Carolyn Hax: Rift removes sibling from family’s Thanksgiving table

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 23, 2013

Dear Carolyn: How do I handle not being invited to the extended-family Thanksgiving dinner? An estranged sibling is having the dinner and has excluded the other three siblings — on purpose. The only other family member who knows is my mother, a favorite target of the estranged sibling’s bullying. The extended family does not know there is a rift (a rift because of the ongoing pattern of bullying).

Do I just suck it up and cook my own dinner, or get together with the other two siblings and not mention it to anyone outside the family nucleus? — R.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Or invite people you enjoy who you know don’t have plans, or invite your other siblings and don’t care who knows what, or pack a bag and treat yourself to an overnight someplace you’ve always wanted to see/see again, or spend the day shopping online for a needy family, or warm up your favorite pie and queue up a video marathon that provokes thought, inspires you or just makes you laugh out loud.

When someone spits on your script, that is hurtful and upsetting, I get it. But it’s also license to drop the spitty script in the fire and write a new one. If you can use this do-over to be more generous with others than your sibling has been with you, then think of that as the stuffing in the bird.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

* * *

Dear Carolyn: I need help handling my son and his wife, so I can keep my dignity and still see my grandchild.

Son and Wife are in their mid-40s, building a successful law firm and live about 45 minutes away by car. I see them once or twice a month, mainly because I pick up my granddaughter to spend time with her, otherwise there would be much less contact. Son and Wife encourage my contact with their child, it gives them a break, of course.

My problem is that Son and Wife do not find it necessary to return my e-mails or phone calls, or other common courtesies. For example, I have e-mailed asking if Granddaughter may go to a certain event. If the answer is no, they simply will not respond. I e-mail asking them if I left my camera case at their house, I receive no response. I bought Granddaughter a Halloween costume, with her mother’s knowledge and approval. When I came to bring it to her on Halloween, she was already wearing another costume.

How do I handle this situation and keep my granddaughter and my self-respect? — Grandma Almost Ready to Give Up

I get it, I do. It is a healthy reflex, when someone mistreats us, to stop offering ourselves up for mistreatment.

But that reflex ill serves us when access to children or grandchildren is involved. You want to protect yourself and punish this couple by denying them your compliant presence, but we both knowthey’ll barely flinch — while you’ll suffer greatly in denying yourself time with the child.

The solution that won’t cost you so dearly, if you can do it without reservation, is to untie your dignity from the process of seeing the girl.

Try this: If you routinely hit traffic as you drove to see your granddaughter, then it would be an obstacle, but you’d never take it personally.

If you were hit by storms, or your car struggled with the hills, or your lower back got achy, then you would factor those obstacles into your decision to go, but would also never think to take them personally or regard them as threats to your pride.

The way you describe your son and his wife, they’re at the most demanding point in their careers. Not that that’s an excuse but, for our purposes, it’s just a values-neutral* fact. And so a byproduct of their hard-charging ways is that common courtesies are lying dazed in a ditch wondering what hit them. I highly doubt it’s just with you.

And so, for the purpose of nurturing your bond with your grandchild, I don’t think your dignity will mind if you treat her parents’ rudeness merely as the traffic you must endure to see her. Aggravating but impersonal, and ultimately irrelevant to your cause. I could argue that the parents’ rudeness is a reason not to give up, to provide the loving presence of someone who isn’t in a rush.

Surely you want a relationship with your son, too, and have bruised feelings there, but I urge you to keep those out of the grandchild equation.

For what it’s worth, there’s probably a mode of communication Son and Wife prefer and therefore respond to better. Ask them. Text, perhaps? Or directly with Granddaughter’s caregiver, for cases and costumes and such?

*Of course rudeness is not values-neutral overall; the ignored communications are a face-slap. The parents’ values are simply not relevant to the grandparent-grandchild bond — that is, unless an emotional adult reflexively makes them so.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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