Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Do I Have to Invite My SIL to My Daughter’s First Birthday Party?”

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My sister-in-law has never really liked me. I have been married to her brother for three years and together with him for eight, so you would think she would get over herself by now. She is divorced with two children. She has been very hot and cold with us over the last eight years, and for the last two years she has pretty much shut us out. Whenever we are at a family event, she blatantly ignores us, and there is always a negative vibe in the room. She is a very bitter person.

We had her and her boyfriend over one weekend a few years back; she came, but ignored us most of the time (in our own home). The following weekend we saw her in the store – we said “hi,” but she just turned her back and walked away. My husband has tried to find out what’s wrong, but she keeps bringing up silly things like he didn’t phone her enough. We think she is purely jealous of us. We are both very hard working individuals who have been able to buy a nice house and we are happy together and this is what angers her.

My husband and I have a baby, and my SIL has brought her a gift or two, but has never ever touched her, held her, or paid any attention to her. Her mother has frequently asked if she would like to hold her niece, and she has just said in a stern voice “I. Don’t. Want. To.” So, essentially she has no relationship with our daughter.

I am having a small family get together for my baby’s first birthday and I don’t want to invite my SIL. I feel I am justified in not inviting her as she seems to not want anything to do with our baby (or us). Plus, why would she actually want to come anyway when she’d probably just ignore the birthday girl? I think I’m just worried what my MIL will think as she normally sticks up for her daughter and I don’t want to cause any more issues. But I really feel I want to have a stress-free party for my baby that we can enjoy without a negative vibe. What are your thoughts? — Not Close with SIL

Invite your SIL. Invite her and adjust your expectations. You know she will probably ignore you and your baby, so don’t pay any attention to her. Let her stew in her own negativity while you focus on the positives, like your daughter and the other family and friends present to celebrate the special occasion. If you’re worried that it will be impossible to ignore her passive negativity, give her a task that will force her to be active, even if it’s not something she necessarily wants to do. Who cares? If she’s going to be negative and unhappy anyway, at least give her some busy work so she LOOKS like an active participant and not just a sour puss sitting in the corner stewing. Give her a camera and ask her to take photos. Or ask if she wouldn’t mind slicing the bagels or keeping the chip bowl full.

You may think that not having your SIL present will decrease your stress and anxiety, but the truth is you won’t really be able to relax knowing that your MIL will be wondering why her daughter wasn’t invited to the party. And you KNOW your MIL is always going to stick by her daughter. You’d stick by your daughter, too. It’s what moms do. Even if they know their daughters are pains in the asses, they stick by their side. Don’t mess with the mother-daughter bond. Don’t force your MIL to take sides. Include your SIL, keep on your MIL’s good side, and enjoy your other guests while ignoring your brother’s bratty sister. This is the path of least resistance and the one you will have to get used to traveling along because this woman is part of your family and part of your life, whether you like it or not.

One more thing: you say that your SIL is jealous of you because you and your husband have worked hard and can afford a nice lifestyle. It’s great that you two are doing so well, but extending some compassion to your SIL who is a single mom of two kids would probably go a long way. I bet she works every bit as hard as you do — maybe even more since she has double the amount of kids and half the amount of parental help at home — and perhaps doesn’t have the material rewards OR the loving relationship you enjoy. Maybe that’s her own doing. Maybe not. Regardless, maybe the reason she’s shut you out in the last couple of years is because life got particularly challenging for her and she didn’t get the kind of support and compassion from her brother and his family as she may have wanted. Maybe it was doubly hard to hit a rough patch at exactly the same time her brother’s life was taking off. Maybe going to your home and seeing how well you guys are doing, at least outwardly, is too stark a contrast to her own life for her comfort.

Invite your SIL to your daughter’s party. Practice compassion. Be grateful for all the good in your life, and try not to dwell so much on the small shadow your SIL’s unhappiness is casting in your world. Counter the shadow with light, and you both may benefit.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

19 comments… add one
  • avatar

    TheRascal October 27, 2014, 9:07 am

    Wendy, spot on advice!

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  • FireStar

    FireStar October 27, 2014, 9:17 am

    You say your SIL hasn’t shown your daughter any attention…but she has bought her a gift or two. That’s attention. So what if she doesn’t want to hold the baby? Not everyone does. I wouldn’t be a fan of someone who I felt didn’t like me hold my baby anyway. It sounds like your expectations are off. Not everyone gets the Disney family. Just invite her. She can chat with your mother-in-law and then that is one less person for you to make the rounds to. Maybe she is jealous. Maybe is just a miserable person. Maybe she truly dislikes you. Maybe it is all in your head because she doesn’t act the way you would expect her to act. Who cares? Your options are to cut her out of your life – which would cause more drama which you say you don’t want – or to make the best of it. There were beloved family members I barely got to speak to at my daughter’s first birthday just because there was so much going on. You can manage a smile, a wave and a “glad you could make it” as you rush by to figure out how the icing ended up in your daughter’s hair.

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  • avatar

    csp October 27, 2014, 9:23 am

    Slow, reverential clap for Wendy. Love this advice.

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  • avatar

    Essie October 27, 2014, 9:32 am

    Yes, you do have to invite your sister to your daughter’s first birthday party. Cutting off a family member because she’s not being friendly in the way you want her to be….well, that’s not going to end well for you. You can cut relatives off because they’re physically or verbally abusive to your children. Or because they’ve stolen money from you. Or they’ve raped or murdered someone. Not because they’re socially awkward or depressed or unhappy.

    Oh, and drop the “she’s jealous of us” bit. That’s just condescending and well, kind of awful. It it possible that she doesn’t have a nice house like you because she’s a single mother having to raise two kids? Or is it possible she’s uncomfortable being around your (intact) family because it’s something she’s lost?

    A little more compassion, a little less judging.

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    • becboo84

      becboo84 October 27, 2014, 9:59 am

      Your response was perfect! I actually thought Wendy could have been a little sterner with this particular LW.

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      • avatar

        Kate October 27, 2014, 11:47 am

        Agree, this is a great response from Essie.

        It bugs me how many people seem to think they’ve won at life when they’re late 20s, married with a kid or two, and own a home. And everyone who hasn’t achieved that holy grail must be jealous and dislike them. Less smugness and more compassion IS called for. You have no idea how your situation could change – tomorrow or 10 years from now – and you’d want people to show the same compassion toward you.

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  • something random

    something random October 27, 2014, 9:50 am

    WWS. Her advice was very compassionate and you can’t go wrong with that.

    When someone’s rude to you (by ignoring you and acting angry because you didn’t meet their arbitrarily defined expectations) it’s easy to just want to wash your hands of them. But this is your brother’s sister. Your beautiful intact family will only benefit by doing everything reasonable to support him in his relationship with your in-laws. This means putting up with insignificant annoyances from time to time. Your baby’s first birthday will be a fun, special day regardless of whether SIL is there or not. So do as wendy suggests and don’t put any more energy in to worrying about her. Focus on enjoying yourself and have fun.

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  • Amanda

    Amanda October 27, 2014, 10:32 am

    I would just like to point out that feeling like your brother doesn’t phone you enough isn’t “silly”. If life’s been tough for her, she has every right to feel like her brother should be there for her.
    .
    Of course, she could just be a difficult person. Life’s full of ’em. BUT it doesn’t matter. Show a little compassion. Find SOMETHING to like about her. People have a funny way of knowing when someone does like them. So find a way to make yourself like her. You don’t have to be best buddies, but if you change your perception of her – who knows? You may find she isn’t so terrible after all.

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    • something random

      something random October 27, 2014, 10:49 am

      I don’t know. I have a lot of brothers. They are all very busy in their own careers and with their own spouses and children. As an adult, I wouldn’t just decide because I was experiencing hardship they were obliged to keep calling me and uplifting me. If I wanted some support I would request it and receive it gratefully from those who were willing to contribute. The sister can feel the way that she wants, but I think she has taken a childish stance by ignoring her brother at the mall. Being withholding and expecting others to notice and fix things is rude and passive-aggressive in my book. That said, it sounds like sister has been through the ringer in the last few years and could still use some kindness and compassion.

      I think we agree on the same underlying principles if not the details.

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      • Amanda

        Amanda October 27, 2014, 11:11 am

        I may have phrased it wrong. I don’t mean constant phone calls. That would drive me insane! And quite possibly cause worse problems. But I don’t think that dismissing it as “silly” is helping. Could the SIL handle it better? Of course.

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      • courtney89

        courtney89 October 27, 2014, 11:23 am

        Good points something random. I sometimes have to remind myself when i feel like i don’t ever get any sis / bro time with my older brother, being stubborn and pulling away doesn’t help anything because he has no idea i feel like that. Being an adult and having to have adult conversations that you don’t really want to have sometimes sucks!

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie October 27, 2014, 9:44 am

    LW, Do you flaunt your affluence, appearance, social influence, etc with the SIL? If that’s true, stop it. That could explain her distancing behavior.

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  • kaluu

    kaluu October 27, 2014, 11:00 am

    Yeah the is all great advice. Also aren’t her kids your kid’s cousins? Aren’t they excited about the baby?
    Have you asked your husband if he wants to help his sister out in some way? If one of you is off work to be with your baby can you offer child care for her kids if she’s ever in a pinch ? They could even sleep over at your place for a movie night if she is overwhelmed.. But since you don’t mention the kids, im worried she doesn’t have as much custody of them as she’s like….and if that’s the case she may be in a lot of pain about that and have serious jealousy about your happy family which you can’t really blame her for or explain away. So just be compassionate. Remind your husband to call her sometimes

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    • something random

      something random October 27, 2014, 5:17 pm

      Good point, Kaluu. There might be some nieces and nephews that should definitely be invited into the babies life.

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  • avatar

    bostonpupgal October 27, 2014, 12:04 pm

    Wendy’s advice is spot on. It seems like you want to have some semblance of a relationship with your sister in law, so invite her and lower your expectations of her. I’d also suggest a few more things: stop asking her if something is wrong, if she’s upset with you, etc. You already know you won’t get a straight answer and you may be reinforcing the behavior because she knows it gets a response. If you flaunt your happy marriage, nice things, vacations, whatever, then stop. She’s a single mother raising two children alone. And finally, start communicating with her in ways that are positive. Call her up to say you were thinking of taking your child to the park on Saturday, and would she like it if you took her kids too so she can have some time alone. Ask her how she’s doing, if she needs anything. Your husband could offer to do some simple chores around her house, or just call her top talk. If none of that works and she’s just a miserable person, then keepa cordial but distant relationship with her and stop worrying about it

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  • kaluu

    kaluu October 27, 2014, 2:07 pm

    /\ Great point, definitely don’t ask what’s wrong more than once! It’s like youre implying she’s not fun or pleasant enough (which may be true but pointing it out very rarely helps.)

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  • avatar

    cleopatra jones October 27, 2014, 3:25 pm

    Sorry but this whole letter read to me like one big ol’ whinefest. It was all ‘look at me, I’m so perfect that my SIL has to be jealous of my perfect life.’
    .
    I have been married to her brother for three years and together with him for eight, so you would think she would get over herself by now
    Why does she have to get over herself if she doesn’t like you? I mean if she doesn’t like you then she doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter that you are married to her brother. Please stop invalidating her feelings because you think she has to like you because you are now related to her through marriage. The only person in that family that is obligated to like you is your husband.
    .
    my SIL has brought her a gift or two, but has never ever touched her, held her, or paid any attention to her.
    Um, so what that she’s never held your child or paid her any attention. My children are all teen-agers and I have ZERO interest in any child (family or otherwise) younger than them. Any kid my own children’s age, Yay! Love them to death because I can relate to them but any kid younger than 12, I’m running away from because I no longer have the patience or can relate to them maybe your SIL feels the same way.
    .
    We think she is purely jealous of us. We are both very hard working individuals who have been able to buy a nice house and we are happy together and this is what angers her.
    Are you really sure this is the issue? Maybe she’s sick of you guys beating her over the head with your ‘happiness’. When you are truly happy with your relationship/finances/careers, you don’t worry about if someone else is jealous of you cause that’s their problem to deal with and not yours so please stop discussing her jealousy. It.does.not.matter.
    .
    I feel I am justified in not inviting her as she seems to not want anything to do with our baby (or us).
    This is making it all about you. Please stop that! Invite her cause she’s family and it’s the right thing to do. If she decides not to come, then it’s her choice. If she does come to the party, just be a gracious host. <–that's really all you have to do.

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    • something random

      something random October 27, 2014, 5:23 pm

      I think its pretty ridiculous to expect the letter writer to validate someone’s rejection of her. But you has a point that sil doesn’t have to love the lw in order for the sister to have a relationship with her brother or niece.

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  • avatar

    kaymad41 October 27, 2014, 5:59 pm

    If you don’t invite her you’ll be the bad guy. Don’t be the bad guy.

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