1. Tess

    Gift Exchanging
    With the upcoming holidays I am in a quandary about exchanging gifts with my husband’s family. We have always spent our holidays together and exchanged gifts with grandparents, siblings and cousins. This past year, my husband’s family has stopped speaking to us, but we have still received birthday cards and gift cards. They have made it clear that we are no longer a part of the family, so I am totally confused about their giving anything. I do not with to exchange any gifts with them and would like to return to them any gifts they may send. It is clear that we will not be invited to any “family” events, it will all be done by mail even though they live only 2 miles away. I really need advice on how to handle this. We have tried several times to speak with them, but they have totally refused to acknowledge and only reconfirm we are not members of the family, so I have totally accepted this rejection. So do I exchange gifts and pretend to be family, or should I just send a thank you for anything they send, or just return their gifts???

    • Jerry

      Donate the gifts to a charity and send a note saying, inter alia,

      “I understand that you have determined that we are no longer family. While I regret your decision and wish we could work out the differences between us, I cannot accept gifts or offers of good tidings given your unilateral severing of our relationship. I have delivered your package to [insert charity name], and instructed them to send a receipt to your address.”

      Or, in the alternative, refuse receipt of the gift and have the courier return it to sender.

      You have my sympathy.

    • Lilli

      Is this a situation where the family has severed ties with you and is still sending gifts to your children? If so I would consider asking the child (if old enough) how they feel about getting gifts in the mail without getting to see the givers. If they are old enough to comprehend the situation they should be allowed to decide how they wish to relate to these family members (accept the gifts and send a note, return to sender, or Jerry’s awesome charity idea). Otherwise, I can’t understand a situation where someone would continue to give gifts to someone they’ve “dumped”.

  2. Angela

    Hi. This week, I called my brother and his wife to invite them to our home for this coming Thanksgiving dinner– a month in advance. I expressed that with a new baby, three kids birthday parties back to back, and Christmas around the corner, that I may ask them to bring a dish or two (like a salad and perhaps some sodas) along to help offset the costs involved. This is common practice at all events (birthday parties, dinner, random get together’s, etc.) I also stated that everyone else coming would be asked the same, and my husband and I would foot the bill for the main dinner components ie: turkey, dressing, rolls, etc.. He said they could bring something simple, but nothing that would require him to drive anywhere, or make a mess in his kitchen. I assured him I would only ask him to bring something simple, or something he can bring, store made. He stated he would bring what he wanted if anything at all. I dropped the issue at that point. Prior to hanging up, he asked if I was inviting HIS in-laws (mother, father, and brother in-law, with potential for an additional brother in-law and that brother’s girlfriend to “pop in”) as well to which I replied, “No, I hadn’t planned on it.” He said, “Well that’s surprising, they have no where to go, and they need to be included.” For the record, years ago we agreed that my brother would always host Christmas, and I would host Thanksgiving. Four years ago, at my brother’s request, I invited his in-laws to my house for Thanksgiving, and they declined saying they “didn’t know my family (husband, myself, and two kids) well and they felt uncomfortable” eating in our home. The following year, I invited them again, again at my brother’s request, and they did show. They were asked to bring a dish, and told us they couldn’t afford one but would come up with something. They showed with a bowl full of tortilla chips that had been sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The event went off smoothly, no mention of the chips. For the following Thanksgiving, I was pregnant, and my due date was Thanksgiving day. My brother and his wife offered to host Thanksgiving at their house due to my nature. All were invited there, our family, and his in-laws. Again, the event went off relatively smoothly. This year, we have a baby, who’s birthday is the first week of December– she will be one year old. My other two kids have each a birthday in October, and November. The November child’s birthday being a week before Thanksgiving. Suffice to say the budget is tight this year! When my brother inquired about my inviting his in-laws, in all honesty, I hadn’t even considered them and told him as much. Christmas at his house, he invites them, but for all other family events, birthdays and the like, they are never invited, to his house of mine. He became defensive and upset and insisted they should be included and it would be rude of me to not invite them. I told him despite the holiday budget I would make a way to accommodate them, and they would be welcome, and I would ask them to bring a dish as well. I was told, “No, don’t ask them that, they won’t bring what you ask, and if they do bring anything, it will be something they choose and you should just be happy they bring anything at all.” I told him I needed to speak with my husband and mother about this and I would get back to him. After calling my mom, we agreed that this year it would be best to not invite them, and that I had no obligation too, especially if I wasn’t allowed to ask them to bring a dish to a potluck dinner hosted in my home. This was shortly after relayed to my brother via text with an added note that this is the last year my family (husband, self, and kids) will be spending in San Diego because my husband’s duty station is changing next August out of state and we wanted to spend it intimately with OUR family. Long story short, he told me he and his wife would not be attending anything I hosted or any event at my home at all. He insisted I was inconsiderate. I calmly explained that if anyone was inconsiderate, it was he, insisting I invite his in-laws to my home on a budget and then be told not to even ask them to bring a dish. He said he was “shocked” by my behavior. I didn’t know what to say and uttered only, “but I’m your sister.” To which he replied, “Thanks but no thanks” and hung up the phone. We have not spoken since. Some background on my family’s relation to his in-laws– there is none. They don’t speak to us, they don’t involve my husband, self or kids in anything related to them. We have never been invited to attend any event that is theirs either. Never once in the ten years that my brother has been married, have his in-laws asked or attempted to include my side of the family: our parents, grandpa, other younger brother, or myself, husband or kids, in anything their family does. On the phone at one point my brother even pointed out, his mother in law wouldn’t even speak with anyone and would stay in another room reading a book the whole time. I’m sorry, but if the people coming to my home can’t be asked or bothered with bringing a dish to a potluck function, where they are eating and making messes in someone else home, and plan to keep their noses in a book and not participate in the family event, and they are not MY family, but my brother’s, I don’t feel that I need to invite them, nor feel bad about it at all. My feelings were torn to shreds at my brother’s last comment. We don’t speak to each other this way in our family, and I’m hurt and upset by my brother’s behavior and words. Am I correct that if it is my party, I am allowed to invite who I want to my home and run the event in my way? Does etiquette state I have an obligation to extend an invite to my brother’s in-laws?

    • Short answer: No.

      If your brother is so concerned about where his wife’s family will be spending the holidays, he needs to take that up with his wife. I hope you have a much less-stressful holiday this year!

      • Vanna Keiler

        Just Laura: I love your brevity! I agree with your comment also. Angela, your brother’s in-laws are so distantly connected to you, that no wonder there is little enthusiasm on their part for attending or even contributing to your get-together. You are under no obligation to host or invite them, and you seem to be only doing this to win over your brother and keep the peace. However, you have told your brother that you can’t do so due to your budget, and the in-laws don’t seem to have a great time at your home either. So it is a win-win for all if they are not invited.

        Furthermore, it seems you are trying very hard to please your brother, but sometimes we need to set limits on how much we will do to accommodate everyone. Perhaps it is best that you keep it small and realistic (and pleasant!) for your own family. Surely there will be many occasions in the future for the families to come together.

    • Rae

      Oh my goodness! That’s awful. From what I understand, you always host T-giving, you have 4 young children, you live near your brother and his in-laws, and in an attempt to make things easier for your family this year, you asked your brother to contribute bottled drinks or an easy side dish, to which he responded poorly. And on top of that, he got into a power struggle with you over your obligation to host his wife’s parents and siblings, despite the fact that they do not reciprocate invitations, contribute food, or participate in conversation?????

      Yeah, no. You don’t have to take all that lying down. I think the best thing to do would be to calm down. Maybe you can talk to your sister-in-law or your parents, maybe your brother will come to his senses. But wait it out and give him a call in a couple weeks. Who knows? Maybe it will be better if you just share dessert that day instead of hosting the whole meal. Invite them over for one thing and have them bring ice cream or something. That might be a compromise. But you’ve got a LOT going on and he’s being rude and unkind, not to mention immature. You’re not making any big mistakes here. The best thing to do it cool down and talk in a few days/weeks. He’s still your brother, and you don’t want to lose him over an emotional misunderstanding.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I agree with the previous responses and would like to add that potluck Thanksgivings are fine provided:
      1) You are clear when you invite people that they are expected to bring something.
      2) You aren’t too specific in your requests. It’s fine to say “could you please bring a dessert?” and mention what’s already covered so there aren’t duplicates. It’s not okay to say “could you please bring homemade cherry pie?”
      3) You thank everyone who brings something and withhold criticism. This seems like it would go without saying, but I mention it because two years ago I went to my husband’s brother’s house for Thanksgiving. They asked me to bring a caprese salad, which I was happy to do. When I got there, my brother-in-law asked me what was in the salad. I said “Oh, just tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and salt.” My brother-in-law’s wife, who was apparently eavesdropping said in a disgusted manner “SALT!” I was extremely offended by this and decided that if they ever ask me to contribute a dish again, I will decline.

      It sounds like you did everything right, Angela, but I just wanted to clarify in case there was any confusion.

    • Jerry

      You have my sympathy.

      I concur with Laura’s excellent answer and adopt it as my own. I write separately only to suggest that you write a letter to your brother and let him know how his behavior effected you.

      Good luck.

  3. Lauri ann Abell

    A true question of TACT.
    I belong to a mother’s support group, Christian in nature, where we are often in situations to help support each other. One member in particular is the leader of the small group that I am in, and (like me) was newly pregnant after (also like me) a tough time getting pregnant. However, unlike me–her baby had many problems and was stillborn Monday. The funeral is Friday. Coincidentally it is the day that our group meets and so many of us will be at the meeting and then 4 hours later attending the funeral.
    My friend is Catholic as is my husbands family…I know the comfort of the ritual, and the basic belief of the Catholic faith that says the more at a rosary is ‘better’ for the deceased.
    I want desperately to support this woman and be there for her because of our affiliations and shared history–but I’m still pregnant. My baby is healthy. I don’t intend her any pain; will my presence do more harm than good?

    • Elizabeth

      Lauri, I think you are very sensitive to your friend’s pain, and that is to be commended. Unless she says something to you or through a friend, you should go to the funeral and just be a quiet presence. If she does seem to be reacting badly to your presence, just quietly excuse yourself and try not to take it personally. As you know, your friend is awash in grief and irrational feelings, and should be treated with compassion.

  4. Robin

    Family background: I am married with two children. My side of the family consists of my sister and her husband and two grown children. My husband’s side consists of a sister with two grown children and his mom who is elderly and a widow. Both live close by.

    Last year my husband and I hosted both sides of our families for Christmas. My husband’s sister proceeded to get drunk and was insulting to me and my family. My sister said she would never come to another holiday at my house if my brother’s sister was there. I honestly can’t blame her.

    This year, my husband’s sister has offered to host Thanksgiving. My sister said we could come to her house for Christmas Eve because she is going to her inlaw’s for Christmas day (out of town). This means that we would have to spend Christmas with my husband’s side of the family – inviting them over to our house, which seems like the right thing to do since his sister hosted Thanksgiving. Honestly, nothing sounds more miserable to me than having to spend two holidays with his sister.

    So my sister said, “why don’t you have just us over for Christmas day?” She feels we are in no way obligated to extend the invite to his sister or mother. I feel awkward about this. While my husband’s sister would probably end up hosting some kind of dinner for my mother in law if we weren’t available, it still am having trouble envisioning the conversation my husband would have with his mom. “hi mom, we’re having the other side of the family over for Christmas this year. Maybe you can check with (husband’s sister) and see if she’s doing something for Christmas.”

    Conversely, it would be awkward to invite just my mother in law and not my sister in law’s family.

    Ugh. Help!!

    • Elizabeth

      I was slightly confused by your fourth paragraph – your sister is going out of town but then suggested that she and her family come to your house?

      Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Bottom line – you just have to figure out what works/what’s preferable for your own family, and everyone else will figure their own holiday schedules out. You do not have to orchestrate the holiday experience of your and your husband’s families.

      You do not, in fact, have to spend Christmas with anyone. You could just decide to stay home and have something with your own nuclear family. You could plan to spend it with friends. You could volunteer in a soup kitchen. You could eat Chinese food and go to the movies. The absence of any other plans does not obligate you to spend the day with people you’d rather not see.

      Alternatively, you could invite everyone you DO want to see, and enjoy the people who show up. Perhaps husband’s sister could be prevailed upon to apologize to your sister so that everyone could be together. You could ask your sister to suck it up and just avoid husband’s sister around the punch bowl. Perhaps you do just invite your MIL and your sister, and omit husband’s sister’s family. There’s no rule that says everyone has to be with everyone at every holiday.

      Another idea: arrange an Xmas brunch for your MIL so then she could have the rest of the day to spend with her other child.

      Where does your husband fall within all of this? Does he too find his sister insufferable, or would he prefer to spend Xmas with his family?
      Maybe a quick jaunt down to the Carribean is just the ticket to avoid the whole mess? : )

      • Robin

        Oh – yes – I can see where you would be confused! My sister was willing to switch her plans with her inlaws so she could spend Christmas day with us.

        Anyway, I understand we are under no obligation to do a darn thing, and honestly the idea of spending a quiet Christmas with my husband and kids sounds fabulous. And, oh how I long for the opportunity to spend a holiday with just friends. Only if it were possible.

        Interestingly enough, my sister in law has no idea that she was so offensive, and my husband never addressed it with her. That’s a bone of contention, and my husband’s excuse was that he didn’t want to make waves.

        And so, I think in the end our goal is to keep peace, and perhaps acting on one of the more exclusive scenarios above would not be in that best interest. I believe our most viable alternative next to getting out of town is to suck it up – spend Christmas eve at my sisters and spend the next day with my in laws. My sister is inflexible about hosting Christmas at her house (which would alleviate this entire situation since we would have somewhere to go). It just is what it is. Thankfully it is just one day out of the year!

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