13

In a few weeks, my grandparents will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary by having a family dinner. My grandparents made 2 decisions about that dinner:

  • To only invite their children, their husbands/wives and grandchildren. Grandchildren are not to bring their boy- or girlfriends, none of us are married or living together yet and our boy/girlfriends are mostly just vague acquaintances of our grandparents, not considered family (yet). My grandparents are also not interested in bringing along the ill-mannered 3-year-old that belongs to the boyfriend of one of my cousins (let's call him Brat), and they decided it was as good a reason as any to 'keep the party small'.

  • To go and eat at a regular restaurant instead of the kid-friendly 'pancake' restaurants we used to go to because all their grandchildren are now grownups. Additionally, not everyone likes pancakes all that much and regular restaurants will have less ambient noise making it easier for them to follow conversations (they're a bit deaf).

I've been helping to coordinate the whole thing, and made reservations at the restaurant about two weeks ago.

Yesterday, my mom asked me to call the restaurant and cancel the reservation there, because we would be going to a pancake restaurant after all. This sudden change in my grandparents' plans felt off to me, so I haven't done so yet.

I visited my grandparents to ask them about this and learned that their daughter (my aunt) has been relentless in pushing them to let the boy/girlfriends of her kids be present, including Brat. And because of Brat, we should go to the pancake restaurant as a regular restaurant won't survive Brat.

My grandparents are unhappy and told me they gave in to my aunt's wishes 'just to be done with it'. After talking with some of their other children/grandchildren, my grandparents now feel again that giving in to my aunt was wrong. But, to avoid being pushed into the 'pancake restaurant' plan again, they don't want to talk with this aunt about it anymore.

As I have been in charge of arranging things so far, I am now tasked with telling this aunt that:

  • Family members talked with her parents (my grandparents) about this, and that my grandparents really did not want to change their mind and now realize more people are unhappy with the pancake plan.
  • That it's not her party, not her rules. That we're going to do this the way my grandparents actually wanted it in the first place. That they have thus decided that we will be going through with the original plan, no boy/girlfriends/Brat, and a normal restaurant.
  • That my grandparents don't want her to stop coming to the party out of spite, as that would ruin the festivities for my grandparents.
  • That my grandparents also don't want her to come if she's going to behave in such a way that it would ruin the festivities for my grandparents.
  • That this is not the first time this aunt (and/or her husband/children) have shown no regards or respect for the wishes or boundaries of other family members, and that this should stop as it is continually hurting the family.
  • Express the anger of a bunch of family members about this in a suitable way.

She's not the easiest person to interact with, I'm expecting her to react badly to being told she is not going to have things her way, and I also suspect she might react badly at that message coming from me, we have already had previous trouble involving respecting wishes and boundaries.

I also have pretty strong feelings about this, that I somehow need to hide and show at the same time. I need to show her how bad this was to do and that as a family we're quite done with her antics. At the same time, I should somehow hide most of my anger that's bound to be caused by her replies to this, to avoid creating family conflicts that might ruin my grandparents' party.

All in all, this conversation might escalate very quickly, while instead I want to send a strong message but avoid any further family conflicts. What can I keep in mind when sending my aunt the messages listed above in an appropriately strong way, while trying to minimize further family conflict?

  • 1
    Since have your aunt come and be happy about it might not be possible, would you grandparent rather have her come and be unhappy or have her not come at all? – Ælis May 24 at 9:21
  • @Ælis They want her to come and behave 'normally', no matter if she feels happy or not. If that's not possible for her, I'm not sure what my grandparents want. – Tinkeringbell May 24 at 9:26
  • 1
    Is it possible to find a sitter for the three year old, have boyfriends/girlfriends be allowed to attend, and have it at the nicer place? Maybe "no children" is acceptable, but it is hard to say that your boyfriend of one year is not welcome with your family. However, a grownup night out is much easier to sell and find a compromise, perhaps avoiding having to politely tell your aunt that everyone is unhappy with her. – JenInCode May 24 at 13:47
  • 3
    @JenInCode Just to be very clear, the aunt is not the one that's being told to leave her boyfriend at home, like I told Ælis this is about her daughter's boyfriend. They aren't married or even living together, so he really is at most a family friend, more like a vague acquaintance, to my grandparents. Aunt has two other kids with equal relationship statuses, but no Brats. I'm not going to argue with my grandparents over their wishes, this is about telling the aunt she should not do so either to the point of exhausting my grandparents and causing family conflicts. – Tinkeringbell May 24 at 13:57
  • 3
    @LuxClaridge 'no kids allowed' is kinda hard, as my parents are bringing their kids (me and my brothers) too. The whole point is that with all the loose boy- and girlfriends, the dinner table will be too crowded for my grandparents to have meaningful contact with anyone. So they choose the more intimate setting, and I now have the task of communicating this to the aunt. – Tinkeringbell May 24 at 13:59
7

Growing up, I was raised by my grandparents and my grandpa's mother (i.e. great-grandmother). On Sundays, the only day where my mom would be home, we would come to pick my great-grandmother (let's call her Ada) at her place and go get lunch with my grandparents.
When I was about 10, Ada's daughter ("Olga") freaked her mother out by saying she was too old to live on her own, that she was gonna get robbed and mugged because of her old age and isolation. With months of Olga convincing her mother that she was too weak to live on her own (my family lived 5 minutes away from Ada and we would come visit her several times a week), she managed to get her mother come live with her, 45 minutes away. Olga took her into her tiny house behind a security gate that not even us could cross without telling Olga first, and let her mother stay alone in the house, as she was working 7 days a week for 12 hours straight. She prevented Ada to come outside ("you're gonna fall in the streets and people will mug you!") and my family had to call several days before to ask Olga if we could come visit her. Usually Olga would refuse, saying Ada was too tired. We would then call Ada and ask how she's doing, and she would say she's great.

As your aunt, Olga was more focused on her needs and wants (of having her mother by her side), and forgot what others really wanted. The truth is, she wanted her mother for herself. We tried to compromise with her ("come at our place with Ada whenever suits you best and get lunch), but she would stick to her will.

What helped us was to remind Olga of our, and her mother's, needs. We told her Ada had called and requested to see us because it's been a while. We told her that Ada said she needed to see the rest of her family too. We said we'd understand that she wanted to keep a close relationship with her mother, but that we loved and needed her too. Now, in our case Olga didn't care about my family's needs, but her mother's sadness stroke a chord in her and she eventually understood that's it was a good thing for us to come see Ada.

I know you don't want your grandparents to get involved in that discussion with your aunt, and I understand that. However, it may beneficial to include parts of what they told you in your discussion with her. I don't know if offering a compromising situation would work in your case, but I believe it's worth trying.

Have this discussion with another relative

I wouldn't advise you come confront your aunt alone, especially since you had troubles in the past and because of your strong feelings about her behaviour. Having a third party could help in remaining calm and potentially in defusing the situation should you feel you begin to lose your temper. Choose someone who knows you well, as they could get hints as you're getting annoyed. Be careful to choose someone who knows the aunt too, as she otherwise may think you just brought someone to team up against her.

Use nonviolent communication skills

The key here is to remain neutral as much as possible. It is about exposing facts without judging what is happening.

For instance,

When you decided it is not normal for great-grandchildren not to be invited to this party, [...]

you're giving her the message that she wasn't right to feel that way. This will discourage her from listening to what you have to say.

Instead, you may want to try to simply state plain facts.

Grandpa & Grandma decided it was not the best option for them to invite their great-grandchildren this time

Explain to her why they don't want that. However, I would try to avoid telling her that they don't consider grandchildren's partners to be family - this is putting oil on the firepit. They want this event to remain small, and they want to do it in a restaurant that is not best suited for children of small ages.

Compromise

What would be, if possible, the best option, is to bring an alternative to the table, especially if you feel that your aunt is still reluctant after this discussion. The alternative mustn't be about changing the terms on what your grandparents want their party to be. But you may want to ask your grandparents if they would be okay to organize another, more casual, event that would gather the whole family. You already did a lot to organize their anniversary, maybe you could try to ask for help to one of your relatives to organize some sort of barbecue in a public park where everyone could bring a dish. Make sure you have board and card games, so that the children will have fun and are less likely of being tired and grumpy. The main advantage of doing this in a public (or a large) space is that people could talk to whomever they want, but also to diminish the averall noise level of the event.

The takeaway

Discuss with your grandparents before confronting your aunt. Tell them about the compromising solution you've come up with. If they are okay with it, then you know you have another card in your sleeve if your aunt remains unsatisfied with your talk. Proposing such an alternative should reassure her on the fact that her loved ones are not left aside and that it is really more about having a casual, quiet event.

  • And encourage the aunt to organize that additional activity. No over "put up or shut up", but encourage her to be part of the solution. – Monica Cellio May 24 at 18:47
  • @MonicaCellio and avazula: I'm hesitant to do the additional activity, Brat is the only 3-year-old and there's no others he can play with. So having him around will always distract the adults, especially given his ill manners. So if my aunt were to organize something like this I'd go out of my way to politely decline, and encouraging her to organize something that I won't attend anyways feels wrong. – Tinkeringbell May 25 at 12:24
  • @Tinkeringbell: does that aunt take care of Brat? If so, maybe organizing an event at her place could be a solution; that way she can have the whole family together and you'd be certain that Brat wouldn't be annoying your relatives? – avazula May 29 at 5:39
3

From reading your post and the comments, it seems that the situation is much deeper than this party.

Empathy is the emotion that comes to mind in this situation. Perhaps consider things from the point of view of your aunt, for this specific event. Your cousin has had a boyfriend and child in her life for a year, and she is being told she cannot bring them to an important family event. Many people go through life never marrying, that doesn't diminish the value of their relationship or their connection to their significant other's families - in this case, your Aunt.

With that in mind, and to address your direct question:

If you are going to talk to your aunt, keep in mind how she is feeling, and remember that we cannot tell people how to feel or how to behave.

Your grandparents can have a party wherever they want, and invite whomever they choose. They are lucky to have someone like you on their side, trying your best to make their party as perfect as possible. There is, however, collateral damage if you decide to pick and choose guests who are in relationships with people. Unfortunately, they can't expect everyone to be happy about this, nor can they - or you - dictate how people will behave. Listing your aunt's faults and the fact that everyone agrees with you is very likely to deepen the divide here. I would avoid saying anything, and just let your aunt know that the party is at the nice place, and it is only for immediate family.

You're clearly trying to make your grandparents happy, but their choice here is going to hurt people. Try not to blame your aunt for being hurt or force her to be happy. You probably won't feel any better after that conversation than she will and it is unlikely to change anyone's opinion.

In my experience, I have found that family members are always going to conflict. In the end, though, they typically come together for a good cause. My own family is divided because my cousins have spouses who do not get along. Before my aunt and uncle (their parents) passed away, there were tears at many family events. What I did see was that no matter how much any of us would try to reason with the conflicting parties, they felt the way they felt, and the best solution was to seat them far apart at the table and hope for the best. I realized then that you cannot make people be happy or behave a certain way, but you can all come together in a collective voice to support a party, holiday meal, etc. together as a family. In the end, regardless of the fighting beforehand (which we eventually decided to skip, because it was fruitless) everyone showed up when they needed to.

Ultimately, the best resolution may be to do what your grandparents want, and those who choose to come will do so, and those who choose not to come will have made their choice. Hopefully, however, in the end all invited guests will realize this is not about them and "show up" to support their anniversary, but it is just probably not possible to "make" that happen.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.