Dealing with party-pooper in-laws, plus a bad case of the thank you-note jitters.
My in-laws are impatient people, happiest sitting in their recliners in air-conditioned comfort, eating their meals at precise times. Still, they have decided to drive 10 hours to celebrate our son’s graduation with us – two days of festivities, speeches, and so on. When we showed them the schedule, my father-in-law said he would not go to the first day’s activities and my mother-in-law asked if she had to go to any of them (including the ceremony). On what should be a joyous weekend, I will be a wreck. If they go to an event, they will complain and rush us to leave. If they stay at home, they will complain that they drove all that way and we ignored them. Any suggestions?
M.K. / Framingham
The impossible to please are more tiresome companions than the easily delighted, but they afford the same freedom of action. If your in-laws are going to whine regardless of what you do, what’s to stop you from doing what you want – or more to the point, doing whatever will make the weekend memorable and joyful for your son? This weekend is about him and his accomplishments, after all. It’s absurd to visit relatives during a celebration that you don’t wish to participate in, and then complain that the festivities go on without you; your in-laws’ dissatisfaction is on their own fussy heads, not yours. Fix up a nice clean guest room, stock up on food so they can snack at home if they like, look up the number of a taxi company in case they want to leave an event early, and consider your hosting duties fulfilled. Now stop being a nervous daughter-in-law and start being a proud mother!
Thank you notes have never been my forte. I am always so overwhelmed with gratitude that words fail and seem contrived. After the birth of my daughter, I was diligent in sending my thanks to those who were so thoughtful to welcome her. However, I have yet to send notes to the people who came to her blessing ceremony. I still intend to send them, but do I mention my delay, or just voice my thanks and leave it at that?
A.F. / West Townsend
You don’t need to excuse yourself. And you oughtn’t to beat yourself up too much about a delay in posting the written notes, especially if you thanked your guests in person at the ceremony. For that matter, you need to stop beating yourself up about thank you notes altogether. Birthdays and holidays and so forth will come around regularly, and before you know it, your daughter will be old enough to help “write” her own thank you notes. (Even before she’s able to sign her name, she can draw a heart or make a handprint.) You don’t want to pass your performance anxiety about thank you notes on to your daughter and find yourself, after every present-giving holiday, having to discipline yourself to discipline her to write them, do you? Doesn’t that sound like a horrible way to spend winter break 2017?
You can get over your gratitudinal perfectionism. Develop a formula for thank you notes, and then don’t overthink it. Your friends and relatives aren’t dissecting your missive as if it were some long-lost Rosicrucian manuscript in a Dan Brown novel. Here’s the recipe I use: The first sentence is an “I” statement about the gift (“I’m sitting here wrapped up in the afghan you knitted me,” “I just returned from spending my gift certificate at Williams-Sonoma”). In the second sentence, I thank the giver – and I don’t worry about sounding cliched, because the fact is there are only so many ways to say “thank you.” One or two more sentences compliment the giver and express love, support, and/or hopes of seeing each other in person soon.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.
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