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Question

My husband and I share a large blended family of grown children and lots of grandchildren. We never have everyone home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we usually have three or four families, which can be up to a dozen or so children and last for a week or more. It’s now almost the holidays and I’m wondering how to handle a problem.

We have always bought all the groceries and supplies for these times, which can be up to $1,000 for Thanksgiving through Christmas. Usually it takes us a couple of months for our budget to catch up. Now we find ourselves retired and all of our children making salaries much larger than ours, although we are doing all right. I don’t know how to approach them and ask for help with the expenses of the holidays.

I know them so well and they all have such different personalities that any way I picture asking, I know it won’t suit all of them. One would pull out his wallet, hand me a $100 bill and ask if I needed more, while one will want to organize days for each family to make a meal (that will bring its own problems!), and one will probably say they don’t have the money, even though they could if they tried. I would prefer just getting some money, such as $50 from each family, and doing the shopping beforehand.

Do I just tell them the situation and ask for donations and not care who gets upset? Should I talk to each one individually? Should I put out a donations jar?

Having my children upset with me, which doesn’t happen often, is the absolute worst. They all seem to love and care for me, but some of the siblings don’t always see eye-to-eye, so I don’t want to exacerbate those situations.

Any solution I come up with seems to have problems. At times, I think we’ll just keep on paying for it all and avoid any contention.

Answer

When you have this many personalities to accommodate, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. You’re asking for help because you have real financial limitations that make these family gatherings extra stressful. At the same time, you also have a strong aversion to family conflict. I believe you’ll resolve this internal dilemma when you can ask for what you need and allow everyone to adjust accordingly.

You might feel responsible to pay for everything because you’re hosting. While it might be a common perk to offer your guests free food, please recognize that this is only one way to do it. There is no rulebook for these things. If you truly want to create a emotionally loving environment for your guests, it’s best to eliminate the real sources of stress. Your stress comes from financial limitations and the subsequent frustration of no one chipping in to help with food.

You have some children who are more aware and others who are not. You have some that are stingy and others who are more generous. However, I’m certain if they knew of your true need to have a simple and stress-free system for feeding everyone, they would gladly support you. But, if they want to fight it, they’ll at least know where you stand. You can have peace knowing you’ve been clear with everyone about what you need. Your honesty with yourself and your family will provide the most peace for you, even if some aren’t happy with it.

I suggest you send out an email or text to all of your children and their spouses explaining what you need from everyone. You can offer a short and simple explanation that the two of you love having everyone in your home, but no longer can financially afford to pay for the extra groceries. Be clear that this is hard for you because you’d love to be able to pay for everything and truly pamper them. Let them know that you would like each family to pay a certain amount (you mentioned $50, but make sure it’s an amount that won’t be so low that it continues to cause frustration and stress).

Pre-empt any meddling or suggestions by saying that you realize they may want to come up with their own solutions to this, but you need it to be simple and stress free. Express plenty of love and gratitude for their willingness to keep this simple and stress free for everyone.

Be careful to not give them any alternatives. If they need an exception or accommodation, they can approach you and work that out. My mom has a tongue-in-cheek sign hanging in her kitchen that says, “Dinner choices: 1) Take it 2) Leave it.” You are offering your guests one option, which is to help you pay for groceries. It’s that straightforward.

Now, what won’t feel straightforward to you are the emotions you’ll feel after you send this direct message. You’ll sympathize with all of their different struggles you can imagine they’ll have with your request. Please don’t complicate this in your own mind. If they have concerns, they can approach you directly. Let it be simple and stress free by making a request that will help offset your costs and your stress.

In my experience, most people are good and want to help. I’m certain your children are no exception and will adjust to your new request. There may have been times when you could afford to feed everyone. Now is not that time, so make sure they know how you feel and what they can do to step up and help.=

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT