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Don't bring sister-in-law drama to holiday table

Clear the air with sister-in-law about hosting for the holidays

Q: Thanksgiving is more than a month away, but I already have heartburn. My husband's sister announced in August (!) that she will host Thanksgiving at her tiny townhouse. She sent the invite to us and our three kids, our niece and a few out-of-town relatives. SIL is unmarried and has no children, but invited at least nine people, which is probably the greatest number her house can hold comfortably for such an event.

My problem is that my parents, as well as my sister's family of five, live nearby. There is no love lost between my mother and my SIL, thus they are not invited. However, I know they will want to have Thanksgiving with my family.

Usually, I would simply invite everyone to my house, which can accommodate a large group. But it seems rude to say I'll be hosting and we won't be attending SIL's dinner. My parents and sister are going to be hurt if we say we are having Thanksgiving with SIL and they are not invited.

This isn't the first holiday my SIL has commandeered. Last Christmas, she insisted we cancel an annual Christmas Eve celebration at my house in favor of a dinner at hers because she never gets to host anything (not true). How do I handle this tactfully? (Separate celebrations on the same day are not logistically possible.)

Already dreading the holidays

A: It's hard to back people who schedule family events by fiat.

Except here: You're showing us your sister-in-law's invitation through your lens, and it's smudged by scorn. "SIL is unmarried and has no children?" "Her tiny townhouse?" "Nine ... is probably the greatest number her house can hold comfortably?"

Forgive me for hoping she throws a table-dancing, lifelong-memory-producing, tiny-townhouse-wall-denting, 50-person Turkey Bash for the Ages, and doesn't invite you.

Maybe she's a pill in her own right, but it's also highly unlikely she hasn't sensed your contempt. Therefore, you'll need to shift your damage-control focus from tending to your family's feelings — they'll live, I'm confident — to tending to your sister-in-law's.

You need to admit to yourself that you have edged her out of the holiday-hosting business — your tone really does say it all — and that inviting everyone in August by fiat is likely her adaptation to a climate hostile to her efforts to host.

Take responsibility for what you did to motivate this adaptation, and make a compassionate (as in, not self-interested) effort to make repairs, by admitting to her that you've been a marriage-kids-and-big-home snob when it comes to hosting. Admit this bias was neither kind nor fair to her.

Suggest that you and she (and any other family members on the hosting circuit) all work together to schedule things in the most inclusive way.

Inevitably, this will mean you won't spend every holiday under your family tree — at which point the majority of paired-off people welcome you to their reality, since bringing two extended families to one household means accounting for and balancing the needs of both.

Fortunately, since it's so common, you needn't explain yourself: Just say you're sorry about Holiday X and you'll see them at Holiday Y — as well as next week for dinner, since you have the luxury of living close by, reducing the need for drama to nil.

Don't bring sister-in-law drama to holiday table 10/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 1:02pm]

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