Competing with in-laws for a Thanksgiving visit

Question: My daughter has been married to "Peter" for eight years, and they have two awesome girls, 4 and 1. They live near his parents. Thus, his parents can enjoy seeing their granddaughters at least once a week.

My wife and I organize a family reunion every Thanksgiving with our two sons, daughter, their spouses, and kids. My sons and their families are always eager to attend, one of them flying from Europe.

My daughter and her family are not coming this year because Peter says they must go to his parents' house for Thanksgiving.

Is this fair? His parents can enjoy the kids whenever they wish, while all we are asking is a day for a family reunion. Money is not an obstacle. I usually pay for flights, hotel, etc.

Answer: Ooh. You used the F word - fair.

You are asking only for one day a year, yes, to their 50-to-200-ish days.

But you are also asking for the same holiday every year. If I were those parents I would grant you that, gladly (and gratefully for my enormous proximity advantage), but I also understand that people are funny about their holidays and their kids and grandchildren. I've heard over the years from plenty who live close by and see their families often and are still saddened they will never see X branch of their family on Y holiday, therefore never sharing this or that cherished tradition with them.

Perspective counts, of course, and - again - putting myself in the position of the in-town relatives, I would concede Thanksgiving without hesitation to the out-of-towners, because my advantage is that steep.

But in addition to their having a possibility of a point about Thanksgiving, there's also nothing at the end of the "It's not fair!" road except resentment and hard feelings. This is not a court case or a track meet. There's no set of laws or rules spelling out what you win. These are families with full autonomy to blow you off for no reason. The best outcome you can hope for lies in your ability to be cheerful, understanding, and flexible about what this young family needs.

"We've had a monopoly on Thanksgiving, I understand that. But we miss you guys! And this is the one time our family gathers. Can we arrange another time to have you come here?"

Deep breathing until you can say this to your daughter without blurting out, "and they see you all the freaking time." Because if being right were all you needed to get your way, advice columns wouldn't have made it out of the 1600s.

You are right. Now, for your own sake, release that and go to Plan B.

Question: My mother means well, but she knows no boundaries.

When I moved into my current home with my husband, "John," and our 7-year-old son three years ago, we invited my mother over to see the new house. We were annoyed but not surprised when she found our spare key and made a copy for herself.

Since then, she has seen herself in at any time, without calling in advance. When we are not home, she moves our furniture around, rinses our dirty dishes without soap, and puts them away (still dirty). She throws out things she assumes are trash - including my debit card recently and, in the past, my diamond earrings. John went Dumpster-diving to rescue them. Last week, she tried on John's glasses and then lost them. We later found them bent and buried in a hamper full of our dirty laundry.

I've told her repeatedly that, though we appreciate the gesture of doing house chores very much, it is not necessary and we would appreciate if she left them to us.

My mother is very sensitive and emotional, so it is particularly difficult to discuss these concerns without her getting defensive and causing a scene in front of our son (yelling at us, sobbing uncontrollably, guilting him into being mad at John and me for saying anything to her). We try our best to de-escalate these scenes, but the only bait she'll take is in the form of profuse apologies and admission of being wrong. We're getting nowhere. Any advice?

Answer: Um, yes.

Change! The! Locks!

And please, please talk to a good family therapist, by yourself. You're right, Mama has boundary issues to spare, but that's her side of the boundary. An ability to hold your side is all you ever need.

That small obstacle is Everest, though, unless you know how to clear it - and with your mother as your primary teacher, of course, you weren't taught how. No shame there.

But do rectify this now by getting professional guidance to understand the dynamic, learn to say "no," and hold firm through a scene. Your mom's, your son's, anybody's.

Not that you can make her get it, but your mom clearly needs help of her own. Remember this when she feels too strong to resist.

tellme@washpost.com.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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