Dear Jenny: My Sister-In-Law Insists On Hosting Thanksgiving
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Happy Thanksgiving (almost!). This year, my kids are 2 and 5, and I'm looking forward to Turkey Day in a way I haven't previously. Everyone can now hold a fork! The only problem is that my sister-in-law has offered to host Thanksgiving. As she did last year, and as she did the year before.
I appreciate how generous it is of her to host year after year, and she does have a bigger house than we do, but, when I have made noises, offering to host and take the burden off them, she has fobbed me off. When I pressed it, she explained that it's important to her that her kids experience these family occasions in their home. The thing is, what about my kids? I got the impression when I broached the topic with her last time that if we were to push to host Thanksgiving, they would "probably" stay home because it's important they build those family memories (alone in their house, I guess?). Doesn't she care about her kids' cousins? Is my cooking bad? How would you handle?
She's Always The Hostess
YOUR SISTER-IN-LAW KIND OF SUCKS.
I've had "friends" like your sister-in-law. "Generous" friends whose generosity is only ever on their terms. "Generous" friends to whom one is meant to fall over backward in deference to their "generosity."
Toxic control freaks don't know they're toxic control freaks. Narcissists don't know they're narcissists. Giraffes don't know they're giraffes. So here's a quiz:
1. When people come to your home, do you expect them to express gratitude for your hosting but don't express gratitude that they have taken multiple modes of public transportation or driven in San Francisco Bay Area traffic, brought gifts, arranged and paid for child care, etc.?
2. Do you decline invitations from these same people because what they've invited you to is "not my thing" or it's too far or it's not at your house or your house is a better place to host or you don't like what they cook or you don't like their friends or any other reason?
3. Are you a sweet-natured herbivore and African native with a maximum height of 14 to 19 feet?
If you've answered yes to all these questions, you might be a TOXIC CONTROL FREAK AND/OR GIRAFFE AND WE'RE NOT COMING TO YOUR STUPID THANKSGIVING DINNER.
But in reality, SATH, your choices suck:
1. Continue capitulating to your sister-in-law to avoid conflict and keep the peace. Spend this precious time with your children the way someone else wants you to, losing agency over your experience, and their experience, and become angry and resentful, leading to heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and family photos in which everyone looks gray.
2. Stop capitulating to your sister-in-law and blow this simmering family conflict into Mount Vesuvius.
As always, the choice you make depends on how badly you want what you want and what you're willing to risk.
Like you said, this year is exciting to you because of the ages of your kids. Time with your kids is precious. Precious. And when anyone else — even another family member — tries to make an obligation out of your precious time with your kids, you're allowed to circle the wagons.
Also, it sounds like your sister-in-law isn't too concerned about your being there. At the least, having Thanksgiving dinner at her house is more important to her than having it with family. That's worth a F*CK YOU, WE'RE NOT COMING.
But you might be distracted by your feelings about your sister-in-law, because you didn't mention what the rest of your family wants. Do they enjoy spending Thanksgiving at your sister-in-law's? If so, you might have to suck it up and go (at least you can escape to the garage every 20 minutes to smoke cigarettes and sip Mad Dog with your 14-year-old niece, forming a cabal against her mom and a lifelong friendship that will definitely result in her asking you for money in 10 years).
Thanksgiving, we're told, is about family. But Thanksgiving is many things — for example, an annual depiction of the colonists as peace-loving innocents who did not, in fact, grease the wheels for an entire people to be slaughtered and/or subjugated via firepower and smallpox in their drive to claim land for the Trump Taj Mahal Casino, 86 Soul Cycles, the Mall of America, and endless car dealerships with flag chains and balloons dipping sadly in the rain.
This is all a way of saying: If you want to host Thanksgiving dinner at your house, HOST THANKSGIVING DINNER AT YOUR HOUSE.
Invite the friends and family you want — including your sister-in-law. If she decides not to come — and, in fact, if she hosts at the same time — you might end up with battling Thanksgivings. But as Tolstoy said, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." No one writes Russian novels about happy families. So gourd the sh*t out of your dining room table, Insta your cornucopia, and celebrate at home with your kids. Watch them shovel sugary desserts into their mouths with the forks they can now hold, and celebrate your emancipation from a tyrannical power. Anyone else who comes is gravy.
Maybe next year you'll go back to your sister-in-law's. Maybe next year she'll come to your house. Maybe you'll never speak again. Or maybe having Thanksgiving at your house isn't such a big deal and you'll all handle it with tact and grace HA HA HA COUGH AHEM WHERE WAS I.
FAMILY OBLIGATIONS RUIN HOLIDAYS AND SPECIAL EVENTS. YOUR DECISION DEPENDS ON HOW MUCH THIS HOLIDAY MEANS TO YOU AND HOW MUCH IT MEANS TO YOUR PARTNER AND YOUR KIDS. CAPITULATING MAKES SOME THINGS EASIER AND SOME THINGS HARDER. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF, CHECK IN WITH YOUR FAMILY, AND DON'T BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE, THOUGH IT CAN BE EXTREMELY SATISFYING IN THE MOMENT. HAPPY F*CKING THANKSGIVING. YOU GOT THIS.
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