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We have a 15 month old child. He is the only sub 10 year-old in my side of the family. I recently got into a dispute with family, as they wanted us to arrive for a family occasion at a specific time, not earlier or later (reason: don't want too many people in the house at the same time). Whatever the reason, we would be happy to oblige if it wasn't for the child; for a variety of reasons related to the child, 30 minutes earlier suited us much better, and did not have any direct impact on the hosts other than the above reason.

We were told by an intermediary family member, that this demonstrated a lack of respect to those who were hosting the event. I replied that when it comes to anything involving a family with a small child, that you should not demand anything in terms of timing, but, understanding the complexities of managing little ones, a mutually agreeable consensus should be reached. I was then told that we "cannot go through life expecting everyone to do what we wanted to on our own timescales" (this straw man type argument is a familiar pattern with some members of my family). It was said that when their kids were young, they always bended to fit in with other people.

This was said by a member of my family who had children (many years ago) and presented as if it was an undisputable fact. However the experience of my wife and I completely disagrees with this. If a friend invites us to a social event and the time doesn't suit our daily pattern we either decline (not a realistic option with a family get-together) or suggest an alternative time (usually reaching a compromise). My wife's side of the family are all too willing to make sacrifices/compromises in order to accommodate us & their other grandchildren (eg multiple sittings for meal times to suit various routines). Herein lies another issue with dealing with my family - when they present things as fact which I find not to be true in my experience. I don't know how to approach it constructively - it just turns into a brick-wall situation where person A states scenario X is true because of person A's experience, and person B disagrees because of person B's experience.

A few extra things to bring more colour to the scene - I feel that better direct communication prior to the day with the hosts could've improved the situation, I did not know how important it appears to be that we turned up 30 mins later, and perhaps they did not know the ins and outs of our child's routine (but should they need to know that? Is not a request from the parents enough - we are not intentionally awkward people). They were also a bit taken aback when we said we needed evening food some 2 hours before everyone else had theirs, but they coped with that. They gave us some bread & cheese, which was fine, we didn't expect them to bring the full evening buffet forward for us.

My one thought as justification for the families' attitude is that my family are too far away in years from the time when they had little ones to remember what it was really like.

Also, by "routine" I mean his nap time, his meal times, and the fact that he falls asleep in the car very easily (which can be a blessing and a curse).

This leads to a few questions. 1) Who is right - is it ever OK to demand a fixed time of arrival for a family with young children. I am not asking this because I want to say "ha the internet I was right" but more to test our parenting radar/intuition. If I am considered right then it will boost our parenting self-esteem, if not then we will try extra-hard to be humble in the future.

2) Am I right to expect higher standards from family members in terms of catering for our us and our little one, than from friends? Are the standards I am expecting unreasonably high?

3) Crucially, any suggestions on how to move this forward? At the moment I feel reluctant/trepidatious about spending more time with the family on away turf, as I feel they will be unwilling to make compromises (around timing and other issues) for the sake of my child (this fear is based on this & other incidents, where a quiet calm request to do things differently for the sake of me or my wife has been met with a (sometimes aggressive) no). I have already listed above a couple of the difficulties of discussing issues with my family but here's another one. My wife & I would rather sit down and calmly discuss issues whereas my family are a lot more aggressive with disagreements, and rarely seem to actually resolve things. I (correctly) believed as a child that there must be a better way to resolve differences than this.

EDIT clarification:

Thanks for the responses advising to say no to family events, I see the reasoning behind it and will probably try to use it in the future.

However it was not an option on this occasion because it was a two-day event, that we had already committed to. We were only told of the time requirement in the last 10 minutes before we left at the end of the first day, and much of the food prep had been done for the next day. So to have told them we couldn't make it from there would've been, understandably, taken rather badly by the rest of the family (some of whom had travelled 3+ hours to be there).

I'm not sure what we could've done differently on this occasion (ideas welcome), just that we can chat about it with the hosts to avoid the scenario in the future.

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    I think this question has merit and is related to parenting, but it's also much too long and comes across as a rant. It probably should be limited in scope some to have a single, coherent answer, and remove a lot of the self justification and complaints - those are probably relevant to you specifically, but they don't make this a particularly good question for StackExchange. – Joe Dec 23 '14 at 7:16
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    Joe - I was conscious of this but was also trying to provide enough information for people to give well-informed answers. I really tried to not make it a rant though. Also, the answers suggest it's OK to turn down a family invite - OK in general it perhaps is, but on this occasion we had already accepted the date. The precise time was only given to us the day before. Since they already some family with them we were a bit taken aback when we were given a precise time for arrival. (See, I did cut out some details!) – TheBloke Dec 23 '14 at 9:00
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    Not really worth a full answer, but have you tried reaching out to other family members to swap timeslots? (You mentioned that they don't want too many people in the house at the same time). If you can find a relative who was given a timeslot that works better for you (and your time slot works for them), I'd present it as a fait accompli to them. "I'm sorry, X'oclock doesn't work for us because Timmy needs his nap. But I talked to Uncle Joe, and he's willing to swap spots, so I'll see you at Y'oclock, OK?" – Allen Gould Dec 23 '14 at 16:02
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    How firm are you on this 30 minutes? I have seen times where a friend will evoke the "oh that's her naptime" rule as if it's set in stone, but if it's something she wants to do suddenly it's a little more flexible. If you bend the schedule for some things and not others, I can understand why they might be a little upset. (My personal take is they should just "go with it" but I at least see where they're coming from if that's the case.) – corsiKa Dec 23 '14 at 16:14
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    You got some nice answers (because this is all about boundaries), but I just want to add: To me, 30 change in time is not unreasonable. But I am not fond of tight schedules, and neither is my husband, and our kids happen to be flexible when it comes to naps, meals and so forth. Maybe because we were never firm on 'have to nap at this time'. So maybe your family DOES remember having little kids, but took a different approach. – Ida Dec 23 '14 at 21:59
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This is interesting; it's only tangentially related to parenting, though. It has more to do with etiquette.

Is it ever OK to demand a fixed time of arrival for a family with young children?

Of course it is. The host/hostess can demand anything they like. You, however, don't have to give in to any demands made on you. You can simply - and you do have this option with family as well as all others - to politely explain that you'd love to attend, but because of conflicts with your baby/toddler's schedule you can't. The host can then decide whether it is better to have you over a different time or to flex with your schedule. Or, if you want, you can offer to get together with the host/hostess at another, less busy, time that is more to your family's convenience (at your place of course, or at a restaurant).

Declining is a realistic option with a family get-together. If you matter to them, they will somehow readjust.

Are the standards I am expecting unreasonably high?

"I'd love to come, but can you have a meal ready for (whomever) at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.?" is an inappropriate request. When hosting a meal for many, the hosts have a lot (usually on a timetable) to do. To ask them to also whip something special up for your child is an unreasonable expectation. You should always bring your child's food in this situation. When things are less hectic, the hosts can often be more flexible, so maybe less hectic is better for you.

My wife's side of the family are all too willing to make sacrifices/compromises in order to accommodate us & their other grandchildren. ...[M]y family... present(s) things as fact which I find not to be true in my experience.

This is a blessing and a comfort. I would be grateful for a family that puts a high premium on seeing everyone over "rules". But this is your wife's family. To expect your family to behave like them is fruitless on your part. You have the family you have. To find your footing within that family takes more than demanding something different. It takes negotiation.

Families are strange. Some families are comfortable with working out conflict. Some families avoid it at all costs. The only family you have real influence over - if you want to call it that - is your own small family. If you value flexibility, then be flexible, don't expect everyone else to be flexible while you remain rigid. That belies your true values. Do unto others, and all that. On the other hand, you don't have to be a doormat.

You and your wife get to decide how much interaction you want with your family. Just as they cannot force you to behave in a certain, painful manner, you cannot force them to behave in a certain, painful (to them - and that's their decision, not yours) manner.

To me, it sounds like there's room for flexibility on both your part and on your family's, but I am only getting your side of the story, and one event.

Evaluate what is important to you, and how you can realistically achieve this (if you can). Set reasonable, well thought out boundaries that you can live with. Do teach your children by example the model you would like them to adopt.

Below are some resources on boundaries - what they are, how to think about them, and how to set them. It requires a lot of thought, honesty and strength to set reasonable boundaries and to recognize unreasonable ones. Boundaries allow you to reduce exposure to or eliminate truly toxic persons from your life: those who want to manipulate, abuse, and control you. Defining your boundaries is good for you. But remember, you can't set someone else's boundaries, only your own.

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People
Delicate Art of Pushing Back
10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries
You ARE Allowed To Have Boundaries With Family
How to Create Healthy Boundaries

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  • The meal request was only made on the day, when it was apparent that it would be an issue - and was actually for my wife & I - we had food for baby. We had meticulously planned our meals through to the Christmas getaway so we were "banking" on having tea there. On this issue we just need to communicate more in advance, where we would be flexible - perhaps "you could sort us out food earlier or we can leave earlier, we don't mind which." Also, great links, thanks! – TheBloke Dec 23 '14 at 15:18
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    "[Y]ou could sort us out food earlier or we can leave earlier, we don't mind which." You should not ask for an earlier meal. You shouldn't put your hostess in that position. Just leave (quietly and politely). You can stop at a restaurant after you go. – anongoodnurse Dec 23 '14 at 15:23
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    We all want to feel valued, wanted, and loved, but you can't force someone to show it. Be polite and leave. If they object and insist on making you a meal, that's great. If they feel bad that you didn't dine with them, they may ask you to join them in a meal another time. But don't presume any hostess wants to cater two different dinners on the same night. It just isn't so. – anongoodnurse Dec 23 '14 at 19:00
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    I couldn't agree more. It's one thing if they want to extend the invitation or offer to accomidate your needs. I wouldn't think it appropriate to suggest it. – peege Dec 24 '14 at 0:38
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    @anongoodnurse has it right. State what you can do. State what you can't do. Be respectful where things don't work out. The question, "shouldn't my _______ do what is best for me?" really insults them! If someone offers me food or timing that doesn't work for me, I don't treat them like servants needing to obey a foreign god and obey my preferences... yet, the question comes off quite like treating family like that. +1 anongoodnurse for a balanced answer. – Sylas Seabrook Dec 27 '14 at 4:43
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I can speak from personal experience with situations like that.

  1. We bring our child's meals with us. We prepare everything and have little containers always. So our child isn't involved in anyone's eating schedule.

  2. When dealing with scheduled events, if I experience what you just described with people getting angry at me and my wife because they don't understand that poop shoots out of the butt when you don't want... Or naps interrupted 15-30 minutes early means 2 hours of moody and crying kids AT THEIR HOUSE! I simply explain those facts to them, and if they still don't get it, I will politely decline their invitations in the future for failure of being able to conform to their strict timelines.

"We aren't able to commit to any accurate time frame so we will skip this time. Thanks for the invite" That puts it on them to either excuse the tardiness and accept it without complaint or be happy you aren't coming.

or

"We aren't able to make it." You don't have to provide a reason. Let the adults figure it out. When they are demanding, you don't show. If they want you in their lives, they can compromise like you do.

I admit, I use conditional training on people the same way I would pets. It works. I don't have to argue. If I have an unpleasant family outing that is recurring, I will simply skip the next ones and if when I go back, it's the same, I stop going. There are too many places to be and people to see in this life to have negative encounters WILLINGLY or BY CHOICE.

It might be stubborn, but to me, it's really simple:

I am not going to get STRESSED OUT to go to a RECREATIONAL EVENT then let that stress and anxiety pass on to my child who is actually paying attention to subtle mood changes and might get a clue that they are somehow involved or responsible for my stress. If it's a holiday, and family wants to fight about ANY details, I abstain from participating. I like hanging out with like minded folks who are compassionate and loving. If my family isn't that, then they can see us at MAJOR family functions like funerals and things or events that I HOST on my terms.

There is no reason to be angry or mean or argue about any of it. Call it Passive Aggressive if you want. I don't care what anyone thinks about it. I have to manage my family the best way I see fit and I'm not going to pass anxiety on to my child because another adult has unreasonable and rigid control issues. Also, I respect and love my family even if they are rigid, and want to respect their rules. If I can't conform to them, I simply can't participate. OUT OF RESPECT TO THEM.

It's how I choose to live. Of course I live in the U.S., where it's in the Constitution that every person is able to pursue happiness however he/she sees fit as long as it doesn't affect another person's ability to do the same. So it's been pounded in my brain from day one to stand up for these ideals, as opposed to a culture like China's where family is far more important than individualism.

Cultural settings can complicate this, and political reasons also. Such as, the person hosting might be supplying something to you, and you can't afford to make them angry. If that's the case, I'd find a way out of their help and take care of your needs without the assistance of a family member who sets conditional demands of conformity to their ideals.

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    This is a much better version of what I would have answered. ""We aren't able to commit to any accurate time frame so we will skip this time. Thanks for the invite" is a perfect response. I've never heard of family saying, "Be here at precisely [X]." That's pretty absurd when you already bear the onus of having to travel. Traffic changes, weather changes, sometimes your kid decides he throws up on car trips now (as we recently found out), potty/rest stops vary. Even if you're not travelling far, etiquette usually dictates that you oblige your guests, not the other way around. – user11394 Dec 23 '14 at 2:34
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There are several ways to organize your lives when it comes to the unpredictable nature of small children. One, which your family is using now and claiming to have always used is "suck it up, buttercup, your kid can nap/eat/have a bath earlier or later than usual, it's the holidays and a sacred family time." Another is "whoever has the youngest child sets the schedule and the location, and we work around what that youngest child needs." Many families, including your wife's it seems, use this one.

You can find plenty of people to tell you that one or the other of these rules is objectively better - in the quality of the family get together, the kind of child who is raised in that environment, or the arguments the family doesn't have. I'm not going to get into that. Both positions are quite easy to defend and to attack.

What matters here is that your family happens to have chosen the first approach. What can you do about it? Try these on for size:

  • Agree to whatever plan they have, then arrive 30 minutes early anyway. "Oh hey everyone, great to see you! This little angel woke up early (or did some other co-operative thing like didn't take nearly as long as usual to eat) and the traffic was amazing so can you believe how quickly we got here! Great to see you all!"
  • Stick a 30 minute bonus into your schedule - leave 30 minutes early because that works for the little one, and then spend that time at a park near their house, or a fast food place with a play area, or a mall. This keeps the little one on your schedule and no-one's the wiser. If you also need to leave earlier because of this, when it's clear that the little one needs something that can't happen at the family gathering, you can always leave early, people understand leaving early when toddlers are having a tough time.
  • Stick to their schedule, and if the little one is having a tough time of it, do whatever you need to do including leaving. This might mean taking the little one to a quiet room upstairs and missing most of the get together, putting the little one in the car and going for a drive, or going home early. Apologize for missing part of the get together and look forward to next year when your little one is sure to be a little less schedule-and-tension-sensitive
  • Don't go. Feels like an overreaction to me, but if the meltdown to the little one from a 30 minute schedule disruption will last for days, stick to your guns and say "see you all next year!"

About the worst thing you can do is get into an extended argument through an intermediary ahead of time to try to prove your point. People always forget how hard it was when they had toddlers and regale you with how they did x, y, and z - and sometimes you can prove they never did. My own family contains a person who always insisted Christmas come to her because her kids were little, and swore she would come to us when we had kids, but never did, her chorus then having switched to "but this might be the last year they're home for Christmas" - she had 10 or 15 such "last years" before realizing they will always be home with her for Christmas. We saved our breath and didn't remind her what she promised us, and did what was right for our family.

Remember, whoever you're arguing with doesn't get to set your parenting style, so you don't need to convince them that it's right. Long arguments over a 30 minute change in arrival time are pointless. You won't be turned away if you arrive early, no matter what was argued in advance. You have options that don't require permission from the hosts or this intermediary.

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I will admit that I see the same situation in my family and we are Italians! The same thing, I think, could happen everywhere in the world nowadays.

+1 for anongoodnurse' answer, because I find it appropriate and clean in every situation which involves little kids and their parents...

In our case we decided to decline all invitations (by friends, by parents...), if their timelines were colliding the kid's nap and meals...

We can go as soon the kids will grow up...

Is it too bad? I don't think so.

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