1. How do I tell my parents that I want to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve with my in-laws?
The best thing to do is be direct and loving in explaining your choice: "Mom and Dad, I love you and I hope you will understand, but this year I am spending the holidays with Bob's family. We will be back on New Year's Day and would love to spend the day with you."
2. Can I discipline my older sister's devilish kid for playing too rough with my dog?
It is your responsibility and your call as to how your dog and children are treated. If someone is mistreating any part of your family, it is your maternal right to protect them from harm or harassment. You can address the situation directly by intervening when you see the kid act up and also by telling your sister.
3. How can I tell my parents that I do not want my children to get video games for Christmas without hurting their feelings? And, what if they give it to them anyway?
It's perfectly fine to express your wishes to your parents as long as you do it in a thoughtful and respectful manner. If they give it to them anyways, it's your choice to keep it, re-gift it or donate it to a charity (if they will accept it).
4. Shouldn't I have first dibs at staying at my parent's house for the holidays? Their best friends are coming into town and have claimed my old room. My family should come first and I'm still very possessive of my "space."
You are a grown woman and your parents have a right to enjoy their friends, just like you have a right to enjoy yours. It would be gracious to offer your room up, or even offer to sleep on the couch. Your back is more than likely in better shape than theirs anyways.
5. How long do I have to stay at my in-laws' house before I can go home and enjoy my own Christmas Day?
Long enough to open gifts and not look like you are "eating and running" or just dropping by to get the holiday loot.
6. If I am asked to bring a couple of bottles of wine to a friend's party and the second bottle is only half empty, can I take the remainder home?
You could, but you would look cheap and unsophisticated.
7. What's the rule on re-gifting Aunt Helga's crocheted sweater?
If it's a handmade item, re-gifting is really not an option, especially if Aunt Helga is going to ask you to try it on for her the next time she's in town. Just store it in a place that you can easily access it in a pinch. In general, re-gift with caution. Only re-gift an item that is new, unworn and in its original box. Make sure the receiver will appreciate the gift rather than just trying to unload it on another poor unsuspecting soul.
8. How do I respond to the dreaded, "When are you going to have a baby" question? It's so frustrating and I feel on guard for the rest of the day.
Answer with a direct, but diplomatic, "When we decide you'll be one of the first 50 to know. Until then let's have another piece of figgy pudding." You owe no explanation and if it is a truly agonizing question, privately explain your feelings and ask that they refrain from broaching the topic in the future.
9. Uncle Ernie regularly launches into political rants that tend to get the whole family riled up since not everyone agrees with his views. How can we keep him quiet at the holiday dinner?
Be ready with some neutral topics to quickly change the conversation when Uncle Ernie begins his next tirade. If that doesn't work, be direct: "Uncle Ernie, I don't want to think about politics today, I just want to enjoy our family and this great meal without any political outbursts."
10. My family is just not prepared to have out-of-town guests stay over with us for Christmas. How do we politely encourage them to stay somewhere else?
It's perfectly acceptable and understandable to take this position. Be polite and direct: "We are really looking forward to seeing you. Our schedules are so chaotic this month, it's just not possible for us to have you stay with us right now, but I have some suggestions on lodging options." Give them hotels in a few different price ranges and let them make their own.
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.