Can she opt out of 'family Christmas'?

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Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: My sister-in-law lives four hours away. She visits my mother-in-law several times a year, but she doesn't contact us when she's in town. I have nothing personal against her, but she expects us to come to her house for Christmas and do the big family thing as if we're all warm and fuzzy. If we had a true family relationship, it would be different. But to want us to adjust our schedules so we can celebrate a "family" Christmas just doesn't sit well with me. Additionally, we are on a tight budget and the expense of having to stay at a hotel is out of the question. Am I wrong to feel this way? How should I handle this?Dreading the Holidays

DEAR DREADING: One way to build a closer tie to a family member (or branch of the family) is to spend time together during the holidays. This is how traditions are made. You seem stung by a lack of attention from your sister-in-law during the year, but you don't note making any effort to get to know her. She visits your mother-in-law several times a year. You could email her to ask if she could come to dinner with you and your husband during her next in-town visit.

You need only to respond to a generous and enthusiastic holiday invitation by saying, "We really appreciate the invitation but won't be able to make it this year." You don't need to make excuses or supply details, but sincerity would be nice -- even if you have to fake it.

DEAR AMY: My son just started kindergarten. Although he is happy and engaged most of the day, he gets visibly upset -- and cries -- when we drop him off at school. His teacher assures us this is normal and that he'll get over it. But it has been a few weeks, and it's getting harder to leave him. Any suggestions for making the transition easier?Concerned Mom

DEAR CONCERNED: Ask your son's teacher, not just for reassurance but for concrete suggestions. Ideally, he should be greeted in the morning by a teacher who can help him make the transition by giving him a "job" to do. This will help him enter the daily routine more smoothly. Perhaps there is a more confident buddy he can be paired with.

You should also examine your own behavior. You might be conveying some anxiety by worrying out loud, asking leading questions ("Do you think you'll be OK today?") or lingering too long at the drop-off door.