20-40-60 etiquette: Leaving no stone unturned

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QUESTION: I have one of the most peculiar questions I think even I have ever come across. The answers as to what I should do that I have received thus far from two different people has been “No” from both a mother and from another family member.

My mother-in-law has requested that her children, spouses and grands get together for a craft day. Specifically, for a craft day for her. She has this vast garden and wishes to have steppingstones made by each child and family (total, that’s more than 15 people and mostly men).

She said that if they wanted to make one to take home with them, as well, that would be fine, but that the project was primarily for her garden. This isn’t the first crafting project that has been made for my mother-in-law without producing a copy for anyone else, and some have been rather odd.

What brought this up was a proposal I made to my MIL about having a ladies’ Pinterest day, just for her and her daughters and daughters-in-laws — totaling five of us, which I think is really enough in number for a quiet crafting day. It wouldn’t take much time, it wouldn’t cost a lot for everyone to participate, and everyone would leave with an experience, a little bit of food tasting (because you always eat when you meet), and a project they made to take home.

But my mother-in-law just has to have all this chaos rather than letting someone create a really great experience; also, a “whole family” craft project just screams mess, disinterest and ruining someone else’s stone (there is some dissension in the ranks, to say the least). I think it would more wear and tear on a peaceful crafting day than I need.

Please send along your advice.

CALLIE’S ANSWER: I am someone that doesn’t love crafting. I usually get anxious because what I thought in my head is NOT what my craft looks like. In turn, crafting is not a stress reliever for everyone. I am a people pleaser and would probably go to avoid conflict. Try to enjoy it and have a good time. Remember, you can’t control the situation, but you can control your attitude. Hope it goes well, good luck!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: First, I understand that this crafting day isn’t going to appeal to everyone in your group. It’s hard to find anything that appeals to an entire family because families aren’t formed around common interests but made up of separate people who are thrown together by birth or marriage. Second, your mother-in-law’s expectations of an ideal family gathering may collide with reality in the chaos. I don’t know what your relationship is with her normally, but from afar, it looks like she’s trying — trying to bring the family together, trying to hold on to mementos created by her family, trying to create memories. She could also be controlling, or maybe you wish she would ask you what would work with your family instead of dictating it. But in any case, that doesn’t mean everyone has to participate. Whoever can go should, suffering through or enjoying the chaos, and those who can’t should gently decline the invitation. She might be disappointed, but you aren’t responsible for her disappointment. Perhaps those who can’t attend (or aren’t crafty) can suggest going out to dinner with her or spending time with her in another way. Visualize this as an opportunity to get the family together and don’t worry about whether others want to be there or not.

HELEN’S ANSWER: It sounds like your mother-in-law just wants you all to get together. Whether everyone participates in crafts, or not, is up to them, as everyone does not always have the talent to do so, or may just not feel creative that day. But, it is their choice. All you can handle is whether you choose to go and create a steppingstone on that day, or not.

Suggest the Pinterest Day again. It sounds like a great idea.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Patti Leeman, local volunteer: The steppingstones in a mother-in-law’s vast garden could have been a great surprise gift for the mother-in-law if the family had thought to do it as a Mother’s Day or birthday gift. However, that didn’t happen.

My reading of the situation is that the problem HERE is more than just the stones, but if I am wrong, Plan A. might be to give her the name of a couple of landscape services who could help with such a big undertaking in much less time. Pass the hat among yourselves and give her money as your joyful contribution.

A suggestion for Plan B is that you tell MIL that the family craft day from time to time is a good idea, and might work best if each family member suggests a project, takes a vote before starting, and those who can participate will have fun with it while those who cannot participate this time can do so the next time. And C, the Pinterest Day as your suggestion, sounds like a perfect place to start.

However, you probably remember Bobby Burns said way back in the 1700s that “THE BEST LAID PLANS … OFTEN GO AWRY”, so don’t be surprised if Plan A, B and/or C falls apart. At least you will have tried.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email