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Dear Annie: Passive-aggressive or perfectly appropriate?

Dear Annie: My wife and I are approaching our 70th birthdays this year. As we have aged, hosting company and taking care of visiting children and grandchildren has become more stressful. Both of us have age-related health issues. One of our daughters (my stepdaughter), “Janet,” visits with her 8-year-old daughter and 70-pound dog. The dog eats off the grandchild’s plate while she’s still eating, jumps on furniture and is not well-behaved much of the time.

Also, Janet visits twice a year and stays anywhere from 10 days to two weeks each trip. While she is here she is “on vacation” and likes to be waited on by her mother. After her first trip with the dog, I said he should not come back when they visit, but she brings him anyway. We have four other children with five other grandchildren who visit, and one daughter also brings her dog, but the dog is well-behaved.

So, recently, I decided to write a post on social media with some general rules for visiting children. I explained that we loved for them to visit but, because of our advanced age and health issues, we needed to establish some standard guidelines: “First, please help pick up after your children.” (My wife has tripped over shoes and toys left on the floor.) “Second, help out with household chores while visiting. If you want full maid service, go to a hotel. Third, before bringing a pet, check with us first. Well-behaved animals are welcome but it is based on our definition of ‘well behaved.'”

Responses from the kids were mixed. Our youngest, who is 33, fully understood the need for the rules. My daughter laughed about it but understood. Unfortunately, Janet and my stepson took great exception to the rules. Janet called her mother crying and squalling saying she was never coming back to visit until I apologized. I conveyed to my wife that I was sorry she was taking that attitude but it is our home and we have every right to have standard expectations of our visiting family.

The daughter calls my wife on her cell every week or so complaining about me and telling her mother I need to apologize. This is keeping my wife upset, and I told my wife this daughter is being inconsiderate of her feelings and is exhibiting manipulative behavior. Help! — Stepdad

Dear Stepdad: Your medium undermined your message. It’s perfectly appropriate for you to ask your family members to help with chores, pick up after their children and clear it with you before bringing pets. In fact, it’s a shame that you even have to ask.

That being said, the best way to have that kind of conversation is in person. The second-best way is a phone call. The third-best way is an email. A social media post doesn’t even rank.

Your stepdaughter and stepson might have perceived the post as passive-aggressive and embarrassing. I’d encourage you to reflect on how you could have gone about this in a more direct way. If so, consider apologizing to them for that aspect, and letting it be the jumping-off point for a discussion about mutual respect.

Whatever happens, it’s important that you and your wife harmonize on family dynamics. Discuss what your relationships with your children would look like ideally, and make a list together of practices you’ll both put in place toward that end.

“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now. Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Go to http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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