Christmas dinner hosting responsibilities aren't to be taken lightly. There's the menu to set, the house to decorate festively, and the excitement of gathering all of your busy family members around the table to chat, relax and enjoy each others' company. You're looking forward to an intimate dinner with "just family," but...
Your teenage son wants to bring his new girlfriend, that moody one who reeks of cigarettes and is always rolling her eyes. Then your daughter says she wants to invite her BFF, but when Hayley's around, all they do is text and giggle. Plus, your recently divorced sister has a new "love interest" she wants to include and you've never even met the guy.
It's not the intimate family gathering you envisioned, but is there a way to cut off the guest list without upsetting your loved ones?
If it's important to you that holiday dinner be "just family," says Toronto-based chartered psychologist Lesley Lacny, you should let your family know how you feel. Help them understand why this is important to you, she says, but at the same time, be open to compromise.
"As it may be important for others to have those that are important to them be a part of holiday time, explore opportunities and options to have both," she says. "You can keep the intimacy of the holiday meal while creating other opportunities for less intimate or larger events."
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Lacny says you could suggest someone else host another event, or consider splitting the events of the day. For example, you could have a family meal and then invite other guests (like your sis's new mystery guy) for drinks later in the evening. Or when it comes to your kids, maybe "extra" people can come for dinner, but Christmas brunch is for family only.
Be careful, however, not to come across as uptight and bossy. Make room for changes in your plan and don't forget to embrace the generous spirit of the season.
Joe Rich, social worker and author of Parenting: The Long Journey, says that when it comes to your teenaged children, the answer should always be yes. If you're thinking about telling your kids they can't bring their friends to holiday dinner, "Stop that immediately," he says, and change your attitude to, "Everyone is welcome."
"These are teenagers. If you can get them to dinner and they bring their friend, who cares?" says Rich. "People say, 'I'd like to have just one weekend where it's just us,' and the answer is, I don't think that's going to be happening. At some point in time, they may want to come to dinner without their friends, but in the meantime, the more inclusive your home and family is, the more you will know where your children are. And that's a big deal in today's world."
As for your personal feelings towards these guests, put them aside for the event. In the world of adolescence, says Rich, ideas of inclusion and exclusion are so important -- if a family is inclusive by nature, the child will feel that and so will their friends.
"Inclusion doesn't mean accepting everything, like giving them a beer in the basement. It just means, 'your friends are welcome here,'" he says. "Anything that brings them home, brings them around is the right way to go."