Friday, October 29, 2010

Help-less Houseguests

Dear Grace:
Last Christmas we had a house full of my spouse's family. Unfortunately, the in-laws did very little to help out during this hectic time. I want an easier holiday this year but they're all coming back. (Don't ask). How do I diplomatically suggest to my in-laws that they should take us out to dinner one night or help us clean up?

Grace says:

I find it astonishing and alarming that house guests do not automatically offer at least one night off for the hosts whether it be taking everyone out to dinner, treating for takeout, or even cooking a meal or two themselves. But if it were automatic, then I might be out of a job. So....

Here are several suggestions, starting with the gentle hint and moving to sledge hammer:

1. After dinner is eaten, don't move. Remain at the table and see if anyone lifts a finger to clear the dishes. We'll cross our fingers that the hint is received, but based on your letter I foresee at least the need to move on to step 2...

2. Ask nicely. Say, "Sue, Bob, would you mind helping out with the dishes? I need to bathe the kids/order some last minute gifts/finish my holiday cards/chew on some nails so I don't drive them into your skull. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and it would really lighten my load. Thanks." Then leave the room and do exactly what you said you had to.

3. Don't cook one night--make reservations or order pizza. Let your guests know these plans and, without overtly asking, provide ample opportunity for them to pony up. Don't immediately reach for the check when it arrives. See if they want to ride with you to pick up the take-out, or have them answer the door when the delivery arrives. Passive aggressive, yea. But effective, quite possibly.

4. Bring in reinforcements. Invite a friend for dinner who is willing to loudly and assertively state that the cook should not have to clean up. Embellishments involving your status as galley slave and good guesting practices optional.

If the maid thing is in your repertoire, waiting on your in-laws hand and foot may not be exactly what you had in mind. Here's another example of the maid thing gone awry which made me chuckle.

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