Dear Annie: At holidays and other family get-togethers, my parents-in-law prefer that I speak only when spoken to. They host every holiday. I believe they see me as extremely opinionated, which makes me vulgar at worst and irritating at best, in their eyes.
My father-in-law once explained that he would teach me how to refrain from speaking, as he did his nephew’s wife, whom they also find irritating.
My in-laws do share their opinions about current events, albeit briefly, and talk extensively about their “important” friends, interests and the various activities they engage in on a daily basis. It’s been my job to listen, agree, compliment and refrain from offering any personal stories or thoughts.
What happens if I dare to express my own thoughts about any topic, even the most mundane? I’m met with disdainful facial expressions, or worse, complete silence, often someone turning around and walking away from me mid-sentence.
When I’m asked about a personal matter to which only facts are relayed, such as my health, whatever I say is instantly negated or dismissed.
So I make like a houseplant and just sit. I’d probably fall asleep if I weren’t so anxious and worried about offending them in some way.
This year I’ve battled cancer, while caring for my very young children and elderly parents. My in-laws were very helpful financially, by watching the children once a week during chemo infusions, and during my mastectomy.
However, I’m starting to understand that surviving cancer entitles me to enjoy my life, especially holidays. For me, that means having conversation that includes more than agreeing “the green beans are delicious.” It means sharing thoughts and opinions about ourselves and the world around us.
My husband is very loving and supportive. Can we start having our own holidays, knowing my in-laws won’t be joining us?
— Seen But Not Heard
Dear Seen But Not Heard: You can absolutely start having holidays on your own. You have every right to enjoy your life. The way that your in-laws treated you was terrible. That type of behavior is rude and unacceptable. No one likes to feel judged by others. It is especially hurtful by family around the holidays.
Ideally, the holidays are a time when you feel relaxed, safe and warm — not criticized, judged and shut down. Talk to your husband about speaking with his parents on your new plan ahead of time.
If they can’t change their old ways, they will miss out on new loving experiences with their grandchildren, son and lovely daughter-in-law.
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