Brother bills us for meal he hosted. Carolyn Hax readers give advice. –


We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My extended family gets together for dinner most Sundays; my husband and I do the cooking more than half the time — even though it’s four families — because we enjoy cooking, and we are good at it. We like to splurge on steak, fresh fish, etc., but we’ve never even considered asking anyone to chip in. We’re not spendthrifts, we actually consider ourselves to be frugal, but we like to spend our money on quality time with people we love.

My mother has been telling my younger brother that he and his wife, who got married in 2021, need to start taking a turn at cooking dinner at least four times a year. We told them it doesn’t have to be fancy; it’s about the family being together, not the food. They took their turn last week. After dinner (spaghetti with jarred sauce, box wine, packaged cookies for dessert) a note was passed around to let everyone, including children, know their personal monetary share. To be honest it seemed a little high, but my dad handed over a check for the whole amount along with a look at my brother to let him know this was going to be discussed. My dad was *not* happy with the answer he got, which was that no, they aren’t having money troubles at all. My sister-in-law just has “issues with spending money” — unspoken part is “on other people,” because she spends it just fine on herself. My dad asked if they’d actually come out ahead on that dinner, and my brother said my sister-in-law felt they deserved a little something for all their work.

My dad is a great guy but has a temper. He and my brother ended up shouting at each other. Now the whole family is in an uproar. I guess my brother is right in a way. We’re just going to accept this about sister-in-law, so I offered to cover the dinners for my brother and sister-in-law. This was denied by my father, and now I’m at a loss. Any ideas?

Dinner Drama: It is bonkers that your brother and sister-in-law feel the need to profit from hosting their family. That being said, they have been pressured into hosting large family gatherings, and, whether or not they can afford it, they clearly do not want to. We all have our spending priorities and hosting is clearly not theirs. Few things trigger folks more than money, so a huge grocery bill to feed the family could still set off alarm bills in your SIL’s mind.

It is so lovely that you enjoy treating your family with so much love, joy, and generosity. I love to host meals. To me, nothing feels more like home than an open door and a full plate, but feeding and hosting is not how everyone wants to spend their money, time or generosity. While I can imagine it is frustrating to feel like they are not fulfilling their fair share of the bargain, they are probably wonderful in many other ways.

It seems to me that they are simply not equipped for hosting in this current stage of life. Not everything in family needs to be even-steven, and I find that keeping score is a surefire way to build resentment. I would much rather love people for who they are instead of resenting them for who they will never be. They will not be hostesses with the mostesses. That’s fine. You get to keep that crown.

Stop with the scorekeeping, keep piling plates high with delicious food and focus on what you love about your brother and sister-in-law. Setting reasonable expectations for loved ones and accepting their quirks will keep the peace, make life a little easier and minimize resentment.

Dinner Drama: You don’t have a sister-in-law problem; you have a brother and angry dad problem. These dinners have been going on for long enough for any in-law to catch up to traditions, and yet your brother has resisted hosting, which means that to him these dinners have always been more of an obligation than joyous get-togethers.

What would happen when he skipped in the past? Would there be a guilt-trip call from mom or a temperamental outburst from dad? Your immediate attempt at peacemaker by offering to cover the unreasonable costs of a badly hosted meal says a lot. In what other ways have your parents and family dictated the ways things should be done in this clan?

No dinner is worth walking on eggshells. Sister-in-law here is putting her foot down and supporting her husband — granted her tactic was in the poorest taste. Now that the cat is out of the bag and your brother has made his feelings clear, let’s just hope his wife can crawl out from under that bus in one piece.

— Volunteer Bus Victims Brigade

Dinner Drama: There are so many angles to this situation: a clueless brother, a sister-in-law with emotional money problems and an explosive father. I’m no psychologist, but it’s easy to see there are underlying and unresolved childhood issues at play here.

The dinner, the way the note was handled, everyone’s shock at being invoiced, and the father’s angry outburst: these are all symptoms of a dysfunctional family dynamic on multiple levels. This is not about the dinner at all. Each child in that family grew up with an overbearing parent who used anger as a weapon to control. As adults, they each handle family conflicts in different ways. Some stay quiet, while others want to stand up to the bully. This is a family that needs healing via professional help.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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