Left out of Family Gatherings

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’m 54, the youngest of 4 girls. Our parents passed 16 yrs ago. For some reason over the last ten years my sisters enjoy leaving me out of family events. This year, it’s more than I can handle. The situation escalated when my sister (will call her Julie) withheld the news of the unexpected death of a cousin that lived 1000 miles away – she took the family call. I learned of his death accidentally eight months later in an online random search. I expressed my disappointment and was grieved that Julie did not tell any of us. If you can believe it, she got mad at ME!
Here is the current problem:
Julie hosts our ONLY family get-togethers each and every year. So, I was not invited to the July “cousins weekend”. And now, the upcoming Christmas event I am not invited to either. My daughters (age 28 with 2 daughters of her own, and age 24) told her that if I wasn’t invited, they wouldn’t be there either. My other 2 sisters along with their 8 children, 12 grandchildren are all excited about the party, and none of them seem bothered in the least that my family is left out again. I have suggested we rotate hosting these events. I have suggested that we ALL be included. I have expressed my hurt feelings ~ no one seems to care and no one wants to change a thing. Julie lives on a lake, has lots of toys and truthfully throws a great party. But… how can they call this Christmas, and how can they have fun knowing how very sad it makes me and my girls? Is a good time worth more to them, than our feelings? Are they afraid of Julie’s wrath if they suggest change? How do I move forward with my sisters? Or, don’t I? Julie, seems to enjoy the power it gives her. I am afraid this will go on forever until I die. What is wrong with the rest of my family, that they don’t speak up, boy-cott the party or do something? Birth order: Julie is #3. I am #4.

A: Wow. Julie certainly has been given a lot of power. I don’t know what to make of it. She seems to be a bully. And bullies can only continue their bullying if bystanders let them do it. I don’t know what to make of the fact that others in the family don’t stand up to her. Maybe it’s worth asking them directly. Are they afraid she will cut them off too? Are they somehow in her debt? Do they have grudges of their own? Without that information, there’s not much you can do to change things.

What you can do, though, is focus on making holidays and family gatherings for you and yours. You have two daughters and two grandchildren who love you. As long as you focus on what you’re all not getting, you aren’t putting energy into making good memories with them. One of my teachers used to say that it doesn’t make sense to keep going to a well for water if the well is dry. It looks to me like your sisters’ well is pretty empty. Give up the struggle, at least for now. Make wonderful experiences for your own group. Start some new traditions that make you all just glad to be together. If you fill a day with laughter and good feelings, your sisters’ unkindness will have less of a sting.

I’m sorry I didn’t get this letter before Christmas. I hope you figured this out on your own. If not, there are plenty of occasions to try out a new approach. Here comes Valentine’s Day. Start thinking now about how to celebrate that special day that emphasizes love with those who love you.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Feb 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Left out of Family Gatherings. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/02/03/left-out-of-family-gatherings/