The girls insist on opening presents for their younger cousins and brother at birthday parties where the family is included. While this was acceptable when the younger cousins (and sibling) were too young to actually open their own gifts, it really isn't anymore. The mother has taken to appeasing them by allowing them to open one gift for their cousin that is the honored guest on a given day. This includes when she is not the hostess and has nothing to do with any of the party planning or anything. Don't ask me how they get invited to any one's parties because I really don't know. It seems this SIL's friends invite them all the time (perhaps she enforces better behavior at her friends houses).

These same cousins have also broken a brand new toy and chopped the hair off a brand new barbie doll that was a gift. When confronted, the mother's response? "Well, she'll never notice anyway, its not like it was a favorite toy or something."

  • 2
    ha ha how did I know just from reading the title that this would be a question from you, and about the same family! Maybe it's time to distance yourselves in general from this family? and/or have a serious conversation? Nov 27, 2012 at 22:03
  • believe it or not she is the one sister-in-law of four My husband and I even remotely get along with. She is WAY tamer than the other sisters or the parents in law. All of whom we really only associate with at Thanksgiving and Christmas (every-other-year). Nov 27, 2012 at 22:23
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    Well i also believe that people do the best they can with what they've got/know. Obviously I don't know your family, but this mother is probably doing the best she knows how to do. Especially if the rest of the family is more out of control, this is probably what she grew up in, so it would make sense. I've got some sister-in-laws myself. Sometimes just remembering they're doing the best they can helps. But, of course there's no reason you can't offer something different. Ideally just being around your family will demonstrate an alternative and should/could help. Nov 28, 2012 at 1:07

4 Answers 4


This is a territory problem, but not I don't think in the obvious way...

If it's your kid, it's the territory between your house, your rules, and the other kids family's way of doing things. It's all about domain.

I'm assuming we're talking about elementary aged kids. There's a lot to be said about what kids know at that age that can't be quantified. Whether or not they act like they know it is another conversation, but there's tons of rules and order that is imposed at school that they follow every day. You can and probably should use that routine sense of order.

Before the gift opening part.

Alright kids, new rule. My house, my rule: Only Finn gets to open Finn's gifts. Nobody else.

"Well can I" "No."

"What about" "No."

Then the inevitable bitching. That's when you pull out the paraphrase of the golden rule.

"Marceline, treat other people the way you want to be treated. Would you want Finn to open YOUR gifts at Christmas? No you wouldn't. He feels the same way here."

Now... based on the comments to the OP, it seems that this may put you in a bad way with their parents. But the bottom line is that you're not setting family rules for their unit, but you're setting domain rules for your domain. And there's no part of this conversation where you will be in the wrong.

You're pissed at me because I won't let your kid open my kids bday gifts?

Of course that's getting outside the scope of this post and the forum...

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    "but--" "No." I love it! Nov 28, 2012 at 21:07
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    I didn't say it, but sometimes you need to say "No." just like that. Sometimes less really is more, and if you say more than just "No" it can actually give ammunition to the target for an argument. Even if you say "No, and that's final" it wasn't really final because you had to add more to it. "No" just says no. And, simply put, no means no.
    – monsto
    Nov 29, 2012 at 19:53
  • @monsto The funny thing is, in this case it isn't even about "If it's your kid, it's the territory between your house, your rules, and the other kids family's way of doing things." These two girls don't have to let anyone else open their gifts - or play with those gifts so it isn't even really "their" way of doing things either - mom just lets her eight year old get away with throwing fits. - yes, Crikey! Dec 6, 2012 at 20:00
  • I finally decided I'd better "accept" one of these wonderful answers. Yours would likely work in most situations AND it's funny. Jan 26, 2013 at 20:04
  • It's funny because I'm awesome. Thanks (=
    – monsto
    Jan 28, 2013 at 12:03

If my child was the guest of honor, and I was the hostess, I would just say "No, it is so and so's birthday." You can say it to the cousins and avoid the mother if you want. Probably better to have this conversation in advance with the mother on the phone. "So, I know in the past we've let them help open presents, but it bothers me because.... Instead, could we _? (Or, I'd like to....)."

If they get mad and stop hanging out with you, even better it sounds like.

This could make sense when they're all toddlers, but even then I don't think I'd do it. I mean, they're already getting invited to a birthday party where presumably they are participating in the rest of the festivities. If this new ground-rule bothers them too much, they don't have to accept the invite (same with the rest of this family's issues you've mentioned before).

Really, I think you need to talk with your husband about this one and decide together what your stance is and stick to it. A united front is always best, just like in parenting.

  • @balancedmama, I don't see a problem with these questions, I'm sure you aren't the only one dealing with it. I guess it's not directly parenting related, per se, but it seems relevant still to me. Nov 27, 2012 at 22:26
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    The youngest is super close to Alice's age and they adore each other and have lots of fun - its the rest of the family. . . We actually got to have just my nephew for a one - night sleep over last weekend and it was really fun. Plus we convinced him to start brushing his teeth and taught him how so he wouldn't have to have cavities as much. Nov 27, 2012 at 22:31
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    @balanced, Well, as always I think the important lesson is you can't, and shouldn't try to, control someone else's behavior. In this case your sister-in-law. Decide what YOU will do and can live with in your house and set limits accordingly. Family is family, but you can and should still set limits to protect yourself and your comfort. If they choose not to visit as a result, so be it, but as long as you are respectful, clear, and consistent, then you've done what you can do. And, you may not have support from the rest of the fam, but that's why I suggested talking it through with your partner Nov 27, 2012 at 22:49
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    +1 for making a plan with your spouse first and then stand firm as one family against that other crazy, crazy family. I pity the kids, growing up in that environment. It's not their fault. (Also, all of these questions so far are perfectly within the site's scope. Carry on!) Nov 28, 2012 at 6:30

We chose to do something not suggested here already, but that I thought might help others to know about if anyone else out there has similar problems. The other ideas were both great but included the assumption that these are reasonable people being worked with and the reality is, they aren't.

I actually tried to have a convo about it with hubby and sister and she managed to convince the rest of the family I have a control issue because I think Alice should be allowed to open her own gifts and choose not to play with those gifts right away with her cousins. She is pretty consistently a parent that cares more about taking the easiest route over the best route (in terms of lessons for her kids) I'm sure in most situations a convo would work well.

We no longer invite any of them to her birthday parties. By not inviting any of the cousins, no one is being specifically singled out and the reality is that she has a big enough core group of friends she'd rather see at her parties anyway that her parties are plenty big without forcing an inclusion of family members.

To still honor the family connection, we hold a dinner party gathering at a restaurant that is a central location and on no-one's turf. Since there are usually only a few presents and we are all sitting around a dinner table, it seems not to be an issue because the problematic cousins are busy at the other end of the table arguing about who dropped whose fork. It also means no one expects any of the new items to actually be opened and played with or anything. Everyone pays their own food-bill even. Alice is very happy with this situation as are we.

Added benefit - we aren't getting invited to, and expected to attend every single one of the growing number of cousin's birthday parties anymore either. We just send a present and make a phone call.

  • I suppose that works . . . but it's the chicken way out! (= JK of course. Maybe it's just A-Hole me, but I rather enjoy telling fambly members when I'm tired of them. Thins out my calender and gives me more time to spend with the people I actually like.
    – monsto
    Jan 28, 2013 at 12:08

Another solution that might work is to simply put off opening presents 'til everyone (or at least the offending parties) have gone. Or compromise, and only open the presents that are from them?

It might be a break with tradition, but that could be preferable to a break with the family. In some cultures it is not the 'done thing' to open presents immediately, because it makes it look like you're more interested in the presents than in the people who brought them. This 'knowledge' could be used to spin the thing appropriately.

Alternatively, if you're feeling especially bold, you might want to think a bit more about why the current system is bad for these girls (rather than why it is bad for your kids), and talk to the parents in those terms.

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    Yeah, that would still be telling her she's not making good choices for her kids - no matter how diplomatically done, this kind of thing does not go over well with her. She stopped talking to her parents for three months because they critiqued her for having alcohol in front of her kids at parties and stuff. She hates Charlie and the Chocolate factory because it blames the parents for something "out of their control." Otherwise, I'd generally agree with you too. I wish I could do something for these kids, unfortunately, sometimes you just have to find ways to live and let live. Jan 26, 2013 at 20:07
  • @balancedmama To be quite honest, I think it's pretty bloody puritan to object to people drinking alcohol near kids. Drunk people falling over children? Not on at all, definitely. People having a couple of glasses of wine in front of children? Perfectly, perfectly acceptable. Studies have shown that children are much more likely to grow up to drink irresponsibly if they aren't exposed to alcohol as much while growing up.
    – user7729
    Jun 3, 2014 at 11:15
  • @MilesRout, did you miss the 'not talking to her parents for three months' bit? :)
    – Benjol
    Jun 3, 2014 at 11:29
  • @Benjol I saw it. It's not relevant to my comment.
    – user7729
    Jun 3, 2014 at 11:37

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