“I Don’t Want To Go To My In-Laws’ for Thanksgiving and Christmas This Year”

Every year we go to my in-laws’ for Christmas, and unless I put my foot down, we usually go for Thanksgiving too. If we don’t go for both of these occasions, my husband throws a fit and will go to work unless I decide to go to his parents’. This year has been a very hard year for me. My son will be turning 18 and I wanted to spend the holiday with just him, my husband, and daughter. Also, a few weeks ago my dog passed away and I’ve been distraught.

I expressed that I wanted to avoid any family drama as I’m never made to feel welcome by my mother-in-law anyway. My husband does not have my back and has made it impossible now to enjoy the holiday because I was adamant about not going to his mother’s. He also never tells his mother I don’t feel welcome; he thinks I should basically deal with her cold treatment towards me. Please help. — Tired of Cold Treatment for the Holidays

Your husband wants to spend the holidays with his parents; you don’t want to go to their home because you feel unwelcome. Compromise by trying something a little different: Invite them to your place for Christmas this year (since it’s a little late to switch up Thanksgiving plans). That way your husband (and your kids) still get to spend the holiday with your in-laws’ and you don’t have to deal with feeling unwelcome in their home.

Also, adjust your expectations, and don’t rely on your mother-in-law’s treatment of you to make or break your holiday season. Expect that it’s not going to be super fun spending a few hours in your in-laws’ company, and then be glad it’s only a few hours. Make special plans for the days surrounding each holiday you spend with your in-laws that are just for your immediate family and/or for them and a few other people you genuinely enjoy. Accept that as an adult (especially as a married adult with kids), the holidays aren’t going to be all about what you want. You’re going to have to compromise, suck things up a little, and grin and bear it when you don’t get exactly your way.

I’m sorry about your dog. I know how much it hurts to lose a furry member of the family. The worst thing you can do though is to tie your grief to traditions that have nothing to do with your loss. Saying you don’t want to spend Christmas with your in-laws this year, when you always spend Christmas with them, because you’re distraught over your dog’s death, doesn’t make much sense. Wanting to avoid family drama? Sure, that’s understandable. But you don’t do that by cutting out your in-laws from a holiday you always spend with them, especially when you know how much that will hurt and alienate your husband.

What might make you feel a little better in your grief is doing something special to remember your dog, like having an ornament made with his or her image or name on it, lighting a candle each night during the holiday in your dog’s memory, or asking your husband for a framed picture of your dog as a holiday gift this year.

Finally, if you generally feel like your husband doesn’t have your back – in regards to his mother’s treatment of you and anything else — and you’ve discussed your feelings with him and nothing has changed, please consider getting marriage counseling together. A successful marriage depends on each partner feeling supported – and not dismissed – by the other.

There’s a man whom I love, but I really feel he doesn’t love me back. I’m a 69-year-old widow and he is a 74-year-old widower. His 50-year-old daughter moved in with him (and his wife) after her divorce years ago. I can’t go to his house because his daughter does not want him to have a girlfriend (her mom died three years ago). He brings me coffee in the morning and we see the sunset together and that’s the extent of our relationship.

Recently, he got sick and had to go to the hospital. He called me but his sons and daughter were there, so I wasn’t allowed to go see him. I feel worthless, and his relationship with his daughter doesn’t seem normal. Should a 74-year-old man let his adult child tell him how to run his life? — Coffee and Sunsets Aren’t Enough

He’s lying to you. It’s highly, highly unlikely he’s sharing his home with his daughter and his daughter only. Either that woman isn’t actually his daughter, his wife never died, or there’s another girlfriend you don’t know about. Regardless, you clearly are not getting what you want out of this relationship and it’s time to move on.


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


  1. Bittergaymark says:

    LW1). Yeah. Wendy’s idea of hosting Christmas is more work for you, sure — but gives you back some power.
    LW2). Eh, I dunno if he is lying or not. It could easily be that all he wants is the warm casual friendship you already share. That means you are not a match. But the idea that he simply must also be a lying cheat and a cad is a real stretch. PS — adult children can often be batshit crazy about their surviving parent’s love lives… so yeah… I can totally see the adult daughter/roomie being fucking wacko about this…

    1. Seriously, it often becomes a battle over the kids protecting their inheritance. You are 5 years younger, women live longer on average, if the two of you marry the kids fear you’ll get their $$ or just the house. This is a really common issue.

      1. I mean it happens, my mum’s father remarried and when he died (only a couple of years later) she and her kids cleaned the whole place out. My mum never got what she was supposed to in the will and she wasn’t there in time to snag a keepsake of her dad.

      2. It does happen. When my dad remarried, his wife made him cut my sister and I out of his will. She promised to leave something to us when she died (she’s a fair bit younger), so he went along with it. When he later decided he’d like to leave us something after all, she blew up and threatened to divorce him and “take it all” if he changed his will even a bit. We’ve accepted that we have no claim to my dad’s money – despite what my mom always told us about how she saved so she could leave us kids a legacy, in her will she left it all to him, so it’s his to give to his new wife. We ask for keepsakes, like photo albums, when we get a rare moment alone with Dad, but it still stings and if I were a pettier person I could see myself doing and saying some pretty nasty stuff.

    2. I agree with you. I have seen adult children totally control their aging parents lives. My mom had a phone boyfriend. They reconnected at a class reunion. They watched TV shows together , did the daily crossword together ( all on the phone). But try to go somewhere, nope. One of his 8 kids would call and he was cancelling. The oldest daughter would call him to get McDonalds in late at night. Run to the store for a jar of peanut butter, etc. It was ridiculous.

  2. LW#1 Taking on the holidays can be seen as a power grab. It seems silly but your MIL may not want to give up hostessing yet. Tread lightly.

    LW #2, no, a parent shouldn’t be dictating a parent’s social life. I’ve told my mom I’ll support her when/if she’s ready to date again. However, I fully admit to being a little protective when a few of the widowers came a knockin’ in the first few months. Your man friend is interested in general companionship, not a second chance romance. Move on.

  3. convexexed says:

    1) I agree with Wendy that adulthood/family life requires compromise, but it looks from the letter that you spend the holidays with your in-laws EVERY year, and EVERY year you are made to feel unwelcome. Your husband needs to do some compromising, too. You didn’t mention your side of the family; I assume they are not in the picture or there is some other reason you don’t alternate years. I would talk to your husband about a new plan going forward, starting next year if plans are already set for the upcoming holidays. Maybe every other year you spend the holidays with just your immediate family (each other and the kids). Or maybe you need to cap the number of hours you spend at the in-laws instead of spending an entire day. I think there is a medium between ‘cutting out your in-laws’ and you resigning yourself to suck it up, year after year. I didn’t say ‘happy medium’ because I think you will end up getting some shit from husband/in-laws. But it’s worth standing your ground. Yes, the holidays aren’t all about you, but they aren’t ONLY about what your husband and his in-laws want, either. You are also entitled to feel relaxed and at ease, either every other year completely, or for at least a good part of the day on major holidays. Maybe you need to have a special Christmas breakfast with just your household before heading out to the in-laws, or, if you’re traveling to see them, maybe you need to
    stay in a hotel so your evening are your own. But no, compromise has to be shared by your husband, too. It’s not compromise if you just end up sucking it up—that’s just you, sucking it up.

    2) I don’t necessarily think he’s cheating. I am cynical, but I’m not THAT cynical to think his ‘daughter’ is his wife or girlfriend. As a nurse, I take care of a lot of older people, and I’ve noticed how very much the dynamics can shift with their adult children as the adult children become caretakers and managers of their parents–even when those parents still have capacity to care for themselves. She may control his finances or take care of the household (groceries, meals) If his daughter is his only family left, he may not want to rock the boat. He may fear alienating her too much to have a relationship with you that isn’t limited or secret. With the loss of his wife still relatively recent, he also may not be ready (and he may never be) for another all-in, full-on relationship. He may just want a few shared moments, coffee, and sunsets. He may not feel able to love someone again with the depth and intensity he had with his late wife. He may have health issues you don’t know about, that keep him from feeling able to commit to someone.
    There’s a lot that can be going on when you reach that stage in life. If he were in his fifties, I’d tend to lean more towards what Wendy’s suggesting. But the 70’s are a whole other ball game. Not that everyone in their 70’s acts/feels the same, not at all, but there are many, many possible reasons besides cheating/dishonesty that could explain what’s going on here.

    1. Agreed – why should LW1 be the only one compromising? What about her husband?

    2. Penny Candy says:

      I applaud Conveveved’s feedback. This is the advice that both LWs need to hear.

      Your advice for LW1 is SPOT ON. She spends the holidays with her in-laws EVERY year, and EVERY year she is made to feel unwelcome. How awful! Why does she need to buck it up all the time? She is grieving the loss of a dear pet and holding onto every moment of the last year her son will be with her before he starts out on his own. Her husband needs to do some compromising, too.

      The one point I do agree with Wendy is to not let the holiday dinners spoil this year. Find ways to limit the time at the in-law’s house and create fun holiday experiences outside of the hours spent at the in-law’s home on the actual holiday days. It is the Holiday Season – plan something for each and every week from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Go to see holiday lights, decorate your home, host a holiday party, go to holiday tea, go to see a holiday show (symphony, chorus, ballet, etc.), or plan holiday movie nights with fun holiday-themed food and drinks.

      For LW2, again Convexexed’s advice nailed it and I agree with other comments that the man has health issues and is most likely not in a place to take on a deeper level relationship.

    3. EmpressAfroPuffs says:

      Exactly, why is LW1 the only one expected to compromise? Seriously if her husband would rather be at work than with his (immediate) family if he can’t be up underneath his mom during The Holidays, I would let him go by himself.

  4. Northern Star says:

    LW 1: You’re setting an example for your kids. If you continue to complain and try to make the holidays about your small nuclear family only, don’t be surprised when your kids have families of your own and you spend Thanksgiving in your old age alone. Just sayin’.

    LW 2: I don’t get why he has to be a “liar.” The old fart probably just wants his daughter to actually take care of him day to day, and a contemporary (you) to be his companion.

  5. LW1, I think it is perfectly reasonable to want a nuclear family Thanksgiving or Christmas this year since your son is about the fly the coop and you’d like to enjoy it for once instead of having to suck it up. However, because your husband is a brat who throws hissy fits and stomps off to work when things don’t go exactly his way (a horrible example to his children) and does not behave like an adult and a loving partner to you at holiday time, I think you should change the channel on all of this and make other plans. How about you and the kids volunteer and serve dinners to the needy or check with your local hospice or council on aging to see if there are people in your community who need a meal delivered or transportation or just some friendly words? You are the only one who can do things differently to have a different outcome, so forget about fighting the same fight again and think about turning your energy outward in a new way. Good luck!

  6. LW1: yes, compromise. Go to the Thanksgiving dinner by your MIL, but insist on having one of the Christmas celebrations at your place with your family only, either for Christmas Eve or the 25th. So you get what you want – a holiday with the four of you – and your husband gets what he wants. The idea to host is also good.
    You don’t speak of your own family: how about your parents? Does this side of the family have a say, or a role in the holiday plans? If not, this is unbalanced.

    1. I edited it out of the original letter, but the LW was raised Jewish, so her parents probably don’t factor in so much when it comes to Christmas.

      1. moonmarked says:

        That clarifies a number of things. That was crucial and critical information—that the wife was raised Jewish and in a Jewish family. Why would you edit that out?

        That might be part of the conflict around observing Christmas and also perhaps why the mother in law is not particularly welcoming. It sounds like there are no shared traditions, just enforced time together.

        Given the fact that this has been an issue for at least 18 years, there’s larger problems in this marriage and extended family!

    2. Bittergaymark says:

      Ah. It also explains why — to her — skipping Christmas is not the biggest thing in the world either…

      1. GingerSnapped says:

        LW1- My only child is graduating this year also, so I completely understand wanting to spend more time as a nuclear family. But, what does your child want? Oftentimes kids miss out on things with extended family once they go off to college or work. Your son may want to spend the holidays with his grandparents and other relatives. If he doesn’t want to go then you both need to sit down with your husband and explain that you both feel a strong need to spend the holiday together, and not at a big stressful gathering.

    3. Her MIL probably can’t stand that her son married a Jew. A lot of anti-Semitic Christians. This is a husband problem. If his solution is to sulk and go to work, tell him no more trips by you to his parents. He isn’t playing at all fair. Does the family join LW’s family for Jewish holidays? How frequently?

  7. LW2, my father started dating again recently (my mother passed 5 years ago). The woman he was seeing eventually instigated a conversation stating that she wanted something more serious and he responded he’s not there yet. They broke up, but she contacted him again a few months later and they picked up where they left off. Just recently she instigated another conversation where they repeated the same things.

    It’s possible your bf isn’t interested in anything more than he’s currently offering you.

  8. LW1- how is your marriage? Overall how is it? If your husband would rather go to work then spend the holiday with his family then to me that sounds like there is something wrong with your relationship. (I’m really jumping here) he could also not like your cooking. Can’t you just go to eat and say hi, let your husband stay as long as he wants (drive seperate vehicles)and you go home or out shopping with your kids.

    1. Ya husband seems to be the problem to me. He won’t speak to mother, sulks and leaves when he has to deal with the issue. I think you need to work on your marriage before you worry about Thanksgiving.

      1. @JD agreed.

  9. LW2- take the company he offers and enjoy it. At your age there is no need to rush things or even marry. At 74 yrs old it is very likely his daughter did move in to help care for him. At 74yrs old, the last thing on your mind is having a long lasting relationship. I should also inform you that nursing homes have the highest chances of catching an STD amoung the overall population if you catch my drift

    1. @Poppy – funny but true. I told some oldsters that the nice thing about STDs when you’re old is that if you get the clap, you won’t live long enough for it to make your brain into swiss cheese. Or make you infertile. Or have enough time to give you cervical cancer. I like to focus on the bright side in all of this.

      1. I think you’re referring to syphilis. I don’t think gonorrhea (ie the clap) makes brains into Swiss cheese, but I could be wrong:)

    2. The Villages in FL have the highest STD rate in the country. Tens of thousands of retirees.

      1. Hahaha yes, so true. And @ron I am so not suprised with Florida having the highest rates. These retirement communities are something else.

  10. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    LW1 What would your kids like to do? It’s your son’s last year before leaving. I would assume he has an opinion. Kids often want to follow established traditions but not always. Do the kids feel welcome and wanted at the in-laws and do they feel upset that you aren’t treated well?

    It seems like you and your husband could benefit from some counseling. If you have to deal with going to his parents he should be able to deal with having half of his holidays at home.

    LW2 He may not want anything more or his kids may fear that if he gets into a serious relationship he would get married and then his new wife would get everything when he dies. Adult children often guard their inheritance. The reason doesn’t really matter. If the relationship doesn’t meet your needs then you are better off breaking up. I know the problem is that there are far more widows than widowers and so it may mean you are alone.

  11. dinoceros says:

    LW2: It doesn’t really matter whether he “should” or not. You want to be treated like a real girlfriend and he doesn’t have any intention of doing so. If his story is true, he could choose to live his own life and put his foot down, but he doesn’t. That’s a bad sign. Why put up with that?

  12. LW1: It’s pretty close to Thanksgiving. Probably too close to back out now. And, per Wendy’s update, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, but your kids and husband do with your in-laws, well, I mean, you can opt out, nbd, but it’s not fair to ask them to, you know? So, what I would do in your place is have a nuclear family Wednesday celebration the day before Thanksgiving Day and, during the college years, make it A Thing. (I did this with my dad on my way to Thanksgiving with my mom for years. I miss it now that circumstances have changed.) Find a similar compromise re the Christmas celebration.

    Then transition out of grandma’s house for the holidays. Once your kids are both in college/moving into adulthood, make your own tradition and just invite grandma to it. Truthfully, when you’re talking about a lifetime and you already have college-aged kids, this is not a long term problem. Things change when your kids grow up. A lot.

    And, also, let go of giving a rat’s ass how your MIL acts. Maybe she hates you, maybe she doesn’t, but that’s her fucking problem. She “lost” a long time ago. Any coldness is just her being bitter. Don’t let her bitterness infect your life. It’ll just make you bitter. When you have to be there, take breaks outside, talk with other relatives, whatever, and leave as soon as you can. And rejoice that at least you’re not entertaining her in your house where you’re stuck.

    Oh, and call your husband’s BS bluff about working if he doesn’t go to his mom’s for every holiday. Fuck that noise.

    Finally, I’m sorry for the loss of your dog. It hurts and sometimes people don’t get it. Hugs.

  13. allathian says:

    I’m glad I live in a country where it’s pretty damn hard to cut your direct descendants out of their inheritance. No matter what your will says, direct descendants are always entitled to half of their legal share. In addition, inheritance tax for non-descendants is much higher than for descendants.

  14. LW2- is it possible that your boyfriend has care needs, tended by his daughter, that he doesn’t want to share with you out of pride? An elderly (I know your boyfriend isn’t that old, but needs differ) relative of mine (now sadly gone) would have absolutely adored the chance of a romantic friendship like yours, but would not have been able to stay with someone (other than his carer) overnight. He may also be afraid that if he brings you more to the fore, his daughter will move out,
    and you wouldn’t be able to take her place. Total theorising but possible. Hope you find something that works for you.

  15. LW1, you’ve been unhappy with your holiday arrangement for 18+ years and if you try to change it your husband just stomps off to work until he gets his way?! I have a hard time believing this is the only problem in your marriage.
    This is a husband problem, and a big one– that you can’t talk to him about this, and that he doesn’t know how to fight like an adult. I don’t know how you’ve lasted this long.
    Couples counseling. Or maybe just stay home from Thanksgiving and if what he wants is to work, you have your holiday with your kids anyways.

    As for feeling welcome in his mother’s home, maybe you never will (if it hasn’t happened yet, I doubt its gonna change) but you have to suck it up occasionally. That doesn’t mean every freaking holiday though.

  16. I know this question is old, but I came across it in dealing with a similar problem, and I have a problem with Wendy’s answer. You say the holidays are about compromising and that it may not always be about you… but why is it the wife’s responsibility to bend over for her husband? Why can’t her husband be told to compromise and realize that the holidays aren’t all about HIM? Shouldn’t she be able to spend her life how she wants to? Can’t he go to his mom’s and she stay behind with her kids or other family? Do they always have to spend that time together?

    1. Where are LWs family in all of this? Usually these occasions mean trying to allocate time to 2-3 other relatives generally from both sides.
      Yes the husband is being an jerk, he doesn’t have her back, doesn’t support her suggestion of spending the day with their own son (who is 18 and may well be anywhere next year with college or work) and daughter.
      And her having lost a loved animal, I can see why dealing with unwelcoming in-laws is just too much this year!

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        Her family is jewish and thus not exactly clamoring for a Christmas get together…

    2. Yes… I agree. Also if these people were nicer throughout the year, it wouldn’t be a problem spending time with them. Then to hand over your special holiday time to those who treat you without appreciation the majority of the year is nuts.

  17. There isn’t enough info about the holiday dilemma. When we went to my in-laws for Christmas, it was hours of travel and a couple of nights stay. My MIL would not allow anyone else to host until she was very ill, and then it had to be her daughter, even though our home was more centrally located. They should do one holiday each year at the MIL’s house and the other at home or as hosts. And the hubby sounds like a spoiled brat.

    The 74-year-old has the relationship he’s happy with. If the writer wants more, she should move on. She can keep this one until she finds what she’s looking for. And I agree with other posts – the daughter thinks she is protecting her inheritance.

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