Getting nervous about Thanksgiving--how to enforce boundaries?

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by Origami, Nov 10, 2014.

  1. Origami

    Origami Active Member

    This will be an extra-special Thanksgiving because all my kids, grandkids, and daughters-in-law will be with us for the first time in three years! My oldest son and his wife haven't been here since they were stationed in Europe (are back in the states now). Also, they've invited two of their friends from Italy to our dinner, since they've never been to the US and wanted to see what Thanksgiving is all about. So I'm happy for all the company, and will have plenty of help cooking, etc.

    However, there's a little cloud of doubt following me around named "difficult child" (the younger). He has a history of turning happy occasions into arguments, fistfights, and the like. Or he disappears either to his bedroom or out of the house. He hates big crowds of people, even (especially?) his own family, and seems to get physically uncomfortable at these gatherings. Not always, but mostly.

    I've already talked to him a couple of times about not being a jerk and ruining my holiday. He said he won't act up around the guests (seemed surprised that I would even mention it). Then he said that I need to talk to his brothers and sister because they're the ones that "talk smack" to him and then he retaliates by getting crude, vulgar, and insulting, then they lash back, and so on. By "talking smack," he means that his siblings may say something snarky like "Hey, have you got arrested lately? How was your evening in jail?" or something to make fun of him. Of course, he can't take this as any type of teasing, but has to follow it to the nth degree of stupidity. And I think the easy child siblings sometimes are mean to him just because they want to see him squirm a little.

    So my question is, how do I enforce boundaries with him and my other "kids"? I jokingly told my husband that if anyone starts a big argument or fight, we'll just leave and go to a restaurant for dinner. Obviously, I don't want a scene or to call the police, especially when we have outside guests. I'm going to talk to everyone involved to establish some boundaries. I told difficult child the Younger that even if someone says something to him, he could just go to his room, where he'll likely want to go anyway after he has food on his plate. I'm hoping for the best and that he can keep his word to me, but want to be mentally prepared in case things get out of hand. difficult child has the capacity to be fun, entertaining, and charming, but I never know which one of him is going to show up.

    I don't like to think too much about this because I don't want this worry to ruin the fun of looking forward to the holiday. I think I'm explaining too much here because you guys already know what I'm talking about. A coping strategy in my back pocket might make me feel better, at least.

    Any ideas about things you've found effective? Should I just stop worrying and hope for the best?
  2. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    Outside guests may help your PCs to mind their manners little better. (And yes, if you ask me, asking someone if they have lately been arrested in dinner table to 'tease' that someone is really bad decorum and bullying.) If you are not sure if even having outsiders present makes them behave, remind them, that you want a nice and pleasurable evening and dinner and don't accept any childish pecking to provoke their kid sibling. That you invite them in good faith that they are able to behave and be respectful to your home and people living there and that you would not send your difficult child to bully them in their homes either and you expect them to show same grace to him in his home. Word it little more polite, if you will, but it is totally in your right to make it sure that everyone who lives in your house can have a pleasant evening without guests harassing them.

    Then talk to your difficult child and tell him, that you absolutely don't accept him starting anything and that if he is provokes, you will deal with it and if it is too much for him, he can go to his room. I understand that him hiding in his room isn't optimal for you to enjoy the nice evening, but him being there is very preferable to fist fights, I think. Make sure he does have an option to get away of the situation if it gets too much to him. There is nothing wrong in that, really.

    If the older siblings start to harass him, do intervene quickly. Make it a joke if you will (tell the ill behaving older sibling to hush and mind their manners, or you have to put them to naughty step or something like that for example.) But do not let it get out of the hand. But probably if you just talk to them beforehand and tell them straight, that you do now appreciate them creating unnecessary drama during the family festive, they know to behave themselves.
  3. ForeverSpring

    ForeverSpring Well-Known Member

    I can share what I do when my autistic son does not feel he can handle a crowd any longer at holidays.

    I let him disappear in his room.

    The ONLY boundary I would tell him and strict enforce would be that if he starts any "fights", verbal or physical, he is gone. I'd even call the cops. So I'd ask him if he really wants to come and feels he can be pleasant the entire time. If he says "no" I'd have a second Thanksgiving at said restaurant with him and exclude him from this one. Fighting may be a way for him to get out of it anyway.

    Now about his siblings: Seems they like to push his buttons and that's wrong. I would also call each sibling and tell them you are going to have a holiday WITH HARMONY and they are NOT to talk smack about their brother. If they can't control that, tell them they maybe should not come. That is as wrong as his responses.

    Your house/your rules. Nobody needs to be bashing another family member under your roof. I don't blame your son for getting sick of hearing that. In my house, that would not be allowed at my table.

    I stopped worrying long ago. Everyone is different. He may not enjoy family affairs. I thought I was doing my oldest kids a big favor when I dressed them up all nice and brought them to their aunt's house. She had great food, everyone in the family, presents, you name it. Now that my kids are grown up all t hree, who are very different, tell me they enjoyed the few "at home" holidays we had much more than the one at auntie's house. They had various reasons. "I don't really like to have to act a certain way." "They are too materialistic and brag about it all the time." "I just wanted to be able to be myself." "I was always afraid I'd say the wrong thing." But all three, and two were not problem children, did not like the big family gathering and Here I thought I was making great memories for them.

    Your son is 17. I don't know how you can make him act like you want him to act if he doesn't want to. Honestly, this is not "tough love." This is just reality. I would just look very forward to this get together and not worry about anyone's reaction to it other t han your son. YOU seem all jazzed up and happy and that's a great thing for you. If your son does not share the same feelings, let him be himself. If he gets rude and confrontational maybe it is best for all if he is allowed to isolate. He isn't going to like his siblings who are mean to him. Why should he?

    Although the fighting would upset me, and I may set a boundary about that (only come if you are not in the mood to start a fight), actually not participate in family small talk...well, I empathize with it. Sometimes I had to go to my ex's huge family on holidays. This is not his aunt. This was my sister-in-law and her enourmous, kind, welcoming Polish family (you can't beieve how warm they were). But I was not one of them and I am beyond shy and uncmofortable in certain crowds. I kept a book in my purse adn tried to find the furthest corner to hide out in. I took many bathroom breaks with my So I get it.

    It is up to you, of course, and you will get various responses, but my own advice is to let him leave when he is no longer happy being in a crowd of family and demand (yes, demand, it is your house) NO SMACK TALK. If smack talk is allowed it is only a facade of a happy family. The black sheep or bullied family member most definitely is not enjoying himself and it can't be fun to hear other bashing their sibling. That is in my opinion unacceptable.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
  4. ForeverSpring

    ForeverSpring Well-Known Member last thing.

    "Hey, have you been arrested lately" would make me furious at the person who said it, not the person it is directed at. I would not allow that kind of smack talk at the dinner table for Thanksgiving. THAT is the person who would have to leave, not my son. To be fair, this has never happened to me and I am only thinking what I'd do. I think it is wrong to bring up things like this, trying to bait their brother, during a holiday such as Thanksgiving. The person who would say this is the one being very unkind and baiting him. I am not a fan of bullying. I don't blame your son for defending himself. I would have defended myself if anyone said that to me. In fact, if this were the rule, I'd have stopped attending family get togethers.

    Yes, I was the black sheep and it socked and nobody stood up for me. If this is a holiday for Mr. 17, no wonder he doesn't like it and expect him to stop coming when he is older. I can relate to him in this. Why should he come just to be criticized by his family? I was not the type to start a fight, but if somebody had said that to me, I would have stood up in tears and left the table and nobody could have talked me into coming back. I may even have yelled, "I hate you all" first. I never did have a close, warm relationship with my family because this is what I put up with over and over again and finally I decided life was better without them. I never forgot how my mom seemed to allow it. Not saying this is you or it will happen to you. Just relaying my story. I am since very anti-bully.

    This story is not to tell you what to do. It is to only share my own experience or bad memories with my own family and how it affected ME and only ME. It is just food for thought.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
  5. GuideMe

    GuideMe Active Member

    Orgami, I have to say,what they are doing is very rude, provoking and uncalled for. It's not funny and certainly not something that should be brought up at thanksgiving. Shame on the other family members who do that. It says a lot about them. That is not your difficult child fault, and in my opinion, he should stand up for himself. You also say if someone says something like that to him, that he should just go to his room. Why should he be punished? If anything, you should stand up for him in that particular situation if anything.

    Orgami, and of course I say all that in a loving way. I am by no means trying to come down hard on you, I am just simply stating it as fact, nothing more or nothing less. I know all of the problems you been having with him lately

    Also, there is nothing wrong with him disappearing or going into his room. I use to do that too because there was nobody at my family gatherings that I could really relate to. I was the oldest, by quite of few years, then my younger brother and all of my cousins and there was really no one to talk to. I did socialize though, talked to everybody, but after a while, I would just go do my own thing. It's certainly not something you should be embarrassed about or let ruin your holiday.

    Again, I say all of this with love and really hope it didn't sound harsh because I don't mean it to be at all. I know all of the problems you are going through and how overwhelmed you must be. I know he is no innocent angel, and he's been really bad, but he still has some rights like we all do and sometimes we need to be reminded of that. No one deserves having their mistakes, especially something as serious as getting arrested being thrown up in their face, especially as a joke. I'm sure they wouldn't like it either.
  6. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member

    I found this article and absolutely love it...I can't send it to all my guests but I will send it to all my kids. I particularly like the rules on "conversation" and "trouble shooting:

    and...I totally agree that any of the sibs bringing up unpleasant topics is not teasing or poking fun, it is harassment. Say something nice or don't say anything at all.

    Good luck! It is anxiety provoking!

  7. Origami

    Origami Active Member

    Thanks SuZir and MWM for reinforcing some things I had already been thinking about as well as some new things. Although GFG17 can be a handful in his own right, my so-called easy child kids can be downright nasty to him, but they feel like he deserves it. Maybe he does, but it doesn't give them a pass on their own conduct. As the youngest, they tend to gang up on him, even now. It's kind-of pathetic, actually. A lot of times GFG17 doesn't start the problem, but escalates it once somebody insults him. My daughter, especially, tends to be self-righteous and to try to make him feel bad about having dropped out of high school when she was a perfect student. I think he's doing pretty well despite himself by going to community college classes. Sure it's not Ivy League, but it's something.

    I don't have a problem with him retiring to his room after he's said Hello to everyone. I'd rather him stay and enjoy himself, but it's OK if it's not possible. And yes, I do think he's got "sensory overload" problems with crowds. Even as a young child, he'd get agitated in big stores, and when he was more like 10 or 12, would say that he just wanted to push everyone down and get out of there. I've wondered if that might be why he had so much trouble in school.

    So I think my strategy will be to communicate my expectations for a peaceful gathering with all the kids beforehand and try to relax and let him go away if that's what it takes. Sometimes he likes to help cook, so that might help him interact and not be so awkward, also.
  8. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    Sometimes PCs get rather snobby and entitled attitude, when they have siblings with behavioural issues. Maybe it is too easy to be 'the better or perfect child' and the par is too low for them. Too easy to feel good about yourself when you can always compare yourself to the train wreck. And much too little compassion and understanding that the troubled sibling really does have different cards than they do, that they are not just choosing to be bad while they themselves have chosen to be quick. When good kids make mistakes people tend to compassionate, give them breaks, believe their excuses and giving second chances. At the same time they see, how their troubled siblings are always in trouble, always having consequences etc. Makes them really feel they are truly better human beings than their troubled siblings (or friends or classmates. I was a good kid and I can really remember those thoughts and feelings, it took quite a bit growing up to really understand that those trouble makers in my class for example were not being bad just for the heck of it nor was I any better or more valuable person than they were.) That false superiority takes time to wear off. My easy child has also quite an amount of it going on. Tends to be ugly at times.

    It could be useful to let your difficult child know that you are a bit 'on his side.' That you understand these family gatherings are uncomfortable to him and at times his siblings are jerks to him. That you are really happy if he just stays polite and it is okay for him to go to his room, if he feels like it. And that while you would hope he would enjoy himself and have a good time, you are perfectly okay if he wants to socialize only a little. And that you will interfere if his siblings harass him and you would really prefer he wouldn't try to defend himself, because you believe the siblings are more likely to take it seriously, if you tell them that they are out of line.
  9. Origami

    Origami Active Member

    Echo, that article is priceless! I'm still laughing at the Seating Plan and the Conversation parts. I'm sending this to everyone in my family, and will read it out loud to those who I don't think will finish it on their own!

    I don't think you are too harsh, GuideMe. I've got a thicker skin than I used to since I started posting on this site!;) I have actually come to my difficult child son's defense many times when he was being picked on, and the older kids (really only two of them do this) think I'm making excuses for him. Well, I see these kinds of comments as unnecessary bullying also, and I'm going to make it clear that it's not appropriate. Isn't everyone old enough to stop acting so bratty?

    I really didn't mean I'd send difficult child to his room for standing up for himself, just that I'd allow him to go there if he wants to. He usually excuses himself after a few minutes of togetherness, anyway, and we're all used to that. I guess I was thinking it's kind-of weird that I don't insist on him sitting through the whole meal with everyone, and now I feel like you guys have validated that it's OK. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own little fishbowl of drama that it's nice to hear that I'm not crazy!
  10. Origami

    Origami Active Member

    Perfect, SuZir! I think this conversation would go a long way to making him and me feel better and more in control of the situation. Navigating the minefields of the holidays, aren't we?
  11. GuideMe

    GuideMe Active Member

    and I just read the other comments on the thread, I didn't read them before I wrote, and I really hope you don't feel overwhelemd by our co

    Man, I love this Suzir . This applies not only to difficult child's but for many other facets of life. I love this so much
  12. GuideMe

    GuideMe Active Member

    Thank you Orgiami and that means a lot! You know I'm right there with ya! As for the latter part of the quote, that's fine, they can feel that way and express it to you, but just tell them there is a time and a place for everything and a Holiday is not that time.
  13. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member

    I love this! Perfectly said.

    My easy child's aren't mean to difficult child to his face, but they can be quite awful about him behind his back. For a long time I supported that because I felt that his life story had brought a lot of badness to their lives, and I didn't want them to bury their feelings or not feel validated...but enough is enough. In the some one else said, aren't we all grown up enough to stop being bratty?

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  15. Origami

    Origami Active Member

    Just thought I'd update as to what happened since you were all so helpful in getting me past my pre-Thanksgiving anxiety. I talked to difficult child and he had talked to his therapist the week before everyone arrived, and agreed that he could try to make an appearance at dinner, say "hi" to everyone, and then play it by ear. He even had arranged with a friend to escape to his house overnight if things got weird at our house. I asked him what he would do if his sister or anyone said something he didn't like, and he said it wouldn't be an issue since he didn't plan to eat dinner with us.

    My oldest son and his wife arrived a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and difficult child talked to them some. He also helped me with a lot of cleaning, which was surprising since he's usually not that helpful. On the day itself, we had the whole family along with the other guests (17 people in all). difficult child came out, said Hello, got his food, and went to his room to eat. This is pretty much normal everyday behavior for him, and there were so many people that it didn't really seem odd. The only conflict we had was when my oldest son told my daughter to stop eating so many deviled eggs and she started crying! I guess I wasn't the only one who was anxious.

    Well, here's hoping that we all have some unexpected moments of peace and harmony through the holiday season. I've decided to stop worrying so much and try to enjoy myself. My family's not the one you see on the Hallmark commercials, but I'm OK with that (usually).
  16. Scent of Cedar *

    Scent of Cedar * Well-Known Member

    So good to know your holiday went well, Origami. It makes me happy to know you were all together. Seventeen people!

    I love deviled eggs, too.