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