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Carolyn Hax: A meltdown over a family function


Dear Carolyn:

This past June, my son graduated from high school. My sister and brother-in-law have been very involved in my son’s life, coming to all of his games and activities.

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

About a year and a half ago, they separated. They remained very friendly, and she continued to bring him to major holidays and school activities. Most of my husband’s family did not even realize they were separated.

Two weeks before the graduation, my sister introduced us to a “new” friend and said she was bringing him to the graduation. I said that would be no problem, and that we would still be inviting her husband. My sister threw a fit. She said I was “meddling” in her life. She went on and on texting me how horrible and insensitive I was for inviting her husband. She demanded I choose her or her husband. I explained to her that he watched our son grow up and that my son wanted to share the graduation with both of them.

Her husband sent a very sweet graduation card, explaining that he had decided it was best not to attend the graduation.

The day of the graduation, my sister did not even show up. She texted me later with an apology saying she forgot.

I can’t help but feel differently toward her now. I don’t think including her husband should have created such an issue, since she continued to include him herself. The “new” friend is no longer even in the picture.

Since she told me to stay out of her life, that is what I have been doing. I still feel saddened and angered that she chose to turn this into an issue about her rather than celebrate the accomplishments of her nephew.


From my 16 years of advice experience, I can say with confidence there’s no question in your question.

Maybe that means you’ve made up your mind about your sister and are looking only for validation.

I hope not, though. Your bond with your sister is lifelong, and your affection for her apparently lifelong minus one month.

Meanwhile, her poor behavior — awful, really, there’s no excuse for it — coincides with what may be the most emotionally fraught period of her life. Ending a marriage, even amicably, is acutely painful. Dating again after a long marriage is often scary and confusing, as people become novices anew at something they thought they’d mastered. Introducing a new love while on delicate footing with a former love isn’t for sissies. (It’s not bomb disposal, but still.)

This isn’t to excuse your sister’s middle-school-quality meltdown but to isolate it. In an otherwise functional lifetime friendship marked by her rallying for everything your kid ever did, surely she’s accrued enough credit for you to see this as an exception vs. an end? If not today, then after you’ve both had a chance to step back and breathe your way to some kind of perspective?

No doubt your son is puzzled and hurt. As a loved kid on the cusp of adulthood, though, he’ll manage. It’s your sister who appears unable to manage her current emotional state. Please consider, when you’re ready, approaching her not with a, “What were you thinking!,” but instead: “That wasn’t like you. Are you okay?”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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