Psychiatry & Psychology--General/contentious family dinner


I am writing to ask advice on what to do for the holidays.
A few years ago I had an awful falling out with my sister during the holidays. Since both our husbands were late, neither witnessed it. Obviously there are two sides to every story but I will try my best to articulate what happened. I don't have a good relationship with my sister. I feel that she picks on me because I'm not a very conventional person. For her, being exactly conventional is quite important.  She is also very pushy and overbearing and it's hard to dodge but I try my hardest. And I learned I cannot make a joke around her because she feels it is directed at her no matter what so I gave up on that. Anyway, last year her two boys were very nasty to my son. My son wasn't good at something not because he can't be good at it but he was having a very hard time separately with something. Frankly, if he did stink at the activity, it would've been even worse because then he'd really have felt badly. It's not something I want to discuss with my sister because in the past I asked her if she wanted to see the kids more and she said she was very busy and has her own life (her words) and another time she referred me to someone when I asked HER for a favor.
Her kids are old enough not to behave the way they did and I look back and think I made an error not talking to them about the way they were acting. I said something but I wasn't at all chastising.  They are good kids but they're kind of spoiled in my opinion and tend to say whatever and my sister is not the corrective type. She'll say stop and they'll persist and that's that, she doesn't drop the axe. I love them and I know kids are kids. But it was so upsetting to me that I went to leave without saying why. I know that was wrong. My sister had a hissy fit so I said I was going to just take a walk instead. She still wouldn't let it go. She cursed at me in front of everyone and then told me if I didn't leave or tell her what happened, she wouldn't give the kids dinner. We had already waited an hour for eating. I didn't yell. I tried to smooth it over and ultimately left w my kids because she kept screaming. Her kids had started crying over the commotion and mine were rather startled. I don't know what others thought but my parents were no help though they later confided that they felt my sister was being unreasonable, I could've used a hand. The next week feeling very low and stressed over it all, I decided to call my sister and tell her what happened. She went completely nuts that how dare I insult her kids. I know she wouldn't do this with a girlfriend. It was all surreal. I cried about it alot. Then I avoided the family dinner for a couple of years. My parents understand why. They are unhappy but they get it. My sister always likes to host and I don't.  I also warned my husband I may have to shoot him if he's late again if I do this again. DO you think it's okay to go to a dinner or am I saying her behavior was and is acceptable? I can control how I act but inside I feel very bitterly about what happened. I don't think it was decent or fair. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

I would invite everyone to a restaurant, even if it is your treat, and spend a few hours there.  Everyone acts better when in public.  You can then wish the family a happy holiday, and go home with your husband and relax. If your sister and family decline, well, they decline -- at least you asked. The money spent would be well worth it to avoid another horrible holiday and could serve as a gift for all -- easy "shopping" for you.

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Daniel S. Harrop, M.D.


Dr. Daniel S. Harrop received his B.A. and his M.D., both from Brown, and his M.B.A. from the Edinburgh Business School, Scotland. Board-certified in adult and geriatric psychiatry, he is a past president of the R.I. Psychiatric Society and a member of the Committee on Medical Quality of the American Psychiatric Association and the Committee on Continuing Medical Education of the R.I Medical Society. He serves as a consultant to four of the top five major medical management companies, including OptumHealth/United Healthcare, Magellan Behavioral Health Services, ValueOptions and APS Healthcare, and maintains a private practice in Providence, R.I. He also serves as chief psychiatric consultant on the Medical Advisory Board at the R.I. Workers Compensation Court. He was formerly on the faculty at the medical schools at both Brown University and Harvard University.

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