Family Cruise Includes Unpleasant Brother-in-Law

My sister Debbie is married to Brad, who is a jerk. Brad speaks disrespectfully to my sister and seems to care only about his motorcycle. Around us he is rude, sulky and self-centered, barely answering us when we try to converse. He drifts from job to job and yet expects Debbie, who is a full-time teacher, to do all the housework and take care of their two kids, a five year-old girl and a three-year-old boy.  Both are really nice kids. My husband and I also have two children, a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy.

Here’s where you can help us. My wonderful parents, with whom we are very close, want to take all of us on a week-long cruise; they are paying for everything. We love the idea of the four cousins having this special time together and our being with Debbie and my parents, but we cannot imagine spending a week with Brad. How do we decline without hurting my parents’ feelings? 

You don’t.

And at the risk of hurting your feelings I want to suggest you stop focusing on Brad — making the cruise about how miserable Brad will make you — and focus instead on what you can do to make this the best possible experience for your parents, Debbie, and the four cousins. I suspect your parents know Brad is a jerk and are probably worried about Debbie and her marriage and the effects all this might be having on their children.

Your parents want to do something unique and memorable, especially for Debbie and her kids. The question you have to answer is: do you and your husband have it in you to join your parents in trying to do something nice for the family?

I think your parents probably put a lot of time and thought into planning something that would make it easier for you to accept their invitation. They didn’t rent a vacation home where you’d be in close contact with Brad. Rather, they chose a cruise. A cruise means you’ll have your own stateroom and privacy and you all get a break from the usual household chores. A cruise also means there are lots of daily activities going on so you’ll all probably be doing different things during the day, taking turns being with the children and covering each other to pursue your own activities. Your parents may expect everyone to have dinner together, and if Brad joins you, you may find his presence a non issue as everyone is happily chatting about their day and what they did and making plans for the next day.

Whatever decisions and choices Debbie may make in the future, it’s important that she feels your love and support. If you do not go on the cruise, Debbie will most likely know it’s because you don’t want to be around Brad. But in rejecting Brad, you are also rejecting your parents, Debbie and her children. So another question you have to answer is: how important is it to you to make an obvious statement about Brad when the rest of your family, people you really care about, are penalized as a result?

I know you were looking for help to decline your parents’ invitation, and instead I gave you advice about why you should accept their invitation. You described your parents as “wonderful.”

This probably means they have been there for you every step of the way as you were growing up and that they continue to make themselves available to you and your children.

Look at this as payback time for all the wonderful things your parents have done for you through the years. Accepting your parents’ invitation for a family cruise is your opportunity to show your gratitude in a way that will mean so very much to them. If you make this about you coming through for your parents, you might find this family cruise a really fun and special thing to do.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every Thursday.

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