I’m kind of dreading the holidays, and since the season is on us there’s no escaping them. I love my family and we always have fun seeing each other and eating and drinking way too much, and reunions would be great were it not for one thing. My sister-in-law, who I otherwise see eye-to-eye with and even really like, insists on seating adults and kids at separate tables. To me these seating arrangements smack of an era when kids were seen and not heard and I want my children involved in the exchange of stories and fun during the holidays, which often happens during meals.
How do I address this without it becoming a family showdown? I don’t want to upset my sister-in-law (whom I truly love), but this is really starting to rub me the wrong way.
I Just Want to Eat
Dear I Just Want to Eat,
I can understand how these seating arrangements would get in the way of a fun holiday dinner. After all, it isn’t uncommon for parents to miss out on dinner with their kids several nights a week and holidays present a great opportunity to rectify that. However, because I understand that there are always two sides to a story (the right one and the stupid one), let’s try to examine this from your sister-in-law’s perspective, and hope you come out on top, shall we?
First off, does she have children? And if so, are they tiny bastions of hell who focus a boundless energy on creating an atmosphere of fear and flung turkey during the holidays? If this sounds familiar, then I think we have arrived at our answer. Should this be the case, my advice would be to suck it up, and forgo the one night of eating with your children at your side in order to allow your sister-in-law a peaceful meal. Chances are her kids staged a mutiny when she suggested a full-time “Kids Table” in the downstairs bathroom. LET HER HAVE THIS DAY. Or, you could corner the hell-hounds and bribe them with candy so their mother may be given some peace (albeit temporary) at the table.
If she does not have children of her own, this may simply be the way holidays have played out in her life, starting in her childhood. Perhaps she has Christmas memories of being relegated to eating poorer cuts of meat and creamed peas at folding TV tables in the front room while Grandpa’s “Bowling for Dollars” blares on the television, while the over-21 crowd and their shouts of merriment filter through the closed (and locked) hall door. Maybe she looked once, and before her tiny eyes lay a feast of succulent meats and cheeses on a harvest table, heavy with steaming side dishes, and stretching on for miles.
That kind of things can really scar a person. (I’ve heard.)
I myself don’t employ a “Kid’s Table” mindset. I like my little ones at my side, where I can monitor their food intake before setting them loose at the dessert table. Left to their own devices I’ve found my children will eat three servings of “jam” (cranberry sauce), and drink gravy straight from the boat. This never ends well and I need to be within arms reach to ensure something green makes it into their bellies.
Once you’ve started an investigation into your sister-in-laws separation motivation, re-evaluate the situation. Make a light-hearted suggestion to try one big table this year, and monitor her response. If she claims it’s a space issue, offer chairs and an additional table to add at the end of the row. A few extra cloths over that thing and it’ll be just like eating at an Italian wedding, rather than a prison cafeteria. By inquiring gently and appearing non-confrontational about change, you’ll be better equipped at resetting the status-quo.
Or, you can tell her my fast and hard rule about kids tables and then hang in there until it applies to your kids – children move up to the big table immediately upon first armpit hair sighting.
Save me the wishbone,
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