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What Etiquette Do You Expect of Your HOST?

Here's the situation. My mother-in-law likes to have dinner parties but she expects me, or other female guests (like her other daughter in law), to do a lot of work to help her. Set the table, lay the food out, clear the table, do the dishes. It's a fair amount of work, as we all know. I work full time, and very long hours, and live about 50 minutes drive from my MIL. I don't want to go over to her house and work her party!

When I entertain I ask my husband and housekeeper to help so that my guests can be guests.

My husband told his mother once that if I am invited as a guest, I like to be a guest, and I didn't like spending the evening working in the kitchen. So, after that, next party, she had her neighbor help do all the pre work and then come over to do the dishes afterward. I was so embarrassed and sent that neighbor home. Today she invited us for dinner in March or April and, guest what, I'm not going!

This is perhaps better suited on Craigslist under "Rants & Raves" but the question is whether as a guest do you volunteer to help the host or if the host asks for significant help, how do you feel about that?

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  1. Bless your husband for protecting you. I am all for honoring the MIL. But I have big problems with people who have parties and expect others to bring the food, clean the house, run the party, do the clean up. If you can't do the party alone, get some help. But don't expect family/friends to do all the work.

    If you need help pay some one, guests should be guests, not guilted into the being unpaid heip. If she askes the neighbor, let the neighbor do the work.

    I don't thing a guest should feel they need to offer to help or provide food. They are a guest. If the host askes for help, that has to be decided on an individual basis. But every party asking for help, I don't think so.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Janet

      Thank you for the support! I should have let the neighbor do the work, in retrospect!

    2. Wow, it makes me wonder what your MIL has left to do herself. Actually, in my mom's family, which is quite large, many people do participate in hosting duties, not just those at whose house the gathering happens to be, but no one pretends it is a "dinner party" at which some are guests and some are hosts -- it is a family gathering at which all family participate in cooking or washing up or taking care of the little kids while others are doing the cooking, etc. Personally, I love those gatherings. But if it is a dinner party at which most attendees are treated as guests, then it's wrong to invite you and then treat you as household staff.

      1. I can see asking for help from a relative, but that's ridiculous. And to have the neighbor over for the prep and the clean-up but not the party is kind of atrocious. My mother frequently asks me or my aunt to help out at her larger parties, but we are usually just there to keep her company and to set out the condiments or slice up the cheese--nothing that could be considered "labor." If you can't handle the party on your own and have to hijack your loved ones for the evening, you should have a smaller and simpler party. Your husband sounds like a gem, but it might be fun to ask your MIL why she hasn't asked HIM to help out at the parties:-)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Heatherb

          I do like to help here and there, but in a way that any guest would....
          My husband is a gem but his mother never taught him to do anything around the house. She did everything for the boys and thought that there time was better spent on other things - sports, homework, whatever. As a result, he really learned a lot from me when we hooked up! :-) Until he met me, he never loaded a dishwasher, cleared his dish from the table, and I could go on and on.... Now, he appreciates how nice i try to make things for him so he pitches in a LOT ona daily basis and more so with parties -- but he does expect me to have my housekeeper to help with a party because he wants to be a guest too.

        2. Personally, I just love to be invited out. Our group of friends love to get together, but because we are one of only two couples without children, we end up doing most of the hosting.
          I'l eat anything (or try to-we had a BAD Paella experience once),drink anything (there's always water), help out with the kids, whatever...
          Just happy to be a part of it all! :)

          1. -----

            I am with Heatherb on all points mentioned, but wish to add some things.

            There seems to be a guilt trip associated with your MIL I mean now that you are declining invites, I believe something is getting strained that needs to be nipped in the bud.

            Anyway, I have seen this sort of thing hit my Uncles and my Dad of which doomed the relationships with my grandmother with her in-laws. (My aunts)


            1. If I'm invited and expected to do a lot of the work, I seldom accept, which seems to be your solution. However with family I have to make allowances. My MIL won't allow any help with her parties, other than the barest minimum. I feel guilty not contributing but that's her choice. My SIL expects a lot more - I usually bring one or more dishes, and DH who is famed for being the best cleaner-upper anyone knows, always gets stuck with washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. So we don't accept a lot of her invitations, or make sure we don't get there too early or leave too late. The BIL and his wife don't invite anyone, not since the disastrous Christmas dinner featuring tofu (she's a militant vegetarian). After that we all made sure we were too busy to accept their dinner invitations.

              When any of the family comes to us for meals, they don't do anything to help. Which annoys DH immensely. It's become a point of friction and I don't know how to make it go away.

              3 Replies
              1. re: cheryl_h

                You're so mad that your family "(doesn't) do anything to help," yet after acknowledging how good you guys are at bringing dishes and cleaning up, you say you "make sure we don't get there too early or too late" so you can't possibly help out. You shouldn't be angry when they return the favor.

                I only wish I had a large family that got along enough to eat big meals together. I'd be happy to help with the prep and cleanup, and let my family do the same at my house. There are gentle ways to encourage help -- and nothing wrong with "Do you mind helping me please?"

                1. re: Covert Ops

                  We adopted our passive behavior AFTER years of being treated like servants. Please note that I do not include MIL in this, only my SIL and BIL. We have asked for help when they come, we are polite and there is no hostility. They have never helped and clearly have no intention to. This is now accepted. Recently we were invited to a casual dinner at SIL. DH flatly said (to me) that he wasn't going over to eat a bad meal and spend two hours cleaning up afterwards. So instead we visited for an hour or two, had pleasant conversation with people we genuinely love, and left.

                  The last straw came when we hosted the family Christmas dinner a few years back. I took three days off work (I am the only adult female with a full-time job in DH's family) to cook, clean and prepare dinner for the extended family plus various visiting friends and SO's. The family includes vegetarians and vegans so cooking for around 20 people is a mammoth task. Everyone arrived, ate and drank for several hours while DH and I served, cleaned up, loaded the dishwasher etc. No one lifted a finger. After they left we cleaned up until well after midnight.

                  This Christmas dinner followed Thanksgiving at SIL's where I made all the desserts (4 in all) for 15+ people and DH did all the cleaning up afterwards, while the family was chatting in the living room.

                  My MIL just spent 2 weeks with SIL who was recovering from surgery. On the way to the airport with DH, she remarked that she never wanted to be a maid. This 84 year old woman did all the cooking and laundry for 3-8 people, including 2 of her grandchildren aged 25 and 30, every day. Apparently we were the only ones to take her out and give her a break. Now she has first hand experience.

                  The relatives are not bad people, just thoughtless. But it's a problem which I don't know how to solve. We enjoy them and they us, but we resent being treated like the kitchen help.

                  1. re: cheryl_h

                    Cheryl what a rough situation. I hate to say it, but I think your hubby's solution is to go over and just refuse to do all the dishes afterwards. So when your SIL makes the "so good at cleaning up comments", he should first try to goad others into helping such as "I'm sure bill is just as good. Come on Bill, let's go have a beer and do some dishes." Either way, after a med size job or 10-15 min (see my post below), he should say, "Well I don't want to spend all night in the kitchen. Wonder what's on tv (or whatever other excuse he can think of)" and leave the kitchen. He should also refuse all of SIL's attempts to get him back. It will be hard to leave with the kitchen full of dishes and a SIL who is expecting clean up, but it will be worth it. sigh...how can people not know what's expected of them????

              2. With my family scattered throughout the US family gatherings on "my side" are rarely an issue. Plus, we more likely to meet at a restaurant than cook in our own kitchens these days. Deciding which restaurant is about as complicated as we get.

                However, my dh has a large (and large extended) family who live close to one another and get together often (birthdays being the most celebrated occasion after major holidays). As the grandchildren have gotten older "attendance" is a bigger issue then ever. Most dinners are prepared by my in-laws and everyone (my bil & sil) helps where needed. The occasional "family squabble" has sent emotions high and frankly they can be hard to avoid if you really want to be heard...HOWEVER....

                I'm a firm believer in "new day, new start." If we have a bad experience with one family gathering why take the attitude that the next 20 are doomed to the same fate?!! I believe it does more harm than good to take a "I'm never going there again" approach to family.

                Friends can be easier or just as difficult around issues of etiquette but more often than not we forgive friends faster. Family, love em or leave em, deserve patience and the benefit of being our family members.

                Unless you are willing to distance yourself from family (who you hopefully have a million reasons to love) for the long term, food and entertaining etiquette should not ruin a relationship.

                Communication, even when difficult, is far more enriching than losing faith over one meal.

                1. I think that what the OP is looking for is constructive help...

                  "but the question is whether as a guest do you volunteer to help the host or if the host asks for significant help, how do you feel about that?"

                  Why is she being harranged for how she had dealt with the situation in the past? Right or wrong, it's in the past...

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: troutpoint

                    Interesting...I did not read this incident as in the distant past but one that would set the tone for any future attendance.

                    I'd like to hear more from the OP on what she was looking for from family gatherings.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      Well, at this point, so much noise has been made about it that I really prefer to go out to a local restaurant! My MIL is not physically very able and for her to put on even a small family dinner party is TOO much work. She rests up for days before just to have the energy to do it and then is out of commission for a couple of days thereafter. It pains me to see her go through so much and I don't think she should do it. If she were willing to hire help, such as her housekeeper, I would feel less guilty and angry about the whole thing. She's against the housekeeper idea even if I were to pay for it.

                      1. re: Bite Me

                        This really sounds like a personal/family issue not one of "chow" or even etiquette. So I am going to give advice along those lines.

                        If she has never hired help in her life you are not likely to change her mind now. It sounds like the family gatherings are important to her. Can you compromise a little? Can your husband do the work over there? Can you relax a little in your reactions to her solutions? She has tried to appease you by 1)asking the neighbour 2) praising you when you help out. Maybe this is passive-aggressive bitchiness on her part, but maybe it's not. From your reaction to the neighbour, you seem a little defensive and guilty on the issue, frankly. It sounds like she can't win unless she stops having the parties or she does it your way (hire the outside help). I understand why it's not fun for you, I wouldn't want to drive that distance to sing for my supper either, but can you compromise a little? Take her out to dinner, have dessert at her place? And once a year let her "host" in her way. It sounds like it means a lot to her and she might not be able to do it all soon enough.

                        1. re: Bite Me

                          Bite Me, there's always a way for everyone to enjoy a family meal together. Compromise has been mentioned already and that's good advice. Ask yourself what matters most and you'll find a way to enjoy a gathering alot more.

                          I'm sure each of us can point to a meal that was more stressful than enjoyable but don't let it be the marker. Forgive, forget and enjoy the next meal.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            I want to point out once more that these are not family meals, these are parties that the MIL throws for her social circle. This is a critical point, though even in the case of family meals I think that while it's easy to ask the reasonable person to turn even more somersaults for the ill-mannered person it is rarely a very good idea particularly when each event creates the expectation of greater and greater indulgence.

                            1. re: Kater

                              Actually, while many of us were speculating about this, I think Bite Me cleared it up (a few posts down from here) that these are family/extended family gatherings.

                              1. re: Kater

                                Thank you Kater. Etiquette, altho a tricky topic, is not a battle in my household. Ever. Bite Me, good luck to you. Helpful insight on this thread.

                      2. I"m interested to know, are these dinner parties for family only (i.e. she expects the family to all pitch in to a family meal), or are you essentially feeling like hired help to serve her other friends?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: nummanumma

                          You're right - there's a significant difference between a "just the family" (and by that, I would mean the MIL and her spouse, her - or their - children, their spouses and children) dinner/event and one that included a large extended family and friends. Family event - put your apron on, cookie, and attempt to be happy you have a family that (seemingly) enjoys family events. Otherwise, I'd say moderate help in judicious doses.

                          1. re: nummanumma

                            family and extended family....and when I do pitch in, now, she makes a big deal out it, like it's a rare event that I wash a dish....

                          2. Have you ever talked to your mother-in-law directly? Could you and she make some kind of compromise that you won't always do the same chores? Maybe you could set the table, the other daughter-in-law lay out the food. Spread the work out. Better yet, buy her a dishwasher!

                            1. BiteMe -- I totally feel your pain, the double standard makes me see red. When I was a young girl, I watched my mother slave in the kitchen with all the other women while the men sat around and chatted. I swore I would never have that happen to me, and my intense career focus is due in part to observing that inequity. I appreciate your husband defending you, but why didn't he get his ass in there and help his mum, rather than just tell her not to ask you?

                              I think it's a generational thing. I love my retired MIL, but her dinner invitations sound like this "hey, I am really busy these days so could you drive an hour to see us on X day that is convenient for me, bring that great filet mignon you get at your special butcher, and when you get here, could you fix the computer and grill the steaks. Don't forget to bring that great steak shake we like too. We haven't seen you in a while, why don't you visit more often?"

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: orangewasabi

                                You must work for the White House and tape the calls from my MIL.

                                Only difference is I respond, "is there anything else I can bring to make?"

                                I LOVE the idea that my MIL and FIL feel comfortable enough to ask me to cook for them. Hey, I love to cook, I love to see the faces of my loved ones smile when they cut into one of my meals, and am glad I am part of their family.

                                I agree with you that the son/husband should have pulled his weight but am not sure whether it was a gender-based activity, women to the kichen, men to the TV. If it was then all hands on deck. It's a family and everyone pitches in.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  you know, it all started because WE offered to bring the meat over one time and they liked it (we can't convince my MIL that it's the cut, not the butcher -- she truly believes the difference between the potroast from her butcher and the FM from ours, is the butcher's technique). And since my MIL is aged, I totally understand US driving to them. It _is_ nice to feel part of one's IL's family.

                                  However, it bugs my husband, who is the one who has to stand in the rain BBQing for the rest of us and he's my #1 priority, much as my MIL is important. So, I let him determine how often we visit and what we bring.

                                2. re: orangewasabi

                                  She raised her boys to not do anything, and I mean anything, around the house! My dear husband has had quite the education with me!

                                  1. Personally, im happy to help. A dinner party is like an iceberg - the day of the party only represents the tip of the work and effort that went into planning, prep, cooking, etc. I used to follow the same rule as you - i wouldnt let anyone help out. The end result? I'd be up until 5am doing dishes. After a few friends forced their way into helping, i realized how much quicker, and easier it was for everyone, and how everyone (including myself) got to enjoy the event more.

                                    My only problem is that she seems to ask only the "female" guests. Why should her son, or other male family members be excluded? Certainly everyone can set the table, clear the table, wash dishes. If this was me? I'd solicit your husband (who seems very supportive) and get him to hook other male relatives into helping out. Many hands make light work.

                                    1. While I do always offer to help, I wouldn't be thrilled at always being *expected* to help. How hard would it be for her to set the table ahead of time? Maybe she needs to downsize or easy-up the menu a little if she's so overwhelmed that she always needs people to help her out.

                                      But mostly, get your husband to get in there and help her along with you. If she shoos him away, you leave the room with him.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                        To help simplify the dinner we have brought it in from a local place that we all like and that's a lot less work for everyone, or we have gone out. Those appear to be the two best ways to ease up onthe work.

                                      2. Dh and I both have small families. My brother will host us and we host him but my brother and I have a long standing "Don't help me and don't expect me to help you" policy that works for us. My in-laws are another story. They have never contributed anything other than their appetites to a meal and even when we go out, it's fully expected we will pay for dinner, make the reservations, etc.

                                        1. Man, I had to double-check to make sure I wasn't the original poster on this one. My MIL used to do that to me all the time for her formal parties - not for family gatherings - everyone helps at family gatherings. But for her formal parties, I HATED it. I always wound up being the nicely-dressed scullery maid in the kitchen and didn't get to visit with any of the other guests, who are mostly mutual friends. She would always ask me to "just help make sure people's glasses are full" and "just pick up the empty plates" and "just load them in the dishwasher" and "just make sure the food trays stayed full" and "just make sure the appetizers go into the oven at 7:30 and come out and get placed on the trays at 8:00". I finally nipped that in the bud by hiring help for one of my larger parties, and she immediately imitated me, letting me off the hook for future gatherings.

                                          Unfortunately, I still have the problem of both my in-laws "helping" at my parties. After our Christmas party this year, I discovered that my in-laws had continued their tradition of taking people's plates and depositing them in the kitchen for the girl I hired to wash. The problem was that people weren't finished using them and wanted seconds from the buffet, but felt like they had to turn their plates over. I was pretty mad. I told my husband that the next party we have, he has to sit his parents down and tell them that they are NOT to help in any way, just be GUESTS and let the people we are paying take care of the dishes. I understand they're trying to be nice, but to me, it sends the signal that the party is over and makes my other guests feel like they should also be helping.

                                          1. Would the original poster mind disclosing what culture her MIL might come from? Because I know with some cultures, the daughters and daughters-in-law are expected to shoulder quite a considerable burden, and the obligations can be quite tiring and quite a shock if you're not used to it.

                                            One thing the OP says in her post, though, is that they require quite a bit of work AND her MIL likes to host these parties frequently.

                                            If many of these are family gatherings, I would suggest to her that she and her husband very politely and enthusiastically suggest that they love seeing her and the family gatherings, but these parties must be a lot of work for her and wouldn't it be wonderful if they all just go out somewhere (at an appropriate price point for everybody) this time? Or suggest something very simple like a BBQ or potluck picnic which would cut down on everybody's labor but still allows everyone to visit.

                                            If these are more involved dinner parties, I don't think it's inappropriate for you to decline to go from time to time. I don't think it's appropriate for her to expect you to "work her party" when it's not family, and it's not really quality time spent with her. What I'd suggest instead is that you and your husband drive to see her separately and take her out for a nice meal.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: sidwich

                                              Culture - Jewish, around 70 - 71, and as I have said in reply posts above she intentionally did not teach her boys anything about household chores, clearing a dish, etc. She thought their time was better spent on other things - sports, school, etc. She was a stay at home mom. My poor husband has been through culture shock with me becuase I have him doing all kinds of stuff around the house!

                                            2. Hmmm. I think that if a MIL or to be honest any family member is hosting a dinner party then 'family' tradition might make people get up and ask if there is anything to be done, but really, at most, bring in dirty dishes. But I don't think it should be expected or required because yes you're family but you are still one of the guests. And it usually goes that people like to chip in when it's not expected.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: JSM

                                                I've read the replies to this, and it seems to me there is an inherent difference between family meals or get-togethers, in which every one should pitch in (men as well as women), and formal dinner parties that the MIL is hosting and happens to invite relatives, whom she then, per the OP, expects to assist in all areas.

                                              2. Well, personally, I don't consider family "guests" nor vice versa except for a couple of the really far flung ones, so the basic notion of communal preparation wouldn't annoy me. What would piss me off about this is in a big way, what exactly are all the men doing while this is going on? Out hunting the night's main course? If everyone's helping out and socializing that's one thing and to me, enjoyable, but if it's a thing of her considering you "one of the girls" who should automatically be "helping out in the kitchen" - screw that - where has she and those other relatives been for the last 35 years?

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: MikeG

                                                  Families are like that. . .my husband can cook and clean, but at my MILs house it was the women cleaning up while the men watched TV. And frankly I wouldn't want my FIL anywhere near the kitchen, hers or mine, and someone needs to keep him company by the TV.

                                                  Is it enlightened? No way. Do families do things the way they do them anyway? Of course.

                                                  1. re: Covert Ops

                                                    My mother in law expects her two daughters in law to buy the food, cook it and clean up while she, her husband, our husbands and her own daughters sit and rest. She throws a bit of a tantrum if my husband tries to help me explaining that she wants a chance to talk with him! (Alrighty then, let me get right back to cooking the food I bought you while you enjoy his company.) When they come to my house they do not lift a finger. Needless to say I minimized contact years ago and prefer to entertain them at my house which is large enough to hold them all and well equipped.

                                                2. When my two brothers and I and our families dined at my parents' house, the three of us always did the clean-up, same as when we were kids -- Mom was not getting any younger and she'd been on her feet for hours cooking for us. Our spouses did nada. When dining at my MIL's house, if she asked for my help more than I wanted to give, I'd just say:"Oh, I'm pretty pooped, but I'm sure your son would love to help out." Worked for me. Helping my mom, sure -- helping my MIL when her able-bodied son was at hand, nope.

                                                  1. I think there's a big difference between small dinner parties among friends and big family gatherings where one person is hosting because they happen to be the only family member with a big house or whatever. If it's a small party, the guest should not be obligated to do anything unless it's understood that it's either a cooperative effort or there won't be a party at all. Most real friends will understand and offer to help anyway. With family, the "guests" are often guests merely because for whatever reason they are not hosting. My opinion is that they are getting off easy, and should expect to pitch in a bit, even if not asked to do so. No matter how much they do at the party it will probably pale in comparison to the people actually hosting the party. But like anything else, these issues are typically all about communication (or lack thereof).

                                                    1. I'm a little confused. Bite me says "after that, next party, she had her neighbor help do all the pre work and then come over to do the dishes afterward. I was so embarrassed and sent that neighbor home."

                                                      Did MIL hire the neighbor? Or was there some other arrangement between them? Why was Bite me embarrassed? It seems (obviously I may be misunderstanding the situation) that MIL heard the message, and responded in a way that served her need for assistance and spared Bite me's unhappiness with the situation. Why is this an unsatisfactory solution?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Meann

                                                        No, the neighbor wasn't hired. The neighbor was just agreeing to help MIL out with the clean up work. I was embarrassed because I'm sure I appeared to be a stuck up spoiled brat (and maybe I am), but I had been honest with my MIL earlier: I don't like to work 16 hour days on a regular basis and then go to someone's house and clean up. Even if its' family. My SIL has the same hours as I do and feels the same way -- and even more so actually. But, I'm sure that the neighbor thought it was all kiind of wierd. Maybe I should not have sent the neighbor home after all....

                                                      2. I find it saddening that female relatives so often fight and develop deep resentments towards one another while shouldering the burden of "women's work". I don't mean to be naive about how entrenched are gender roles, nor do I dispute that the average straight women is probably a better cook than her husband. I recognize that there may be generational, cultural, and other differences within any family. But it makes me furious when men "try to help" by making botched attempts to negotiate the relationships between the women in their lives instead of actually pitching in to get the work done. And its even more disappointing when the women then applaud those men.

                                                        1. "But it makes me furious when men "try to help" by making botched attempts to negotiate the relationships between the women in their lives instead of actually pitching in to get the work done."

                                                          Why? What made family relationships "relationships between the women"? Unless of course you're OK with outcomes that may work for the women in isolation, but wreak havoc on the family as a whole? Or do you also have some black letter rule for how the "men" (not to mention the other women and kids) are supposed to accept the outcome? So when MIL and DIL decide that, when you come down to it, they don't like each other and would prefer not to see each other, everyone just says OK and pretends like it's not happening? Wouldn't it be wonderful if family relationships (of whatever gender, sexual orientation, age and/or biological relationship) were that simple....

                                                          1. I think it is poor etiquette for the host to start counting the silver before I have left and made a clean getaway :)

                                                            1. For me, the most important thing a host can do is: don't make a a big deal of my eating habits (I'm vegetarian, and I always warn ahead of time) or force me to defend them - and don't allow others to do it, either. (Note: I'm otherwise very easy to please when it comes to food. I just don't want any animal flesh.)

                                                              I've seriously had another guest harass me about how "unnatural" vegetarianism is for the entire meal while the hosts just sat back and watched. The food was great, but I'm never setting foot there again.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: piccola

                                                                Ditto that!! I still recall a party at a friend's, where her family essentially used me as a punching bag / joke-butt, ragging on the fact that, no, I don't want to eat critter, thanks. Last time I ever attended one of those functions, and I did explain why to the friend. To me, it would be as if an avowed pro-lifer attended a dinner party and the fellow guests regaled him/her with fried baby fetus jokes... But of course, if you don't sit and take the ribbing with good humor, you're cast as either the militant vegetarian or the self-serious type who can't take a joke. Argh.

                                                              2. Thanks to all for candid and helpful insights.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Bite Me

                                                                  Good luck to you Bite Me...sometimes it's a brave proposition to share personal reflection on Chowhound. I hope the thread was helpful to you.

                                                                2. I don't get it! If it's a big party where lots of extra help is needed, why can't you have a conversation with MIL about hiring a body or two to help out with the food prep, serving and clean-up? It doesn't have to cost much, and it'll be well worth the cost. Sure, you can hire pros through a local caterer, but you can also hire a couple of responsible high school kids who will be happy to earn the extra cash. When I entertain, I want my guests to be guests. MIL is already paying for whatever food/wine is on the menu. A few more dollars won't break her, and will make a huge difference all around.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                                                    People, particularly order people, can be downright mental about hiring help. They have all kinds of strange feelings about their place and feel that it is not their place to hire someone to perform those kinds of tasks. Oddly imposing on others to perform the tasks for free is usually not a part of this strange inhibition! Also, some people are just not able to pay for something that they 'could' do themselves or that they could get someone to do for them.

                                                                    1. re: Kater

                                                                      Maybe I was thrown off by the use of the phrase "dinner parties" because that, to me, connotes more-than-casual entertaining where attention to details (flowers, wine, dinnerware, table linens, etc.) matter. In such circumstances, where the cost includes the details that make for a nice party, it's not out of line to factor in the cost of prep and clean-up; even hiring someone to come in and clean the house the following day isn't out of line. That MIL hasn't done this before doesn't mean she can't start now. Either that, or don't complain about doing the chores she expects of you.

                                                                      1. re: Kater

                                                                        You have said it very well-- thank you! My MIL will not spend any $$$ to hire help, and she won't let me or my husband pay for the help. No hired help, period. My own mother will not hire help for anything but, thankfully, my mother also does not entertain -- ever. I thought hiring assistance was the way to go from Day 1, but that just wasn't meant to be.

                                                                    2. I think the rules for attending dinner at someone else's house are:
                                                                      - If it's your family, do what you've always done. At my mom's house, that means my brothers and I help with the dishes and the clearing. The guests don't have to because they're guests. I usually ask DH to help as well, although he often gets baby watching duty post-child.
                                                                      - If it's anyone else, including inlaws, guests are *supposed* to offer to help clean up and clear. If you're taken up on it, you are not required to do all of the dishes. Spending about 10-15 minutes or completing one med size task is more than enough. If for some reason you choose to do more (e.g., large amt of dishes, good friend, etc), that's up to you. In the same vein, hosts are *supposed* to expect to clean it up themselves. Of course, if people offer you are welcome to take them up on it. However, to give directions for a really big job is just rude (unless said directee is your daughter or son - then see above rule).

                                                                      So for the OP, if your MIL was having a big party, expecting others to help clean up is rude. She can take you up on it if you offer, but it is your choice, just as it is your choice at what point you stop helping. Because you've explained that she is not able to clean up after a big party, it's a good idea if your DH has another conversation with his mother next time this comes up. Something like, "Mom, my wife doesn't want to spend all night in the kitchen. How are you planning on getting the dishes cleaned up? (if you are financially able) how about if I hire _____ to do the cleaning up?" I agree that MIL was likely getting in the neighbor to make you feel guilty, but if that's her solution....really, it's a case of standing your ground, unfortunately. No matter how much of a jerk you feel like, you did are NOT responsible for this. Your MIL is only taking advantage of you because she can.

                                                                      I have pretty strong feelings on this topic as I had 2 different friends who used to allow and expect me to clean up and clear and host their parties for them. It was chaos when I finally stopped doing it and I felt so guilty, but it got the point across. Sorry you're in such a position. MILs can be the toughest to deal with!!!

                                                                      1. Bite Me, I sympathize. In my experience, issues of food and family (espy family-by-marriage) are pretty much intractable; there's very little you can do.

                                                                        I know plenty of families in which only the women are expected to do "family work." IMO the best answer to this is for your husband to voluntarily help, at your side, as long as you do. No need to make a big deal out of it, and you'll never shame the other guys into following suit - but it's fair and should make you less resentful.

                                                                        Beyond that - no, you're never gonna persuade her to hire help, and whether she's being passive-aggressive really makes no difference. I would avoid ultimatums and frankly even explicit conversations addressing the issue. She's old, she's not gonna change, there's no point in stirring up trouble and drama - IMO the best you can do is handle this the way that tortures you least. The goal is to minimize your rage without giving rise to a whole bunch of guilt :-)

                                                                        1. A few observations.

                                                                          1. I would think that anyone who goes by "Bite Me" would be able to take care of herself.
                                                                          2. Being raised Japanese, I don't/can't let anyone help out in my kitchen.
                                                                          3. I'm often simply assumed to be the guest chef for other people's get-togethers. But if I cook, I then order other people--usually males--into the kitchen to do the cleanup.
                                                                          4. Enjoy your families and ILs. Think about life without them.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            I love your comments and insights Sam, Thank You!

                                                                          2. i don't mind if i'm asked to cook, prep, barkeep, clear the table or do the dishes (not too wild about mopping the floor but, if asked, i'll do it). i usually just look for something that needs doing.

                                                                            contributing to a successful dinner is very satisfying.

                                                                            1. It seems like your MIL doesn't understand the difference between a family gathering and a dinner party. Maybe you could tell your MIL that for awhile you would like to attend only family gatherings at her home and with some collusion with your SIL to get the men in the kitchen as well, maybe you won't feel so much like a employee at MIL's house.

                                                                              1. Bite Me,

                                                                                There were so many subplots on this thread and the mods were all over us as we swayed off topic and got nixed. I've waited a few days to return to the thread and glad I did as you have given a lot of perspective on the situation. A couple of observations.

                                                                                1 - Trying to change 70+ years of training is difficult. As I am sure you have experienced with updating your boychik. Hopefully you have moved closer the the middle ground line as well during your marriage. I have learned a lot from DW and, athough she won;t admit it in public, she from me.
                                                                                2 - My FIL is a boy's first old-school type as well. The most he does in the kitchen is ask for something, and place some sweetener in his decaf. Been like that for the 25+ years I have known him. They tried to raise DW and my BIL in the same mode, but both decided they did not wnt to live in the 1940's. You gotta speak with your BIL to help as well.
                                                                                3 - Whenever my family and extended family get together my generation does most of the work. We all pitch in, males and females. My SIL probably does the least work and DW and I get a laugh out of it on the drive home.
                                                                                4 - Have you thought of bringing your housekeeper to the family events to assist?
                                                                                5 - Relax and understand that the IL's will not be with us forever. You do not want t o have the last conversation with your MIL be "I'm sory, but since you make me work when I come over for these dinners, I'll have to decline the invite." That will be MUCH worse than helping out an elderly lady. Just think about it.

                                                                                Hope this helps.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                  jfood --yes your comments and insights do help and I thank you for them! I have learned a lot from this thread and I am pleased that the posters revealed so many different and interesting points of view. Unfortunately, I failed to mention in my posts that I actually have a very good relationship with my MIL. I've shared the posts with my husband (the boychik) and, today, as he was heading out the door to his regular poker game, he said, "gee, I thought that women liked to clean up after dinner at other people's houses --isn't that when they complain about their husbands?!"

                                                                                2. In my house and my dinner parties, I make sure my menus are attainable myself. I do most of the prep in advance and I just clean as I go. When clean up is upon me, I make sure my dishwasher is empty, LOAD IT CORRECTLY and I am home free. I do not allow guests in my kitchen. If you have so many people that you have to hire "help" to make your party flow, there is a pretty good chance you should have been in a more formal venue. I personally would sell my kidney to have the extra money to hire "help" to enjoy dinner with my friends.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: chelleyd01

                                                                                    $10/hr times 4 hrs = $40 = no need to sell a kidney, at least in S Florida that's what it costs. Not saying I do it everytime, but if i'm having a dinner party that will create lots of dishes and for which I have already spent a ton of money, $40 is not much more.

                                                                                    1. re: amyvc

                                                                                      I'm in suburban Philadelphia and that pay rate is unimaginable, I'm paying more than double that plus tip! But I agree that hiring help for a larger party is the smartest way to entertain a larger group or entertain more formally. Entertaining at home is much more personal and you're options are endless. I can't think of any reason to conclude that using help at home is an indicator that you've chose the wrong venue.

                                                                                  2. It goes without saying that the host of a formal dinner party never asks a guest for help. Indeed, he -- or she -- has the onerous responsibility of providing all the elements essential for such an event: choice from among a broad range of before- and after-dinner libations; tempting canapes, attractively presented; the full spectrum of well-prepared and delicious courses, appropriate to the season; and a correctly set table, featuring beautifully laundered and pressed linen, impeccably polished sterling in the appropriate configuration, sparkling porcelain and crystal in the correct sizes and shapes, a lovely and properly scaled centerpiece, and the required number of candles.

                                                                                    On the other hand, in return for the exactions of hospitality, the polite guest never, ever fails to offer to help!

                                                                                    1. I used to dread going to my ex MIL (for a number of reasons lol) but she was just like yours in that I was expected to do it all for her.

                                                                                      One Christmas Eve she invited us over in the afternoon - I was a newly wed with a 3 month old baby) ostensibly to hang out with the new baby etc before dinner. Little did I know that dinner was for 25 people. Her cook was there and suddenly the MIL announced to me she was going out and would be back by 6pm, leaving me and her cook to do the whole Xmas thing, turkey, cranberry sauce, sides, desserts etc.
                                                                                      What annoyed me most was that having created an amazing meal for 25 and having to feed the baby twice in that time frame, when a guest stood up to thank her for her hospitality she didnt' have the grace to say I had done pretty much all of it. Feh!

                                                                                      1. Reading all these responses (especially the ones relating to gender-based issues) has made me put a note on the November page of my calendar: get my son to help clean up at Thanksgiving! We are always invited to a dear friend's gathering, and the males, with the exception of dear friend's husband, never pitch in. It's usually dear friend and I cleaning up, for the most part. Even the "young ladies" don't help. I think I'll make my son help, even if only for a few minutes, to show his appreciation beyond saying "thank you" as we leave.