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Maltiriel

How To Deal With In-Laws Who Make The Process Of Eating Into An Event?

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Sorry, but this is going to be kind of long.

My husband's family makes every meal during family gatherings into a huge deal. Every meal will take something like 3 hours between food prep, cooking time, eating, and clean up. His mother is at the root of it; she seems to purposely take forever cooking even very simple meals, so that she can force everyone to be around her for a longer period of time. We've never enjoyed this tactic, even before I was diagnosed with celiac disease (early February), but now it's turning into a nightmare.

The in-laws all want to do a family vacation with the whole family, something they do fairly regularly. They like to rent a cabin someplace and have the entire clan (8 adults and 3 little kids) stay together. They've shown zero interest in learning to cook gluten-free, despite going on about how they "want to be educated" (they won't go online to look anything up, or have a conversation longer than 10 minutes with my husband so he can tell them about it), so when this came up last month my husband and I told his family that we were going to have to get our own place to stay, period. This was not received well, because they treat eating as such an event. They kept going on about "can't we just do one meal together every day?" and "oh we can all stay together and you can just bring your own food". Except that my mother-in-law puts flour in EVERYthing, even stuff where it makes no sense, and the 3 little kids are too young to understand boundaries on food, so neither of those options will work because of cross contamination. Also I'm reluctant to trust my mother-in-law not to put flour in stuff after she started going on a few weeks ago about how I might not even have celiac disease and I should get a second opinion, and if I did have it it might just go away or go into remission.

We were originally going to go on this vacation last month, but work got too busy for several of us, so it didn't happen. Now they want to go next weekend, and I decided rather than keep dealing with the food issues (especially when my mother-in-law listed "eating" as the first activity that we would do on the trip) I would just skip it. But we still don't know what to do about future gatherings. I'm especially worried about Christmas, because they do insane amounts of baking. Dozens and dozens of cookies, half a dozen different kinds of pies, it's nuts. And they do it all from scratch, so there will be flour everywhere. I don't know if it would be safe even to drink a glass of water in the house after all that. I mentioned this to my husband earlier in the summer and he said he'd been having the same thoughts and worries. I just don't know what to do.

His family gets really upset if we don't go to family gatherings; there are already rumblings that they're getting angry that I won't be going next weekend. It seems like they would have to totally change their style of gathering for me to go, or else start cooking and baking gluten-free, and it doesn't seem fair to ask them to do either of those things, nor do they seem to want to do either of those things. Plus I don't think my mother-in-law would take to baking gluten-free; she's incredibly picky about food and will complain if things taste differently than she thinks they ought to. So cookies made with gluten-free flour would probably be rejected and she'd probably go on at length about how terrible they were. But they won't like it if we just don't participate either, so it seems like no matter what we do we'll get yelled at.

Anyway I'm hoping someone here will have some advice. I feel like we're between a rock and a hard place, and I have no idea what to do in the future.

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I'm sorry they're being such pains. But... You can't control the way they think (or don't think, in this case), how they feel, act or what they say. So don't let them contol you. Stay in a different cabin or don't go. Seems like that's your only choice <_< Sorry.

In an ideal world, this vacation would open their eyes that they'd rather at least be gluten friendly, like not cooking with flour since it gets all over the place (and up your nose, then into your stomach...) so you can stay with them next time... I'll pray for you ;)

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Well, this is rather interesting since I'm one of those baking and cooking madwomen. However, my ex sister-in-law was dairy intolerant and I (and my mother) tried to accommodate her and she was quite grateful. We just tried to be honest about the ingredients and she would suggest alterations or she just wouldn't eat that particular thing. All in all, it worked out.

But now I'm the Celiac and I am also the only female left with potentially 7 guys to feed at gatherings... and you bet your patootie I'll make gluten free stuff. Luckily, none of them are picky. However, I can imagine the mess I'd be in if my MIL was still alive and cooking (she loved processed foods but was also a great scratch cooker).

Here's my advice. As you already know, the point with all the cooking isn't just the food, its the gathering. So gather. But take your own food (prepacked in a cooler), and take something to share that is naturally gluten free. If its naturally gluten free they won't notice a "change".

Put your happy face on, try to stay out of the wheat areas, and try to keep your plate, utensils, etc. away from kids. Take your own if you need to. Get fresh air while you're there.... go outside, walk the dog, run to the store, set the table. Participate but stay away from the actual cooking. AND TAKE PLASTIC GLOVES FOR WASHING DISHES.

You are going to have to be the one to gracefully set the example. So keep your chin up, plaster a smile on your face, and do what you need to do.

If you go on family vacations, insist on your own cabin and take your own food. Have your recipes ready to cook the most naturally gluten-free and easy foods you can and show them how easy it can be. Show them you can participate in the family without eating the food.

I'm crossing my fingers it will work for you!

Now, if I can figure out how to get through the work BBQ tomorrow. Ugh.

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Well, this is rather interesting since I'm one of those baking and cooking madwomen. However, my ex sister-in-law was dairy intolerant and I (and my mother) tried to accommodate her and she was quite grateful. We just tried to be honest about the ingredients and she would suggest alterations or she just wouldn't eat that particular thing. All in all, it worked out.

But now I'm the Celiac and I am also the only female left with potentially 7 guys to feed at gatherings... and you bet your patootie I'll make gluten free stuff. Luckily, none of them are picky. However, I can imagine the mess I'd be in if my MIL was still alive and cooking (she loved processed foods but was also a great scratch cooker).

Here's my advice. As you already know, the point with all the cooking isn't just the food, its the gathering. So gather. But take your own food (prepacked in a cooler), and take something to share that is naturally gluten free. If its naturally gluten free they won't notice a "change".

Put your happy face on, try to stay out of the wheat areas, and try to keep your plate, utensils, etc. away from kids. Take your own if you need to. Get fresh air while you're there.... go outside, walk the dog, run to the store, set the table. Participate but stay away from the actual cooking. AND TAKE PLASTIC GLOVES FOR WASHING DISHES.

You are going to have to be the one to gracefully set the example. So keep your chin up, plaster a smile on your face, and do what you need to do.

If you go on family vacations, insist on your own cabin and take your own food. Have your recipes ready to cook the most naturally gluten-free and easy foods you can and show them how easy it can be. Show them you can participate in the family without eating the food.

I'm crossing my fingers it will work for you!

Now, if I can figure out how to get through the work BBQ tomorrow. Ugh.

We just had our work BBQ today. I skipped it, as I have every year since I've been diagnosed. Christmas party too. We have to pay to attend these events so no way I"m paying just to sit there and watch others eat. If we didn't have to pay, I'd go just to socialize.

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My grandma is the same way and she has about every food allergy under the sun, I used to fear going to her house for dinner because I couldn't trust that she didn't put flour or barley or some other form of gluten into something. One thing that my mom and I would do if we were going to her house for some food event is I would always have a back up dinner in the car and my family would bring a dish or two that we made gluten-free and keep the lid on and put it at the begining of the food chain so less likely to get cross contaminated and I would go through line first and load up so i didn't have to come back for seconds another thing we did was I sort of put together a childrenish (use small but very descriptive words and pictures) book of what happens to me and what could happen if I don't follow a strick gluten-free diet. I still have troubles going to one of our family events where it is a sandwich lunch at a lake so i just forget it and bring my own stuff, luckily one of my aunts just got diagnosed with celiacs 2 so it should be better :rolleyes:

nicole

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One thought that came to mind reading your saga was: wow, that sucks! It really does.

But at the same time, I'm jealous that you are associated with such a sprawling family that likes getting together so much. I don't have any family of my own and my husband's family never gets together like that, and it sounds rather wonderful. Just to spend a weekend with three kids would be great. (Are there any dogs?) And my mother-in-law died three years ago in a traffic accident.

As annoying as they can be, are they any fun at all? (BTW, I can accept if the answer is 'no' without judgement. Despite my fantasies about happy families, I know many - most? - are imperfect at best or dysfunctional.)

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Here's my advice. As you already know, the point with all the cooking isn't just the food, its the gathering. So gather. But take your own food (prepacked in a cooler), and take something to share that is naturally gluten free. If its naturally gluten free they won't notice a "change".

Put your happy face on, try to stay out of the wheat areas, and try to keep your plate, utensils, etc. away from kids. Take your own if you need to. Get fresh air while you're there.... go outside, walk the dog, run to the store, set the table. Participate but stay away from the actual cooking. AND TAKE PLASTIC GLOVES FOR WASHING DISHES.

You are going to have to be the one to gracefully set the example. So keep your chin up, plaster a smile on your face, and do what you need to do.

But will this be safe during the holidays? During the rest of the year this might work, but I'm worried that when the place essentially turns into a bakery, it wouldn't be good. I'm unclear on how much flour in the air is too much... I keep reading about how flour dust stays around for days after baking...

Thanks very much for the advice so far though. I really appreciate it. And good luck with your work BBQ. I'm really glad now that my company has stopped doing Christmas parties and such events... They wouldn't be fun now.

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One thought that came to mind reading your saga was: wow, that sucks! It really does.

But at the same time, I'm jealous that you are associated with such a sprawling family that likes getting together so much. I don't have any family of my own and my husband's family never gets together like that, and it sounds rather wonderful. Just to spend a weekend with three kids would be great. (Are there any dogs?) And my mother-in-law died three years ago in a traffic accident.

As annoying as they can be, are they any fun at all? (BTW, I can accept if the answer is 'no' without judgement. Despite my fantasies about happy families, I know many - most? - are imperfect at best or dysfunctional.)

Hmm. On the fun question, yes and no. There are times that I enjoy it, but the family dynamics are really weird. For one thing, despite all the gatherings, they aren't really all that close. My husband is always saying he wishes his relationship with his brothers was as close as mine is with my sister. We see my family much less often since they're much further away, but I call and email and communicate with my family a lot more, so I feel very close to her and my parents emotionally. So it can be awkward with his family. I feel like I don't know most of them that well, and they tend to be judgmental so both my husband and I feel like we can't really be ourselves, which is stressful. Also they have some funny ideas about appropriate accommodations. We once spent a weekend in a 2 bedroom cabin (for *4* family groups), so my husband and I had to stay on a foldout couch in the living room and his eldest brother plus his wife and 2 kids stayed on the other foldout couch, also in the living room. His mom booked the place without telling us what it would be like, otherwise we would have flatly refused.

There is a dog, and the kids... They're getting better, at least. For awhile there they were rather bratty.

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I can't relate because all my family have learnt to cook properly. My grandmother (who we see a couple of times/year) now keeps gluten free cereal in her pantry and bakes with gluten free flour in case we turn up.

My brother is copping it though at the moment because he has a 3 month old non-sleeper who is very unsettled so they're all like "It's the vegan diet!" and being rediculous about it. Not one of them mentioned that to me because although we are also vegan mine slept and was happy when she was awake and was generally nice company to be with from the start. It has nothing to do with the diet (he's too little for food anyway) but they blame that regardless.

I don't know why diet is such a difficult thing for people to understand.

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I guess I come from a different place. Does it stink, YES. But I do not expect people to know, get or understand how we have to live anymore. In an ideal world, that would be fine but it isn't.

We take the kids food with us everywhere. I won't use other peoples pots and pans or serving stuff. It is just our life and I fully intent to keep the people in my family safe and healthy. If they don't like my arrangement, they can a) not invite us places (which happens and it hurts and sucks but if they aren't supportive, who cares anyway?) B) accept this is the way it is.

Again, it isn't fun. It is difficult to plan but it is doable. If they want you there, they need to get that your health comes before them being "fulfilled" with the need to make a production out of things.

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I can totally relate to food being a huge deal only it is my own family that is this way. They take forever preparing it ,eating it , and of course taking about it while they are eating it-this annoyed me even before i was diagnosed! Holidays sound like yours with all homemade dishes and baked goods and way too much of them. Last year at Christmas they all trampled in to my home with cakes and pies and cookies and all I saw was poison , poison and more poison.I was so anxious! This year my kitchen is totally gluten free and when I announced to my mother it would be a gluten-free Christmas at my home she told that is not fair to everyone eles and my food wont taste the same so they are not coming. Your in laws will not change but if you can set boundaries ahead of time maybe they will adjust . We have to think of our health first. Explain to them that cooking and eating in a shared kitchen can be dangerous to your health using the words "my docotor said" seems to make people listen better. Good luck

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But will this be safe during the holidays? During the rest of the year this might work, but I'm worried that when the place essentially turns into a bakery, it wouldn't be good. I'm unclear on how much flour in the air is too much... I keep reading about how flour dust stays around for days after baking...

Depends on your tolerance, I guess. I walked through a bakery the other day without anything happening, but that's me. Just try to stay out of that area and do other things. Or show up late???

You're going to have to go, you know that...if not now then eventually.

I also understand the weird vibe - it was kind of like that with my inlaws, but in the last year we lost my MIL and my SIL and her husband moved - and now we have a different weird vibe. I wish we had the old one back, truthfully.

Thanks very much for the advice so far though. I really appreciate it. And good luck with your work BBQ. I'm really glad now that my company has stopped doing Christmas parties and such events... They wouldn't be fun now.

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Hmm. On the fun question, yes and no. There are times that I enjoy it, but the family dynamics are really weird. For one thing, despite all the gatherings, they aren't really all that close. My husband is always saying he wishes his relationship with his brothers was as close as mine is with my sister. We see my family much less often since they're much further away, but I call and email and communicate with my family a lot more, so I feel very close to her and my parents emotionally. So it can be awkward with his family. I feel like I don't know most of them that well, and they tend to be judgmental so both my husband and I feel like we can't really be ourselves, which is stressful. Also they have some funny ideas about appropriate accommodations. We once spent a weekend in a 2 bedroom cabin (for *4* family groups), so my husband and I had to stay on a foldout couch in the living room and his eldest brother plus his wife and 2 kids stayed on the other foldout couch, also in the living room. His mom booked the place without telling us what it would be like, otherwise we would have flatly refused.

There is a dog, and the kids... They're getting better, at least. For awhile there they were rather bratty.

Judgmental is hard. Besides that, they sound strange.

Regarding my reaction, I guess the grass is always greener.

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I'd be worried about the environment, too. I wonder if the main baking involving loose flour everywhere could be done separately from the actual gathering?

I get that cooking together is part of the fun, but maybe there could be a baking party for rolling out the pies, etc, that you do not attend, and then everything could get brought to another family member's place for the meal.

When we attend family gatherings we bring all our own food. It is a bit awkward and some people do take offense, but we are just very clear about it and focus on the point of the gathering: to be together! When we cook somewhere we take our own pots, pans, utensils, and wash up carefully.

Cross contamination is inevitable in a buffet setting, so for potlucking, bring a dish to share and a dish just for you (with enough extra under wraps just for you for seconds or thirds).

Avoid touching things like the remote control and doorknobs. Before eating wash your own plate, utensils, hands and face so that if you've been touching gluten or it's been flying around it won't be a surprise ingredient in your meal.

At the meal itself, do everything you can not to talk about gluten or celiac disease... but at another time maybe you can sit down with them to have that discussion.

Here is the format I would try to use:

1. Give them warning that you have something you want to talk to them about. Tell them it's nothing bad, but it's hard for you so you need to have the time and place set aside for it.

2. Plan ahead by coming up with all the issues you want resolved, and picking your top priority. Be honest with yourself about your part in this, and the priorities. You may even enlist the help of a therapist to sort out the main issues you want to bring up. Come up with the crux of the issue so that you can present it to them.

3. Present the issue to them, and ASK THEM how THEY FEEL about it, and HOW they think it can be resolved.

4. I suspect you may hear that they think SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY is the problem. Be prepared to hear that.

5. Be prepared to REALLY LISTEN to their solutions, EVEN IF THEY ARE WRONG.

6. Once you have listened to them, thank them. Do not start to defend your position. Think about what drove them to the solutions they see and the issues they brought up. Summarize what you heard them say, and ask them if you got their perspective right. If not, ask for clarification and confirm that you understood. VALIDATE their feelings, if not their solutions.

7. Now you get to think about yourself again. What aspects of their solution surprised you? What are they feeling? What can you do to help improve the situation? Did they misunderstand your issue, discount your experience, or suggest something that really can't work for you?

8. Make your own suggestions for how to solve the problem. Ask them how they feel about your idea.

9. Cycle through the other steps.

The most important part of this process is listening to the feelings the other person has. Even if you can't come to a solution that will work for everyone, when people really feel that they have been heard "agreeing to disagree" can go much more smoothly.

My dad is an Evangelical Christian missionary who actively preaches against homosexuality among many other things I don't agree with him on. I am gay and am not Christian. Plus we've both got fiery personalities. For years our interactions inevitably turned into huge fights, and for a time we didn't even talk to each other. My dad hasn't changed. If anything, he's more passionate about his beliefs than ever before. I've also become more secure in myself and more willing to be clear about my beliefs and open about my life. But our relationship has changed because I have changed how I deal with it. When he preaches to me I LISTEN TO THE EMOTION. He LOVES me. He wants a good afterlife for me. He is AFRAID for my soul and my children. He wants to SAVE the world. When I respond to the underlying emotion which is LOVE instead of the outward aggressive evangelism, we are able to connect. We can respect each other's integrity and aspects of our lifestyles that are compatible (compassion for people who are suffering, conservation, etc).

I suspect that your in-laws sense your discomfort with their way of interacting with family. That's a natural thing for you to feel, since your family culture is different. So when they see you saying you'll get a separate cabin or eat separately, rather than just thinking it's about the health, they probably are thinking it's about THEM, and your health is just an excuse. Rather than coming at them with a solution (we'll stay and eat elsewhere), you might be better served by:

- acknowledging that their way of doing things has taken some getting used to, but you value being included and value them as family

- sharing your cross-contamination concerns in a neutral way, and asking them for their ideas on how to keep you safe (this may also bring up the issue that they are not truly educated on the subject, maybe rather than shooting down ideas you can say that it sounds like they need more background info and offer to go through some resources together with them.)

I have had to talk with my ex-husband about a lot of things I thought we would never be able to deal with or even communicate about and found that mediation was very helpful. He went into it kicking and screaming the first time, but the last time he had something to bring up he actually scheduled an appointment and invited me himself. If talking to them yourself doesn't work, it might be something to look into.

If you can't get to a place of mutual understanding, just maintain your boundaries. Do what you need to do to be safe. Reassure his family that you love them. Spend time with them that isn't all about food. Over the years the situation will probably improve if you keep affirming the love while maintaining your boundaries.

ps - Your husband sounds like a great guy, it's so nice to hear he's standing by you! His family probably had something to do with that :)

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... I'm worried that when the place essentially turns into a bakery, it wouldn't be good. I'm unclear on how much flour in the air is too much... I keep reading about how flour dust stays around for days after baking...

I'd agree that it could be a problem. You don't want anything you own to be in or near the kitchen during baking that's for certain. Whether the amount will be detrimental to you is a toss up. Flour can linger for up to 48 hours, I understand, but that's in an area where there is a LOT of flour, like a factory. For a kitchen, I'd guess that hours would be more likely, possibly 24 if they really do a frenzy of baking.

But light switches, fridge handles, oven controls - all of that would be contaminated unless they do a major clean up afterward. And something they'd have to know: sanitizing doesn't clean off the gluten. Hot water won't do it, either. Soap and water will, but gluten will stay on any cloths/sponges a bit, too, so it'd have to be paper towels or something like that, changed frequently during the cleaning.

Some questions to ask would be:

Do you get sick if you go into a bakery and hang out there for a while?

Do you get sick walking through a bakery?

Do you get symptoms immediately, or are they much later?

If you don't get symptoms right away, that makes it harder, because you'll could get a good dose of gluten before you can tell if you're having issues.

If you don't get sick walking through a bakery, then the kitchen is likely going to be fine (in terms of inhaled gluten) by the next day, at the latest.

If you don't get sick hanging out in the bakery, then the kitchen is likely going to be fine within a few hours, I'd imagine. Again, this is if you're worried about inhaled gluten.

I can't walk through a bakery area, although I don't get sick every single time. Just often. I can't hang out in a bakery at all. So I do have problems when people are baking, but it's been clear from the bakery experiences that this is an issue. Some things that have helped are actually those little dental hygienist masks. They keep some of the particulate matter out for a little while. Not all of it and not forever though, as they aren't sealed. But they might help if you ever wish to do a trial run. :-)

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Thanks everyone for the advice. You've all given me a lot to think about. Hopefully with all these great ideas I can figure out something. domesticactivist, your story was really inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing. And your process sounds like it might actually work with my in-laws, if I can get them to talk and listen. Thanks again everyone. I really appreciate the help.

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We went away for the weekend so I took all my LO's food with me as usual. I took some fruit salad cut up in little containers one for saturday one for sunday and I took her sandwiches already made up in little containers again one for saturday and one for sunday and I took her milk and her cereal for breakfast. I didn't have to prepare anything other than cereal. Every time I cook a meal I make an extra of the same meal to put in the freezer. If it's one that I make in the oven I use those foil containers with the lids then write on the lid the date and what it is. Makes it easier to take those than to try to work out what to cook when we're away. Because they are frozen I put them in the esky then can put them back in the freezer when we get there or in the fridge to thaw out. It'll be like this when we're away in september for 5 days too except I won't pre-make her sandwiches that far in advance. I will make her bread then keep it in the esky and put it in the fridge when we are there. It would be hard with more people. It's only the 2 of us that I need to deal with and pack for.

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