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Good manners are learned from your family

Etiquette for Families

Family etiquetteMeet our resident family etiquette expert on StageofLife.com

Stage of Life is pleased to introduce etiquette expert, Jay Remer, to its team.  Below you will find tips, advice and articles from Jay on important etiquette topics specifically tailored to parents, children, in-laws, and families.

But wait...

Ask Jay a wedding etiquette question ...ask us a family etiquette question now.  If you have children and have an etiquette question, contact us and we'll post your question and Jay's reply here.

Read below for real-life etiquette advice submissions about family manners, and don't forget to check out all 10 of our etiquette advice pages for the other stages of life.

Etiquette Tips for Families

Lopsided Grandparenting

How do I deal with my reclusive daughter-in-law who doesn't seem to want me to visit? 

Dear Jay,
My daughter-in-law is very reclusive. This summer during harvest, a very busy time of year for her husband (my son), she took their 4 kids to visit her parents several states away. This was no surprise to us since she had done that the year before as well, staying 2 months with her parents.

This summer, she stayed past when school started, and they informed us that she was homeschooling. We had concerns and worries when our son went to visit them in September, and they did not come back with him. Finally, he went there over Thanksgiving, and they did come home with him. Only 'home' was not the country home where their farm is.  Our son informed us that she  wanted to live closer to town, so they have rented a house about 45 miles from where their farm is and my son commutes.

Since they have moved to town, I have seen my two older grandchildren once when they came to our place with their dad for a Christmas party, and then we did see our son and his entire family on Christmas day. They did not come for Christmas dinner, but came later in the afternoon for about 4 or 5 hours.  Keep in mind that we hadn't seen any of these grandkids while they were at their other grandparents for 5 months.

They recently had a new baby.  Our son called us to tell us, and he said that we could come to the hospital the next day to visit. Of course we wanted to see the baby, so the day the baby was one week old, one of my daughters who still lives at home and I went to their house on our way to do errands in town.  

We found their house and knocked on the door.  Our son was still out in the country working.  The first thing my daughter-in-law said to us was, “I didn't know you were coming."  I told her that we wouldn't stay long, but that we just wanted to see the baby and her, and give them some newborn baby presents.  We also wanted to see the older kids, and give them some Valentines.  We stayed about 10 minutes.

Now our son has called to tell me that if I want to come visit, I should call first to see if that is OK with his wife.  I asked how I was to contact them since they often do not answer their cell phones.  He said to call him on his cell and he would get ahold of her to ask.

The last time I was invited to their home was over 3 years ago for a 30th birthday party for my son.  I was asked to bring food for that party which I gladly did. I don't want to cause stress to my son, but he doesn't seem to realize how lopsided the grandparenting is. I am discouraged. What should I do?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Let me first make a few observations. One, grandparents have no rights as far as when they can or cannot see their grandchildren. Two, you should always call before going to call on someone, family or not. It’s rude not to do so. Three, your daughter-in-law feels more comfortable with her parents than with you. Four, allow your son and his wife to set up their household with their rules. Everyone, including you, must honor their privacy. 
My feeling is that if you back off a little and stop scorekeeping, life may well improve. If you don’t, it won’t. That I will guarantee. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Left out

Am I wrong to feel left out when my family doesn't include me in their adult games and activities even though I am 19? 

Dear Jay,
I love my family, it just feels like they treat me like a teenager still even though I'm nineteen. For example when family comes over and everyone is chitchatting and playing board games of four, I feel left out because they don't care to incorporate me in games or talk to me. I try my best to mingle, yet it feels lonely why they get to have fun.  If guests ever came to my house in the future I would want everyone to play together.  Why does this feeling like they don't want to hang with me happen?  They are older and have more in common so can see, but why do they make me feel left out every time?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: How sad this makes you feel. I can hear it in your words. My advice is that you sit down with the person to whom you feel safest and explain how this behavior makes you feel. They will not know this unless you explain it to them. People generally don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. Perhaps they will make more of an effort to include you in future games, or at least give you a reason why you are not included. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Exhausted from family visits

How do I deal with my children and grandchildren visiting all the time when no one helps me and everyone expects me to do all the work? 

Dear Jay,
I am a widow and remarried 10 years ago.  We have a lovely blended family - my 3 kids, his 2 along with 3 grandchildren.  The children live in 4 different states and have to spend the night when they visit because of distance.  Holidays involve everyone staying in our home.  We are able to accommodate everyone, but they drag the visits on for days (5,6 and sometimes 7 and up). The whole time they visit, they expect to eat, and what is really upsetting me is they expect me to cook big meals and provide everything they eat for free. They do not help at all with cleaning up after dinner.  My husband helps, and it is often the two of us slaving away at a stove or sink, while our children are enjoying themselves visiting each other. My husband thinks I am terrible for complaining. He says children shouldn't have to pay to eat at their parent's house. But these "kids" are in their twenties and thirties. Though my husband is retired, I still work, and I would like to relax when I have time off. Every holiday I get, however, someone visits and I work so hard that I can't wait for the holiday to be over. 

It came to a head when the oldest visited with her 2 children and husband. Her husband's father was ill in a nearby city, so they came during the work week for a 3 day visit in order to deal with the sick dad-in-law. We were happy to help so they didn't have to get a hotel. I was working, and I came down with a cold. Even though our daughter never visited her dad-in-law, she had a grand time hanging out at our house with the grandkids.  When I dragged in from work, she was ready for me to fix dinner for everyone. I complained to my husband, and he just said that I cook too well and everyone loves it. How in the world do I fix this situation? I love seeing the kids, but I feel so trapped and enslaved.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I agree with your husband that children should not have to pay for the food they eat at their parents’ house, unless of course circumstances dictate otherwise, which in this case they don’t. However, that does not mean you have to do all the work. In fact you shouldn’t necessarily have to do any of the work! But you will need a new system with a few ground rules. First of all, start and stop dates for visits is a reasonable request. At least then you know who is coming and going and when. Secondly, you need to assign tasks to everyone, so that everyone helps out. One way to accomplish this is to have a hat right at the front door. When they come in everyone takes a piece of paper from the hat. On the piece of paper is written a task. Make sure you have all these covered. People may need more than one draw from the hat as all the tasks need to be assigned. This can be arranged by family or by individuals, but you do not have to draw anything from the hat. You are already providing enough- and you are working! Be sure to let them all know ahead of time that there are new house rules and explain them - that way there are no surprises. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Wedding dilemmas from bride's real mom

What is the wedding etiquette for including a mom who lost legal custody when her daughter was 7 years old? 

Dear Jay,
Due to a drug addiction and brain injury from a car accident, I have raised my sister’s daughter as my own. I gained legal custody of her when she was 7 years old. She is now engaged to be married and her mother is somewhat back in her life. There is friction between them since my sister wants to be her mother again and be more involved. My husband is walking our daughter down the aisle and I already see problems arising regarding the wedding (since I am not the actual mother of the bride and so on). Family gatherings have become very uncomfortable for everyone.  My sister doesn't have the relationship I have with her daughter and tends to try and force it upon her.  At almost every gathering my sister is in tears regarding her daughter. What can I do to make this better?  What is the etiquette regarding her wedding day?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: The etiquette suggests that this wedding day is all about the bride. Her wishes should be followed by all involved. This has nothing whatsoever to do with mothering. You and your sister need to back off and let your daughter/niece choose how she wants her day to unfold. On another note, there is serious need for family counseling here. I would consider contacting Family Services and getting some professional help to guide you through this transition. You may want to go by yourself initially. Anyone invited to counseling must agree to go; they cannot be forced. Have compassion for your sister and for yourself. Take the high road and put the needs of others ahead of yourself. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Super Bowl Party Shut Out

Am I out of line being angry at my sister for not inviting my daughter's boyfriend's parents to her home for a Super Bowl party? 

Dear Jay,
My sister had a Super Bowl Party, and when my daughter, 26, asked if her boyfriend’s parents could come, she basically said no, and that she wants to keep it small. We were shocked! His parents, in the past, have been at all the major holidays with our family. They have no other family, and really enjoy being with all of us. My sister doesn't really like them. She said they don't fit in. My daughter had to tell them that they were not invited. Awkward! As her mom, I had to help her decide how to handle this so we could all be together still. We ended up going to my sister’s, and his parents did something else.

Now there is this tension between all of us. I've tried telling my sister that I was annoyed with her decision to not invite them. It was just for a few hours, and they are like family. She only said, "I did nothing wrong. I can have who I want in my house." She sounds so immature. She is 50.
She then posted a remark on Facebook about it. That's when I got really mad, and we haven't spoken since.

I'm not sure what the next step will be, but I have no intensions to contact her further.
What do you think?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: On one hand, I agree with your sister. She can invite anyone she wants to her house. Your opinion does not matter because it’s her house. I recommend not offering it in these situations. Would you invite someone to your house you didn’t like? I wouldn’t. On the other hand, she has crossed a line when she went public with this. I advise you to ask her to remove the comment from FB. We all make mistakes and all bear responsibility for these errors in judgment. What is called for here is open communication and compassion. Do not hold a grudge. Have you heard of Byron Katie? I recommend you buy her book and read it, and share it. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Paying my sister's way

How do I tell my sister that I will not help her financially without hurting her feelings and without feeling guilty about it? 

Dear Jay,
I recently became a widow. My husband was a very good provider. Now, my sister is expecting me to bail her out of her money problems on a monthly basis because she thinks I have all this money. How can I resolve this problem diplomatically without feeling responsible or guilty?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are not responsible for your sister’s problems; therefore you should have no feelings of guilt. You can simply explain to her that you are on a tight budget, and that she needs to take care of her own financial obligations. You would be doing her a favor, so no guilt! I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

No thanks on all girls vacation

Am I wrong for not wanting to be on a vacation with just my sister and my mom? 

Dear Jay,
My mother invited me and my sister on a vacation.  I turned down the offer stating I would not be able to get off work during the time they were planning on going.  My mother said she understood but then mentioned we will have to schedule a trip for the three of us another time.  I am really not interested in ever taking a vacation with just the three of us.  I would consider a family vacation where my husband could join, but I don't want to do the 'girls' vacation.  My mother offers to pay, so I can not use the financial excuse.  Am I wrong for not wanting to go?  How can I politely state that I do not want to do these types of vacations?  I love my mother and sister, but do not want to vacation alone with them.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I have no idea why you do not want to spend time with just your mother and sister, but fully understand that reasons could definitely exist. So to answer your question about being wrong, I have no idea. What is your reason? Perhaps you have limited vacation time and you want to share that with your own family - fully understandable. I always say that honesty is the best policy. Let them know your reasons and take full responsibility for the decision, without blaming either one of them one bit. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

90th birthday plans

Is it tacky for my mother-in-law to come up with her own 90th birthday party plans? 

Dear Jay,
My mother-in-law will be 90 years old in two months.  Last night she took our 48 year old son aside and told him she wants to take the family out to dinner for her birthday.  He told me this today. My husband and I had planned on taking her and the family out to dinner already, but had not said anything to her about it yet.  It is still two months away. For all she knows we may have wanted to surprise her.  I think it's rather tacky of her to have her own "party".   I know she is afraid we might not do anything to celebrate and that would crush her, especially that she couldn't brag to her friends that we took her out.  I think she should graciously keep quiet and trust that her family cares enough to celebrate her 90 years.  I am rather pushed out of shape that she is sort of making sure that we don't forget. In fact it seems manipulative.  Is my thinking wrong on this?  What should I say to her when she tells me she wants to take us out for her birthday?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: My gut tells me that you are way off base here. You are making a lot of assumptions. And I think they may very well be untrue. I could list a whole lot of assumptions on the opposite side of the spectrum, which may be equally untrue. Assumptions are that way by definition. My advice is that you graciously accept her invitation. Have compassion for her and for yourself. At 90, it is not up to anyone to deny her any pleasure. My advice is always based on common sense and the Golden Rule. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

In-law's visits hurting marriage

Am I being unreasonable when I want to end my in-law's 1-2 week visits every 2-3 months? 

Dear Jay,
I've been married for 9 years and I have to deal with my in-laws coming to our house every 2-3 months to stay for 1 week to 2 weeks without them asking. It is causing a problem with me and my husband because he does not know why they can't come here whenever they like as he pays the bills. I am a private person, and I do not like houseguests because they make messes and are just generally in my space. How do I get this to stop? Am I being a difficult person by not wanting to accommodate his intruding parents?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your husband needs to grow up. Just because he pays the bills, that has nothing to do with how your household is run. You need to agree on guidelines for guests and other issues. If your husband does not agree to accept and understand your feelings you have a problem that may require professional counseling. You are not being unreasonable. I wish I could help you more. I hope this helps at least a little bit.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

In-laws visiting expectations

How should I deal with my in-laws never visiting us but always expecting us to bring our 5 month old son to visit them? 

Dear Jay,
My husband’s side of the family never comes to visit him or their 5 month grandson/nephew yet are very persistent about us visiting and taking my son over more often so that he can be more "familiar of them." When comments like that get thrown at me, I think, if you really cared you would make yourself familiar and visit him! We visit once a week. We live in Northridge, CA and they live in Camarillo, CA about a 40 min-1 hr drive. I occasionally invite them over, but obviously when they do come it's something totally out of their way yet they can drive to family gatherings/parties that are totally out of their way but not to our home. According to them it's easier for us to go. Obviously this drives me insane. 

I have mentioned it to my husband many times.He totally agrees with me and says he needs to have a talk with his mother and his sister. It hurts me so much because I know that if my parents, sister and brother lived at this distance away from me they would make time to come visit especially now that my 5 month old son is in the picture. They are absolutely crazy about him and it would be random spontaneous visits not so much planned and I would never need to beg them to come. How should this be handled?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I understand your frustration. First of all, a rule of thumb I live by is to not take anything personally. That alone will relieve a lot of your anger. It’s their problem, not yours. If you don’t want to visit them, don’t. Secondly, your husband needs to have that talk sooner rather than later with his mother and sister. It’s wonderful to have such a supportive husband. He needs to explain what your visiting/traveling rules are. Do not allow his parents to bully you. Thirdly, have compassion for your in-laws, and for yourself. Humans are not built perfectly. We all have flaws and make mistakes - and that’s OK.  I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Picking up the tab for guests

Are hosts of visiting relatives responsible for picking up all the restaurant tabs? 

Dear Jay,
When out of town relatives visit and stay in our home for a few days, are we responsible for picking up their portion of any restaurant tabs incurred during their visit?  We already provide them with meals in our home as well as free transportation.  My wife believes that we should pay for absolutely everything, something that the relatives don't do when we visit them.  I don't agree.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: The option to pay or not is certainly not cut and dry. If your relatives cannot afford such luxuries as going out to restaurants and you invite them out, you are responsible. Maybe when you visit them, they cannot afford to pay for you. If this is not the case, then I would have to side with you. There is definitely no rule that suggests you must pay for absolutely everything. I suggest that applying some common sense and the Golden Rule may be appropriate. If however they cannot afford to pay, I suggest you consider being grateful that you can. Having compassion for them and for you is always helpful. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Grandparent naming

Who gets to choose how a grandparent is addressed by the grandchild - the grandparent or the parents to be? 

Dear Jay,
When it comes to grandparent names what is the proper etiquette in who gets to choose the name for the grandparent?

I am a step-mother and have a preference of what I would like to be called as a "grandparent" but the parents-to-be (step-son and wife) feel that it is their choice of what I will get called.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Common sense would dictate that the grandparent must at least agree to the name that will be used to address them. Surely some agreement can be arrived at without a big argument. If not, there will surely be bigger fish to fry down the road. As the senior, take the high road and try to be flexible. However, it is how you will be addressed, and you should have the final say. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Monster sister-in-law is driving me insane!

How do I handle my controlling sister-in-law when my husband allows her to display rude behavior in my home? 

Dear Jay,
My sister-in-law asked us if she can stay with us while she comes to our city to host a Scentsy party.  I am so uncomfortable around her and this causes problems as my husband does not really seem to understand how it affects me and our relationship after being around her for more than an hour or so. We are usually around her and their family for 5-9 hours at a time (because they live 2.5 hours away), at his mom's, which is also difficult.  But having her in our home makes me so anxious.  Whenever she comes, she usually invites herself and even if we say it isn't a good time, she persists.  She goes through my cupboards and eats food without asking and is a slob.  

She is also very critical, always telling us what to do, especially my husband.  She makes comments about how I do my hair, and so on.  My husband caters to her every demand, and this is difficult to see, because I feel that she is disrespectful.  I'm the only one that cooks out of all of us, and I don't want to host.  She put her fork in the community butter dish and keeps her shoes on in our house when she KNOWS that we do not want this.  She just says, “My shoes are clean.”  Even when we had multiple house guests here at once and I had everything planned for where everyone was going to sleep (after she invited herself and I said we had no room-she persisted), she ended up changing the plan to suit where SHE wanted to sleep, and when I got upset, my husband just let her run the show.  HELP!  She also drinks a lot and the drunker she gets, the worse the behavior gets.  I just don't know how to deal with this anymore.  It is causing me so much anxiety, and I feel like an idiot.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are not an idiot for feeling the way you do. Your husband has his priorities completely backwards. Unfortunately, the time has come for to lay down the law. He will need to decide between you and his sister. Your home is your castle and you have every right to have your house rules honored. If your husband can’t stand up to her - and family dynamics often are so toxic that he simply may not have the skill set required to deal with this monster. You are well within your rights to have a private conversation with her and explain that if she doesn’t honor your household rules, she is not welcome in your house. I wish there were gentler way of handling this, but I’m afraid anything short of this will simply fall on deaf ears. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Loud partying drives me crazy

Should my parents speak up about my brother and sister-in-law's loud partying on special occasions? 

Dear Jay,
I live with my younger brother and parents at my parent’s house. My older brother and his wife also live with us, but they live on the highest floor. We all have our own floors. My older brother and his wife heavily party during special occasions - loud music and loud dancing. It’s so loud which makes it impossible to sleep, and it goes on until late night and early morning. I understand it’s rare - just on special occasions or holidays,but I feel they are extremely disrespectful, careless, and rude. They don't care that my parents nor I want to hear it and want to sleep. My parents treat my brother and his wife like they are a god and goddess. I know my sister-in-law wouldn't dare do this in her own parent’s house. Her strict mom wouldn't allow this. It feels unfair. Do you think my parents should stop this behavior by saying something or should I stay out of it?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Someone must be the head of the household. Presumably your parents play this role jointly - at least in an ideal world this would be how it works. I suggest a family meeting to discuss household rules. This should be headed by your parents, and any grievances must be voiced with respect and civility - no raised voices. You are in fact a small community living literally on top of one another. There must be a high level of mutual respect for everyone. If this does not work out, you need to consider setting up your own household elsewhere. I hope this helps.
My best,

Jay

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Tardy husband gets defensive

Is it unreasonable to expect my husband to communicate with me about when he will get home from special work functions? 

Dear Jay,
My husband asked a couple weeks ahead of time if he could stay late at work because they are reorganizing teams and his current team was doing a get together before they part. We have 6 boys that are young, as in 8 and under. I asked what time he thought he would be home on a number of occasions. He didn't know. The night comes around and I call about 5pm to ask what the plans are for the evening. He says dinner at 6:30 then they are going back to the office to play games. I say, “So you should be home by 10 or 11?” He says, “Yes.” Then when it was approaching 10, I called to see if he was on the way or what was going on. He tells me they're still playing and that he will leave in about 45 minutes, and this would have put him home at midnight or later. I got frustrated. When he got home I asked him if from now on when he goes out if he is going to be later than the estimated time could he call or text me and let me know and also to maybe get a better idea of time frame before the day of event.  He got defensive saying that he didn’t want to check his watch all the time and that I was being unreasonable. Is it unreasonable for me to want more communication about when he will be home especially when it is later than anticipated? I'm not saying he has a curfew, I would just like to be kept in the loop and have better time for planning with 6 kids.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I could not agree with you more. Of course he should let you know if he is going to be delayed. With six boys, the last thing you need is to worry about your husband’s safety. Timing however is everything sometimes. Nailing him when he walks in the door after a long day of work is understandably going to be met with resistance. Pick a time when you can have his undivided attention and clarify why this ground rule is important to you. If he understands how his actions make you feel, he should change his tune. Come at the discussion as a team player, and not some dictatorial victim. Remember more flies with honey than vinegar. He is very likely not behaving like this with the intention of annoying you. Have compassion for him and for you. I hope this helps.
P.S. NEVER argue in front of your boys, please!
 
My best,

Jay

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Not invited and not admitted

How do I help my teenaged son understand that it isn't okay to go to party uninvited even if others do? 

Dear Jay,
My 16 year old son was invited by friends to go to a school mate's birthday party last night (Friday night, high school party). My three concerns were: are parents home, are you invited, and how are you getting home. I confirmed that the parents would be home. He texted the birthday boy and asked if it was okay to come. The response was "I'm not allowed to have any more people, sorry"... So my son wished him happy birthday and dropped it. The birthday boy sent my son a text a few minutes later and asked him to tell everyone that he wasn't letting them in, that he didn't want things to get out of control. So my son passed on the info which was promptly dismissed by all the kids, except my son.

Today I am dealing with a very resentful 16 year old because 20 other kids who a) were not invited and b) just showed up, were allowed in and had a great night. I stand by my insistence that you never show up uninvited. He is mad that I told him to ask. He says “It's high school, you just show up. I'm the only one who asked and I got told no. Everyone else just showed up and had fun".

Am I wrong to insist that it's in poor taste to show up uninvited? Is that common behavior and accepted now? The parents admitted all the kids who showed up uninvited.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are absolutely correct. This is precisely why kids growing up today stand little chance of being taken seriously in the real world when they need to function as adults. One, his parents are at fault - which happens far too frequently for not setting guidelines about who will be attending the party. Two, the birthday boy had no business texting your son with such a directive. There are times when party invitations are less structured, which is fine. However this situation is very hurtful for your son. I would be on the phone with the birthday boy’s mother and ask for some clarification. 16 year olds don’t always get the facts straight, and they obviously need guidance to avoid such problems from occurring in the first place. Since  the parents are clueless,  your job is to sit down with your son and explain to him the difference between right and wrong, and why. He is justifiably upset. Work as a team player, not as a dictator. But remember, you are right, and this is a great opportunity to turn a lousy situation into a teachable moment - with compassion. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Gift basket let down

Should I be hurt that my sister-in-law and my niece wouldn't open the gift basket I gave them with me present? 

Dear Jay,
This Christmas, for gifts, I made baskets, each included items I personally selected for the person who would receive it.  For instance, my niece got a $50 gift card to her favorite restaurant, and about $50 worth of other items in her basket.  This year, eight of our family members met at my house to exchange gifts.  We all opened them at once, ooohhhing, and ahhhhhing and thanking the gifter.  When we finished, I noticed that my sister-in-law and her daughter (my niece) had not opened their gift baskets.  I asked them to open them, and my sister-in-law said they decided to open them later at their house. I said, "This is my gift to you, and I really want you to open them now. That's why we are all here."  Again, she said, "No, we will open them later. I asked again, and she said, "We don't have time. We are getting ready to go to the restaurant."  I said, "We still have 20 minutes before we leave. Please open your gift." She refused. The next day, my sister-in-law said, "Sally got a cute bird in her basket, and I ran to mine to see if I got one too, but I didn't. I was so disappointed." That's the only comment that I received about their basket gifts.  Neither ever thanked me or even mentioned the baskets again. I feel very hurt by both of these women. I will never make them another basket. Am I wrong to feel this way?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I see two dynamics at play here. The first is your insistence on gifts being opened over and over again. I believe a gift is given with no strings, including when said gift is opened. On the other hand, your sister-in-law’s behavior is bizarre. So is her response after opening the gift. I wouldn’t make them another basket either. But I do think you may want to sit down with your brother and let him know how his wife’s behavior made you feel. It would be even better if you could sit down with your sister-in-law and share your feelings with her, but I don’t see that happening. The other option is to continue giving the baskets, knowing that they may not all be opened at the same time. It is Christmas, and the feeling of generosity is important. Be generous, but readjust your expectations. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Vacation party poppers

If our vacation hosts don't want to sight see or have fun, can we rent a car and do it on our own? 

Dear Jay,
My husband and I were invited to visit his brother and wife in a vacation rental home they had rented for 1 month.  We were invited for 1 week.  We were asked to bring a list of things we wanted to see and do.  We were arriving by plane and did not rent a car.  After being there two days it became apparent that they did not want to sightsee or leave the house.  Would it have been appropriate to rent our own car and sightsee on our own?  Or would that have been considered rude as we were their guests and should do as they do?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: It doesn’t sound like your hosts are taking an active role in your visit. By all means, strike out on your own, and invite them to join you. Maybe they’ll get the message. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Honesty is the best policy

Should I tell my aunt and uncle that my boyfriend stays with me sometimes while I am watching their home? 

Dear Jay,
Is it okay to bring my boyfriend to stay over?

I live in my aunt and uncle's house and I pay them for the room I'm using. They live in another country, so I rented a room so the house is not empty all year. I'm allowed to use everything in the house, I keep it clean, and I always pick up their mail which is a lot of huge boxes. My boyfriend lives 40 minutes away and sometimes he stays the whole weekend with me. Is that a bad thing? My aunt told me to pretend this is my house and not feel like a stranger. Obviously my uncle and aunt don't know that my boyfriend stays here sometimes, and I don’t know if what I’m doing is wrong. We're both young adults about to be engaged, so it’s not like I'm bringing just anyone. It is easier for me and my boyfriend to stay at my place because we don’t spend so much on gas and he lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a one room apartment, so its uncomfortable if the four of us stay in one place the entire weekend. Is this inappropriate?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: As long as you uphold your end of the bargain - keep the place clean and collect the mail - I see no reason at all for you not invite your boyfriend for weekends. It would be a good idea to let them know, however. Too many things can happen, and as a homeowner, knowing who is coming and going in and out of your house is reasonable and important. It sounds like your aunt and uncle are pretty flexible, but don’t push your luck. You’re doing nothing wrong, but honesty is the best policy. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Honesty is the best policy

Should I tell my aunt and uncle that my boyfriend stays with me sometimes while I am watching their home? 

Dear Jay,
Is it okay to bring my boyfriend to stay over?

I live in my aunt and uncle's house and I pay them for the room I'm using. They live in another country, so I rented a room so the house is not empty all year. I'm allowed to use everything in the house, I keep it clean, and I always pick up their mail which is a lot of huge boxes. My boyfriend lives 40 minutes away and sometimes he stays the whole weekend with me. Is that a bad thing? My aunt told me to pretend this is my house and not feel like a stranger. Obviously my uncle and aunt don't know that my boyfriend stays here sometimes, and I don’t know if what I’m doing is wrong. We're both young adults about to be engaged, so it’s not like I'm bringing just anyone. It is easier for me and my boyfriend to stay at my place because we don’t spend so much on gas and he lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a one room apartment, so its uncomfortable if the four of us stay in one place the entire weekend. Is this inappropriate?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: As long as you uphold your end of the bargain - keep the place clean and collect the mail - I see no reason at all for you not invite your boyfriend for weekends. It would be a good idea to let them know, however. Too many things can happen, and as a homeowner, knowing who is coming and going in and out of your house is reasonable and important. It sounds like your aunt and uncle are pretty flexible, but don’t push your luck. You’re doing nothing wrong, but honesty is the best policy. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Not invited by insensitive brother-in-law

How should I react to my brother-in-law not inviting my children to his wife's 50th birthday party? 

Dear Jay,

My brother-in-law is throwing a 50th birthday party for my sister-in-law (she knows about the party and sent out the paperless invitation). Some nieces and nephews have been invited. It was said that only the married ones are invited and then I saw the guest list and there are nieces and nephews on the invite list that are not married and some other guests the same age as my two sons that are not family or married that are invited along with their boyfriend and/or girlfriend. I have two adult children that were not invited. Someone slipped and said that my brother-in-law is not inviting all of the nieces and nephews, because he doesn't want a lot of drinking going on, so that is obviously how he looks at my two adult children. My other brother-in-law’s children that are married have not been invited either. I am hurt by the remarks made by my brother-in-law. If you invite some you should invite everyone. They obviously picked and chose who they wanted to invite. I can assure you they could care less if they offend anyone. My brother-in-law is loaded and can afford to throw a big party. Money is not the issue. Another line was the place can only hold a certain amount of people. I looked the venue up and that is a total lie. They have forgotten where they came from.  I have decided to not attend the party but my husband is going.

Jay's ANSWER...

A:  I fully understand your hurt feelings. And I understand why you are regretting the invitation. Family dynamics are often very fickle, and when this sort of nonsense is going on, I always think it’s best to detach. When it comes to invitation lists, the host has total control over who is or is not invited. The mistake this host made was in opening his big mouth and inserting both feet! His thoughtless remarks have damaged family relationships. What is needed here is compassion and forgiveness. Your brother-in-law may very well have had no intention of annoying anyone, although he clearly has. This incident is hardly worthy of bringing down a close family. Take the high road and do not take his actions personally. Don’t give him that power. I imagine by you not attending the party, he will be more sensitive next time, but there are never any guarantees. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Not invited by insensitive brother-in-law

How should I react to my brother-in-law not inviting my children to his wife's 50th birthday party? 

Dear Jay,

My brother-in-law is throwing a 50th birthday party for my sister-in-law (she knows about the party and sent out the paperless invitation). Some nieces and nephews have been invited. It was said that only the married ones are invited and then I saw the guest list and there are nieces and nephews on the invite list that are not married and some other guests the same age as my two sons that are not family or married that are invited along with their boyfriend and/or girlfriend. I have two adult children that were not invited. Someone slipped and said that my brother-in-law is not inviting all of the nieces and nephews, because he doesn't want a lot of drinking going on, so that is obviously how he looks at my two adult children. My other brother-in-law’s children that are married have not been invited either. I am hurt by the remarks made by my brother-in-law. If you invite some you should invite everyone. They obviously picked and chose who they wanted to invite. I can assure you they could care less if they offend anyone. My brother-in-law is loaded and can afford to throw a big party. Money is not the issue. Another line was the place can only hold a certain amount of people. I looked the venue up and that is a total lie. They have forgotten where they came from.  I have decided to not attend the party but my husband is going.

Jay's ANSWER...

A:  I fully understand your hurt feelings. And I understand why you are regretting the invitation. Family dynamics are often very fickle, and when this sort of nonsense is going on, I always think it’s best to detach. When it comes to invitation lists, the host has total control over who is or is not invited. The mistake this host made was in opening his big mouth and inserting both feet! His thoughtless remarks have damaged family relationships. What is needed here is compassion and forgiveness. Your brother-in-law may very well have had no intention of annoying anyone, although he clearly has. This incident is hardly worthy of bringing down a close family. Take the high road and do not take his actions personally. Don’t give him that power. I imagine by you not attending the party, he will be more sensitive next time, but there are never any guarantees. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Overly Sensitive About Lack of Dinner Invites

Should I be upset that my family members go out to dinner without even inviting me along when I often watch their children? 

Dear Jay,

I give-up substitute teaching to be a paid babysitter for my brother's children when his wife goes on military duty. Sometimes for a couple of days and sometimes for a month or more. Babysitting is less money, but I enjoy spending time with the kids.  

Sometimes, right after babysitting for the day, my brother and his kids go out to dinner with my sister and her husband.  I usually find out later because the kids will say something about it.  Once they went out on my birthday without inviting me.  They tried to hide it because I had been calling both to find out about my sick niece and if I needed to watch her the next day.  I told them it hurt my feelings that they didn't ask.  My sister reminded me they can go out to dinner without me if they want.  True, but it just seems if I am good enough to babysit my brother's children, I should be invited to dinner, especially if it is right after a day of babysitting.  I know they go out without my husband and me at other times and I can accept that.  Especially, since, I think my sister's husband and my brother have a special camaraderie over drinking and they are closer in age.  I am a decade older than my brother and sister.  My sister and her family also enjoy joining us for diving vacations or other outings. And we always see each other for holidays.  Wouldn't it be polite for them to ask me to dinner or am I being too sensitive.

Jay's ANSWER...

A:  It would be nice to be invited out to dinner, especially on your birthday. However, there will be times when you will not be included. Don’t let this get to you. They are not intending to hurt your feelings. Your sister raises a valid point. I think the fact that you have raised this issue will likely result in them being more sensitive in the future. Your feelings are certainly understandable and they are indeed valid. But only you have the ability to manage them. In the end, it would be polite to invite you to dinner, but realistically this is not going to happen every time; therefore, yes, you are being overly sensitive. Be grateful for the many blessings you have being a part of a loving family. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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We Feel Left Out During Gift Giving At Christmas

What should I do about my sister-in-law not liking me and not getting me or my children presents, even though I get them for both her and her kids?

Dear Jay,

My husband and I just got married this July. But, we have been together for seven years. He  has been the only father my children have ever known. His brother's wife (Shannon) hates me (she has never physically met me, but nonetheless, she hates me). Neither she nor my husband’s brother (Dan) get me or my children a Christmas gift, every year. I, on the other hand, always make sure to have at least one gift for each of them and their son always gets multiple gifts from Dave and me. I am wondering, what is the correct etiquette for such behavior? Should I continue to pretend like this doesn't bother me, or should I say something toward this "crazy childish" behavior? It is not so much about the "gift". My kids and I feel left out, when everyone else is opening presents around us, and we know that it is intentional that we get singled out. I can't help but feel angry, even though I feel I should not. I need help with this.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your sister-in-law is a monster. Her bullying tactics reveal a lot of insecurity on her part. Continue to take the high road, by doing the right thing. I would skip gifts for the adults next year and just give presents to their son. They may get the message; they may not. But at least the equation is better balanced. If no sign of gratitude comes, such as a thank you note, drop them all from your gift list and consider spending Christmas with people who are more in the spirit of what Christmas is all about. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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My Sister-in-law Always Needs to be The Center of Attention

How do I deal with my sister-in-law's need to be the center of attention all the time? 

Dear Jay,

My sister in law must be the CENTER of attention at all times. She inserts herself into pictures, takes selfies, etc and plasters them all over social media.  Funny thing is she never includes me in any picture - even if I ask. There is a lot more to this story, such as my single brother being head over heels in love with her, and that she acts as if she speaks for my entire family. If you don’t go along with her, you don’t get to see her kids, or she won’t invite you to go out with other members of MY family. She is so arrogant and self important that I’d like to just cut ties, but both my brothers love her, and I won’t get to see nieces and nephews. I don’t know what to do.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: This is a dilemma. It sounds like you and she may be dealing with some insecurities here. I recommend that you have a chat with your brother (her husband), and explain how her behavior makes you feel. He is the one who needs to intervene here. You have limited choices. Don’t take her behavior personally - people who need to be the center of attention are all about them, not anyone else. I wonder what it is that endears her to the men, though. Have the chat with your husband and see how that goes. Feel free to get back to me then. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Mother-in-law's Unequal Money Distribution at Christmas

Should I be upset that my mother-in-law always gives the spouses less money than her own children? 

Dear Jay,

Every Christmas for about the last 4 years my mother in law has given an envelope with cash to each of her grown children and one to their spouses. She gives a substantial amount to her kids and a much smaller amount to the spouses.  Every year I dread the envelope giving as I am the spouse and for some reason my feelings are hurt over this.  Am I being overly sensitive or is this a normal practice? I have told my own grown children that when they get married this will never happen as I will give equal amounts to them and their spouses or one envelope will be given to them as a couple, so no one feels less a part of the family.  I lose my joy for Christmas due to this gesture every year.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: This form of gift giving reveals a deep need to have some control over the family structure. Your mother in-law is saying that her own children are more important than their spouses, and allegiance will always remain there. This is not healthy, but it is in her family ‘normal’. And, yes, perhaps you are being overly sensitive. It’s a gift - even a predictable one. If this hurts your feelings, I suggest you explain this to your spouse; have him speak with his siblings and see how their spouses feel; and consider asking his mother to give money to couples and not individually. This will be met with resistance, and taking the high road may be your best option. By that, I mean letting go of your attachment to the amount of money. That too is unhealthy. My best advice is to be grateful that you are getting any gift and that you have any family with which to celebrate holidays. Many people have neither. I hope this helps.  

 My best,

Jay

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Rude Niece Isn't Nice

How do I handle my niece when she comes to my house and asks for food and always seems to take more than she should? 

Dear Jay,

How do I handle a 15 year old niece when she comes over for a brief visit with her mother? My niece will ask for things, such as snacks, chips, water or soda. When I give her a side of chips, she will ask if she can take the whole BIG bag, or she will help herself to 2 or 3 bottles of water to take home with her. I know my niece is not a hungry child; I believe it’s just a bad habit, and I don't know how to approach the subject without hurting her mom’s feelings. I'm not a greedy person, I just don't believe someone should come into my home and open my pantry, or ask for things.

Jay's ANSWER...

A:You have two choices as I see it. One is that you can embrace the churlishness of this precocious young lady. Trust me, this will not go on forever. She will grow up one day. However, if this is intolerable for you, you must speak with her mother privately and share with her how her daughter’s behavior makes you feel - disrespected, used, etc. Her mother may be completely unaware of this. People generally do not want to irritate other people, and I would hope that she would have a chat with her daughter about how to behave when in another person’s house - family or otherwise. Gratitude is an important principle for everyone to learn. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Leftover let down

How do I tell my sister in law that she doesn't get leftovers even when she brings a container to fill after the meal is finished? 

Dear Jay,

My husband and I end up being the default hosts for his side of the family during holidays. We pay for the food, cook, clean, and host for approximately 10 people. His sister comes to our home (she will usually bring a small dessert) with tupperware for leftovers! I am appalled by this! It is the host's choice if leftovers are given out, and it angers me that she is so presumptuous! How can I delicately address this issue and let her know it's not ok to assume she (and anyone else) will receive a care package? My husband doesn't see this as a big deal.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your husband may see this as OK, but if you don’t, you may want to have a chat with him to express your concerns. It is important for spouses to agree on matters where one of you is bothered. There is no reason to be delicate about letting your sister-in-law know that you will be using the leftovers for your own purposes. It sounds like she feels entitled to your leftovers. Simply let her know when she goes to scoop up everything that this year nothing is up for grabs. Do be sure to give her back any leftover dessert or a clean dessert container if it all is not consumed. Since this does not seem to be matter to your husband, perhaps it won’t bother her much either. My sense is that this is of greater concern to you than it is to her. If she makes a scene, take the high road and let her have her way. 

Life is too short to fight over leftovers. Another alternative, which I have used, is to divide the leftovers evenly between all guests and hand them all “doggy bags”; but you do the loading. If there will be no doggie bags for anyone, you can always announce as the table is cleared that there are no doggie bags this year. It seems a bit petty though, so you may want to consider no cooking more than you will need. I often put all leftovers in the soup pot, so you could do that before she has a chance to dive in. I hope this helps. Have a joyous holiday.
 
My best,

Jay

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Disrespectful houseguest

How do I approach our ungrateful houseguest about his behaviors? 

Dear Jay,

I am a young mother going to school with not much money.  I have a daughter who is eight years old. Her father and I had her young, but we have stayed together as a family through it all.  Despite the facts that we are not really prepared to take anyone in, we have agreed to allow my younger teen cousin to live with us until his mother gets her act together.  He  does things like stay on the internet until about 2 in the morning. I’m hesitant to say anything about it because my husband does the same thing.  

When we cook, we cook for everyone including him, and the same goes for ordering out. He also does not hesitate to eat up any quick snacks or sandwiches in between meals.  Sometimes I cook late when I have a lot of work, and he'll go and buy food and eat in front of my 8 year old daughter, not offering her anything. He just recently got a job because my husband knew the manager, and he is talking about quitting which is one my stipulations for living with me.  I only ask him to take out the trash and occasionally dishes which he complains about. I do his laundry for free, and neither he nor his mother pay me anything for him being here.  His grandma (my aunt) says she didn't want to take him in. What do I do?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You need to have house rules for this young man. He is a guest in your home. Your home is your castle and you make the rules (with your husband). The deal is that he (or anyone else) abides by the house rules, or they must leave. There is a sense of entitlement young people have, especially when their parents have failed to teach them otherwise. Unfortunately, you must act as a parent in this situation and show him kindness and give him encouragement. However, he must do the same and respect you. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Visiting decisions for the holidays

How do we determine which family to visit without feeling guilty or making people feel bad? 

Dear Jay,

There's just too many houses too far apart to visit everyone in my family for the holidays. Now that we are expecting I can only imagine the pressure will be greater to see everyone. We want to, its just not feasible. We run several different businesses, two of which are seasonal so that in itself makes traveling far difficult because we have to make a living. How do you determine who/where/how to spend the holidays? We want to have traditions we want to see all the family we want baby to know grandma and nanny, but it's going to be hard. How do you make the right decision and then make everyone ok with it AND not feel guilty?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: This is a dilemma many people face. You must do what is best for you and your own family (not parents, grandparents, etc.). I doubt your intention is to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is important. People will, or should be sympathetic to your situation. I would divide holiday visits up on a yearly basis. One year you spend Thanksgiving with one group and Christmas with another, and revolve these visits to suit your schedule. The well being and safety of your family comes first - always! There is no reason to feel guilty about doing the right thing. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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My aunt and uncle have abused their visiting rights

How do I tell my aunt that enough is enough with them abusing our hospitality without alienating her? 

Dear Jay,

My aunt and uncle live about 5 hours away.  For years my aunt and uncle have been coming up to visit and stay at our house.  At first it was to visit my family, and they would come once or twice a year.  When their son enrolled in college in our town (about 8 years ago), they started coming more often so they could visit him.  When their 2nd son enrolled at the same school, they came even more frequently, and it started to become obvious that our house had become a free hotel rather than a family gathering spot.  They would make plans without inviting me and my family, and even got to the point where my cousin would lie to us about where they'd been (he said studying, they confessed that they had gone to dinner and not invited us).  Two years ago my oldest cousin and his girlfriend were having a baby.  My aunt asked about staying with us around the time of the due date, and we told her anytime was fine EXCEPT for a specific week that included a specific weekend.  As you can imagine, the baby came at the beginning of that week and my aunt and uncle called from the highway asking again about staying with us.  I reminded her that the week wasn't good for us, and she asked who was staying there instead of them.  I told her nobody was staying at our house, and she asked again if they could.  I caved.  I was upset with myself, but didn't know what else to do.

24 hours later, my aunt informed me that my uncle's sister was on her way to see the baby, and that they had told her she could stay with us, too.  I was speechless. I ended up making up a bed for my uncle's sister as well.

On other occasions when she's stayed here, my aunt has invited her friends over to our house without asking (people I do not know and have never met).  This has continued to get worse and worse over the years.

Now the baby is 2 years old and my aunt and uncle come up at least once a month.  Our discomfort has shown through enough that they don't always ask us to stay at our house, but still do at least every other month.  The other times, they stay with their son in his small house.  When they do stay with us, my aunt spends most of her time with her grand-daughter, which means we see her mostly in the evenings. Unless, of course, she invites her son and his family to our house (never asks us, always just invites).

A couple of days ago my aunt asked "what are you doing between Christmas and New Years?", which is normally how she probes about staying with us.  She said they were coming up on December 26th and wanted to stay through New Year's, and that their son's house was "pretty cramped with the Christmas tree up and all that."  My wife told her she'd have to check with me and find out if we had other guests/plans.

I don't know what to do at this point.  I am sure that my aunt already thinks I'm mean/selfish for not having them at our house every time they visit.  The only time she doesn't basically assume she can stay here is if I say that we already have house guests.  Sometimes, even if we DO already have house guests, she will ask when they're leaving and adjust her travel to show up the day after they leave.

I've had enough.  I do not want to alienate my family, but I am tired of how inconsiderate my relatives have become over the years.  I've worked up the courage twice to say "this is not a good time for us" and both times my aunt and uncle have kept pushing until we agreed they could stay here.  I love my aunt and uncle, but it is causing my wife and I so much angst and frustration that I feel like I have to tell my aunt she has abused our family ties.  My fear is it will drive a wedge between us, and she'll no doubt share her opinions with my other aunts and uncles about what a jerk I am.

What should I do?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are not a jerk! You have every right to have the feelings that you have. In short, you are being bullied - horribly! You must face the music and confront your aunt and uncle. They must respect your privacy, without any interrogation. Unfortunately you have ‘caved’ more than one time, allowing the bullying to continue. Do not be concerned with how the rest of your family will feel. Frankly, it doesn’t matter; and I imagine they may have similar feelings. Bullies bully in all areas of their life. Your responsibility is to you and your wife. You do not need this element in your life. Do not allow it. You can deliver this information without judgment, just as you have in your question to me. I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any more questions around this important issue.
 
My best,

Jay

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Unenjoyable family visits

How can I convince my boyfriend that even though it's not very pleasant that we should stay with my family for at least two nights to be polite? 

Dear Jay,

What is the etiquette for a serious but not engaged couple when visiting each others' families? I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend's family in short, enjoyable doses, since they live nearby. We see my parents a few times a year and must travel 3 hours to see them...resulting in longer, very not-enjoyable visits. I won't deny that visiting my family is not fun for reasons beyond my control, mostly to do with the personalities of my family members. I sympathize with my boyfriend's dislike of our visits and emphasize how much I appreciate his presence. However, I feel a duty to continue to visit a few times a year, and when I do visit I am very concerned about staying long enough so as not to be rude to my parents. That translates roughly to a two-night stay. We average two visits a year, outside of family emergencies. 

Starting with this Thanksgiving, my boyfriend has put up a lot of resistance to staying a second night. How should I handle this situation? Unfortunately the discussion is not going well. Despite there being solid reasons for staying the second night, mostly for additional family time and to avoid driving home in the dark, he is adamant that staying a second night is illogical. He is going so far as to claim he does not like "staying nights" at other places, which very much contradicts with his actions on other trips.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Thanks for asking this delicate, and not at all uncommon, question. Without going into a long discussion, I would advise that you consider leaving your boyfriend behind when you visit your parents unless you can keep your visits shorter. You have no duty to visit anyone, not even your parents. However, if you feel you need to visit them, go ahead, but don’t feel your boyfriend needs to join you. If your parents want to know why he isn’t along for the trip, be honest and let them know how these visits make you both feel. Some situations are irreparable, and the sooner an honest eye is put on things, they may be able to change. However, if there comes a time when you must visit your parents due to some extenuating circumstance and require your boyfriend’s support, then he should accommodate your needs and join you. I hope this helps. Have a very Merry Christmas!.
 
My best,

Jay

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Excluding the girlfriend at a special dinner

Is it okay if I don't invite my son's new girlfriend to his graduation dinner? 

Dear Jay,

I am attending my son's college graduation with my niece.  The night prior to graduation, there will be a gathering of students from his degree area, with refreshments and socializing. I would like to take my son and niece out to a nice restaurant afterwards.  However, my son has a new girlfriend of about 4 months, and he is "in love".  I cannot afford to take his girlfriend and actually prefer to just take my son and my niece to dinner.  How do I discuss this with my son.  Or is it inappropriate to expect him to go without her.  This would be a celebration dinner for his graduation the next day.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: There are two things in life that can cause real problems - time and money. Try to avoid situations where these are limiting factors. In this case, my advice is to consider going to a restaurant you can afford, which would allow you to include your son’s girlfriend. How would you feel in his position if you were asked such a question? It’s very awkward and could deflate the celebration. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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I want my meat!

Should I get the most leftovers since I bring the most food for the holiday gathering? 

Dear Jay,

My mother hosts Christmas Dinner every year since I live more than 700 miles away from my whole family, and it is not feasible for the entire family to drive to my house.  We stay in our trailer when we are down visiting my family.  Every year I help my mother with the cooking, cleaning, prepping and buying the meal.  For the past four years I have always brought the Prime Rib Roast, a side dish, the fresh baked sourdough and french bread, wine and a couple of pies.  Neither of my brothers or sister contribute any food or help with the cooking and cleanup.  

My mother always asks that I bring a large roast so that she has leftovers for the following day, which I always do.  Last year, I brought a very large roast and when it came time for us to leave my mother told me to take some leftovers. I was very happy about this because we had a long drive home, and I knew it would be several days before I could get to the market.  I started to pack some of the meat and she came into the kitchen and told me that she had already packed meat for me.  She gave me a tiny baggie of about 4 slices of Roast Beef.  I told her that I would like to take more home for my son (who was unable to make it for Christmas) and she told me she needed it for her and my Dad.  Certainly that wasn't enough meat for more than 1 meal on the road.  

Last week she asked that I bring the roast again this year.  I told her I would but that I would be taking some extra meat home.  She complained that I should buy a larger roast if I plan on doing that.  I reminded her that she was also serving a ham and that if people want leftovers for several days they can eat the ham.  I know that the host is not obliged to give out leftovers.  However, I feel that when one of the guests brings most of the food, shouldn't they be offered a reasonable amount of leftovers?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I’m not feeling much Christmas spirit in this question. This time of year is about giving, not hoarding. Here is my advice. Take a roast that feeds exactly enough for the meal. There will be no leftovers to squabble over. Figure out your road trip meals separately. Everyone should be given the same amount of leftovers, if leftovers are shared at all. I hope this helps. Have a very Merry Christmas and remember to be grateful for your many blessings.
 
My best,

Jay

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Wicked bride to be

How do I approach my soon to be daughter-in-law about her excluding all of my son's family from their wedding and holidays? 

Dear Jay,

I'm stunned that my son's fiancee has told me that I may not bring anyone -even another family member to accompany me to their wedding which will be held in another state. This leaves only one person from my son's family attending: me, his mother. 

Her family numbers about 25 or so. Relatives and friends say this restriction is really weird - especially considering she has never met any family members. I cannot help being offended; I'm a business professional and never had any sort of cross word or behavior issues with this woman or anyone else for that matter to prompt this sort of exclusion. Friends and family are confused and offended as well. She has also recently dismissed her friend as maid of honor and told my son that he no longer needs his best man to attend(!?).

My son seemed surprised at her suggestion,but seems to go along with her. While I'm concerned at this odd treatment and relatives press me to persuade my son that this is disrespectful to me, somehow I don't believe anything I do or say would not be construed as meddling however stymied we all are about her strange behavior.  I have never had a cross word with her and bite my tongue even when she vents. What is the best way to handle this? 

Thanksgiving was the same scenario; come by myself or don't come at all - that even excluded my own brother who was in town for the holiday! Do you have any constructive advice as to how to best handle this?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your son is about to marry a bully. Unfortunately for him, he is going to be spending a lot of his time defending this monster. You have three choices as I see it. One, accept her unconditionally because she is your son’s choice for his wife. Two, have a private chat with your son and explain to him how this behavior makes you feel. This has nothing to do with meddling; this is a personal affront against your family. Your son is the “man for the job” in this case. Three, take off the gloves and confront her as the spoiled inconsiderate child she appears to be. Explain to her how her actions make you feel, and that in your family this is unacceptable. You may even go so far as to say you won’t be going to the wedding under these conditions. Your son and his fiancee will need to join forces on this decision and come to an agreement. If they don’t this marriage is doomed, and frankly you are better off not being a part of it. Perhaps your son is unaware of most of the emotional dynamics at play here. When he is informed, he may get to the bottom of this and take his rightful role. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Cash gifts for all?

Does my son's significant other get the same cash gift as my children and their spouses? 

Dear Jay,

All of my grown children will be at my house for Christmas.  My husband and I have decided to give them all equal cash gifts.  However, my oldest son is bringing his significant other They are not engaged yet, but plan to be when they get out of the military in one year.  I want to include her in the cash gift, but am unsure what amount or percentage is appropriate.  It seems inappropriate to give the same amount as my children and their spouses.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: My advice is to treat her as an equal and give her the same amount as everyone. Such a gift makes a strong statement of "welcome to the family”. You could give money only to your children, and perhaps a different sort of gift - maybe even a gift certificate, but of equal amounts. I hope this helps. Merry Christmas!
 
My best,

Jay

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Video Game Overload

How do I handle the fact that my brother-in-law plays video games the whole time we visit? 

Dear Jay,

Each time we visit my sister and her family her husband is playing video games the majority of the time we are there. Would you consider this rude and how do I approach it to someone that's very defensive in nature?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: There is nothing for you to do. It’s their house, and therefore if your brother-in-law wants to behave like a buffoon, so be it. It would be very inappropriate to bring this up when you are there. You could perhaps have a private chat with your sister, on neutral territory - maybe at the shopping mall - and let her know how his behavior makes you feel,  without judgment or emotion. If she goes on the defensive, you will know for sure that this bad behavior is likely to remain. If she agrees with you, perhaps she’ll have a chat with him, and then there may be a chance he may make more of an effort in the future. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Messy situation with in-laws and family invitations

How do I resolve my in-laws not wanting my brother, his partner and their child to join us to celebrate Christmas? 

Dear Jay,

We attend my husband’s family Christmas every second year.  My parents are also invited to attend. This year my brother and his partner and baby son do not have anywhere to go for Christmas day. My husband and I have subtly asked if they could come to Christmas; however, the answer was no.

I don't want to tell my parents as they may be offended, but my brother believes he is invited. It's all very messy. I really want to avoid awkwardness and issues between the families. What do I do? Is it reasonable for my in-laws to say no to my brother?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your husband needs to approach his parents and have a proper chat with them if this is going to change. They may have a perfectly good reason for limiting the guest list; however, turning away your family is indeed awkward, and a clearer understanding of the reason is understandable and appropriate. Remember that his parents are hosting this party and there is no responsibility on your part to keep the peace. Perhaps your in-laws are not fully aware of the dynamics. Christmas is a time for sharing. I hope they come around. If not, in the future make your plans accordingly, perhaps even hosting the dinner yourselves, and building your own guest list and starting your own family tradition. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Disrespectful family visits

How do get my husband to help his grown children and grown grandchildren to show some respect in our home? 

Dear Jay,

How do I get my husband to get his grown children that have children make their kids mind and be respectful of others’ property when they visit?  We paid over 10K for our new oak floors and leather theater seating yet they climb over the back of the furniture and jump into it instead of sitting correctly.  Also, they destroy the kitchen after we go to bed and the parents do nothing.  I am getting to the point I do not care if they ever come back.  As soon as they come through the door they scrap all parental responsibility and then get pissed if anything is said to the kids.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Unfortunately your husband and the mother of his children forgot to teach them proper manners as children. It’s never too late, however. But this would be a job for him to do, definitely not you. You and your husband need to have a chat, and you need to make it clear that his children and their children need to change their ways, or he will have to lower the boom. It is important for your husband to explain that in your home, there are rules. Until they agree to follow them, they will not be welcome. This will be met with great resistance, but this is an issue that is decades old and will not go away with a simple nudge. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Rowdy family visits driving my wife nuts

How do I handle wanting my crazy family to visit during the holidays even if my wife doesn't want them to come? 

Dear Jay,

My wife does not like to have guests at our home. With the holidays, my large family wants to visit and they have little kids who run around, yelling and screaming. I like having guests so we argue about it, but I'm willing to limit the number of visits. I am not sure how to communicate this with my family members - adult nieces, nephews and their kids, my out-of-town sisters and their kids. It drives my wife nuts.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Honesty is the best policy. First you need to come sort of agreement with your wife. You must speak with a unified voice. In most of these cases a compromise can be reached. Bear in mind that comprises, by their very nature, leave both parties making some concessions. Looking on the bright side, being grateful that you even have family to visit might be a helpful tack for your wife to take. Once you reach whatever agreement you do reach, you can then simply explain to your family what the situation is. Your home is your castle and you are well within your rights to have house rules. It may be a bit awkward at first, but people will come to respect your ways, just as you would respect theirs at their house. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Not allowed to call during the holidays

How do I approach my sister and her husband about their ban on calls from the extended family during the holidays? 

Dear Jay,

How should I respond to the email I got from what was made to appear as being from my sister, but was obviously not written by her, asking that my sister and our families not call on the holidays because that is their family time (my sister, her husband and their adult children and families)?  I should preface this with this is the first holiday season following our mother's passing.  I feel certain that this would never have occurred while either of our parents were alive, but now that the inheritance has been paid out and there is no risk of alienating the family and risking the loss of any inheritance my sister’s husband is pushing her family away.  My sister's husband has always been somewhat controlling, but I actually never thought that he would go this far.  

I do feel strongly that if forced to choose, my sister will choose her husband, and I am not ready to also mourn the loss of my sister. How do we go forward?  Do we ignore this request or point blank ask my sister what she wants us to do?  It has always been our families practice to call and
talk to our family members on the holidays if we could not be there in person.


Jay's ANSWER...

A:  As there are several assumptions you are banking on here, my advice is to speak with your sister privately. I would suggest you do not sugar coat this, but be polite. Reiterate your desire for the family unit to remain as intact as possible. Do not accuse your brother-in-law of any wrongdoing. Your sister and he will need to discuss this matter themselves. Their decision is one with which you must live. Keep in mind that if this does not end well from your point of view, it can be viewed as temporary. Remain in contact with your sister and her children as you normally would. This is known as taking the high road. No need to duplicate their insensitivity. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Put some clothes on!

How do I approach my guest who dresses inappropriately to show off her overly curvaceous body? 

Dear Jay,

I have a single friend visiting for the holidays. She is very  curvy and wears clothes that are 2 sizes too small. She is very comfortable walking around my house with a tank top and booty shorts. How do I ask her to put some clothes on? I am married and have a hormonal 16 year old son. I don't want her to  visit if she is going to disrespect my family. What do I do?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: If you feel her attire is disrespectful, by all means let her know (privately). You’re not likely to get much support from the men in the family, as they are wired differently. Hopefully you have taught your son by now that people who dress inappropriately are either hopelessly insecure, lazy, or worse. Your husband should already know this. Your best bet may be to wait until the situation presents itself. At that very moment have a chat with your guest. Who knows, maybe she’ll surprise you and have turned over a new leaf of self-respect. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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Rude sister-in-law blues

How do I deal with my rude sister-in-law during the Thanksgiving holiday? 

Dear Jay,

How do I deal with my rude sister-in-law? She came to my 20th wedding party celebration, but did not greet me or my husband (she is the wife of my husband’s brother). I had a disagreement with my sister-in-law over how she treated my 83 year old mother-in-law last Christmas as well. After that incident, we didn’t talk for 8 months. 

After my wedding party, I expressed my disappointment about her rudeness to her via text, but she never responded. Now the holidays are approaching and for the sake of family and mostly for my mother-in-law who I care for very much, we are going to meet at a restaurant for Thanksgiving and at my mother- in-law’s home for Christmas., I now, live with my Mother-in-law, so it is practically my home. I feel stressed out just thinking my sister-in-law will be around! How do I handle this?


Jay's ANSWER...

A:As the expression goes, “We can pick our friends, but we can’t pick our family”. A shift in your focus may be helpful here. Thanksgiving celebrations are all about being grateful for the bounty the earth has provided, and for being thankful for our family and friends. You and your sister-in-law are not going to resolve your issues easily, if at all. My advice is that you be civil to her, and interact as little as possible with her. If you focus on your mother-in-law and those in the family for whom you are thankful, your irritation will likely diminish. As a word of advice, in the future if you are planning to make a personal comment about someone’s behavior, do so in private and in person. Hiding behind an email or text is inappropriate and elicits (as you can see) no response. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Giving up rooms for guests

What should I do about sleeping arrangements when my sister and her family stay with me for Thanksgiving? 

Dear Jay,

I'm a single dad hosting family for Thanksgiving. I have 3 bedrooms, one for each of my kids: full size beds in both of their rooms, and a king in mine. Here's the question, my sister and her husband will be staying three nights. Do I give up my room or put them in a full bed in one of the other rooms? Their adult son is also staying and will be in one of the other rooms. I plan to have my kids on air beds or couches. Should I take one of my kids’ rooms?


Jay's ANSWER...

A:You are very generous to invite your sister and her husband and son to stay with you. This could unfold in any number of ways; however, your home is your castle. As accommodating as you want to be, it should not be solely at the inconvenience of you and your family. Depending on the age of the kids, I would try this out. Ask one of your sons to relinquish his room for your sister and her husband. The two youngest of the four might actually enjoy sleeping on a couch or air mattress. This should not create stress, and should not be perceived as an inconvenience. Keep it light, and consider sleeping arrangements before blindly inviting people to stay for 3 nights in the future. There is certainly nothing wrong with guests taking the couches either. I have known hosts to give up their bedroom for guests, but it’s awkward for guests and host, and unnecessarily disruptive. Bottom line - no ‘shoulds’. Perhaps deciding as a group will diffuse any worry around this. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Mother-in-law Christmas Nightmare

How do I deal with my mother-in-law through Christmas and especially let her know that she can't stay with us? 

Dear Jay,

My daughter is a ballerina. Every year, my parents have come to see her in the Nutcracker and if they can, they try to come to her other performances. When my daughter first asked about ballet, my MIL was visiting and said to tell her no, that she was too old. When I told her that she was in Company, she laughed and said what does that mean, she will travel around the world now? I chalked it up to ignorance. So in the years that my daughter has performed, my MIL has come to 2 performances. 

There is a long history with my MIL; I find her intrusive, rude, brash, and self absorbed.  This year, my parents will make the trek again to see my daughter in her performance.  My husband was talking to his mother, and she told us she would be coming to see her as well. Also, my 2 FIL's will be coming also (#1: My MIL’s first husband and my husband’s father; # 2: My MIL’s 4th husband). MY husband told his mom that our guest room was not available since my parents had already RSVP'd. We also told his father that it was not available.  The performance is now a month away, and she has yet to tell us how long she will be staying and where. 

From past experiences, my fear is that she will show up and think that she is going to stay with us while expecting me to wait on her hand and foot. My other fear is that she will want to stay thru Christmas. My parents have said they would love to join us for Christmas, and my kids love having them here. When I mentioned that my MIL might stay (since we haven't heard) my kids said, “No we want Grandma and Grandpa” (My parents). My parents have said they will not stay for Christmas if my MIL does (She has not been a part of our Christmas celebrations in 16 years). What do I do when she sends her emailed itinerary at the last minute with her lengthy stay and what if it's thru Christmas? What do I do if both in-laws (her and her ex) show up and think that we are hosting everyone in our house?


Jay's ANSWER...

A:My advice is to head them off at the pass. By this I mean you need to communicate to all parties involved exactly what your house rules are. One of them is knowing when guests are coming and going. You and your husband need to speak with your respective sets of parents and make this abundantly clear. Remember that your home is your castle, not your in-laws’. There may be some resistance on their part to heed your directives, but that’s just too bad. By clearly communicating what your house rules and boundaries are, all of this will resolve nicely.  Try to stick to the facts and not the emotional components. Frankly, your in-laws' opinions on these matters should be of no consequence. It’s your house. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Visitor overload

How do I get my husband to understand that the constant stream of visitors and long term guests in our house is not okay with me? 

Dear Jay,

I've been married to my husband for 10 years and since we got married, we've had more than 30 people come and live with us for a period of time ranging from 8 months to 2 years. These are people he brings because of one reason or the other. He also holds a series of meetings in our house and a lot of people attend. These are not part of the regular family members that come on vacation from time to time and spend from 2 weeks and above. 

I am a very private person and like my space, but I am forced to cook for all these people three times daily for as long as they stay which most times is up to a year. Most importantly is that my husband does not contribute much to the family upkeep like grocery bills and water or detergents. When I complain he says I am wicked that I cannot accommodate people. 

We have four kids of our own and sometimes these people inconvenience my kids as per what TV channel to watch or where to sleep, and if I tell them to help with housework they feel they are being bossed around. At times I have up to five adults in my home excluding me and my husband and our kids. I am tired and don't know how to make my husband understand or take responsibility for his visitors upkeep and welfare. My privacy is out of the question.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You have worked your way into a very difficult spot. Somewhere along the line, you forgot to say WHOA! Moving forward, you and your husband will need to have a private discussion and establish some ground rules you can live with. You may well need to seek professional counseling about this, as this is not a simple situation to put right. Family Services provides excellent services. Remember that you make the choices everyday that perpetuate this scenario. It’s time to start making different choices, and to regain some self-respect. Your privacy should never, ever be out of the question. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Toxic Sister at Thanksgiving

How do I handle my toxic sister at my aunt's house for Thanksgiving? Should I even go? 

Dear Jay,

My relationships with my biological family has been nothing short of dysfunctional since childhood, and I have been forced to cut a lot of them out of my life entirely for my own personal safety as well as the safety of my kids, husband and in-laws or because the relationships have been toxic.  A few months ago, one of my sisters crossed the line, and my husband and I decided she is too toxic of a person and had to be cut out of our lives. We've avoided functions that she has been in attendance to, but my aunt/mom (its complicated) just invited us to Thanksgiving and my sister will also be there.

Our last argument ended with her making a very horrible comment to me: that she hoped I killed my husband and children just like our bio-mother.   Her habit of comparing me to that woman just to hurt me is a large part of why my sister is no longer part of my life.  She also refused to help the family at the last parole board meeting to keep our mother in prison even though I literally begged her to help us. She knew I was terrified for my and my family's lives. She said she doesn't really remember her so why should she care.  I do not want my kids exposed to such a horrible person and my husband agrees.  The rest of my family didn't even argue with me about forgiving her this time.

We would like to attend the family gathering because we don't see the family very often as they live several hours away and family gatherings are pretty rare, maybe once or twice a year.  

My question is should we attend and if we do, how do we deal with my sister?  Is it okay to just make it clear from the start that she is to have no interaction with us or the kids or would that cause too much tension for the rest of the family?  What should we do?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: This situation arises in far too many families today. I always advise taking the high road. By that I mean you must take responsibility for what is yours to take care of, and nothing that is not your business. It means having compassion for everyone, especially yourself. It means being grateful for what family you have. It also means setting a good example for your children. Doing the right thing in emotionally charged situations may seem impossible. We are torn in different directions. I suggest you go to Thanksgiving dinner, keeping in mind that the focus of the meal is on being grateful for what we have. 

This does not mean that your children need to interact with your sister, other than to say hello upon arrival. Depending on the age of your children, explain to them that your sister is not well and to stay away from her. This may even be the perfect time to turn this visit into a teachable moment. Explaining boundaries on all levels and teaching your children how to respect and protect theirs and respect those of others. Keep an eye on them and bring some activities along to keep them occupied, preferably in a different room from your sister. I imagine other family members will have strained relations with her as well. Avoid dwelling on negative feelings and keep focused on being grateful for the many blessings in our lives. Never allow toxicity to overpower joy. By not arguing with anyone, except in private, you will naturally be taking the high road. Celebrate this Thanksgiving with gratitude, and with your family like never before. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Stop the interruptions

How do I get my sons to understand when they should listen instead of interrupt all the time? 

Dear Jay,

My wife and I have two teenaged boys are we are equally guilty of interrupting each other during a conversation. As soon as the thought is formed in the brain it comes out in the form of interrupted conversation.  Wonder if you could offer any tips and/or reading that could help us how to proceed.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: This is a great question! In my experience and in my research on the topic of listening, briefly listening comes in two basic forms. The first is listening to understand. The second is listening to respond. Both are important. But what is even more important is to be able to discern between the two and know the difference of when to employ one or the other. The boys are obviously listening to respond. This is what boys do. However, how they behave at home and how they behave socially outside of the home is an entirely different matter. Another basic dynamic at play here is the boys disrespecting you. I imagine you have asked them not to interrupt each other, yet they continue. Perhaps if you explain to them the value of listening to understand, and secondarily to listen to respond, perhaps they’ll be learning an important life skill. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Divorced sister worries

Why am I bothered by my recently divorced sister's request for a sleepover and a late night car test drive with my husband? 

Dear Jay,

I am 4 years older than my only sister and am happily married with two young children (ages 4 and 2).

My sister has recently gone through a divorce and has no children.  Due to this dynamic dramatic process, I have indeed gone out of my way and weekly routines to show that I do support her and am there for her.  However, last night, she asked me if I would spend the night with her next weekend on a "night I'm free."

If I were in high school, this would be easy.  But the thing is, now that I have my own family, I feel like I am neglecting them to a degree if I am gone all night.  Am I thinking into this too far?  Should I just not worry about it and spend the night with my sister?  Would this become a habitual thing she will expect in the future?  Is it ok for me to feel like I am neglecting my kids if I leave them and for them to know that I really was out for the night (this would apply more so to my 4 year old, he is very keen.)?

As a secondary question, just for gathering opinion's sake:  Was it ok for me to let my husband go test drive her new car with her, just the two of them, at 10 pm?  Granted it was for 15-20 mins, and I have high trust in my husband - it's just that now that my sister is single, I didn't realize until after the fact they had driven away that I felt my heart kinda cringe and am currently very upset about the whole thing.  My husband knows the extent of my frustration after I explained it to him, my sister beamingly asked what's wrong shortly after the ride and I just replied that I'm upset about something between my husband and I.  Am I being too obsessed about this?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Although this question falls outside of the subject of etiquette per se, your questions are important. To begin with, your feelings are totally valid. Learning to set boundaries and priorities is important and can take us a life time. You must make choices, including this one. I don’t think your sister would ask you to spend the night if she were not calling out for a connection. She is struggling. Your children are in a safe loving environment. A night away from you should not really make any difference. If your son is ‘keen’, then sit him down and explain to him why you need to go and be with your sister. This whole dynamic reminds me of advice given to me once by a very wise person. “If you have to choose between going to a wedding and going to a funeral, choose the funeral." Your friends really need us from time to time. We need to drop everything sometimes. This is a part of life and an important one for your children to understand, too.

As to your second concern, in my opinion you’re turning a mole hill into a mountain. My advice - drop it. If you trust your husband, then trust him. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Babysitting uninvited guest

Should I be angry that my sister wants to share her babysitting experience of my daughter with my mom? 

Dear Jay,

I am married, we have one small child 2.5 years old, and I have a half-sister (we have the same father but different mothers).  I have a good relationship with my mother who sees our child at least twice a week.  I also have a good relationship with my sister who sees our child about once every two months.  My sister and mother have a friendly relationship and occasionally my mother will invite my sister over to her house for social gatherings.

My wife and I made arrangements with my sister for her to come over to our house and babysit our child so we could have a date night.  A few days before our date night, my sister sent me a text message saying she’s really looking forward to coming over and she also invited my mother to join her, hope that’s ok.  I replied I would’ve preferred that it just be her (and her husband) to spend quality time with our child, but since she already asked my Mom, no biggie.  She then said she didn’t think it would be an issue and could un-invite my mom if I wanted.  I replied that it wouldn’t be right to un-invite my mom now, but next time I’d really appreciate being asked first before inviting others.  I was surprised that my sister invited my Mother over without asking me first.  I was also hurt that my sister wanted to share her 2.5 hours of watching our child with my mother and turn it into a social visit with my Mom.  My sister only sees our child once about every 2 months.

I thought proper social etiquette is when someone is coming over to another person’s home and they want to invite an additional person, they ask the homeowner first to see if it’s ok.  My question is, was it proper etiquette of my sister to ask my mother over to my house without asking me first?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Technically, you are correct. However, my impression from your question is that you are making this into something far greater than it deserves. I’m sure your child is adorable, as children are. She is 2 1/2 though and your implication that quality time will be lost by adding your mother to the mix seems to me to be a bit shortsighted. I think it is completely appropriate for her to turn this babysitting gig into a chance for her and your mother to have a visit. Perhaps the interaction with two women is better than one, especially family! If this is still causing you stress, I recommend you be clearer when you make the request initially, outlining whatever house rules you wish. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Acquiring possessions from a deceased relative

How do I ask my cousin's husband if I can have some of my deceased aunt's family keepsakes? 

Dear Jay,

Recently, my only aunt passed away and more than likely left everything to her only daughter. Her only child, her daughter who was 69, died 17 days after her mother, my aunt. I realize that I have no right to anything that was my cousin’s, as all her property would go to her husband. But now that my cousin is gone, my aunt’s estate more than likely is in my cousins husbands hands. I don't think that my cousin even had time to execute her mother's will before she died herself. Again I know that what was my cousin’s is now her husband’s, but my aunt had many of my grandmother’s things that I would like to keep in my family and not be sold off at some auction. Even though I don't have any proof, my aunt had told me that she wanted me to have some of her Christmas collections and family photos that she had of my family when we visited her home.

I guess what I would like to know is if there is a polite way to ask my cousin’s husband about these things that I would like to acquire and not look like a "gold digger”? I would so much like to have these items and photos stay in my family. This aunt was my mother’s sister. Can you help?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I can certainly understand your reticence, but I think because you are more attached to these possessions than he likely is, you’re overthinking the situation. My advice is to write a letter or an email and provide a list of what you would like. You could soften it a bit by adding, “if no one else wants them”. You could even mention conversations between you and your relatives concerning the items. I would encourage you to remember that you are all grieving, so try very, very hard to keep your emotions in check, and just deal with the facts. In the end, it is his choice. Kindness begets kindness. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Thanksgiving Guests and Invites

Do I accept an invitation from my son's in-laws for Thanksgiving even if we already invited a houseguest and question whether or not our daughter will attend? 

Dear Jay,

For the past few years we have had a close family friend join us for Thanksgiving.  I have already invited him to join us this year  In the meantime, my son's in-laws have invited our family and the close family friend to spend this Thanksgiving with them.  They are having family from Richmond join them.  Question, is it rude to ask our family friend to join us at my son's in-laws? We hosted Thanksgiving last year and the in-laws graciously attended--without hesitation.

Also, my adult daughter loves tradition and I'm afraid that she will not join us at the in-laws for dinner.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: It is not rude to ask to bring a houseguest - in this situation. Thanksgiving is an inclusive celebration. What I find slightly awkward is the fact that you accepted their kind invitation without asking them about the houseguest first. You have an obligation to the houseguest that takes precedence over a later invitation. I’m sure it will all work out. The facts around previous Thanksgivings are irrelevant. If your daughter is inflexible about her traditions, that is her choice. Traditions need flexibility, too. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Rude Adult Visiting Children

How do I tell my adult children that their manners were terrible especially in relation to their dog during our last visit? 

Dear Jay,

What are the houseguest rules for weekend visiting adult children and their spouses?
Recently our children stopped over for a weekend during a weeklong vacation (we were midway to their destination) They were provided with a private bedroom and bath. They also brought their very active dog. We have two small dogs that their dog does not get along with. We do not allow our dogs on our beds or around our meal table, they do however get to make themselves comfy on our sofa or chairs.  I prepared meals, cleaned up, with minimal help. We also treated to two meals out. It was a very tense weekend for me as I felt I didn't enjoy their company and it was more of an imposition trying to keep things tidy and listen to the dogs being vocal. They also expect us to pay for everything when on an outing.  The biggest thing was stopping them from allowing their dog to drink from cups and lick dinner plates. Big Yuck from my point of view.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: These are your children. Surely they were taught your house rules growing up. Perhaps a refresher is in order. Communicating with family members is fraught with worry. We don’t want to upset anyone, even though we’re upset by their actions ourselves. I advise being honest, but in a kindly way. Simply explain that in order for you to run your household in a manner whereby you can maintain your sanity, these are the rules. Please adhere to them. If they don’t, they’re off the guest list. This demonstrates respect for yourself and for your house. Lead by example. Your children will thank you. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Disrespectful Children and Parents Who Don't Care

What do I do about my son's fiancé's children who make messes and don't clean them up when they visit? 

Dear Jay,

My son’s fiance has two daughters, 10 and 11 yrs. old . When they came to our home for the first time they played on the beds that were made, left them in a big mess and the worst for me was that my son’s fiance did not seem to see anything wrong. They left the mess for me to clean up. What should I do next time? How do I handle the situation?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I recommend having a private chat with your son and remind him that there are house rules. If there haven’t been any rules to date, this is a good time to implement a few. By not showing that you respect your own house, you are setting a very poor example. Respect for others is very aligned with self respect. Your son, his fiancée, and her children will benefit from your example. Your home is your castle. Treat it with the respect it deserves. Others will follow your lead. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Eating in front of guests

Was it wrong for me to invite my husband's guest to eat with us? 

Dear Jay,

One Friday evening, my husband asked if his friend could come over for a visit. I was and always am open for visitors, however, his friend came over much earlier than expected. I hadn't even prepared dinner by the time he had knocked on the door. I tried to quickly prepare a meal that could accommodate the extra guest, all while attending to our 18-month-old son. I asked my husband, who was sitting on the couch playing with his phone, to help me watch our son. At that point my son had thrown yogurt on the floor, which made him upset. My husband's guest did mention that he wasn't hungry,but when I served dinner he devoured the meal and even went in for seconds. 

My husband said that I should not have been cooking for our guest instead of watching our son if our guest had said that he wasn't hungry. I feel that it would have been rude if we all ate in front of our guest even if he wasn't hungry. Is this rude or am I in the wrong?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Since you “are always open for visitors”, you are going to find yourself in these situations from time to time. The simple solution to avoiding this awkwardness in the future is to be clear with your husband about the nature of his friends' visits. If they are going to interfere with your dinner plans, either suggest the friend stay for dinner, or change the time of the visit. As to your husband suggesting how you allot your time and how you manage your young son is a matter for further discussion. 

However, to your point, you are not wrong for feeling awkward about eating in front of a guest without offering them something to eat. Your husband needs to learn this fundamental etiquette guideline. Some of us grow up without the benefit of such an understanding. Be sure your son doesn’t fall into the same disrespectful rut. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Etiquette's Purpose

Do we really need etiquette in our modern world? 

Dear Jay,

I am very curious to know, as you answer so many of these questions, do you believe that social etiquette is necessary? I personally do not. I believe it is a part of a stupid never ending game in which people lie, cheat, and loot. As an example I have seen that many people do not appreciate directness, preferring what, I don't know. I believe that if you wish to communicate it should be directly, without paying attention to how the person may feel.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I do believe that social etiquette is necessary. What I hear in your question is a great deal of anger. I do believe in being direct, but not rude. Learning to communicate in a respectful way has helped me to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends, family, and business associates. Developing such skills can require professional help. I hope you can find a way to release your anger. Perhaps then you may begin to shift your perspective.

 My best,

Jay

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Visits Only When Invited

Is it archaic to think that I shouldn't visit someone unless I am invited there? 

Dear Jay,

Somewhere along the line, I was taught that I had to be invited to someone's house to go there, even extending to family and close friends.  I still go by that rule now even with my own parents and especially my in-laws.  My husband has told me that thinking is rather archaic and completely false.  However, I do it our of respect.  Although, there is an additional problem - my in-laws seem incapable of asking us to come by or visit so we are now the eternal hosts of family get-togethers.  I guess there could be worse things but it does get tiresome.  What do you suggest?  Am I being ridiculous?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I was raised in exactly the same way. It is not archaic. It is respectful. If you need to connect with your inlays, who follow a different agenda, my advice is to call them and ask them if you can come over. That’s what I do even today with my family. Just showing up is actually disrespectful because it assumes the other person has nothing better to do than accommodate you. I know the word bullying may sound strong, but that’s what it is. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Mother-in-law in Disney Nightmares

How much say should I have in my mother-in-law's request to not only come with us to Disney World, but for us to pay for everything? 

Dear Jay,

My mother-in-law has expressed that she wants to go to Disney World with the our kids when we go.  The problem is she wants us to pay for everything (flight, hotel, food, park pass).  She is in decent health and capable of working a 40 hour a week job, but chooses not to work and has little money. She is also obese and out of shape and will have significant difficulty walking around the parks.
  
My husband sees it as his duty as a son to fulfill his mom's request.  I do not know how much is acceptable for me to push back on paying for everything. I also want to know how much I can put limits on changing our plans to accommodate her fatigue.  Is it acceptable to ask that she use a motorized scooter so she can keep up with us?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: This is a classic illustration of The Drama Triangle - read attached carefully. (http://www.angriesout.com/grown20.htm). In the meantime, you and your husband need to have a discussion about how this makes you feel. Your feelings are just as valid as his, but don’t play the victim role. Be as accommodating as possible. His relationship with his mother is not something you have much, if any influence over. Yes, be sure to get a scooter, and be sure to lay down ground rules before the trip that all parties are aware of and agree to. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Paying for Out of Town Guests

Is it my responsibility to pay for out of town guest accommodations? 

Dear Jay,

I am having a 90th birthday party for my Mother. There will be relatives coming from other states. Who pays for accommodations, me or them? What is proper etiquette?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Under usual circumstances, the guests would be responsible for their own travel expenses. There are certainly plenty of possible reasons why you might help out, but the choice is yours, not the obligation. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Other Plans During A Visit

Do I accept a graduation party invite even though my in-laws will be making their annual visit at the same time? 

Dear Jay,

My in-laws only visit us once a year (they live about 3000 miles from me). They have informed us that they will be visiting us for 2 weeks this June.  I have since then received an invite from a friend for her daughter's graduation party.  Is it wrong of me to tell my friend that we won't be able to attend the party because we have houseguests?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Not at all. Accept the invitation and go to the party. Your in-laws can fend for themselves. What’s wrong with this picture (from my perspective) is the fact that you were ‘informed' and not ‘asked'! I don’t care if they live on the moon! They still need to ask you if it’s convenient for them to stay for 2 weeks. Your home is your castle, and your social schedule should not be disturbed - within reason, of course. Perhaps your husband can have a chat with his folks if necessary. But you are definitely not in the wrong for accepting this invitation. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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A need for privacy

Should my husband consider my disapproval for having his father and his father's new wife move in with us? 

Dear Jay,

My father-in-law remarried a year after his wife died.  He currently lives in another country and would like to bring his wife to the United States.  He is currently retired and does not have his own home.  He did not ask his children directly, but we assumed he wants to move back and forth between his children.  I am not comfortable with this situation.  I don't want to live with him and his new wife who none of his children or grandchildren have met. I don't want it even if it is a part time basis.  I want my space and privacy.  My husband is a very accommodating and does not want to hurt his father.  What to do I say to my husband and his father so I will not hurt their feelings?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You and your husband need to have a heart-to-heart discussion. Your feelings are every bit as important as his, but you must come to some sort of agreement and stick to it. Assuming what your father-in-law and his new wife want is inappropriate. I would bet that they certainly don’t want to be  intruders. Everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves, including your husband. You are all adults and the only feelings any of you are responsible for are your own. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Not a Storage Facility

How do I handle the stuff my in-laws are storing in my basement and have no plans of retrieving? 

Dear Jay,

My sister-in-law (and family) are currently storing items at our house that were from my mother-in-law's recent downsizing. (Items ranging from boxes to a refrigerator.) They live a few hours away and don't always have excess funds to drive up to see the family, let alone funds to pay for renting a trailer or truck. Neither do we.
I see no end to the storage as there are no plans for them to take the items. (Unfortunately, this isn't a new thing for them...) I want the stuff out of our space!
Any suggestions??


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I would recommend suggesting to them that they either come down or authorize you to hold a yard sale of their items - and maybe a few of your own. Since you both seem strapped for cash, this might be a good solution to your problem. Otherwise, let them know you’ll be calling the Salvation Army or other such service organization to take the stuff away and redistribute it to folks who are in need. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Leaving Mother-in-Law behind

Is is okay to leave my live-in mother-in-law at my house when I go out with my family? 

Dear Jay,

My mother-in-law lives with us to help with the kids.  Should she be invited all the time to either my sister or parents for dinner.  When I am invited she pouts and becomes mean.  I don't see my family and love to have my own time with them.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: It sounds like there is a total lack of communication in your family. You are not alone! You need to sit down with your MIL and your sister and come up with a set of guidelines that works for everyone. You should not be obligated to provide meals ‘all the time’ unless that’s part of the deal. Otherwise, you need to take your share of the responsibility for this predicament and take some action. The ball is really in your court. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Relationship Deal Breaker?

How do I explain to my daughters-in-law that my wife and I want to spend our anniversary alone? 

Dear Jay,

We are going to another town to look at some real estate with an agent[planned]. My daughters-in-law live there. I had called them[first time] to ask them about the area. That day is also our anniversary and my wife is very protective of it being just us that day. The in laws want to go look at the real estate with us and go to dinner that day. Keep in mind we barely know them. My wife does not want to do it, and I am afraid of destroying our relationship before it really ever gets started. What do I do?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your wife is right. You simply need to explain to these folks that it’s your anniversary and you’ve been looking forward to sharing it alone for a romantic dinner, just like you have been doing for many, many years. I’m sure they’ll understand. If you worry about destroying a relationship, this hardly carries that much power. Further onto an ongoing relationship, you will be demonstrating the respect you have for yourselves. This easily translates into the respect others will expect you will show them as well. Think of this as a relationship builder, not a deal breaker. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Pushy and Toxic Sister

How do I tell my sister that I don't want her at my house every other weekend while she undertakes her Master's degree? 

Dear Jay,

I received a call yesterday from my sister announcing she would need to use our spare bedroom every other weekend because she decided to get her Masters degree at her former college rather than do the online program as she had told us earlier.

I love my sister but I do not want her at my home every other weekend.  The college is a 45 minute drive to her home.  My husband and I enjoy our privacy and our group of friends whom we enjoy for dinner parties.  We have grandchildren we like to have over for special events and to be able to spend time alone with them and they need the guest room. I spend a lot of time at work each week, as does hubby so weekend time is precious.

My sister is very vociferous about how people should feel, act and think and so I limit my time with her to every other month sister dates and twice a year sleepover events where we go out of town together.  

Sis also gets very negative about my relationships with other women friends and even though she does not know them, she ranks on them when I mention an interaction with a friend, so I just stopped doing so.

I am also bothered that she did not ask.  She just said she will be needing to use the room every other weekend beginning in October.   I need to approach the subject with her and let her know that does not work for us and me.  We were estranged for 10 years at one point due to her ongoing relationship with an abusive addict husband who abused us as well. Sis likes her wine as well but can forego it.  When she drinks she brings up our childhoods and lots of negative events.  I feel like a bad person for not wanting her over, but I also spent years in counseling over family dynamics and don't want to re-engage.  What to do?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Although this questions falls outside the line of etiquette per se, my advice would be to continue to practice the skills you learned in counseling. In your own words, “Don’t re-engage.” You and your husband need to be united on this. You need to explain that her proposed arrangement comes at an impossibly inconvenient time  (no explanation required from you). Don’t turn this decision into a “forever” kind of statement; that’s not necessary nor appropriate. She sounds toxic and best kept on your current schedule. By standing up for yourselves, you are demonstrating to her that you have respect for yourselves. She will follow in step. Your role as doormat is retired. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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In need of separate time and space

Is it okay for my boyfriend and me to want our own time even though his parents are generously letting us live with them for two months? 

Dear Jay,

My boyfriend and I are staying with his parents for about two months while our house is being renovated. We both spend most of the day at work,  generally arriving home around 8. Nearly every night,  we sit down with his mother and father to eat dinner she had prepared,  and often after sit with them in the living room to watch TV they have on.  While dinner is appreciated,  to be honest,  I would occasionally prefer to make and eat our own meals some nights, and retire to our room without spending the time with them watching TV.  Spending all day at work alongside lots of people is tiring,  and it would be nice to be able to just relax. My boyfriend thinks it's rude to not eat dinner or watch TV with them.  I think we can balance the two, sometimes eating and watching with them, sometimes on our own. Is this rude behavior under the circumstances?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I completely understand your feelings and agree with you. Your boyfriend’s relationship with his parents is complicated - all relationships are. What may help is for you to explain that your feelings about this matter are serious and that you and he need to agree on a way to explain to his folks that you would like to contribute to making a meal from time to time as well as dine alone occasionally. They will quite likely be delighted! The point is for you two to be united. This is a relatively easy problem to deal with compared to what could lie ahead in your lives together. Getting this one right will set up a dynamic for you to both be able to tackle bigger problems successfully together as they arise. I hope this helps.

My best,

Jay

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Guests and Bathroom Use at Parties

Is it okay for guests to use whichever bathroom they choose to use or should they stick to the powder room in the main area? 

Dear Jay,

When hosting your family Christmas party at your house, is it appropriate for your family guests just to assume they can use your personal master bath or daughter's jack and jill bath instead of the lovely powder room provided in the main entertaining area? Also, if you find your niece in one of those rooms without asking is it OK to ask her to use powder room next time?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: In general, guests should not just help themselves without permission. That said, as host, you need to be welcoming and gracious and let your guests know what bathroom or powder room to use (or not use). Depending on the size of the family, providing more than one lavatory is helpful. If there are rooms in your house that are off limits, post a small sign or close and/or lock the door. Your rules are in play in your house; but you'll need to let your guests know what the rules are. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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No Gift, No Gratitude

Should my step-daughter show her gratitude more by at least purchasing a small gift? 

Dear Jay,

Should my daughter who is 23 and we support once in while buy a small gift or token of appreciation for her father?

I have a 23 year old step daughter that my husband and I are putting through college, paying for her apartment, clothing, and some spending money. She brings her boyfriend home for the holidays and we treat him like family. My husband has fixed his car, driven him back and forth to the airport when needed. We enjoy having him and he is very respectful. My stepdaughter, has not purchased a small Christmas gift for her dad for a number of years. I have often reminded her. This Christmas I had it. She bought a 99 cent card and not even a Starbucks $5 gift card. She did have enough money to spend $700 on her boyfriend. We are also taking them out on New Year's Eve and purchased a new dress for my daughter and rented a tux for her boyfriend.

I pulled my step daughter aside and reminded her of all the nice things that her dad has done over the years and he gladly does it, but it would be nice if you could give him a small token of appreciation. He did feel bad at Christmas with not a small gift. She got upset with me for telling her what adults do when someone does something nice and goes out of their way.

Was I wrong to do this? I have always instilled manners in both step daughters. My oldest is great, this one I don't know what to do with.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: This is a complicated question as several dynamics are at play simultaneously. First of all, you are basically correct and your pathway of thought is aligned with mine. However, communications within a blended family can be tricky. Comparing the value of what one party brings to the table, whether it be day-to-day life or a Christmas gift exchange, is inappropriate and can be more of an irritant than anything. Nor is any form of scorekeeping helpful. How people choose to spend their money is a very personal matter. Everyone in the picture is now an adult. Although I don't think you were necessarily wrong to have your chat with your stepdaughter, it is her dad who really needs to speak with her. After all, it is his feelings that are at the centre of all of this. Men however often balk at sharing their feelings, especially with their daughters. My advice is to simply have as much compassion for your stepdaughter as possible. She will very likely change over time. We are all following our own path, and encouragement along the way often trumps criticism. I hope this helps..

 My best,

Jay

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Extra Invites

Is it okay for my husband to invite other couples to events that we are not hosting? 

Dear Jay,

Whenever my husband and I are invited to an event (family or otherwise), he finds it necessary to ask another couple to attend.  I think that this is an imposition on our hosts and that this should not be done as it can be uncomfortable for the hosts to say no.  We can invite who we choose to our own functions and should give that courtesy to our family and friends also. Am I being unreasonable?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I agree with you. The host has sole control of the guest list. Your husband’s behavior is disturbing in that it is a habit, and not a one-off. Have you asked him why he insists on doing this? Is it always the same “other couple”? I can only say that I find it bizarre. Perhaps I am missing something, but at the moment, your line of reasoning is 100% spot on. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Dad Mad About Special Food

Is it okay for my brother to bring organic food and drink for his children when he visits my parents? 

Dear Jay,

My Father, Mother and I were having dinner and this came up. My father feels that when my brother comes for a holiday that he should not bring his foods and put them on the table for his children. His children drink organic products. My brother knows that my Mom and Dad do not have this and do not purchase it before he comes with his children. My father gets extremely mad. I told my father that the correct thing for him to do would be to have this at his home for them beforehand. Can you please advise.
Thank you!


Jay's ANSWER...

A: In brief, you are correct. In an ideal world, your father and mother should have on hand whatever organic drinks/foods are required by your brother and his budding family. However, your brother does need to let them know about these. If this is a problem, then your brother is well within his rights to bring whatever foods are necessary. It’s akin to someone who has food allergies. If the host knows ahead of time that there is an issue, he or she can make provisions, or advise the guest to bring their own special foods. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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My Daughters Don't Socialize

How do I make my adult daughters understand they are being rude by their lack of response and interest in social gatherings? 

Dear Jay,

My adult daughters will not attend or socialize with any of their extended family (cousins, grandparents, etc.) or attend social functions like anniversary celebrations, wedding or baby showers, etc..  This is extremely embarrassing when I'm asked why they won't attend the event or why they won't acknowledge a graduation or special event.

Their behavior and actions appear that they feel they are too good to have anything to do with their cousins, aunts, or other relatives.  I realize there are many relatives that are annoying, but what about the social responsibility to at least respond to an invitation or send a card!!

I was raised and taught that out of respect, even if you didn't like that relative, you at least acknowledged the social invitation as a form of common courtesy.

Please advise.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: With all due respect, children learn from their parents, for the most part. Somewhere along the line as they were growing up, they missed the lesson on decorum. Now that they are adults, they can do as they please. If someone asks you why they do or do not do this or that, your best line of defense is to refer the questioner directly to the culprit! I agree that their behavior is inappropriate and embarrassing, but as they say, “the train has left the station”. Trying to parent them now may work, but it will very likely require a good bit of diplomacy. Perhaps if you take some of the responsibility when and if you decide to discuss this matter with them, it might be easier. “I forgot to teach you that you must send an RSVP, a thank you note, etc., but I think you should know that this is the polite thing to do. I’ve had some disturbing feedback from both friends and relatives. Even if you wish to regret all invitations, you really might want to consider letting the host know. They will have gone to a lot of effort and really do want to know who is and who is not attending the event.”
Who knows, this may work. As well, it may plant the seed of how they might want to raise their own children.
I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Switched Sleeping Arrangements

Do I need to explain why our guests will be using the fold out couch vs. the room they usually stay in when they come from out of town? 

Dear Jay,

My husband's sister and her husband and children are coming to town for the holidays. In the past we have given up our bedroom for them and slept on the fold-out in the basement living area. This year I am not keen to give up my room, and would rather stay in my room and offer them the fold-out. Since we have given them the bedroom In the past will it seem rude not to do the same this time?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: It's not rude, but it may raise an eyebrow. Although you technically owe them no explanation, you will want to be sure their accommodations are as comfortable as possible. If they ask, just explain that the guest room is now in the basement. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Meddling Mother-in-Law

How do I tell my mother-in-law that her parenting "advice" and judgements bother me? 

Dear Jay,

My in-laws and I had a wonderful relationship until a few years ago, when my mother-in-law nestled herself in my husband's and my communication regarding having children.  It has been tense ever since and then once we had our son, it's been increasingly difficult for me to have a genuine/natural-feeling relationship with her.

Based on many of her comments, it is my perception that she believes I am an inadequate parent.  She passive-agressively questions or outright disagrees with nearly everything I do with our son, so I'm finding it difficult to remain confident in my parenting and I am constantly anticipating my next interaction with her.  I have been trying to be very mindful of my own reactions to her comments, since I am steaming inside, but avoiding addressing it is not an effective long-term strategy or solution.  I think the tension is sometimes palpable for us both.

I'm not sure if there is a new mind-set or behavior for me to embrace, or if I should have a conversation with her directly. Do you have any tips on this?  My husband has been very kind to me and we even joke at home that we should probably just 'call social services'. (Luckily he has a good sense of humor!) :)  I hesitate to talk with him as often about it as it strikes me, because I don't want to put him in an awkward position in any of these relationships.

Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide!


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Although this is not really an etiquette question, it does very definitely revolve around civility. I'm glad your husband is on your side, because you need to have a conversation with your mother-in-law, and he needs to know about it. Set a date and time and let her know you need to have a heart to heart discussion with her. Invite her to your house. You will need to explain how her behavior is making you feel. Let her know you appreciate her concern, but you need to set some ground rules, especially in your own house. I doubt and certainly hope she is unaware of the impact she has on you. Hopefully learning this will give her some food for thought. Remember that the house rules in your house are not negotiable. Be sure your husband is 100% on your side. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Broken Barstool

Should I ask my brother to pay for a barstool his son broke? 

Dear Jay,

I hosted my large family of 15 guests for Thanksgiving including 3 nights accommodations in my new home.  My nephew was kidding around and accidentally fell and crashed one of my new barstools onto the floor in our kitchen.  Right after everyone departed my home and I was cleaning up, I noticed that the seat he was sitting on was severely damaged.  Do I bring this issue to my brother's attention and assume he pay for a replacement or do I keep quiet and deal with it at our own expense?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: In an ideal world, the guest would offer to pay for the damage. Since this did not occur (perhaps this young man is a minor and doesn't know any better yet?), a word with his father would not hurt. If he is not forthcoming with an offer to replace the stool, just drop it. It's not worth starting an argument about. However, a discussion where you might say how you would behave were the shoe on the other foot, could be productive. You will have to decide the course of action based on your relationship with your brother. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Family fireworks and missed invitations

How do I mend the fireworks in my family over not accepting my invitation and also not being invited to their functions? 

Dear Jay,

I have two brothers and two sisters and few years ago I invited my family at least a couple of weeks in advance to come to my home for the 4th of July. A week or so later when I called my mother she informed me my sister planned to have a 4th of July event. I had no idea she had planned the event, and when I talked to her she wanted to invite me to her home for the holiday. Honestly, I was a little irritated, but I didn't want to be rude, and I accepted her invitation. Toward the end of the night after the fireworks were done and before most of my family left for the night, I indicated that I would enjoy have the family at my home for  the 4th next year.

 As July 4th approached I began inviting and confirming. My wife and I purchased patriotic dishes, glasses, paper plates, etc, ingredients to do the hot dog bar, and of course hundreds of dollars worth of good quality fireworks. At the last minute people began to cancel because my brother had just moved into a new house and wanted to have the 4th there. Nobody in my family kept their commitment to us. My wife was extremely upset, and so was I and I rejected his invitation to his home for the  4th and have rejected invitations to any other events of his. I've been to other family events since then, but none at my home except for having my parents for Thanksgiving Day last year.

This year my wife and I also invited my parents for Thanksgiving dinner, but my wife was scheduled to work Thanksgiving Day since she works in retail. I immediately called my parents and told them she had to work and to possibly make other plans. Now I'm stuck on Thanksgiving Day with only my daughter and me. I have two brothers and two sisters that know that  my daughter and I have no one but the two of us to spend Thanksgiving with nor do I have any money to perform a mini Thanksgiving for my daughter and myself.  No one has invited us to their homes.

What I need to know is was it rude for me to indicate that I wanted to invite everyone for the 4th after the fireworks at my sister's July 4th event, and would it be rude to reiterate to my brother and my other sister my daughter and I have no dinner plans for Thanksgiving

Or are they being rude by not inviting us?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You sound all but defeated, my man. You must only deal with the truth here. It was definitely not rude of you to have invited people to your July 4th celebration. As far as wanting to spend time with family over the holiday, why not invite them to your place. They will probably suggest you come to their house - with any luck. Not having any money is an issue. I'd return the fireworks for some cash. You also need to mend family fences. Have a nice big family pot luck sometime soon. The more time you can spend together as a family without holding grudges, the happier everyone will be. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Home Ground Rules

How do I deal with my disapproval of the sleeping arrangements in my home? 

Dear Jay,

Am I wrong for not letting my granddaughter and her boyfriend sleep together in my home? I lost my husband of 23 years 3 months ago, and my son was already living here with us when my husband passed. Then my son's daughter moved in as well. She has a job, so I've been taking her back and forth to work. Tonight I picked her up! She got sideways with me and threw a fit because I won't allow her and her boyfriend to sleep together in my home. My son also has a girlfriend and she tries to spend the night all the time. She doesn't speak to me, and I don't speak to her.  I wanted your advice to figure out what to do.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You have a couple of choices. The first is to lay down some ground rules in your house. If anyone has a problem with the rules, they move out. Another choice would be to allow them to sleep together. These are connecting adults; you want to welcome guests into your home with any rules clearly understood (next time hopefully before they move in!). Frankly, I don't think you need the stress. What you do need is the contact with these people. You can remove the stress by bending the rules as necessary. They are after all your rules to bend. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Out of control controlling aunt

How do I get my aunt to respect my guest list decisions and stop inviting people to my home for functions? 

Dear Jay,

I have a close aunt who is somewhat controlling.  For the last three years she extended an invitation (without asking me first )to my cousin's (her son) girlfriend's family (mom, dad and brother, who I've met once )to Thanksgiving dinner that I host (Although thankfully, they have never taken her up on the offer).  

I explained to her last year that due to limited room at my house and the expense of all the food and the fact that they aren't really my family, that it bothered me that she did that.  I thought it was settled and that she understood that I didn't want her to invite people to my holiday functions. 

This year I invited our pastor and his family to our Thanksgiving get together. When she found out that I invited someone other than family she called me to let me know in a round about way that she thought it was unfair of me to invite a non family member and not invite the girlfriend's family. I was so angry that she brought it up again that I didn't really respond at all.  

How do I stop her from trying to control my guest list for holiday get togethers? She has an answer for everything. She even said that these people would be my family once my cousin marries her. But really they will be her in-laws not mine. I don't want to hurt her feelings but I'm very angry.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You identified the problem perfectly in your question. The guest list is the sole property of the host - period! If your aunt would like to host a party, she may invite whomever she wishes. When it's your party, you pick the guests. Plain and simple and no exceptions. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Out of control controlling aunt

How do I get my aunt to respect my guest list decisions and stop inviting people to my home for functions? 

Dear Jay,

I have a close aunt who is somewhat controlling.  For the last three years she extended an invitation (without asking me first )to my cousin's (her son) girlfriend's family (mom, dad and brother, who I've met once )to Thanksgiving dinner that I host (Although thankfully, they have never taken her up on the offer).  

I explained to her last year that due to limited room at my house and the expense of all the food and the fact that they aren't really my family, that it bothered me that she did that.  I thought it was settled and that she understood that I didn't want her to invite people to my holiday functions. 

This year I invited our pastor and his family to our Thanksgiving get together. When she found out that I invited someone other than family she called me to let me know in a round about way that she thought it was unfair of me to invite a non family member and not invite the girlfriend's family. I was so angry that she brought it up again that I didn't really respond at all.  

How do I stop her from trying to control my guest list for holiday get togethers? She has an answer for everything. She even said that these people would be my family once my cousin marries her. But really they will be her in-laws not mine. I don't want to hurt her feelings but I'm very angry.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You identified the problem perfectly in your question. The guest list is the sole property of the host - period! If your aunt would like to host a party, she may invite whomever she wishes. When it's your party, you pick the guests. Plain and simple and no exceptions. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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He doesn't own the place

Why is my niece's boyfriend so rude in my home? 

Dear Jay,

My niece and her  45 year old boyfriend came to my house for Thanksgiving, and he walked into my room and sat on MY bed to watch the football game without being invited or having any respect for the privacy of my room! The second time I saw him, he opened the fridge to get beers without asking. He moved around my place like he owned it. Needless to say, this was his first and last time at my home!!!!


Jay's ANSWER...

A:You are well within your rights to establish house rules - your house rules. Step two is to let your guests know what these rules are! It sounds like this man has no respect for other people's property. Let's hope he is more respectful of your niece. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Sister-In-Law Trouble

How do I keep my distance from my sister-in-law who only makes me feel awful about myself? 

Dear Jay,

I have a sister-in-law that moved to another state about 13 years ago. Her brother and I have a wonderful marriage until she comes into the picture.  I admit she makes me feel awful about myself and insecure.  This is more my problem than anything she has continued to do.

We have not seen her in 10 years or so, because she was an alcoholic and had some mental issues.  She is now divorced and has money to come visit this Christmas.  I can suffer through the visit at their mom's house, but I know she is going to want to come spend a day at our house with me and our girls (who hardly even know her).  My husband will be at work and honestly I feel like a terrible person, but I don't want to know her again or have her be a part of our lives.  My husband doesn't care about hurting her feeling, but I do.  I don't want her to know my true feelings, I just want to avoid her.  Is this terribly wrong?  If it is please tell me.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your situation falls well outside of simple etiquette; however, here is my advice to you. Be honest and upfront with your husband and with your sister-in-law. Simply explain that you are going through a time in your life when your privacy is a priority and that being around other people is too stressful at the moment. Most people understand this and will respect your wish.

Having said that, you would do well to seek the help of a trained mental health care worker - you don't need a psychiatrist, a social worker should be just fine. Working through life's problems cannot always be done alone. Why you allow another person the power to govern when you will and will not be happy is a mystery you need to solve. It won't go away.

 My best,

Jay

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Shut the Door

How do I keep my family out of my messy spare bedroom? 

Dear Jay,

I'm having a Thanksgiving Day dinner party very soon and I have most of my family coming over. I live in a two bedroom apartment; I use one room as storage and the other as my room. I plan on keeping the doors to the bedrooms shut since I don't want anyone in there, but my family members have a tendency to still open the door and look in. How can I politely tell them (or even put up a sign on the doors) to stay out of the rooms? I don't want to upset anybody, but it is my apartment and the storage room is a bit messy. It would be embarrassing for someone to go in there. Help, please?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I always advise people who live in small apartments and enjoy entertaining to keep the apartment in 'show shape' all the time. Since that seems to be a different pattern than yours, a sign saying "Keep Out" or "Danger Zone" might work. Your better option might be to simply let guests know that if the door is closed, please do not open it. Guests need to be respectful of your private space. Another option might be to just lock the doors. Remember that the state of one's abode reflects the state of one's inner self. Please consider tidying things up - you'll feel much, much better. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Rude Brothers-In-Law

How do I make my rude brothers-in-law respect my house rules? 

Dear Jay,

I want to know if I'm wrong or not!! I have two brothers-in-law and whenever they come to visit they think that they can do whatever they want like going in our fridge and cabinets and eating or drinking anything without even asking if it's ok or not. They say that since they are family that they don't have to ask. They don't even clean up after themselves. I have told them that it's not right that they do that and that they need to ask first before anything. Am I wrong? If I ever went over to a family member's house I would never do any of that. I would first ask if it was ok, and I sure enough would clean up after myself! I have told them over and over that it's not right what they are doing, but they say that since they are family they can get away with doing whatever they want!! Please help me!


Jay's ANSWER...

A: From my perspective, your mother-in-law gets the blame for her ill-mannered sons - including your own husband. Where is he in all of this? One's house is one's castle. You are well within your rights to have house rules. If your brothers-in-law disrespect them, then they should be banished - at least from the kitchen. You and your husband must discuss this matter as it is upsetting to you. You must be united in your stance. If this is a non-starter, then consider filling half the fridge with the munchies they like and just throw in the towel. This second alternative is not recommended however, as next thing you know, they'll be moving in and you'll be doing their laundry! Stand your ground!

 My best,

Jay

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Slapped in the Face

How do I handle not being invited to my step-granddaughter's Thanksgiving celebration?  

Dear Jay,

My step-granddaughter is starting her own tradition for Thanksgiving which is great, but she has left my husband, me, and our other two sons out of the tradition for some reason. I have had her and her boyfriend, mom, brothers, and my son who is her step-father for Thanksgiving and Christmas for years now, and now that she's having Thanksgiving we are not included. I know she can have whoever she wants, but isn't that disrespectful? Her mother and my son accepted my invitation, but now my son's wife told my son they are going to his step-daughter's, and I found out by chance this was happening. My son is not really happy about it, but what choice does he have? Should I be upset about the whole situation? I feel like I've been slapped in the face.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I wouldn't be too upset about this situation. You might consider taking the high road and allow this young family to establish their own traditions. Score cards are not of benefit to anyone when it comes to real hospitality. Perhaps she has great memories of the Thanksgiving dinners you hosted and wouldn't expect you to stop having family Thanksgivings just because she was starting her own. Perhaps she didn't want to extend an invitation where she was anticipating a regret. Maybe she doesn't have room. Whatever her reason, allow her to have it without justification. Maybe you'll be on next year's list!

 My best,

Jay

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Low on Hosting Funds

How do I tell a guest that our family is going through a financial crisis and we can't afford to host them like we usually do?  

Dear Jay,

My family is going through a financial crisis at the moment. Unfortunately, not knowing this, my relative came to my place with her family to spend the one month school holiday as they used to do every year. I couldn't say no to them. How do I handle the situation as a host?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: You must be honest with your guest. She must contribute to household expenses because you cannot do so. Humility comes in many forms. Being honest is the only way to handle this, but keep your emotions under control. You are responsible for this dilemma. Take responsibility for any inconvenience, and explain how this makes you feel. But you have to come clean. Your honesty and humility will pay off. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Confirming Plans

Who should confirm the plans - the host or the person invited? 

Dear Jay,

When planning an informal dinner party with close friends or family, who confirms the plans? Let's say the invitation is made by the hosts two weeks out, and then you don't hear from them? I really don't want to call and ask if we're still invited, and definitely won't just show up…


Jay's ANSWER...

A: It is the job of the host to confirm plans. Not everyone knows that, however. Therefore, I would suggest you phone and ask to confirm the time of the dinner party. "I'm just calling to make sure I wrote down the right time for dinner. I have 6:30 written down. Is that right?" I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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New Traditions

Do I base my Thanksgiving guest list on old or new traditions?

Dear Jay,

Is it proper for someone starting a family tradition for Thanksgiving dinner of their own to only invite some of their family who they have had a Thanksgiving tradition dinner with until they married and want their own, or should they invite everyone in their family they shared dinner with for years?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: When you are starting a tradition by celebrating a holiday such as Thanksgiving at your own home, you have 100% control of the guest list. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, edit them from the list! Respecting other people is important. Bullying tactics cannot be allowed. I am guessing there is someone who has caused you to take the time to ask this question. I hope my answer helps you.

 My best,

Jay

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Candy Miscommunication

Should I be mad at my neighbor for making candy promises he can't deliver?

Dear Jay,

We recently became foster parents of 3 year old twin boys and we currently have 2 boys of our own.  This past Halloween, our neighbor and friend, who usually does not do the candy thing, invited the boys over on several occasions for trick or treating, and promised them lots of candy.  Halloween came, and we never heard from him, so we went on our way, but the kids kept asking, when are we going to "J's" house.  That night I sent him a text stating that he really shouldn't promise this to the kids if he can't deliver as they were very disappointed (they have become close with him and his brother).  

He fired back saying I was attacking him, he was up early, had to work late, so on and so on, and that he beeped when he drove past our house so we knew he was heading home.  I feel that if he knew he was working late, he should have given us a heads up so we could try to explain to very intuitive little boys that we would see "J" another time to get their candy.  

Was I wrong in letting him know that he dropped the ball?  As it was he who kept inviting them, I feel it was his responsibility to let us know that he was going to be late.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Disappointments are a part of life. One is never too young to learn about this. Your friend obviously had no intention of totally snubbing your children or causing them any disappointment. In fact, his action indicates quite the opposite. Life hands all of us unexpected circumstances, some of which may even be more important than doling out Halloween candy. In my opinion, you were overly harsh in your reaction. 

First of all, if you ever want to deliver a message of derision, texting is inappropriate. Face-to-face is the best, perhaps the telephone, but texting is very dismissive. I can understand why he shot back defensively. He didn't drop the ball at all. Frankly, I think you owe him an apology. Also, and far more important, is to explain calmly how circumstances change in people's lives and intention is extremely important to consider before lashing out or criticizing. I hope this helps. Thank you for taking the time to contact StageofLife and me.

 My best,

Jay

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A Little Extra Cash

Is it okay to ask parents to give their kids more spending money at my daughter's birthday?

Dear Jay,

I am doing a birthday party for my daughters 14 year birthday. There will be 8 guests. We will be riding a giant ferris wheel in Seattle at $13/per girl,then going for ice cream and visiting a candy store with $5 spending money for each girl.  Would it be appropriate for me to ask each girl to bring money to catch a bite for dinner after?


Jay's ANSWER...

A: That is a discussion you would need to have the each girl's parent(s). It is perfectly reasonable given that you are shelling out $18 per girl yourself. If you get pushback, abandon the dinner idea. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Catering to the Whole Family

What should I do about my friend inviting her whole family to my events?

Dear Jay,

My husband and I recently renovated our house, we never entertained much before, but now we want friends and family to come over and celebrate the season. Being a big event we decided to have it catered. Our problem is that one of the friends we love very much usually tends to ask if we can invite all her kids (all adult),too. We are only planning on inviting one of her kids, whom we are close to. The rest of the kids have spouses and partners too, and the invitations would end up being extended to them. We do know the rest of her kids, but we aren't so close to them; it's not like we were invited to their weddings.

We've known them for so many years, and we don't know how to deal with this. It's a catered party and would end up being more expensive. What's the right thing to do? We love our friend a lot, but don't know how to handle this. It's not the first time we've ended up inviting all the kids because she's asked.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your friend is completely out of line. Without going into a long discussion with her, I advise simply stating the facts. You say, "No, I am sorry but that is not possible. The guest list is limited due to the catering requirements." You might also speak with her about how this imposition makes you feel. Being pressured into something is a bad bullying tactic and shows no respect for you or your family. Frankly, I'd edit her from my guest list if she doesn't back down! She may be totally unaware of her actions. Becoming aware of them may well change her tune!
I hope this helps

 My best,

Jay

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I Hate When My Mother-in-law Visits

How do I deal with the demands of my unwelcome Mother-in-law during Thanksgiving? 

Dear Jay,

My mother-in-law is coming to visit during Thanksgiving.  As much as I wish she would stay at a hotel or rent her own vehicle, she won't.  I have asked my husband to advise her to rent a car, but he feels that since she is family flying in from Costa Rica, that she should use one of our cars.  I work from home and my kids are very busy. However, during Thanksgiving, I don't have any obligations.  My son has a truck, but doesn't have his driver's license yet.  So we have decided to solve this by allowing my mother-in-law to use my husband's vehicle, while my husband uses my son's truck. However, in the near future, there will likely only be one car sitting in the driveway during the day and that is my car. I don't like to loan out my car!  Am I wrong for not wanting to share??

I also don't know what to do about her visit. She's coming for 6 days. I don't feel like I should have to wait on her hand and foot; however, my husband will be working. How do I encourage her to leave my house and get out and explore? (Her husband will be with her)  

I just feel like every time she visits, she expects so much from me. She is nice for awhile, then she turns on me when my husband isn't around and makes rude comments or observations.  I understand that my nice things I do for a guest are not appreciated. She made that clear when we visited that she didn't really want us there. She had no food, we had to make our own beds, had absolutely nothing planned, and we had to cook for ourselves the entire time. 

My husband will not stand up to her and say anything about her rude comments, because he thinks I'm being sensitive. But yet, I have to entertain and cater to someone who is disrespectful? How many days should I plan excursions without her and how many with her? I also hate spending all the time and money on meals for her. HELP!



Jay's ANSWER...

A: The answer to your first question is no. You are not wrong for not wanting to share your car. Blame it on insurance and uninsured drivers if you need an excuse. The second part of the question is a bit more complicated. Basically you and your husband must be a united front. If you need to discuss this until you can reach that point, then so be it. It sounds to me like you really don't like these folks. If that's the case, your husband needs to take time off work and deal with them, or perhaps even your son. Family dynamics can be complicated and difficult. You are well within your rights to want your home respected and your house rules followed. If you must take the lead because your husband is unwilling or unable to confront his parents, then lay the rules out clearly and without emotion. Rules are rules. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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My Mom Stays Too Long

How do I tell my mother that we want to spend Christmas without her? 

Dear Jay,

My mother lives out of state, and every Christmas she invites herself over for a week at Christmas time (Going on 8 years in a row now). My sister and I are both married and have our own families, and we would like one Christmas without her here. She is just 2 states away and visits multiple times a year. She basically doesn't wait for an invitation and just books a flight. We had to tell her multiple times that a week visit is too long. She never rents a car or gets a hotel, so she stays at our houses and we drive her around. Her visits are now down to 5 days. She admitted to me on a few occasions that this hurts her feelings that she can only stay 5 days. It frustrates me that she doesn't respect our own lives and boundaries and that we need to keep having these awkward conversations, after which I feel really guilty about. Help!!


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Christmas is a time for families to connect and celebrate many blessings. It is a time when people must put the feelings of others ahead of their own. If your mother's feelings are hurt by not being included, my advice is to include her. If she has specific annoying habits that somehow are worthy of excluding her from this holiday time of year, you need to let your own feelings be known. If she knew perhaps what made the visits seem too long, she might understand your position more clearly. I suggest that you and your sister make crystal clear what the ground rules are for your respective houses. These conversations need not be awkward. They should be compassionate. All parties must first listen to the others with an ear to understanding. Release the need to take a defensive stance. Once everyone is reading from the same page, you may even want to restore her visits to a full week! I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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Meddling, Freeloading In-Laws

How do I set limits with my freeloading in-laws? 

Dear Jay,

My in-laws plan to leave the states to another country next year for 2 or 3 years.They are going with my sister-in-law and her family for her husband's work. Before they go they must get their citizenship. My in-laws, earlier this year, left us their house to live in with our 3 kids.
They could no longer afford it after my father-in-law retired. They moved to my sister-in-law's house in Virginia.

The problem is they keep coming back to our home for months at a time. My 15 year old son is forced to sleep on the couch for months at a time to accommodate them. They leave for a couple weeks and come back and stay for a couple months or half a year or so. They do not contribute to the bills and won't even buy a gallon of milk for their grandkids without making us seem like bad parents for running out. They go through my stuff, and after I cook dinner after working all day they help themselves first (not the kids) .They do nothing all day and say they are so tired. So, I get stuck doing all the cleaning, cooking, food buying and paying all bills.

They think because the house is under their name (even though they don't pay a red cent) they can come back and stay whenever they want. I have no say. My mother-in-law gets mad and tells all the family that we kick them out. GUILT TRIP after GUILT TRIP!

What can I do to get her out and only visit twice a year for a week or two like normal people?



Jay's ANSWER...

A: You haven't mentioned your husband. Some ground rules need to be established and they need to be successfully communicated to your in-laws by him and you as a united team. Change the name on the title to the house. Don't run out of milk. Start setting a better example for your son. You need to honour your boundaries and that of your immediate family. If you don't, I'm afraid there is little likely to change. I hope this helps.

 My best,

Jay

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No Loving Welcome

Should my spouse greet me when I return from out of town?    

Dear Jay-
How should you address your spouse?
I travel occasionally for work. These trips often consist of a two night stay away from home. Should my spouse quit what they are doing (if possible) or get off the couch to come and welcome me home? Or should I seek my spouse out?  It is obvious that I have returned because my little girls often scream and run to greet me.


Jay's ANSWER...

A: I side with you on this one. I was always taught to get up and greet anyone (no one is excluded from the 'everyone' category) with a smile and either a handshake or a kiss - certainly a welcome greeting of some sort. Sloths that cannot get off their tushes to get up are lazy and disrespectful. The sad part is this is likely how they feel about themselves, so compassion is needed. Sit with them and explain how coming home to an 'absent' spouse makes you feel. Perhaps lonely or unappreciated? The worst part of this scenario is it sends a terrible message to the children. Time to straighten this one out. But you will get further if you take some of the responsibility. I hope this helps.

My best,
Jay


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Our Need for Privacy

Is it rude to want our out of town guests to stay in a hotel even when we have the room? 

Dear Jay,

Our youngest daughter lives out of state with her fiancé and is coming home with him for the Christmas holidays. He wants to see his parents as well who live in another city within driving distance so we thought it was easier for everyone involved to invite his family (soon to be our daughter's in-laws) to make a trek here for the following weekend.

They accepted our encouragement to visit and I mentioned it will be a good time to go over wedding venue and visit the spot for the rehearsal dinner while they are here.

We have NO intention of asking them to stay at our home and they know we have a full house at this point anyway. Their subtle reply was a positive YES, we would love to come, but "we are assuming we need to get a hotel room so any suggestions ?"

Ok, so they got it, but even when our house is not full in the future is it rude for us not to extend our home for houseguests? We are fairly private and although technically they will be "relatives" once our children marry, they are relatively strangers and have very different life styles. I want to be kind, but set an expectation that is not hurtful to them.

What's your take on it please?



Jay's ANSWER...

A: Under no circumstances are you obliged to offer accommodations to people, family or otherwise, who visit from out of town. I think you may be more sensitive to this than guests might be. Relax and enjoy their company on your terms in your home. Your privacy needs to be respected in much the same way as you would respect the privacy of others. The Golden Rule works very nicely here! I hope this helps.

My best,

Jay

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Whose room is it?

Should I make my daughter give up her bedroom? 

Dear Jay,

Q: I moved out of state a little over a year ago. I now live with my boyfriend who has four adult children and two minors.  I have a 19 year old and a 15 year old who both live with us. There are 4 bedrooms in this home (actually 3 bedrooms and an office that I gave up to ensure my oldest had her own bedroom in my home). So now there is one bedroom for each of my kids and one bedroom for his daughter who lives here part time. Right now my daughter is about 5 hours away at college and comes home on average once a month and all holiday breaks. One of my boyfriend's children (I believe she is 22) is coming from another country for what has now turned into a 5 month stay. My boyfriend insists she does not bunk with her biological sister, rather she move into my daughter's bedroom.

This is a hard pill to swallow for both me and my daughter since we both feel her bedroom is not a guest room, but reluctantly we both agreed. I decided there was no reason for his daughter to bunk with the 6 year old when my daughter isn't home. As long as my daughter is not "home" his daughter can bunk in her room. 
Now, my boyfriend is insisting that it is wrong to have his visiting daughter move out of my daughter's bedroom when my daughter comes home from college on the weekends or holiday breaks. I am floored, and not sure what to think about this and what he would expect me to say to my child. 

Am I supposed to tell her she can come home but must sleep on the sofa because we gave away her bedroom especially since all of her personal items will remain in her bedroom? I am very confused.



Jay's ANSWER...

A: This is a hugely complex family dynamics series of issues, none of which I am really qualified to address. However from an etiquette perspective, the boyfriend calls the shots. It's his house. Guidelines and policies are understood, hopefully prior to moving in. From a common sense point of view, this is a 5 month period of time. I would see how a bit more flexibility might help things out. If everyone is involved in this silly game of musical bedrooms, perhaps you might consider taking a room with your daughter. Boyfriends have known to acquiesce under certain conditions. I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,

Jay

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Freeloading Brother Mess

What should I do about the nightmare freeloading situation in my home? 

Q: My question is about my adult sibling and his girlfriend. They asked if they could move in my basement, and told me that they would pay $500 per month. I recently had some renters that moved out and have the space, but we also told our children they can use it as a playroom.  Not wanting my brother and his girlfriend to be homeless (she's 25 and he's 29), I said yes. I'm having trouble setting the boundaries with them in the house and with my children. 

My youngest child and his friend went in their room and messed it all up. It was totally on accident, but I was coming back in from running an errand and my brother totally blasted me when I was with my friend /client (I do hair and I was getting ready to color my client's hair because I work out of my house) and it was embarrassing! I don't like confrontations. 

My brother also gave me no time to make a decision. He called me on the 28th of September and said that he had to be out of his apartment by the 30th, so I had no time to really think and set up house rules before they moved in. They said they were going to move in on the weekend and then they didn't and then they said Monday and they didn't actually move in until Wednesday, October 3.

I don't know how to handle telling them I really don't want them drinking beer and alcohol around my children. They also smoke and smoke other things like that help you relax. I have a patio outside and they like to go out there and smoke, but they won't even bother to buy themselves an ashtray and they just put their cigarette butts in my fire pit. I know it's a fire pit, but I don't want it littered with cigarette butts! 

How do I handle these situations and be polite, but still help my brother and still have my dignity? I mean my immediate family should be most important, right? I have three children (a boy 16, a daughter 14, and a younger son 8) And my husband who I want to keep my husband...


Jay's ANSWER...

A: What a nightmare! I'm sorry to tell you that much of the responsibility lies with you. You and your husband must agree on a set of house rules and stand ready to enforce them. Sit down with everyone and go over them carefully and answer any questions and make any minor adjustments you wish. These rules would apply to guests as well as family members. Be very mindful when making these rules, because anyone who has a problem with your rules may choose to live elsewhere. But it is your house and your rules are to be respected. I hope this helps.

My best,
Jay


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Declining a Friend's Dirty Apartment

How do I tell my good friends I'd rather stay in a hotel than their dirty apartment?

Q: Dear Jay,
I'm going to visit friends who have a 2-year old child.  My long-time  university friend has never been the most prolific of cleaners and her flat is often untidy and chaotic, which I don't mind enormously.  When we were younger, we would stay in each others flats all the time (I've lived in a few tourist towns) and we'd crash out on sofa beds and air beds but now that I'm getting older I just don't want the hassle of the untidiness, the quite strange husband and of course, a noisy baby.

The guest room in their relatively new flat has always been full of boxes or detritus and so is not set up for visitors (and besides, the cat was using the carpet as a new kitty litter box opportunity), which means staying in the dining room/kitchen on a futon which is probably as old as I am!

Last time I stayed it was miserable: no heating. I'm clearly cold blooded in comparison, lumpy futon and terrible bathroom.  I know that they're going to be a bit hurt if I say that I'm going to stay in a hotel but I don't think I can manage 2 or 3 days with them.  I still live in a tourist town and I'm always amazed that friends want to stay in my living room on my, admittedly comfortable, sofa bed...but I do appreciate when friends tell me that they'll be staying in a hotel nearby, which is what I plan to do. Advice, please!


Jay's ANSWER...

A: Honesty is the best policy, but you need not offer any lengthy explanation. Simply state that you have come to appreciate the privacy of hotels and prefer to stay in one and leave it at that! I have found that it is often dangerous to second guess what others may think or how they may feel. They may be relieved in a way, but you will enjoy your stay better. If they question you, stand your ground and insist. Offer to take them out to dinner. They need to come to the realization that guests don't always like staying with friends, but often prefer a hotel. I rarely stay with friends, and prefer a hotel because I have a morning routine which involved meditation and yoga and a busy household isn't a good fit. I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,


Jay

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Utterly Frustrated

How do I gracefully get my in-laws out of my house and into their own?

Dear Jay,

I have a question for Jay. My husband purchased a house in late 2011 with the foresight that his parents were in financial straits and would probably have to move in with us. In late April my MIL and grand-MIL, who is in the probable end stages of Alzheimers,  moved in and then after our "spiritual" ceremony for our wedding my FIL moved in also. There was no time limit set on their stay however it was understood that this would not be a permanent home for them. 

My husband and I are newlyweds with a 10 month old daughter now and I want my house back to just my family. My MIL stays home and takes care of her mother and our daughter. Since I work full time she does a lot of the house work also, which I did not ask her to do. My FIL does the yard work to help around the house. In the year and a half that they have lived here my MIL has not found work in her field, and I have given her suggestions on broadening her search. 

I have made suggestions on how they could save, even suggesting they pay a modest rent per person per month with the understanding that we would save the money for them of $50 per person. They currently live off my FIL's retirement money from the Navy which is not enough to live on well. Instead I see her not making progress towards finding employment and not making strides to save up to get a place of their own.  I hear excuses all the time from her. Her mother has in home care, paid for by Medicaid that I had to badger her into applying for so that my MIL could get some help with grandma for a few hours a day. She hovers over the nursing aids all the time instead of using the time constructively to find a job. And she refuses although quite passively to find a facility for grandma that would be able to take care of all her needs since she is regressing more and more. My FIL is disabled due to an accident so he refuses to look for work, I have suggested jobs that I thought might interest him, but he's in the bottom of a beer can most days. 

My mind would be put to some ease if I saw her or him get even a low-mid range wage part time job so that they could save up. I am at my wits end. I do not know what to do. I have been toying with the idea of giving them an ultimatum, which I know in a way is uncouth. I have made arrangements for my daughter to start day care by the end of the month so that it will free up more time for my MIL and FIL to seek employ. How do I tell them that I want them out of my house and reclaim my home so that when I come home I can relax instead of being a on-edge-b**** that I feel I am turning into??

~Alecia


Jay's ANSWER...

My advice to you is to take first things first. Your in-laws have their own paths to follow and so have you. You need to discus this situation with your husband and form a united front. He needs to explain your concern as a couple to his parents and explain that you can no longer accommodate them on a full time basis. I would suggest giving them a couple of weeks  or a month to find a rental unit or make other arrangements. You are not responsible for them, but they are family. Enabling them into not taking responsibility for their lives is not appropriate. Suggesting how they might solve their problem is kind, but not if you don't detach. Just stick to the facts and keep your emotions out of it.

Your house is your castle. You are well within your rights to lay down the house rules. If they are not welcome, you must explain how this current arrangement makes you feel and that it is no longer going to work. Be sure you and your husband agree on this before you present this to them. There may be some fallout, primarily because you allowed this to go on too long. I know this may sound severe, but this problem is not going to simply solve itself. Lack of communication is often the root of the problem. I would hope that your in-laws do not want to be a burden to you. 

I hope this helps,

Kind regards,
Jay
 

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Family Issues

How to get my parents to treat my husband with respect?

Dear Jay,

I'm in an unpleasant situation. My parents have appeared to like my husband to whom I've been married to for five years; just recently, though, we ran into a problem when I asked my spouse to go pick up our son from my parents house. I was in the hospital in observation due to a risk pregnancy and my parents who were supposed to bring our son didn't, so my husband went to get him. They do not call to see how we are but expect me to always call them. They do not drive to our house to see their grandchildren but instead call asking if we are on the way to their house. My mom is now ignoring my husband completely. She doesn't say "hi" to him and won't even come near our kids when they are beside him. This upsets me very much. We have been avoiding them because it's becoming uncomfortable to be stuck in the middle. What should we do about this? I believe they are being ugly about the entire thing.

Thank you Jay.



Jay's ANSWER...

The first thing you must do is to stop thinking you are stuck in the middle. You and your husband are a united team! But this does not have to be adversarial with your parents. You must sit down with your mother and explain how her behaviour makes you feel. She may be of the old school where children do take the initiative to place the phone call, call for a visit, etc. Allow her that. Just explain to her in a non-confrontational way that if she cannot be polite in front of her own grandchildren and recognize their father as an integral part of the family, your visits will be greatly reduced. You do not want to raise children who will mimic rude behaviour - so don't. I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,


Jay

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The Guest List

Is a stepmother still family?

Dear Jay,

My first grandson is getting married. Very excited! But yesterday my daughter, mother of the Groom, informed me that her stepmother was going to be in town visiting her friends. My daughter informed me just yesterday that she had invited her to the wedding. My daughter said, "after all, she is family." Well, my heart just sank. I will suck it up and be civil for all of the family. My question is this: is she a member of the family?  I divorced my daughter's Dad when in our late 40s. Our children were grown. Subsequently, he married the woman he had been having an affair with. Now is the stepmother still a family member since the children's Dad has passed away?

--Mrs. Hertenstein



Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Mrs. Hertenstein,

This situation is awkward and I understand your shock. Being the lady that you are, you are quite right in taking the high road by 'sucking it up', as you so eloquently put it! The focus is on the marriage of your grandson and his fiancee, and has nothing to do with the guest list. If a mother/child relationship has developed between your daughter and your husband's second wife, she may as well be considered "family". You need not engage with her at all, and you are well within your rights not to! Civility is the order of the day. I'm sure she may be just as happy not to engage with you as you are. Keep your eye on the ball and as they say, "This too shall pass."

I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,

Jay

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Meet Stage of Life's Etiquette Coach

Meet Jay Remer - etiquette expert on StageofLife.comOur Etiquette Expert

Why Jay?  It's simple...Jay knows etiquette. 

For years Jay has planned and managed royal, corporate, political and social events and parties, some of them for up to 500 people.  As a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, he offers workshops on business, social and dining etiquette, as well as international protocol for a variety of audiences.  From teenage students to corporate clients, Jay teaches everything from the basics of a handshake to the subtleties of developing a business relationship during a networking dinner.  His course on self-esteem in youth, in particular, has been encouraged by Dr. Piet Forni, founder of the Civility institute at Johns Hopkins University.  Originally from Delaware, Jay now lives in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada  where he has written a weekly etiquette column in the National Post and is a current columnist in New Brunswick’s Telegraph Journal.  He is a Social Etiquette and Good Manners expert on allexperts.com and has answered over 1,000 questions from people around the world...and he's now ready to answer your questions here on Stage of Life. 

Just let us know your question, your stage of life, and we'll post your question and Jay's official etiquette response on this page.

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You can read more about Jay on his website, EtiquetteGuy.com

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