DEAR MISS MANNERS: As Thanksgiving approaches, I am at a loss to respond to my stepson (married with three children), who views an invitation to dinner as an opening for negotiations.
For example, we have invited his family for dinner (with other guests) at 6 p.m. In response, he asks: "Who will be there? What are we having? We don't like to sit down to dinner -- we find sitting in a dining room too confining. We might be late because we are visiting (his wife's) family in the afternoon. Make sure the meal is ready at 6 sharp," etc.
My preferred response would be, "We are having Thanksgiving dinner at 6 p.m., so if you can't attend, we understand."
However, in an effort to keep the peace, I have, over the last few years, served his family Thanksgiving brunch/lunch, then prepared and served the planned dinner; prepared and served two Christmas meals at the time and manner demanded: "not in the dining room," "not before noon," "no turkey," "We won't be there on Thursday, but will come on Friday," etc.
I was taught that it was not polite to ask the menu (absent some real medical issue), but simply to accept or decline with regret the invitation as presented.
I would like to avoid the "second seating" option. Is there any good way to respond and stop the negotiations?
GENTLE READER: Remember the children's table? That was once a staple of holiday parties, to separate civilized diners from not-yet-civilized diners. It seems to Miss Manners that your stepson meets the latter qualification.
She understands that for family reasons you do not want to use the legitimate option of saying that you understand that they will not attend. But you can meet the unwarranted demands while still holding the meal you had planned for others.
If the times coincide, you can hold your meal in the dining room while providing room and turkey-free plates elsewhere, in acknowledgment of their not wanting to sit down. If they arrive at a different time or a different day -- well, everyone knows how good holiday leftovers are.
And as you will graciously point out, you will be doing this to comply with your stepson's stated wishes.