitive thing between older women with adult children -- bragging rights over who's the best mom by virtue of whose kids visit/call/vacation/take them shopping the most.


Magda: Oh, my Peter and his terrible wife Erica and the baby come to see me every Tuesday for tacos.
Your mom: I spoke wth Neely on the phone last week. We're planning a get together soon.
Magda: You're lucky they never see you. It's such a nightmare; having to shop for gluten free tacos for Erica. I don't even know what that is. She's a monster. You're better off that you raised kids who never come to see you.
Mom: Everyone is coming in a few weeks; I'm very excited.
Magda: You really think they'll all come to see you? I'd love to see that.
Mom: Well of course you must also come, my dear Magda.
Magda: (muttering under her breath and gobsmacked): I'd love to come.

Give your mom her moment!

The way we usually handle things like this by us siblings going for a coffee run and bitching about our parents and then coming back and pretending everything's fine.

That's what EVERYBODY does. I'm 52, for heaven's sake, and my sister and I call these "preterrands," for pretend-errands, and now my own kids go on preterrand runs when they come to visit me. Preterrands are the best because you get to have close, sibling vent sessions. Who doesn't love those?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:14 AM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just what I came here to say, the avoidance is actually an adult way of dealing with this, and some form of this happens in every family. That's how the tradition of family basketball games or snow sledding or a long walk after dinner got started. I'm the one who helps my kids with the "preterrands" (love that word) when they walk by and make faces to me. If the outside stuff won't work, set it up with your siblings beforehand and do that for each other when possible. "Oh mom, I MUST have dijon mustard with this. Don't have any? Well I'll ask sis to run out and get some." Or "Hey dad, have you ever used this dealy-thingie when you do your thing? You don't have one? Well, let me go pick one up real quick!" (dealy-thingie is stashed in your car, or brother's car, or nephew's, so they get to drive around for half an hour.)

And believe me, I am a stalwart practitioner of southern manners, but I can interrupt a pontificating blowhard in a New York minute. It's all about the way you do it.
posted by raisingsand at 11:51 AM on January 8, 2017

How long does a "get together" last in your family? Even if it's just for a meal, I'd be all in favor of setting a specific time for Magda to show up that is significantly after all the family arrives. Talk to your siblings, figure out when they can arrive, then talk to your mom. "Hey Mom, I was talking to Judy, they're getting in around 3, I was going to aim for 1:30 or so myself. Did you say dinner was at 6:30? It would be great to have some family time just with us. Maybe you could have Magda come over around 6, I can help you get some snacks ready for when she gets there." Of course, if you're not all going to arrive till half an hour before dinner, that plan doesn't fly, you can make a note to coordinate better as siblings next time, or you can try the "Oh, Mom, we'll only have all of us there for just the couple of hours that we're eating, maybe next time we can do it just a family thing."

As a wording note, you don't have to say you're happy to have Magda there or that it was good to see her again or nice to spend time with her - you can phrase things in terms of so nice to know my mother's friends, good to see she's got her people looking out for her, I get to see what she gets up to when we're not around, everyone acts differently with family than with friends so interesting to see this side of mom's life, etc. Keep the focus on your mom not on Magda.
posted by aimedwander at 8:44 PM on January 8, 2017

All of the suggestions on how to pressure your parents to disinvite Magda are weasely bullshit. Don't do it.

You have to be gracious and bite your tongue and put up with this awful woman. You have to do this because she is important to your parents in some mysterious way, because it is your parent's house, and because that is what grownups do.

Next time, get out ahead of this before the woman is invited. Maybe arrange a holiday dinner at a local restaurant--you are paying and therefor decide the guest list. Or talk to your parents before any invitation is issued.
posted by LarryC at 11:51 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I come from an avoidant passive-agressive family. I have learned that it can be empowering as hell to be honest about your opinions, and to call someone on their bullshit. I've found a good way to do so is to say (as calmly as possible) "that was very rude". Calling someone a racist or a bigot becomes a debate about what racism is, and the far right has managed to convince themselves that their bigotry isn't bigotry anyway.

If someone is praising the liar-elect, you can simply say "I think he's terrible." (Assuming that's our opinion.) They express their opinions, you express yours.

You're an adult, you get to say what you think. If it's uncomfortable, so be it. I'm sure everyone in the room has been uncomfortable before. It won't kill them.
posted by Cranialtorque at 11:55 AM on January 11, 2017

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