Ask Amy: Family invitations cause tension at the table

Tribune Media ServicesMay 26, 2013 

DEAR AMY: I am the mother of five grown children and the grandmother of 13.

My husband has an unmarried sister with whom he has never gotten along. Over time the animosity toward him was transferred to me and our children. For 20 years she was overtly nasty to all of us, especially the children, causing them significant distress. Suffice it to say, she was never close to our family.

After my mother-in-law died, we stopped including this sister in our holidays and special occasions. Now, 25 years later my daughter-in-law has decided to include this aunt when she hosts and has convinced one of my daughters to do likewise.

This upsets me terribly. I am not trying to control their relationships with this distant aunt; obviously they are free to entertain her when and if they choose.

I am just asking that she not be included when our immediate family (24 people) gets together on very special occasions and holidays.

Is this a reasonable request from their mother? — Upset Mother

DEAR MOTHER: You say you are not trying to control these other family relationships, and yet you are.

I realize this is tough, but you have an opportunity to demonstrate your own ability to tolerate and even reconcile, at least a little bit, with someone who has hurt you.

If this in-law has not mellowed with age, she will show her true colors soon enough, and then the younger generation will be faced with the same tough choice you had to make.

DEAR AMY: I'm responding to the letter from "Sad Mom," whose son has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She wrote about not telling her parents the severity of that horrible terminal illness.

Considering that the elderly parents could be easily upset and might not react well to bad news, your advice was right on. However, I remember my mother telling me several years before she died that one of the worst things she had to deal with was being excluded from news or information because someone thought she couldn't handle it. She found this extremely insulting and very isolating. "Who do they think I am? I am an adult who has handled bad news in the past and can certainly handle it now!" were her words.

Let's keep our elderly healthy citizens involved. They have had a lot of life experience and have learned how to deal with problems, and can probably teach those of us not in our 80s or 90s (or 100s) how to react. — Interested Reader

DEAR READER: I completely understand the frustration of older people who feel they are being isolated from upsetting news. I agree with your view that our elders can continue to mentor and teach us.

DEAR AMY: I think your answer to "Losing It," who complained about a fellow gym-goer who was extremely thin and always turned off the fans, was wrong.

Why should the people who attend the gym have to confront the person and possibly cause a conflict?

I would just go to the staff and explain that the fans would ease the stuffiness of the gym, and let them deal with the hoodie-clad woman if she tries to turn the fans off again. — Also Hot and Sweaty

DEAR ALSO: Many readers agree with you. "Losing It" was looking for a way to deal with this without involving management. I think it's usually best to be brave enough to ask someone courteously to please respect the status quo of the group.

If that doesn't work, management can step in.

DEAR AMY: Your heart was in the right place, but you were off base telling "Doormat" to take her young brother-in-law to the military recruiter if he isn't willing to look for work.

As a 25-year veteran of the Air Force, I know the military can do a world of good for a young person without skills or direction. However, the military isn't a dumping ground, and the entry standards are pretty high.

We can and should expect the young people we entrust with our nation's defense to be smart, honorable and motivated not our castoffs. — Veteran

DEAR VETERAN: I understand your point of view, but I have also heard from many other veterans who reported that they were given a similar directive — "a job or the military" — and are glad they chose the military.

(Send questions via e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.) 

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