Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Sister’s Cooking Christmas Dinner for Our Mother and Didn’t Invite Me!”

220px-The_Grinch_(That_Stole_Christmas)

I hosted Thanksgiving again this year, and for the first time since my father died, my mother and sisters decided to join us. Typically, they go out to a restaurant, without us. My mother says she can’t afford to take my immediate family (there are five of us), even though she is worth millions. She won’t let us come and pay for ourselves either.

They came for Thanksgiving this year to meet our new son-in-law’s relatives. Everyone seemed to have a great time. Typically, I try to have them for Christmas as well. Last year they even stayed for dinner. They always come here, on their own schedule, for a gift exchange Christmas day. Usually they decline staying for dinner, going to a restaurant instead. No, I’m not a bad cook — they are just weird.

I invited everyone to come for Christmas dinner again this year, via email. I noted that my daughter, her husband and little baby wouldn’t be here, as they are visiting his family in England. My sister responded to say she was cooking at her place for herself, our mother and our sister, but would love to come to our house for a gift exchange. She did not invite my family (the kids are nearly 30) to join them for dinner.

I find this hurtful and awkward. I don’t know what to say to her. She hasn’t cooked a meal (that I know of) in twenty years, let alone a holiday meal. My mother says she’d rather be with the whole family (including me and my kids), but would never say no to my sister.

I’m not sure what I should say to my sister. I suggested we come to mom’s house if she is cooking dinner there, just for the gift exchange. But that doesn’t feel right. Later I emailed to say maybe we should pick another day for the gift exchange, and does anyone have any ideas? Did I do the right thing? — Disappointed on Christmas

There’s been a precedence in your family that you host a Christmas gift exchange. It sounds like your family rarely stays for a meal, although last year your mother and sisters did. This year, your mother and sisters also joined you for a Thanksgiving meal — something they don’t usually do. So, that’s two major holidays in the last year that your mother and sisters have joined you for a meal when they haven’t ordinarily. And yet, your feelings are hurt because one of your sisters is cooking a meal on Christmas for what sounds like the single women in your family (your mom and your two sisters, whom you don’t mention having husbands in the picture) and didn’t invite you.

I have several thoughts about this: You say your sister hasn’t cooked a meal — let alone a holiday one — in twenty years, so chances are she doesn’t want the pressure of cooking for an extended family, which is why she didn’t invite you and your kids. As to why she’s breaking precedent and cooking at all, maybe she wants to start a new tradition. Maybe she saw that you just cooked two holiday meals for your mother — last Christmas and this Thanksgiving — and she feels she should take a turn. Maybe she wants some smaller-group, quality time with your mom before (or after) the frenzy of gift-opening with the whole family. I bet that whatever her reasoning is it probably has nothing to do with you, and, since the only thing that it sounds like they’re doing differently this year is having dinner at your sister’s house instead of going to a restaurant, I think you need to let this go.

Your feelings are hurt that you weren’t invited to your sister’s and I get that, but suggesting a different day to open the gifts, when you’ve always opened gifts on Christmas at your house, seems passive aggressive. If you’re hurt and confused that you weren’t invited to your sister’s, say so. Don’t suggest different places and days for the gift-opening as a way of expressing your hurt feelings. Just express your hurt feelings. What’s the worst that will happen? Your sister will be upset that you’ve put her on the spot? She’ll feel defensive? You might have an awkward or tense exchange of words? Maybe! But at least the exchange of words will be about the actual matter at hand — your hurt feelings — and not about something that isn’t the actual thing you’re truly upset about (where and when to open gifts).

It also seems passive to let them come to your house on Christmas “on their own schedule.” Pick a time to invite them over. If that time isn’t good for them, they can decline or suggest another time, to which you can either agree or disagree. But here you have a mother who wants to spend time with her whole family, and at least one sister — and probably more than one — who want to see you at least for opening gifts on Christmas. And you’re going to deny everyone — including yourself — the gift of togetherness because you’re hurt that a sister who hasn’t cooked a meal in twenty years isn’t inviting you over to eat her food. I’d consider being spared inexperienced cooking a gift!

Look, the holidays are always fraught with emotional turmoil around family and loved ones and the different ways people feel slighted or stressed or let down by them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we give deeper focus to the efforts people make to include us and show up for us and express their love rather than deficits in those expressions, we’d feel more gratitude, empathy, and compassion and less hurt, hostility, and disappointment. Your family wants to see you on Christmas. Who cares if what they want is time opening presents or time eating a meal; the fact is they want to see you. Focus on that, and the Grinch may not be the only one whose heart grows three sizes at Christmas.

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

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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.

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    blink14 December 12, 2016, 10:10 am

    How have their holiday plans changed after your father passed away? That certainly is likely to play a role in holiday plans evolving, sounds like it did for Thanksgiving at least. Maybe your sister can’t deal with being around a lot of people for the holidays without your father, perhaps your mother has expressed to her in the past that a large gathering would be too overwhelming. Maybe invite them for dessert on Christmas and plan to do the gift exchange then. Death can really change a family dynamic, and if this wasn’t a consistent pattern before your father’s passing, I would suggest talking to your mother and your other siblings after the holidays to get a sense of what’s going on.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie December 12, 2016, 11:03 am

    It’s ok to be hurt and frustrated by this, but why can’t you just talk to them?

    As for your mom not taking you all out to dinner – you say she’s worth millions but unless you actually have access to her bank and investment accounts, you don’t know. She may also be terrified of running through her funds and having to go into state care when she’s nearing nursing care age. Or maybe she doesn’t feel like it’s fair to spend $200 on your sisters and $500 on you and your family at a dinner. Maybe she would like to more equitably split the money across her kids. Her money – not yours to spend for her.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros December 12, 2016, 11:27 am

      But she also won’t let the LW go and pay her own way. That has nothing to do with finances.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros December 12, 2016, 11:28 am

    I thought the issue was mostly that they tend to make exclusive holiday plans and never invite the LW and her family? Or choose to decline invites to do their own exclusive meal? I don’t think the LW is being unreasonable here.

    That being said, LW, it appears that the norm is that your mother and sister are aloof and do their own thing and expect that you’ll do your own thing. So, I think the options are, like Wendy said, bringing it up, or acknowledging that your mom and sister have their own in-group and this is just what they do.

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  • avatar

    RedRoverRedRover December 12, 2016, 11:31 am

    I do think it’s hurtful, but I think the way it’s been going for previous Christmases is hurtful as well. So, nothing’s really changed. I agree with Wendy’s suggestion to just keep the gift exchange as always. And if you want to try to have just one meal with everyone next year, talk to your sister about it, but wait till after the holidays. Right now it’s too close to Christmas and it’ll be too potentially upsetting to try to change plans.

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  • avatar

    Howdywiley December 12, 2016, 11:35 am

    I’m curious what the relationship is like the rest of the year.

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    • avatar

      Ange December 12, 2016, 4:37 pm

      I wonder if there’s someone really obnoxious in the LW’s branch of the family.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark December 12, 2016, 9:14 pm

        The snide judgmental tone of the LW makes her a likely suspect. 😉 Sorry, but there is an weird undercurrent to this letter.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 December 12, 2016, 11:48 am

    To me it just seems like they are doing their own thing, and didn’t invite you because they know you have a family, and usually do your own thing. For some reason this year you are making a big deal about it, but it seems par for the course in the past, except for maybe two of your sisters, but maybe they feel like they are infringing on your family time as well, so they thought it best to do their own meal, and stick with gift swap.

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  • avatar

    AlwaysALurker December 12, 2016, 12:21 pm

    I agree with Wendy that being extra hurt at this particular instance is counter-productive. The LW clearly has some built up resentment and hurt over exclusion and non-reciprocation from previous years (e.g. not being invited to restaurant Thanksgiving even though according to her the Mom is worth millions). Blowing this one incident way out of proportion will not change anything.

    On the other hand, I do think there is a strain and strange behavior between the family members. If the LW wants to be have a stronger relationship with her family then she should learn how to speak up and communicate during the times when it’s not so stressful. If the only issue is the invite and you truly don’t want a deeper relationship with your sisters/mother then just drop it. A tit-for-tat relationship is not fun for anyone involved.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark December 12, 2016, 1:25 pm

    Ugh. Why is it that so many people plod through life deaperately looking for new petty ways to be offended? Must be rather exhausting. And yet — so many fucking people do this CONSTANTLY.

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  • avatar

    saneinca December 13, 2016, 1:40 am

    LW, I am sorry for your predicament. After getting together at your place for Thanksgiving then planning something just for themselves for Christmas without including you is pretty rude.

    I have a few theories as to why they would do that.

    1) It is possible they (sisters and mom) do not like a member of your family (could be your husband or one of the children). Hence they are avoiding your family altogether.
    2) It is possible they do not like your/your family’s religious or political views and are avoiding you for that reason.
    3) It is possible you are not good company for them (noisy household) and one or more of them prefers peace and quiet.
    4) It is possible your sisters are trying to alienate you from your mother (who is rich you said).

    I could be wrong about all the above theories and they just want a intimate dinner of 3 instead of full house ( there were 5 of you after all).

    I suggest you play it cool, wish them a happy Christmas and let them decide when they want to see you for gift exchange or otherwise. If you get along fine throughout the year, then one separate Christmas celebration does not make a difference.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom December 13, 2016, 8:24 am

      I’ll add a few more. They don’t mind coming over for gifts but mind eating with you. It isn’t specifically what you cook because they also don’t want to eat with you at a restaurant.

      Does someone chew with their mouth open?
      Does someone have bad breath?
      Does someone stick their fork or fingers into other people’s food or into serving dishes?
      Does someone smell bad?
      Does someone fart a lot?
      Does someone constantly comment about what other people choose to eat or not eat?

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom December 13, 2016, 8:30 am

    If your mother would like to have Christmas dinner with you consider having your Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and invite your mom. My mom’s parents always had Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and it has always seemed a great way to do it.

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  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy December 13, 2016, 9:02 am

    From the LW:

    Thanks for your response! Right after I wrote you, I got several texts from my sister. The last one said, R isn’t coming home for Christmas, so we’ll come to your house for dinner. R has never not come home for Christmas, so I don’ know what that’s about, except mom will be devastated.

    In the meantime, we had to figure out how to include my newly married daughter, her husband and their new baby. They are coming here prior to leaving for England to be with his family for Christmas, so we decided to have Sunday brunch and a gift exchange then. That seems to be fine with everyone. Just their gifts, not the rest of the family. Or, I guess we could do the entire gift exchange then….but if my mom and sister are coming for Christmas dinner after all, we could do our gifts then. I really get overwhelmed planning all this!!

    Christmas day for a gift exchange, with two of us cooking dinner, well, there’s not enough time.That’s why I did not want to do it on Christmas day We don’t live that close to my mom and sister, so there’s travel time. In the past, when they’ve come for just gifts, they arrive late and leave late, so we know in advance this doesn’t work too well. My other sister lives 2 hours away, so she’s unpredictable as well.

    Picking a different day was to avoid the time difficulties, not to be passive aggressive. Or maybe you have more insight—

    This weekend my husband and I put a wreath on my Dad’s grave, as we always do. My mother said she would like to, but can’t get my sister to drive her to the cemetery. We also put one on my nephew and brother in law’s section near the mausoleum. My sister got angry at us for doing that. My brother in law died 13 years ago, and my nephew last December, so there was no precedence for this. (she kept her husband’s ashes in her garage all these years,until last month) So again, I do feel sorry for my sister, but I never seem to be prepared for her responses to things. We are all in our 60’s, by the way.

    Thanks for your help. I do want to take the high road, but I sometimes feel I get jerked around and damned if I do and damned if I don’t. We have gotten together quite a bit since J’s birth. I made sure to invite family whenever they came home to visit. Christmas is just different for some reason, and difficult, and has always, always been that way.

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    • bagge72

      bagge72 December 13, 2016, 1:15 pm

      So maybe since everyone lost loved ones it’s hard for them to be with other family that time of year, so they wanted to throw their own thing. But it looks like you got what you wanted anyways because one of the sisters couldn’t make it. Crisis averted until next year.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark December 13, 2016, 2:25 pm

        Yeah, gee… maybe the fact that your one sister has lost not only her husband but also her son now makes the holidays rather difficult for her to bear? Hopefully, at that gift exchange this year somebody gives you the gift of compassion…

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  • avatar

    Stilgar666 December 14, 2016, 10:00 pm

    LW details so many potentially drama causing ins-and-outs, that she obviously has some part to play in her family’s aloofness. Maybe its the martyr complex, perfectionism, arrogance, self-absorption or non-empathy.

    “I never seem to be prepared for her responses to things.” If you are 60ish and can’t anticipate a sibling’s responses, you are self-involved or willfully obtuse. I wouldn’t want LW anywhere near the memorials of my child or spouse, it seems like she laid the wreaths just to inform her sister that she did it.

    Also, labeling their behavior “weird” demonstrates a shocking lack of insight and compassion for two widows.

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