Dealing with Uncle Bob Or, Why a Schedule is Important

You know and I know that there is always at least one in every family.  We’ll just call him Uncle Bob.  Uncle Bob often shows up with no advance warning, and doesn’t respect boundaries.

This relative (or relatives) can become particularly problematic when it comes to sharing time at the family cottage.  To avoid having relatives invite themselves over during your personal cottage time, make unreasonable demands about sleeping arrangements or even worse, show up unannounced and eat your prime rib and drink your imported beer, it is ESSENTIAL to have a scheduling plan in place that everyone involved is aware of and respects.

When you sit down with your family members to plan a schedule, remember:  Simple is best.

Creating and maintaining a simple system for cottage scheduling and sharing the family cottage requires a little forethought and reflection on family traditions.  You need to address two key points:

(1) How is time divided

(2) Who else may use the cottage, including parents, surviving spouses, pets, youthful relatives, renters, and guests.

Here are my recommendations for an effective plan:

  • The schedule grants use in proportion to ownership
  • Ensure the schedule is mathematically fair and perceived as fair
  • The schedule respects family tradition and culture
  • The schedule permits “swapping” of time slots
  • You produce a clear and understandable schedule

Time may be divided among owners in two basic ways: a time-sharing model or a rooming-house model (first come-first served).  Some families prefer to allocate time slots during which an owner and the owner’s immediate family have exclusive use.  This method emerges when either the cottage is too small to host large groups or when owners view it as a place of retreat—even from (or especially from) family.  This method is called the “Time Sharing” method because it divides the year or season into discreet exclusive-use periods, and then uses a rotating sequence of selection of specific segments—first choice this year means last choice next year, and so on.  Eventually, each family branch will have first choice of their designated segment.

Other families take a “there’s always room for one more” approach to using their cottage.  After all, Uncle Bob is usually the life of the party and tells the best big fish stories. This rooming-house model is possible only if the cottage is large enough (or the family small enough) to accommodate more than one branch of the family at a time.  This approach permits any family member to show up at any time, or at least does not require advance reservations, and offers the greatest flexibility and ease of use of the two models.

It is also possible to blend the two approaches together by designating certain periods as “family time” during which no exclusive use is permitted, and anyone may use the cottage including Uncle Bob. Then divide the remainder of the season into suitable blocks or segments of time that are allocated to individual family members so you can enjoy your prime rib (and some peace and quiet) Uncle Bob free.

This topic is covered in depth in my book, Saving the Family Cottage available at bookstores and online at

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