DEAR AMY: We have a family situation that comes up every year during the holidays. My son and his wife have no kids. Their animals are treated like their children. Every year we are invited to their house for a holiday dinner. Their cats have free roam of the house and their litter box is in the kitchen next to where we sit down to eat. That is bad enough, but while we are there the cats use the litter box and then jump up on the counter (where their food is) to eat and also to be petted -- all while my daughter-in-law makes the dinner. We get so sick at this sight that we barely eat any dinner. We look forward to spending time with them and have made a slight reference to the cat litter box, but our daughter-in-law is not about to change. To her, these cats are her kids. We are worried that if we say anything the relationship with my son will suffer. What should we do? We just don't want to eat in that kitchen again!
-- Stuck in the Litter
DEAR LITTER: Where I come from, we have a saying about not doing something in the same place where we eat. Not only should the litter box not be near where humans eat, but it should also not be near where the cats eat.
Even if these cats are de facto "children," having your kids eating on the counter and climbing all over the place isn't exactly good parenting.
Do not expect this couple to change the way they do things, but you can ask them to make a small temporary accommodation. You could frame this as a particular sensitivity of yours and say, "Can you do me a favor and move the litter box to the next room while we're here? Would the cats be OK with that?" If your relationship is so tender that it cannot survive a simple and temporary shift, then you really need to work on the relationship.
If nothing works -- or if you chicken out (most likely), offer to treat them for dinner out, followed by dessert and coffee at their house.
DEAR AMY: Like "Grieving Husband in San Jose," my wife (of 56 years) died after a long illness. Before her passing, we discussed a lot of things, including her personal possessions. About six months after her passing, I called a family meeting and said I was carrying out her wishes. Everyone got something valuable and everyone got something personal and the house still looks the same. And I am the proud owner of a walk-in closet.
-- Master of a Master Plan
DEAR MASTER: Sounds like this worked for everyone.