Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have no idea why this annoys me this much, but my sister is a control freak. Recent example is that her husband and daughter will be visiting for a single overnight, but of course they can’t call and make arrangements themselves. So she calls with a demand that we throw a party for my father the night they’re here.
Does my father want this party? No. Will my brother and his family contribute? No, but they’ll show up to inhale food. Every single person, including the 8- and 12-year-olds, is a phenomenally picky eater. You know, the kind who don’t think they’re picky, they just have only three foods in the intersection of “healthy” and “tastes good,” and they think these aren’t preferences but universals. So if you have the audacity to feed them something else, you get a lecture on the perils of fat, bread or fruit.
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I don’t care if they want to get carryout or eat spaghetti, but if you want me to throw you a party, don’t expect me to play short-order cook. This happens every visit, and the sister spends weeks before the visit trying to micromanage food, and years after the visit telling us we did it wrong. And then she gets praised for being a Good Leader.
What I don’t understand is, if this happens every single visit, why I’m still annoyed by it.
— Squeaky Wheel Sister
DEAR SQUEAKY WHEEL SISTER: What I don’t understand is why you still cater to it, literally and figuratively.
If all they eat is X, Y and Z, then, fine, serve X, Y or Z — as long as it doesn’t involve driving all over town to buy quinoa, kumquats and agave nectar. That’s just practical, plus serving them W just to make a statement is glassbowlery.
As for the party, you just say no. “Dad doesn’t want it and I’m not planning it. But I’m looking forward to seeing Husband and Kids” … without you there to micromanage them, which you don’t actually say, but I’m certainly thinking it. Might be interesting, no?
Anyway, you’re no doubt as annoyed with yourself, for kowtowing, as you are with her. Stop indulging her demands, her nagging, her harsh reviews. Just, “Noted, thanks,” then buh-bye/click/delete.
I think your response explains why I cater to it: because it just seems practical. But when you throw together nine picky eaters, it becomes time to call a restaurant. Obviously, right? But that’s not homey enough or something. I don’t even know what the unspoken rules are — that I have to find a dish that will feed everyone so it’s a family dinner?
— Squeaky Wheel again
DEAR SQUEAKY WHEEL AGAIN: Yes, or two or three, buffet-style. Abstainers are welcome to a bowl of cereal.
If the picky eaters in question are all picky for different things, then opt for the restaurant, since getting berated for what you serve guests isn’t exactly “homey” either, unless your idea of home is subterranean and very, very hot. High-maintenance people will squawk about the restaurant, too, but at least you’re not the one in the kitchen.
Either way: Decide what accommodations are reasonable to you, provide only those, then shrug off any flak. She can give orders, but she can’t make you take them.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living