Sunday, May 31, 2015

Think positive: Family reunion game should stress the ties that bind

Every few years, a large family in New England holds a family reunion in the summer. Siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, children, aunts and uncles convene at one family member's home to reminisce, eat, catch up on one another's lives, and nurture strong family ties.

At each reunion, the host tries to come up with an event that focuses on the family's history. Usually, this is an entertaining game or challenge. While the goal is to engage younger family members in learning something about their heritage, some effort is made to challenge old-timers, too.

My reader, the hostess this year, is in the throes of planning. She's thinking about a game in which attendees have to match up names to a particular branch of the family tree. The challenge, she writes, is that there have been quite a few marriages, divorces and remarriages within this group. She doesn't want to hurt the feelings of newer spouses by including the names of former spouses on the family tree.

While those former spouses aren't invited to the event, many of their biological children will be there. The hostess also doesn't want to hurt the feelings of those children by leaving the name of a parent off the family tree.

In the past, games have avoided the issue of a family tree, focusing instead on historical milestones or wagers about such things as how many lawyers vs. teachers there are in the family. This year, however, the reader wants the family tree as the focal point.

"Would it be wrong to simply leave the ex-spouses off the tree?" she asks.

Even at the risk of hurting the feelings of current spouses, if the hostess truly wants a complete family tree, it doesn't seem right to leave out the ex-spouses. They might no longer be invited to such gatherings, but she's right to think their children might be offended if their parents were banished from the family story. (No amount of Photoshop tinkering can remove the fact that these parents were once members of the family.)

The reader has a few options. She could speak to both the current spouses and the children of ex-spouses about her plans in advance. She could find a creative way to engage family members in their shared history without focusing on a thick and leafy family tree that has been pruned.

Since the goal of the party is for everyone to gather, share memories and have fun, the right thing to do is to find a way to accomplish that without awkwardness about who's included and who's left out of the family saga. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Blowing off invitations to graduation events is not an option

Commencement season is upon us, and with it typically come multiple events, dinners, parties and other gatherings for the family and friends of graduates. Often, such invitations come in multiples, and deciding which ones to accept can be challenging.

A reader from New England, an area quite congested with graduation ceremonies, writes that he finds himself invited to multiple events, many for the same date and time at different locations. None of the grads are close relatives, but many are the children of close friends. As the reader sorts through the invites to commencement programs, graduation dinners and parties, he doesn't want to disappoint any of the people who've invited him.

As the events draw closer, he has yet to respond to any of the invitations. He'd like to attend at least one event, but is concerned that limiting himself will hurt the feelings of other friends and their graduates.

"I figure if none of them hear from me, they won't plan on me being there," he writes. "(However), it gnaws at me that that might not be the best thing to do in response to all of these invitations. What if I really want to accept an invitation from someone who invited me after everyone else did? That doesn't seem right, either."

So, instead of deciding to accept or decline an invitation, he wonders, why not just offer no response?

"How can I decide which invitation to accept?" he asks. "And if I can't decide, is the best thing simply not to respond at all?"

The reader will have to answer the first question for himself. There's nothing wrong with choosing the event(s) he wants to attend -- if he wants to go to any at all -- based on whatever criteria he wants, regardless of when he received the invitation.

He could decide to go to the closest event, the one that promises to be the shortest, the one that features a speaker or campus he really wants to see, the one that might prove the most relaxed, the one likely to serve the best food, or the one that involves the people to whom he has the closest relationship.

If there are conflicting events and he can only choose one, there's nothing wrong with that. It's also perfectly fine if he decides not to attend any of the events. People turn down invitations all the time.

The right thing to do is respond to each invitation. Leaving his friends in the dark about whether or not he plans to attend should not be an option. Not responding to any of the invitations in hopes that friends will forget they invited him or assume he's not coming is akin to a toddler putting his hands in front of his eyes and assuming no one else can see him because he can't see them. The reader owes each friend a response.

He need not make up a reason for not attending an event. No good will comes of a lie. He should simply let his friends know he can't make it and wish them and their graduate all the best. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Leave tenants out of fundraising drive

Years ago, I had a boss who regularly let employees know when one of his daughters was selling Girl Scout cookies. He'd send around the order sheet and we'd indicate how many boxes of Thin Mints, shortbread Trefoils, peanut butter Tagalongs, or other varieties we wanted. The daughter's sales benefited quite a bit from these purchases.

Near as I can tell, no one who didn't buy was ever penalized, say, with a testy performance review or a snide comment from the boss. Still, he was the boss, and distributing these order forms every year seemed to cross a line.

It was telling, perhaps, that no one else at the company ever tried to compete by bringing in his or her own daughter's order sheet. This was clearly the boss's turf. (It didn't help matters that the boss's daughter never took the orders herself or delivered the cookies to the office, which seemed like a dereliction of duty for a Girl Scout.)

By soliciting his direct reports to purchase cookies, employees could have perceived that to stay in the boss's favor, they needed to buy. Thankfully, the daughter eventually outgrew the Girl Scouts and the cookie drives ceased.

Earlier this week, a reader who rents an in-law apartment in her home told me she felt uncomfortable letting her tenants know that her grandson was raising funds for his Eagle Scout project. She was fine asking the tenants if they'd save cans and bottles for the boy so he could use the deposits to help fund his project, but she thought asking them to buy tie-dyed bandanas or attend a car wash would make the tenants feel obligated.

"I'm giving the family a break on the rent," the reader said. "I don't want them to think they're obligated to donate to my grandson's project if they don't really want to." She knew the tenants regularly set their cans and bottles out for recycling, so she figured asking for these wouldn't cost the tenants anything.

"Am I wrong to feel uncomfortable asking them if they want to contribute to my grandson's project?" she asks.

I believe she made a good call by not asking her tenants to contribute.

It's one thing to expect tenants to pull the trash cans to the curb or shovel their steps as part of the reasonable rent offered. These are things they agreed to when they first moved in. But the right thing to do is to stop short of asking the tenants to do anything that might be perceived as expected to maintain a good tenant-renter relationship.

There would be nothing wrong if the reader put a flier up in the neighborhood announcing the car wash, or if she posted information about the project and other fundraising activities to her Facebook page or other social media outlets. If the tenants see the information and decide to contribute, that's a choice they can make without either party perceiving there's a quid pro quo for doing so. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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