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david eddie

The question

My wife and I have a 10-month-old baby. We used to be punctual people, but now with our baby we're almost always late. About a month ago, we had plans to go for an afternoon walk in the park with my sister. My wife and I were not on the ball, and the baby needed this and then that; we texted my sister and said we'd be about 45 minutes late. She got angry, told us we were being disrespectful of her time and she cancelled the walk. I invited her to dinner a couple of weeks later as an olive branch and she coldly declined. She recently contacted me and said she had invited other family members to her place for Christmas and that my wife and I are invited too – but then she added that "if it's too inconvenient" for us to come, my wife and I should spend Christmas by ourselves. I feel bad when my wife and I arrive late to things and make people wait; but I also feel that my sister is blowing this out of proportion and lacks compassion for how complicated it can be to be punctual with a beloved baby in tow. (She does not have children.) Am I being unfair? Is she? How can we approach this situation?

The answer

Well, it wouldn't be the holiday season without a little festive family friction, would it?

I don't think either you or your sister is being "unfair," per se. Well, maybe she is, a little.

But people without kids can be completely and utterly clueless when it comes to the realities of parenting.

There's a pretty funny list of "preparation for parenthood" tips floating around the Internet. Like, to see what it's like to dress a child, attempt to put a live octopus in a string bag, without any of the tentacles popping out of the holes.

Germane to your situation: "Get ready to go out. Wait outside toilet for half an hour. Go out. Come back in. Walk very slowly down path inspecting every cigarette, piece of chewing gum and insect along the way. Retrace steps. Scream you've had all you can stand until the neighbours come out. Give up on original purpose of walk and go back into house."

And most pertinent: "Find a couple who are already parents. Berate them about their methods of discipline, lack of patience and how they have allowed their children to run riot. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's sleeping habits, table manners and overall behaviour. Enjoy it: It'll be the last time you have all the answers."

Too true. I remember before my wife Pam and I had kids, saying we'll do this, we won't do that – e.g. "Although my kids may be allowed to watch a very strictly limited amount of TV, I will absolutely not allow video games" – a statement which now causes me to bark with laughter then put my head in my hands and quietly weep.

Basically, parenting needs to be experienced to be understood. So: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to educate your sister on how it goes.

Luckily, there's a simple tool for that, one which can also benefit you. It's called babysitting. Get her to look after the little bra – I mean, bundle of joy – a few times while you pirouette out to a movie or restaurant. I pretty much give you my Damage Control Guaranfriggintee™ that she'll be less precious in future about when you show up for walks.

In the meantime, graciously accept her Christmas invite, and try to charm her and smooth things over as much as possible.

But don't go overboard. After all, it was only a walk – it wasn't like you had to give up plane tickets or dinner reservations – and you did text her in advance, so maybe she could also loosen the bolts in her neck a little.

Maybe she's envious? You're happy and fulfilled, she's stewing in childless singledom? Maybe cut down on unctuous phrases like "beloved baby" in her presence, no offence.

But that's just speculation. Basically, don't worry about who's right or wrong. Rise above. Be the better people. This time of year, and in general, we cut our relatives a little slack if they're behaving in an uptight fashion, right Damage Control Nation?

And in future, well, I'm sure you'll figure it out, but obviously give yourself a lot of baby-buffer time, so you can arrive to stuff punctually and everyone can be happy and all smiles.

What am I supposed to do now?

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