DEAR AMY: I am one of six adult siblings. We gather once or twice a year in a low-key kind of way to stay connected and catch up. My brother “Tom,” his wife and three adult children stopped attending these events a couple of years ago. This left us perplexed. Recently Tom’s son (my nephew) shared with the family that he was gender-transitioning to being a woman. We reached out to my brother and our new niece, “Laura,” in our individual ways, with messages of support and acceptance. My brother followed up with an email explaining that this was the reason for the recent absences, as they took time to process it and to support Laura, who wasn’t yet ready to share her changes with the broader family. We will soon be having another gathering and Laura may be joining us. I am at a loss as to how to greet her when she walks through the door (after giving her a big hug, of course). I want to say something that acknowledges this important step in her journey, but I do not want to say anything that might seem insensitive or awkward. Amy, you always seem to have the right words for any occasion. Please help!
DEAR AUNTY: Keep in mind that “Laura” is likely as nervous (or more nervous) than you are.
She will be part of your family for the rest of her life, and so don’t force yourself (or her) to cover too much ground in this one meeting.
No awkward string of words is really necessary when you can deliver a hearty hug. Make eye contact with your niece, and say, “Welcome back, Laura. I’ve missed you!” After that, you will find ways to resume your relationship, which was presumably well-established before her absence. Don’t worry about igniting an instant connection, but let her reveal her own story as she chooses, through time. You will all adjust.
DEAR AMY: I used to eat meat, but 13 years ago I went vegetarian after learning about animal cruelty and factory farming. I’m lucky that my omnivorous husband fully supports my values, and has adopted a “no meat in the house” policy. He prefers to eat vegetarian at home and order meat while we’re out at a restaurant, if the mood strikes him. My issue is my mother-in-law. While she does tolerate my dietary choices, I don’t think she approves. She often brings food over to our home unsolicited. I think this is mostly for social reasons now that she’s retired — as a reason for her to get out of the house. Not only do we generally dislike her bland cooking, but she often brings over meat dishes, knowing full well that I’m a vegetarian. My husband doesn’t eat that much meat and generally dislikes her cooking, so the food she gives us ends up rotting in our fridge. It’s disgusting. I just want these meat-filled “food gifts” to stop. How do we tell her to stop without hurting her feelings?
Fed Up in Chicago
DEAR FED UP: I suspect that you are right about your mother-in-law. She wants to pop in, she wants to be useful, she wants to be welcomed and she wants to experience the elemental joy of feeding her family.
In order for you to be kind about this, you’ll have to shelve your unkind attitude about these offerings.
Here are the sentiments you could express: “I hope you understand that you NEVER have to bring anything to us when you visit. We enjoy seeing you — even empty-handed! But sometimes your meat dishes go to waste because I never eat meat, and even ‘Bill’ doesn’t eat meat at home, anymore.”
If there is a dish she makes that you like (at all), tell her, “... but if you DO want to bring something, we really like having your 1/8 kugel, green bean casserole, molded salad — name a dish she makes 3/8 in the refrigerator. Bill says it reminds him of home.”
DEAR AMY: I didn’t like your response to “Stressed,” the young wife whose in-laws only contacted her (not her husband) about gift-giving over the holidays. This burden always seems to fall to the woman, and she should continue to resist!
DEAR BEEN THERE: I’ve heard from many women who commented on the well-known “third shift” of work that lands with women. My suggestion that she and her husband should “switch sides,” each dealing with the other’s family, was not well received.