Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: During the holidays, our cousins invited my brother, sister and me (along with our spouses and families) to her home for dinner. My cousin is compiling a family tree to document our heritage. After dinner, several of us worked to identify family members from some old photos. My cousins had never met my brother’s wife or daughter before this evening. Over the course of the evening, both women consumed too much alcohol. The niece was dropping F-bombs right and left. She and her mother ended up on the floor — almost unable to stand up. My sister and I were horrified at this behavior. My sister asked them to stop the bad language. This request fell on drunk ears. Needless to say, my cousin said that my brother and his family would never be welcome to her home again. How should we (my sister and I) have handled this situation?
Still in Shock
DEAR STILL: You and your sister were not responsible for your sister-and-law and niece’s behavior at the cousin’s house. As observers who have a relationship with the drunken women, you could (and should) only have reacted honestly, which your sister did when she asked the young woman not to use profanities.
The person you leave out of your narrative is your brother, who is husband to one woman and father to the other. He should have thanked the cousins for their hospitality and apologized for the way the evening ended (the women should, of course, apologize, themselves — but they won’t).
This is an unfortunate situation. If you are at all close to either woman, you could follow up, expressing your concern about their choice and behavior. Otherwise, your cousin is wise to exclude them in the future.
DEAR AMY: I am getting married in a few months. I am also pregnant. I am super-excited to celebrate with friends and family, but I am not sure how to handle my father. We have had a strained relationship for over 15 years, and I do not want to invite him to the wedding. He has a history of drug problems, and at my sister’s wedding he showed up late to the ceremony and missed the introductions at the reception. He was clearly under the influence. Even if he guarantees it will not happen at my wedding, I do not want the added stress while wedding-planning (not to mention I don’t want this stress while pregnant). I feel that my decision is a good one, but I can’t help but feel guilty and wonder if people will think I am a bad daughter for not including him. What do you suggest I do?
DEAR BRIDE: Weddings can provide opportunities to renew relationships that have grown distant, but I do believe that people earn their place at the table by maintaining a minimal standard for family members, which is to be reliable and respectful in a basic sense — even if they have problems.
I suggest that you take a very long view and make your choice based on this question: Ten years from now, what choice will you be proudest to have made? If you think your choice not to ask your father to your wedding will stay solid from a decade’s distance, then make it and stand behind your decision without guilt.
People are messy. No family is perfect. But if the thought of your father being with you fills you with dread and if there is no way to minimize the impact, then yes — it might be best if you carried on without him. People who know him will understand your choice, and the opinion of others shouldn’t matter.
DEAR AMY: I feel a kinship with “Proud Mom,” whose mother-in-law ignored her daughter. Like her, one of my husband’s relatives was “difficult” as you would have described her; “emotionally distant and indifferent” is how I would describe her. Indifference is on the borderline of emotional neglect and need not be tolerated, for the emotional well-being of your family.
We offered her the proverbial olive branch more than once, and were let down every time. We severed ties with her years ago, and none of us feels like we’re missing out.
Be it a family member or future spouse: Don’t waste your time on anyone who isn’t willing to waste their time on you.
Proud (and Strong) Mom
DEAR MOM: Thank you for offering your perspective. Many readers agree with you.