Dear Ann Cannon • As Thanksgiving approaches, my husband and I have already started to shudder over the joyous event. Many times we’ve hosted extended family for dinner (as we will again this year) and are grateful for the chance to gather with everyone.
One of my husband’s sisters is always the big drama queen. In all the years I’ve known my husband, this sister ricochets from one disaster to another. Her husband is always losing his job, they’re perpetually on the brink of financial disaster, and yet they manage to travel extensively, with numerous road trips, cruises, etc., and live well beyond their means.
Our home is small, ordinary and paid off. Theirs is lavish and truly beautiful. Over the years we’ve skipped expensive family outings to be sure we’d be solvent and able to lead a comfortable lifestyle. Now that my husband and I are retired, we’re solvent, if not rich, and live carefully. They are about our same age and have no assets and a ton of debt to their name.
Their choice, sure, but the problem is that their terrible traumas take center stage at any family event, with an extra helping of guilt and expectation that others will pick up the slack and bail them out. They are always the first to suggest a group gift, but I can’t count the number of times we’ve been stiffed on funeral flowers, family gifts to parents, and other events. I don’t really care about the food for Thanksgiving, but I’m getting tired of the heavy sighs as they expect others to cover their portion of an expense, followed by an over-the-top and usually dishonest explanation of their latest crisis.
Besides a move in the middle of the night to Nome, Alaska, any suggestions?
— Had It!
Dear Had It • Actually, before I read your last sentence I was going to suggest a move in the middle of the night to Nome, Alaska.
If I’ve read your letter correctly, I’m assuming the die has already been cast for this year’s celebration. Your sister-in-law and her husband will probably show up and do what they always do — unless you uninvite them, which I assume you’re not going to do. So where does that leave you? Can you decide beforehand to enjoy the day as much as possible anyway? Ask yourself if you really want to give your sister-in-law that much power over your mood. I realize this is much easier said than done — especially since you have a long and possibly unpleasant history together. (BTW if you haven’t already, you really can start saying “no” when she and your brother-in-law ask you to bail them out. I promise.)
Meanwhile, here are some ideas for managing future Thanksgiving dinners:
- Invite a neutral third party to join you and yours at the holiday table. A neighbor. Your priest. Your neighbor’s priest. You get the idea. Sometimes difficult people will dial it down when a new guest is present.
- Ask someone else to host Thanksgiving. That way you can escape the minute you feel like it. Win! (It sounds as if you’ve done your fair share of hosting over the years, anyway, so let others have the privilege.)
- Move to Nome.
It’s clear you don’t approve of the life choices your sister-in-law has made and you resent having to deal with the consequences of her bad decisions. Understandable. So remind yourself that you’re happy — truly happy — with YOUR choices (you certainly have a right to be!) and stop giving her real estate in your head.