Q: My family of four comes from out of state for my mom’s holiday dinners. She says since she hosts, she decides the guest list. Mom says “Jane,” my aunt, and her son should be included. I argue that my family comes for a short time a few times a year so a Christmas or Thanksgiving family dinner with us happens rarely. Mom can host Jane and her son another time. Jane has two brothers nearby.
I never ask for other special considerations. I don’t know Jane other than exchanging pleasantries and don’t know her son at all, so the point that she’s been family to me for decades is not compelling. I explained that the dynamic of the gathering simply is not like close family when near-strangers (to some of us) are there. My children told me, unsolicited, that they didn’t like when Jane and her son come to our family Christmas dinner.
My sisters and parents see each other regularly since they are geographically close. I see them a few times a year. The holiday dinner gatherings seem to mean more to me as a ceremony of closeness and they seem to view them as just something they do all the time. The issue came up again today when my sister told me she let her daughter invite a boyfriend to this summer’s family reunion. Please will you give me your opinion?
A: I’ll give you two opinions:
(1) You’re not going to win this; so,
(2) Pick another battle.
I do understand what you mean. There is a particular, intimate feel to a gathering of immediate family only, one you lose when it includes people you don’t know well.
But, really? If you had applied your energy over the years toward knowing Jane better, instead of resenting and lobbying against her presence, wouldn’t she be one of your core people by now? Or at least a lot closer to it?
If you just don’t like her, then that’s something else.
Actually, it’s two something-else’s. (1) It’s a different problem from the one you say it is, and (2) It’s disingenuous of you to present it as you did. “Ceremony of closeness” my [butter cookies].
If you’re OK with Jane as a person and just not as a family-Christmas co-celebrant, then get to work on generating more than pleasantries when you see her and her son: invite her to ride along with you when you run errands; if you see him doing the dishes, jump in with an offer to dry them; ask the kind of questions someone interested in their lives would ask. You might just grow into the role.
Do you know who did this, by the way, in some form? Your family, when you first brought home the person who became your partner in creating “my family of four.”
If instead you Really Don’t Like Jane, then try thinking outside the Christmas box. Your mom runs her holidays (and reunions) her way, apparently, so start your own plans on your terms. “Mom, you know I’d love to see the family when it’s just family, and I know that’s not happening on Christmas. Would it work instead if we all came in [non-holiday time slot here]?” That your family is already in one place without you gives you this option, which many others with your complaint wouldn’t have.
A warning, though, against getting your hopes up too high: Even if this patches the hole in your family experience, the patch is going to fall off as the family itself changes and grows underneath it. You cite “a boyfriend” at the reunion as yet another nuisance, but I suggest you start calling it by its real name: Your future.
Time will bring more boyfriends, and girlfriends too, and a next generation, some of whom will grow up to feel annoyed every time they see you’ve been invited to their family gig. So my advice is to embrace change – before karma does it for you.
Q: I belong to a group of women friends who go shopping together every Thursday. I always drive. One of the friends is handicapped, and I don’t expect her to drive. Another friend offered her vacation condo for a week together of girl time, which I don’t attend. A third friend is a terrible driver.
I am not sure how to approach this topic. It would be fine if they would buy me lunch sometimes.
A: Of course your friends should buy you lunch for your trouble.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to “approach this topic.”
You have the means to shop socially once a week; you have the regular, dependable company of friends; your abilities and faculties are intact; you have a standing offer for a vacation getaway; and you aren’t stuck trying to nudge a terrible driver out of the carpool rotation.
By my count, those are significant blessings. My advice is for you to count them, too.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com