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#782: Splitting holidays with not-so-blended families.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’ve been reading your blog and I really like your answers. Hopefully you can help me with a problem I’m having. I have no perspective.

I recently remarried (about 5 years ago), and my (second) husband’s parents treat me, and most especially my kids, as though we aren’t family. They don’t even really treat us as guests. It’s more that we’re accompaniments to my husband. He has two brothers, one remarried (but both wives provided ‘actual’ grandchildren), and one married for like 25 years; they, and all of their kids, are obviously all ‘family.’

But my kids and I aren’t. My husband’s mom, when my husband brought this up with her (that I was sad visiting because we weren’t talked to, and because I hoped we’d be part of the family), consisted of: “I’m not going to lose any sleep over (my sadness / my children’s isolation at their house)” and “blood is thicker than water.”

For the first few years, my kids would come with us when we visited, and were basically ignored (they might be asked a question, but then their answers were ignored). Their cousins were talked with, asked about school, etc, conversations ensued. My kids, on the other hand, weren’t treated overtly meanly, they were just ignored. My husband said to me, when I’d say it made me upset: “they don’t care about your kids, they just met them” and “it will take time” (yeah, forever, since nobody talks to us).

So, eventually, I told my kids they didn’t have to go when we go up (they are now 15 and 18, and my mom lives with us, so they can stay here). But honestly, I don’t want to visit either, since I also get ignored; I don’t want to leave my kids behind to be with people who don’t want anything to do with us. (I think this is because my husband is very close to my kids, they see my kids as a threat to the place of his daughter, since she’s ‘really’ family.) Pennsylvania is very different from Virginia in the concept of hospitality and family welcomes, I’m finding.

My husband will say “why do you NEED to belong?” like it’s selfish to want to be a part of the conversation. He says I want it to be “all about me”, but that’s not true, I only want it to be as much about me as it is about everyone. (Normally, he’s wonderful and supportive, but when we get around his family, suddenly he sees the sense in everything they do, and I’m crazy, and I should just be there to support him, and not care if anyone talks to me. He once told me to get out a “puzzle or something interesting” and hope somebody asked me about it as I sat and worked on it alone. He says me bringing up my kids is “pushing them onto people who don’t care.”).

Every Thanksgiving we’ve pretty much always gone to his parents, because my kids are with their dad, and I want my husband to be happy. But it’s harder and harder, after being married almost 5 years, to just sit and be ignored, and then have people be mad at me for not just sitting there contentedly. They’re happy to talk with me as long as I ask questions about them, but they won’t talk about me or my kids with me at all. Not true – they will ask one question about my kids, and when I answer, they change the subject. Like their duty was done, time to move on. So I don’t want to go.

To make matters worse, my husband’s 20 year old daughter, who essentially stopped seeing him once she became 18 (though happily kept taking his money) is going, and I’ll get to watch everyone be so happy to see her, even though she treats her dad so terribly, but then watch nobody ask about my kids, who treat my husband like a dad. I keep going hoping each time will be different, but it never will. I don’t miss my ex, but I sure miss feeling like a part of the family I married into.

So my options are:
a) stay home alone and let my husband and his daughter go be with ‘their’ family (this is the one I’m leaning towards) … sucks because I’d like a nice Thanksgiving with my family too, to begin to create our own traditions;
b) go, and feel isolated (we’ve tried the talking about it, it doesn’t work, this isn’t a family that talks about issues, or I’d want to just talk about it; my first in-laws, I’d talk about problems with them, we’d resolve them) – this is a “put up with it or don’t, but nobody’s changing”; or,
c) ask him not to go (but not really an option; they’re in their 80s, and I’m not going to keep my husband from seeing his parents when they don’t have too much time left).

Can you please help? Just give me a point of view other than mine or theirs? Thank you!

I’d like to suggest a modified Option A, where you absolutely stop submitting yourself and your children for an audition to belong at someone else’s shitty holiday while also finding an alternate tradition of your own.

I think your husband’s comments are hurtful and that he should do/should have done a better job of standing up for you and not make it feel like your failure to enjoy his family’s crappy hospitality is a character failing. You could with great fairness and justice on your side ask your husband not to go anywhere that you are not welcome on the holidays, but as you said, his parents are old, his relationships with them and with his daughter are complicated, and how much energy do you really want to expend on this battle? You could also keep sucking it up and going, but that means agreeing that your Thanksgiving holiday will be ruined every time. Who needs that?

So this year, what if husband & daughter went up for Thanksgiving Day and you and your mom and kids celebrated by eating a nice brunch and then going to the movies and then hung out together at home in your pajamas eating pie for dinner and reveling in the fact that you don’t have to make perfunctory small talk with people who suck? Or what if you volunteered somewhere together? You could give them some options and let them pick how they want to spend the day. Then what if maybe on that Saturday or Sunday y’all had whatever traditional Thanksgiving (observed) celebration you want to with your husband and kids and whoever else you like when he gets back? I know it sucks on some levels, like your husband’s family is “winning” by getting him & daughter unencumbered, and he is “winning” by not having to deal with all of it (and eating 2 feasts), but maybe it’s okay if they feel like they are winning and you get the victory of not looking at their cold faces that have nothing for you.

I know it’s not a perfect solution. I know it doesn’t address the feelings of wanting to be seen as someone’s wife by their family, or the horrible irony that now his mom will probably make it all about how you’re the one being cold and exclusionary. Just…I don’t think there is a perfect solution here, so maybe try this one this year and see if it feels better. Don’t adopt this strategy for every holiday, for example, if you say to your husband “Go have a great time” on Thanksgiving I think it’s worth saying “Please stay home with us (or come to my family) on Christmas/Winter Holiday – let’s take turns” and expecting your husband to break the news to his folks and manage his relationship with them without leaving you alone or pressuring a command performance at Dysfunction Junction, PA.

Edited to Add: I’m with the commenters who say that the husband’s attitude is the real problem here. LW has tried talking to him about it, she has tried going along to “support” him, and I think this is a good year to just drop the other end of the rope and stop trying to make the holidays work on his terms. “I’ve decided not to subject myself to that b.s. this year, you go and have fun” is a powerful step that hands his family baggage back to him in a neatly tied bundle. Also I love you all for being so smart and insightful.

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108 comments
  1. SekhmetAten said:

    Your kids became your husband’s kids when y’all got married. And now he won’t ensure his family trays them right and you?

    One awkward holiday– the first after being married or something– might be excusable, but after 5 years of him actively recognizing that his parents don’t care about your (his!) kids, I’d kick his ass to the curb.

    • SOOO much this. I’m sorry, LW, I know this isn’t the question you asked, but I’ve seen too many kids ignored and even outright emotionally abused by their stepparents because “they’re not MY kids.” (I know, notallsteps, and I know some absolutely awesome stepparents, so please no one take that as a blanket statement). Not saying that’s what your husband’s doing most of the time–maybe he’s the best dad ever 10 months out of the year–but he’s doing it during the holidays. I would think really, really hard about what I was getting out of the relationship if my partner ever acted so cavalier toward me and my kids.

      I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, LW. I’m sorry your husband has turned out to be a coward in front of his family, and I’m sorry he doesn’t think enough of you or your kids to be on your side in this. Stay home, be with people who love and appreciate you. If your husband decides his awful family is more important, while he’s gone tape all of their pictures onto a dartboard and get some catharsis before he comes home.

    • Here and There said:

      I’m no expert on steps, but just wanted to remind that it also means his daughter became the LW’s kid when they got married (and the girl was what, 15?). Doesn’t negate any of the other points, just a reminder that the LW’s and LW’s kids’ might not be the only person the husband has affected.

      • xyz said:

        Yeah I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s a reason him and his daughter have had a rocky relationship.

  2. bleh said:

    Yes, making new traditions with your family seems the best approach. Sadly, the husband is the real problem in this situation because his extended family are lost causes made of rudeness. His responses are mildly pathetic, and a grown man should not defer so much to his parents, regardless of their advancing age. I hope you can get him to take turns on holidays as the captain suggests and maybe even represent your decision appropriately to his family. Perhaps cheerfully refusing to go and spending holiday time with your mom and children will help him understand and change his behavior. If not, you still get to have a better time.

  3. kat said:

    Um, weren’t lw’s kids gonna be with their dad on thanksgiving?

    ( i have done holidays alone in order to avoid friction, and it is totally doable. Spoil yourself! Do all the stuff you love to do and revel in it, and have positive interactions with your family before and after. Treat it like a treat, if you behave as though it is a punishment that is how it will feel.)

    • Magnolia said:

      “treat it like a treat.” brilliant.

    • Ginny said:

      Yes! I’ve had to upend my holiday plans a few times because of family issues, and things I’ve done were:

      – spend the day with a friend or friends
      – take a day trip to a different city
      – make it an epic Me Day at home

      If it would feel bad not to be celebrating the holiday, maybe you can come up with a solo Thanksgiving ritual you do? Volunteering if you like to be around people, or a creative activity that expresses thankfulness, or spending the day writing letters to the people you love while drinking wine and taking hot baths, or whatever feels indulgent.

      • V said:

        Completely agree. Take care of yourself. And if your hundsband pressure you to go, be nice to yourself. Since they don’t care about you, dropt the act and see their bluff by saying “I’m going to the spa/activity you like”. They would try to pretend you are being rude to do that, but you can prevent that by saying “I don’t want to imposse and that way you could have more family time” (use their words), after all, blood is thicker than watter wich is why I preffer the spa”. Well, maybe you can tell that in a nicer way but the essence remain the same, you don’t have to put up with their misstreat.

        On the other hand, I think it would be better to help in a charity or do something nice for people who can appreciate your efforts. The point is, save your love and caring for people who deserve it.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      Possibly something special with LW’s mum if she doesn’t have other plans, alternatively. Make the most of whatever plans you make, as long as they’re not going to the husband’s family! Presumably he spent Thanksgiving with them just fine before you got married, he doesn’t need support to do it now.

    • boredemily said:

      If you have never forgone a holiday I suggest you try it at lead once because it’s glorious. Like yes it sucks not getting to eat a pound of stuffing, and that there is some crappy family situation that is keeping you home but the schadenfruede of it all is amazing. The whole day ends up being you basking in the fact that instead of being stuck listening to your grandparents complain about taxes while making some side dish you don’t even like your spending the day in your comfy pajamas, feasting on chocolate chip pancakes, and watching your way through your favorite guilty pleasure tv show.

    • Anothermous said:

      DEFINITELY treat it like a treat. Honestly I’ve never understood the idea that it’s a tragedy to not go to family over the holidays. I have a good relationship with my family and still the best Christmas I ever spent was the one where it was just me and my dog, because it was the least stressful. I slept in! I played in the snow with the dog! I played video games for 4 hours! I made a pie! I had dinner at a friend’s! Fantastic.

      • I always used to wish that I didn’t have to spend Christmas with my parents because it was ALWAYS one long stress-fest liberally punctuated with yelling and screaming. Not going would have been more trouble than it was worth in terms of the fallout from my stunningly passive aggressive mother.

        Then one year I got a job in a care home. It was glorious! Mother was very angry that I had to work at Christmas (“why are you putting up with this?” “Mother, people stay disabled over Christmas you know, they don’t get a break and these guys have no family.” “Where are your colleagues?” “Well, they’ll either be there too or with their own families.” “WHY THEM AND NOT YOU?!” “Um, the ones that are going home are from overseas and never see their families any other time!”). But yeah, it was awesome. I got to cook Christmas dinner for 14 people who rarely got to eat really nice food, spend Christmas with people whose families had abandoned them as children and couldn’t be bothered even to send them cards, and see them open presents, which they never got before they lived in our care home. SO much better than spending it with my family.

        LW, you have tons of sympathy from me. Unlike me, you actually want your family around at the holidays! You want to be part of a family tradition! But actually, I wonder if it might be massively helpful to take up the suggestion above that you could maybe do some volunteering or something, just this one time. It will be fun and feel good! And maybe, if you don’t make a big deal of it, it might help get the message through to your husband. If he works out on his own that you have to work instead of feasting because his family is so unwelcoming to you, then he might realise that actually there IS a problem.

        No guarantees there though, sadly 😦

  4. RedCat said:

    I agree that the modified option A is the best in this situation. I too once had a boyfriend whose family did not really accept me, and after several occasions where I sat there *fuming* about being sidelined and overlooked, or worse, having stated preferences completely ignored over and over, I decided that I would no longer participate.

    It doesn’t have to be major things that tip you over the edge – for example, the aforementioned stated preference was that I don’t like a certain vegetable. BF’s mum knew this, but continued to serve it to me. She’d say something like “oh, I know you don’t like cabbage, but I’ll just put a little on your plate”, and I’d be left with watery cabbage flavour ruining the taste of other food on my plate. Over and over. Till the sight of her serving spoon hovering over the cabbage was enough to fill me with rage.

    BF wasn’t good at standing up to his mum, and 20-years-younger me didn’t know much about boundaries and the importance of partners supporting one another in the face of family dramz. In the end, we decided that I would drop him off to his mum’s house every Sunday and I’d spend the afternoon with a friend, reading a good book, shopping, or whatever. In a way everyone got something out of it. BF’s mum got to spend time with her darling boy without an interloper. BF got a break from me complaining about his mum, and I got to spend time doing what I wanted with no need to consider BFs tastes/hobbies. After the first week or two, BF didn’t even have to apologise or explain my absence – It was just taken for granted that this was ‘family’ time and his mum was a bit nicer to me as she felt she’d ‘won’. Of course, I was the winner too, in ways his mother could not understand, but made me and BF a lot happier.

  5. Kimberly said:

    My husband’s family was and is horrible to me (13 years together, 10 married) so I don’t go visit them. He can have whatever relationship he wants with them, but I choose not to be around people who make me feel like shit. The only rule we have is that he is not allowed to lie about why I’m not there. If they ask, the answer is that I don’t feel comfortable around them and chose not to come. The other things is, I don’t make him feel guilty for spending time with them, and he doesn’t pressure me.

    This has worked out great! I spend time around people I like or have some valuable me time when he visits his family and don’t have to sit in a room drinking as much wine as I can as fast as I can so I can be somewhat immune to shitty passive aggressiveness.

  6. AlexTheBunny said:

    In the awkward adult-life-growing-pains stage of my 20s, an older married couple I was friends with through a hobby group would have what they called “Thanks a Lot”, where they would invite all the folks who, because of family crap, didn’t have somewhere else to go. This was sometimes on actual Thanksgiving, and sometimes on the weekend following, but it was a cherished tradition — it gave me somewhere to go to be with friends, my family of choice, so I didn’t have to sit alone and lament that my own family was full of jerks and assweasels. It absolutely meant the world to me.

    It’s worth considering whether you know anyone who might benefit from such an arrangement, whether that’s a coworker who is unable to get home this holiday season, a friend of your kids’ who needs someplace to grab a nice meal with nice people, a neighbor who lives alone . . . there are a lot of people in crappy boats come the holiday season, so there are a lot of possibilities. This might be something you and your family could do on the holiday instead of going to spend a really uncomfortable day with people who seem determined not to be kind to you.

    I earnestly hope you DO create your own lovely traditions, and I wish you the warmest and brightest of holiday seasons this year.

    • SpinachInquisition said:

      Oh good Sky Cake… I am totally starting a “Thanks-a-Lot” tradition. Seriously.

    • isolucy said:

      I love this! My aunt lived an hour away from my uni, and every year she would pick up I, and often several other friends, for thanksgiving. It was a total of 4 hours of driving for her but it meant the world to us. Her going out of the way to not only invite me, but also my friends was above and beyond. Do you have any friends with kids near you? Co- workers with family in another country?
      Growing up we always had Thanksgiving and Christmas with our neighbors. They were gay, estranged from their family, with no children. We weren’t that close to start with, but these days I view them just like my uncles. Family is whatever you want it to be. Neighbors, friends, whatever. If starting that yourself is daunting, don’t be afraid to fish for invites. In non – crazy families having an extra friend around is just one more great addition to their holiday. Can you start telling people “oh, I’m trying to let husband get more choose time with his bio-daughter, so I’m staying in town this year, ” and see what happens?

    • addipanandosi said:

      Yeah, the first thing I thought was “LW, create the holiday you wish you had at home.” Invite the orphans and the ones from awful families (like your husband’s), and friends who aren’t going away anywhere, and be as warm and as welcoming as you wish the in-laws had been. And he can go hand with the wolves who raised him while you create something wonderful.

      Of course, if that’s too much trouble and you don’t feel like it, then by all means, buy all your favourite foods and queue up your favourite tv shows, and break out the pedicure kit, whatever makes you feel happy and pampered, and have an awesome solo holiday and eat pancakes for dinner. I’ve done that too and it’s its own kind of wonderful.

    • Gallantqueer said:

      Yes, this!

      I had one friend from highschool who’s parents held Thanksgiving for some of the people from other countries/far away they knew through the local University. I spent three Thanksgivings there when I was 19-21, and they were some of the best holidays I ever had.

  7. immunogirl said:

    Ahem. Blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.

    People love to use the truncated version of that proverb while the full version means the exact opposite of what they are trying to say.

    I agree that your husband should be sticking up for you, but you can’t make him. Even if your kids are with their bio dad, maybe you can do something with your mom? Or maybe you have siblings/friends/other family members you can hang with?

    • Kat said:

      Oh! I’ve heard the saying go, “the blood of the battlefield is thicker than the water of the womb”. It’s the same principle either way.

      I love the idea of staying at home with your children, enjoying a brunch and catching a movie. It sounds delightful. Growing up, my parents moved to the other side of the country from all their rellies, so Christmas’ were often just the 4 of us. Now that my husband’s family all live in the same city as us, we have to do all big events with them. And it’s just a compromise on my part every single time. I mean, they’re lovely. But I grew up with SMALL Christmases with only very immediate family and no pressure to meet expectations or bring a salad or whatever. We’re doing a 3 year rotation between my parents, his parents and just us, but we have to get out of the city to do just us, otherwise it feels like we’re snubbing everyone.

      Anyway, I don’t think you have an in-laws problem, but a husband problem. His expectations for you are very unloving and callous. I would be so hurt and angry if my husband expected me to just sit there passively and joyfully take his family’s cool disinterest.

      • Jackalope said:

        Yes, the “why do you NEED to belong” sounded callous to me too. Has he never suffered through being the ignored one in a large group? There are times when that is just something where you have to suck it up and deal, but a long-term family situation should not be one of those times. It’s partly his job to make sure you’re a part of the family.

        • neverjaunty said:

          “Because I’m your wife, and expect to be treated as such.” This isn’t hard for people who genuinely love and respect their partners.

    • jd said:

      Yessss. I was going to say the same thing. A wonderful thing to remind people who actually try to use this phrase to justify their nasty behaviour.

    • YESSSS thank you. I knew that the MIL was using the phrase wrong, but I couldn’t remember the whole thing.

    • Ioethe said:

      Blood is thicker than water.

      So’s yoghurt.

    • Just a nitpick: that’s actually a spurious provenance for the proverb. The short version is older, and dates back to a German text from 1180. The longer version is made up by 20th century authors who were being contrarians, and offer no evidence for their claims.

      (I agree with your sentiment, but the proverb really *does* mean exactly what people usually use it to mean.)

  8. Definitely stop going. It’s not worth having your holiday ruined by these people. They’ve made it clear how they intend to behave, you know exactly how it’s going to be. Don’t bother arguing, just stay home and enjoy the day for once in five years. You deserve a fun holiday.

  9. Msconduct said:

    As you already know, LW, you can’t change the family. Obviously they’re behaving horribly, but what bothers me more is your husband’s attitude. You say you’ve lost perspective, so from mine: he’s acting like a colossal jerk. All this stuff about pushing your kids onto people who don’t care about them is absolutely toxic. If he knew his family were just like that no matter what he did to try and fix the situation, that would be one thing, but if that were the case he’d be on your side and helping you to form a new Thanksgiving tradition. Instead, he seems to be supporting their point of view, and you and your kids deserve and should expect a lot more support from him than this. Staying home alone (your kids are with their dad, right?) is the least worst Thanksgiving solution, but your problem is deeper than this. To answer your question: you’re right to find his attitude utterly unacceptable.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      I would think that if I married someone who already had youngish children (young enough for me to be actually living with and parenting them) I’d be pretty insulted if my family acted like that. Assuming the kids aren’t colossal jerks to them (and this depends on age too) they ought to at least pretend to care about people who are important to me. Him just shrugging and acting like it’s completely natural that they wouldn’t give a shit about these kids and no one should expect them to is just… really gross. :/

    • Frost said:

      I agree wholeheartedly. The idea that he is allowing children – HIS children by marriage, if he didn’t want to be their father then he shouldn’t have married you, and is just as responsible for them now as if they were his by blood – to be treated like this, and you as his wife to be treated that way, is straight up wrong. Honestly, I’d ditch him. You’ve dealt with it for this long, do you really want to continue doing this for the rest of his parent’s lives, and possibly longer with other members of his family? Do you really want to spend every year dreading the holidays because of them, and not being able to spend them with your family just having a good time, your family INCLUDING him?

      He isn’t giving you the support you need, nor is he supporting your children. He may seem like a wonderful guy, but any person who allows their SO and children to be treated like that is garbage and should be treated as such. While not going and letting him go by himself may be a workable solution for now, in the long run will it work? Does he support you in other matters, or is this the kind of treatment he gives you in other aspects of life as well?

      I don’t know, I have a very low tolerance for people like that. You and your children are also his family, if he’s putting allowing his parents to be absolute jerks before your need to be recognized as family, then he’s worth less than the paper the impending divorce is printed on.

      • Really, he’s garbage? That’s a bit harsh.

        The LW says: “Normally, he’s wonderful and supportive, but when we get around his family, suddenly he sees the sense in everything they do” and I think it’s important to respect that.

        • neverjaunty said:

          No, I don’t think it’s a bit harsh to criticize somebody who treats his stepchildren this way. I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘garbage’, but I could think of a few other choice terms for this behavior.

          LW is an adult, and presumably can deal with negotiating her husband’s gaslighting about his parents’ behavior, shitty as it is. But he has allowed his need to justify this to excuse their mistreatment of his stepchildren, who had nothing to do with the decision to get married or to be part of his family, in his presence.

          In other words, he is sending the message to his stepchildren that his love for them and his role as stepfather is conditional. As soon as his parents and family are present, too bad for them.

        • jeanne said:

          He’s disloyal to his wife when he stands up for his family against her. If he were any kind of man at all, he’d tell his family, “This is my wife and her children. They are my family now just as much as you all are, and I expect you to treat them as such. If you can’t do that, then don’t expect to see much of me again.” I don’t think “garbage” is harsh at all; “asshole!” was what first occurred to me.

          Yeah, he’s “wonderful and supportive” when it doesn’t inconvenience him. Weak sauce, dude. He should be ashamed of himself.

        • Jane said:

          I don’t know about garbage, and I definitely wouldn’t presume to tell the LW to get divorced based on this thing alone, but I certainly would say it merits some couples counseling. I, personally, would not feel comfortable being married to someone whose lack of support in this difficult situation might translate to a lack of support in another difficult situation.

          I am very very uncomfortable with playing down how unpleasant he’s being to his stepkids. They were KIDS — 10 and 13 — when this marriage started, and he didn’t defend them. That’s kind of backlog of bad trust to be overcome. I really do think counseling is merited here (well, okay, my bar for counseling is quite low.)

      • I do flinch a bit at these kind of replies. Clearly, husband is an arse for the way he behaves around family holiday gatherings, or OP would not have written in. But it is a small letter on one aspect. In the past, Ive asked for advice (elsewhere but similar demographic of readers) to be told that his treatment of me was shocking and we should divorce. Yes, on that one issue his behaviour was bad, hence seeking advice…but he was not the abusive or unsupportive partner that other rushed to assume.

        If the LW wants advice on how to tackle something rather than info on divorce, then I think it is most helpful to take the issue presented at face value – at least to begin with.

        People write to advice websites seeking suggestions to tackle specific issues, and I personally think it is safest to address the issue as presented.

        • Dizzy said:

          Agree with this comment wholeheartedly. Yep, on this issue husband sounds like a douchenozzle, but we don’t know anything about the LW’s relationship with their husband more broadly other than that LW is happy with it. I think it’s sensible and most productive for LW to deal with the issue at hand. If doing so alerts LW to bigger or more underlying issues with the relationship that might not have been previously apparent, LW can turn their mind to those issues then. (And they’ll probably be in a better space to do so).

  10. VG said:

    I heartily second the notion of excusing yourself from any and all visits going forward. Unless you really, really want to, though, I wouldn’t go to the trouble of having a second Thanksgiving when your husband gets back; if he wants to eat a Thanksgiving meal with you, then he can either stay home and do it on Thanksgiving Day, or else tell his horrible family that this is the year they quit treating you like the local leper. (I’d say the same thing if he complains about you not coming along, which I can see being a possibility since he thinks you should “be there to support him.”) Having a nontraditional meal or spending the day at the movies may feel weird the first time, but it is so relaxing – my teenage daughter and I do it for pretty much every holiday, even though we have some relatives we could visit if we felt like it.

  11. kaberett said:

    LW, your kids may be treating him like a father but if he’s not willing to stand up for and look out for them (and you) in this context, he’s not treating them much like one – I’d encourage a slightly more open-minded approach to why his daughter might be so unwilling to spend time with him. (Does he reach out to her? If so, is it in ways that ignore her boundaries?)

    I agree that not dealing with his family’s shit sounds like a good choice this holiday season. Good luck.

    • Marwen said:

      Yeah: I mean, there’s no way to know, but given what a poor showing Husband’s making of being loving towards LW and her children, I am immediately sceptical at how well he manages to be loving to his daughter. While he may *feel* any amount of love in either case, he’s currently being utter crap at acting it out, and that matters.

      LW, I think this has more to do with specific pathology of that family than anything to do with regional differences, particularly given Husband’s weird Jekyll-Hyde switch on which point of view he understands depending on where he is.

    • Jane said:

      I was thinking this too — just because daughter is willing to show up on holidays, doesn’t mean that she has a good relationship with the father or the relatives concerned year-round.

      As far as the money goes, this may be a culture-of-family difference too — some parents support their kids past 18, some parents don’t. I can see how that would be an issue of contention if the LW and husband have joint finances but the decision is not entirely joint, especially if it’s not clear that the LW’s children will receive the same amount of support as the daughter does. However, that’s not really the daughter’s fault, and the LW should discuss that explicitly with her husband.

  12. Polychrome said:

    The snarky comments about the husband’s daughter “still” taking his money make me wonder if maybe the hubby’s family is unfriendly to the LW for… Reasons? I totally get resenting step kids. I had em for a while. I resented em! But… They are still the most vulnerable family members in blended etc families. If you find it hard not to feel hostile to your in laws’ granddaughter, maybe cut them some slack on feeling hostile toward you. Space can be a great thing in these cases. Spending Thanksgiving alone is a little bit sad but spending it in the tub, with wine or tortilla chips and binge watching (or walking in the woods, you know your speed) is much less sad than a day of festering ignoring feeling snubbed feeling aggravated. Soooo much less sad. And having her “intactish” family for a day, everybody on team her, might do wonders for your stepdaughter’s relationship with her dad and not having to watch that unfold with anxious resentful stepparental feelings (these are hard not to have sometimes) will be aces for you.

    • Charlene said:

      I have to admit that I wondered if that comment about Pennsylvania vs. Virginia has something to do with the issue. I’m not sure how polite I would be to someone who assumed I was a boor because of where I was born.

    • lk said:

      I do resent his daughter, not for the money, we have plenty of money, but because she only contacts her dad if she wants something from him. I dislike people who use people, and the more I see her use him for money, and then he tries to just be with her, attend family weekends at college, whatever, and she’s ‘too busy’ with her mom, it makes me very annoyed at her. For the record, he has been an amazing dad to her, but her mom (who I knew before I ever started dating him) has always bad-talked him in front of everyone, including his daughter. I wish she’d wanted to be a part of our family. I added a room to my house so she could have her own room with us, she maybe slept in it 10 times until she didn’t have to any more. I think to some degree she resents us because she doesn’t want to share her dad, but then, when she can have alone time with him, she’d rather do other things. I have to stress, other than this view of family (which I believe is a PA thing from what other people from / who moved to PA have said), my husband is a wonderful man, and does treat my kids like his kids. Our Christmas tradition together is fun and wonderful every year. But he was raised by people who see family as one thing, and it’s the view he seems to have when he’s with them; I don’t understand that, but I’m not going to fault him over this one thing, because I am in so many ways not perfect.

  13. If I’m remembering correctly, LW, your kids typically spend thanksgiving with their father.

    If that’s the case this year, you and your mother could do a feast for yourselves and some friends. Or go out!

    If you have your kids, same thing.

    Invite your husband, and expect some whining about faaaaaaamily. Ignore that. Smile (or frown) and point out he’s getting his family Thanksgiving, and you’re getting yours. But the Captain’s right. You’re not going to get a Thanksgiving in which you are central. Not with the in laws.

    So make a joyous tradition with your mother and friends.

    Your husband will probably drag his daughter to your house next year, because you’ll be offering a more fun meal.

    • Elf Krystal said:

      Indeed. The In-Laws are elderly, they won’t be changing and soon may be gone.

      LW has been given a sucky situation and might best them all by making Lemonade from those lemons… That is, enjoying herself on the day in her own way at home or going out to a restaurant with her mother, making new traditions and not be made to hurt by rude people who won’t even talk to her.

      She is rightful protective of her children and feels insulted for them, but Perhaps…. she feels the insult more closely than her children actually do… if they have never been close to these people, if they have their mother’s Mom, and their father’s parents still, perhaps the family of LW husband is not actually all that important to them. They are growing up and getting to the stage where their peer group is so much more their focus and concern than a bunch of rude old fuddy-duddies that don’t even talk to them.

      Relax, LW Mom, your kids will be fine, you should have some good self-care for the holidays and cut yourself loose from the toxic interaction at hubby’s family Thanksgiving. Leave him to it, and when they are gone have your own holidays as you like.

  14. Fran Schamen said:

    Really gross how your husband is making it an “all about you” problem when really, it’s a “all about them” problem.
    Who is your presence benefiting at these functions?
    You? You’re being ignored and your feelings discounted.
    Your husband’s family? They’d probably be more comfortable stewing in their own dysfunction if you weren’t there to remind them that your husband is capable of loving a family that isn’t his by blood.
    Your husband? Does he enjoy watching you be ignored?
    Really, making you “invisible” is a really juvenile way of controlling the narrative. If they never say or do anything outwardly negative by the very flawed scorekeeping your husband has internalized, they can get away with treating you like shit and still make it look like you have the problem if you bring it out in the open.
    Since you say his parents are very old and aren’t liable to change(read: missing steps), I’d heartily endorse you spending Thanksgiving somewhere your company is wanted and enjoyed. If he tries to pull a “but faaaaaaamily!” on you, but you can remind him that they have never treated you like family.

    • Vicki said:

      If he tries “but faaaaamily” the OP could point out that his mother has said in so many words–with that “blood is thicker than water” thing–that she doesn’t consider the OP family, and ask why he needs her to be there.

      “Why do you need to belong?” is a weird question*, and a more reasonable one would be “why do you need me not to care about being excluded?” I wouldn’t advise OP to make that point here, since she’s looking for a relatively low-stress solution to Thanksgiving, rather than a longer-term discussion of what family means to her, to her husband, to their children, and to their families of origin.

      *Humans are a social species; that’s not quite up there with “why do you need enough to eat?” but it’s way ahead of “why do you care about the fourth Thursday in November, or the exact menu?”

      • Majikkani_Hand said:

        “If he tries “but faaaaamily” the OP could point out that his mother has said in so many words–with that “blood is thicker than water” thing–that she doesn’t consider the OP family, and ask why he needs her to be there. ”

        That’s what I was thinking–he considers even talking about the kids to be “pushing them on people who don’t care” but he brings the wife they hate/don’t care about just as much? That makes no sense.

    • Is there any mileage in saying “ok, we do things your way for thanksgiving, and mine for Christmas. Next year we can do the same or alternate, your call”?

  15. Susie said:

    Oh my gosh, I have the same situation as the LW. Except, we don’t have kids, so that does make our situation a bit less sucky. BUT, OH MY GOSH, my in laws are amazing at completely ignoring me. My MIL will literally fawn all over every single other person present, and even use her phone/computer to interact with and fawn over other people not present, and just completely ignore me. If we somehow end up alone together, she’ll poke at her phone, or simply walk away.

    I tried – for years. I tried to make conversation. We even exchanged some emails in an attempt to “start over” our relationship because she noticed it had “deteriorated.” Hahahahaha. I was very specific about what we wanted/needed from them, like, including me in communications. When asking DH over, invite both of us, not just DH. Keep me in the loop on FIL’s heath. When you plan to visit, let me know, as well. Just treat me like part of the family, and stop treating DH like a single person! Nothing ever changed.

    Whatever. I am mostly over it. I comfort myself with the knowledge that, as the primary travel and holiday planner in our family, we’ll pretty much never visit her. Ever.

    I agree with the Captain, LW. Find a way to avoid his family, and create your own great family traditions with your kids and husband. His parents will be gone someday soon, and then you’ll have your own great things started with your family. Hope this all works out for you!

  16. sioushi said:

    You’re right. You deserve your own holiday traditions – and so do your kids, who feel your second husband is dadlike. Also, you don’t state it outright, but your husband’s family sounds fairly toxic. Typically a spouse doesn’t attend a family holiday to “support” the spouse visiting the spouse’s own parents, unless those parents are somehow dysfunctional or destabilizing. Typically a spouse attends a family holiday because s/he is part of the family.

    I get where your kids are, because my real blood grandmother had zero interest in me, my brother, or my mom. She came to holidays because my dad was her only child and she had nowhere else to go. She had little in common with us and was too ornery to pretend otherwise. Like you, my mom stopped forcing us to make an effort when we became teenagers. In an ironic twist, considering your story, my blood grandmother *adored* her boyfriend’s children and grandchildren, and would socialize with them whenever she had the chance, thus proving that your new in-laws’ blood/water parable is horseshit. They are trying to justify their own ugly behavior.

    I don’t think your husband is right to minimize your concerns. At all. But I also don’t see where it’s useful in drawing a line in the sand and making a “pick them or me” ultimatum if you feel otherwise loved and supported in your marriage. (If you don’t, then the in-law situation is definitely worth bringing up in marriage counseling.)

    It sounds like they just don’t like you. Which is hurtful and grim, but 100% not your fault. It also sounds like they’re the ones getting to set all the rules around what constitutes “family.” Do they really have this power, or is it something you’re projecting onto them and can consider taking back, even if just a little? Like, clearly they decided to draw the magic circle of family-ness everywhere you happened to not be standing, but do you have a piece of power-chalk in your hand too? This is a genuine question and not a rhetorical one. Is it ALL of your husband’s family treating you like the eternal plus-one, or just the parents?

    So I”m going to just throw some other scenarios out there to consider. See how YOU feel about any of these.

    Option d. Establish a new Thanksgiving tradition where, AFTER the other families have been visited, you and your husband and your kids create a just-us tradition and go to play putt-putt / visit a fancy restaurant / have a family movie night with ice cream and fancy pies / anything that feels special and celebratory, as long as it’s acknowledged as “OUR family holiday time.” (It’s not the same as having “real” Thanksgiving together, but my family has a long and venerable tradition of double Christmases to accommodate multi-state visits, and both feel like the “real” thing to us.)

    Option e. Visit your former in-laws for Thanksgiving? I have no idea if that’s feasible or a terrible idea, but they *are* your kids’ grandparents and it’s not unreasonable to keep warm ties after divorces. And if your husband has a problem with that, well, isn’t it just too bad your former in-laws are more gracious than his own parents?

    Option f. Insist on alternating Thanksgivings together. It doesn’t sound like you can hurt your standing any more with your in-laws, so fuck ’em already. Your husband doesn’t have to wait until a holiday rolls around to see his own parents, does he?

    Option f. Preemptively invite his daughter to family events with you and your kids and husband. Invite his brothers and the cousins. Your inlaws are NOT the only people who get to define “family time.” Maybe being on your home turf would shake up their patterns of interacting with you.

    • lk said:

      Thank you for your reply! There are so many good suggestions here (I’m the letter-writer) … of course we invite his daughter to everything, she has a room in our home, which I had built just for her, and has been told it’s always there for her. She just doesn’t want to use it. We try to have her for holidays, for dinners, she just says she has other plans.

      There’s a history, her mom disliked me before her dad and I ever started dating, and I’m really not sure why (we weren’t really friends, just part of the same social circle), but her mom has a lot of power over her actions. It makes me sad that my original letter has people thinking he’s a bad dad because she won’t see him … he has done everything for her, and loves her so much. And she is so unkind to him, it makes me want to cry. So I do resent her, because he deserves better. (And even though he defends his parents, all the rest of the year he is a dad to my kids, and I’m not going to hold this one situation, which I don’t understand, against him).

      For those who wonder and asked, my kids can see their dad whenever they want, and whenever he’s free. I’ve always encouraged as much time as possible, and they have a very close relationship. I don’t think my ex is the most wonderful person in the world, but I know he is a good dad, and they need him and he needs them, and I’d never interfere with that.

      But I love the alternate Thanksgiviing idea, that you and Captain Awkward had. Just a week after or before Thanksgiving, do our own celebration, that we create ourselves.

      I also love the idea of inviting his brother / the kids’ cousins, but they are all very protective of his parents. Which is fine, they love them, and they are old, but I don’t want to take people away from them. However hurtful they are to me and my kids, my husband does love them.

      • JenniferP said:

        We’ve written before about how one gift stepparents can give their stepkids is time alone with their parent, so think of Father-Daughter Thanksgiving Road Trip as a gift you’re giving them, and think of fun solo Thanksgiving with no annoying drama as a gift you’re giving yourself.

        Closing thread, as it looks like you’ve got all you need. I hope it’s a happy holiday.

  17. Marianne said:

    I think LW might be surprised at what happens if she simply decides to take care of herself and not go. Not putting any limitations on her husband, but simply telling him that regardless of what he chooses to do, you aren’t going to spend time with people who clearly dislike you. I had a similar situation and that is what I did. The result has been that my husband rarely sees his family. He either decided he didn’t like being around them either or the thought of not having me there to focus everyone’s negativity (it’s so easy to ignore your family disfunction when you have an outsider to blame the tension on) would make things too unpleasant for him. I don’t know and never asked because I don’t care. I set my own boundaries and was more than ready to have thanksgiving by myself eating totino’s frozen pizzas, watching old romantic movies and having the time of my goddamned life. But I’ve never had to….. My family stays with me.

    • Bloo said:

      While we don’t celebrate holidays, this comment really resonates with me, Marianne. When I shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘I’m staying home (or going and doing ‘X’) – go have fun’, all of a sudden my hubs visits with his family were greatly curtailed.
      I remember my husband coming home from dinner the *first* time I told him to go by himself (tangent-the kids went because they *wanted* to but they really only wanted to because grandma bought a video console and games they didn’t have – they don’t think she’s all that nice because they had a nice grandma to compare her to).
      Anyhoo, hubby came home a Lil earlier than expected and said his mom couldn’t stop making comments about me not attending. That first time I chickened out and claimed to be sick. Apparently she kept saying, ‘but I talked to bloo on the phone that day and she sounded fine.’ (Hey lady, how about just reading between the lines?). I was amused enough that I felt comfortable outright saying to subsequent invites that I was personally declining because, “I don’t *want* to go”. My husband decided that gatherings weren’t as tolerable without me there and backed way off himself.
      And then she cut us off for silly reasons and is a non-issue anyway.
      I can’t explain the relief I felt at being told, “never speak to me again.” She was surprised, we heard from others, that we didn’t try to get back in her good graces. Six years later the sympathy card she sent me when I lost my mother went directly in the trash. Having never bonded with her I don’t miss her at all, but surprisingly, neither does her son, my husband.

  18. Monica said:

    5 years is not “recently”.

    I don’t think it matters whether or not your kids are with you on thanksgiving day specifically, you can still create your own tradition before/after they see their dad.

    What did you do before you remarried? Was there something then that you’d like to do again?

    Negotiating special events is hard enough without blended families and the extra logistics that involves. I feel for you. I guess one upside of my ex ignoring our kids is I don’t have to worry about it :/

  19. B. said:

    Hey, Captain, I don’t know if LW’s spending Thanksgiving with her kids is feasible since I understood they’ll be with their biodad, but I think the overall concept is a great idea.

    Dear LW, I’d like to offer you my perspective, in case it’s of any use:

    My parents divorced more than a decade ago, and my father became official with his girlfriend a couple years ago. She’s now coming to family dinners and celebrations, and people make an effort to treat her as part of the family and make her as confortable as possible. Same goes for my cousins’ boyfriends, though there’ve been several throughout the years and from different cultural backgrounds (I feel this is relevant since you point out the difference between Virginia and Penssylvania. FWIW, we’re mostly located in southern Europe).

    The thing is, I don’t think you have a Southern vs. Northern Hospitality Problem. I think you have a Family Full of Assholes Problem. I’ve known one of the northiest northerny northern-hospitality-style Finnish family, and they still went out of their way to make me feel confortable and like I belonged. I’ve done the same for people from China and the US. Hospitality transcends frontiers; assholery, even more so.

    So, I think the situation here is: they’re making conscious choices to allienate you and your kids (what the actual fuck, whatever did you, and specially your kids, do to them?) and your husband is not only enabling them, but actually consciously making you feel worse, like this is in any way your fault (getting a puzzle to work on and hope for the scraps of their attention? Massive side-eye for your husband from me).

    I think your husband and his family are in the wrong here and it’s on them to make amends. I think you have all the right in the world to be treated as part of the family you’re married into. I don’t know why your husband is not standing up for you and your kids, and I’m angry with him for that.
    I also think it’s unlikely you are gonna get any apologies or amends from this Family Full of Assholes (TM), and since they’ve treated your expectations of common courtesy as offensive, I believe it could be emotionally dangerous for you to try for/expect any change of behaviour.

    My advice is not perfect, dear LW. I’d recommend to disengage from this bag of assholery you don’t need in your life. It’s unfair to you three, since you won’t get any respect or affection from your new in-laws, and since your kids will always be allienated from their-not-yours-don’t-even-think-you-could-ever-belong-here family. But it’s at least not any more hurtful? Since yall are not getting their attention as things are anyway?

    So, make your own traditions independent of your husband’s family. Maybe spend Thanksgiving treating yourself, as other commenters suggested: you could laze around, go to a museum, take a cooking class, spend the day in the park, go do something lovely with your mom…

    Or, as other commenters said, strike a deal with your husband: which holidays go to which family. You could each spend Thanksgiving doing your own thing, then New Year’s with your family, or something like that? Having a fixed calendar has done wonders for my family dynamics (our rule is, Christmas’ Eve with Mom, New Year’s Eve with Dad), but both of you have to meet in the middle. It won’t work if your husband demands to always spend everything with his family, and conversely, maybe you’ll have to concede to having an awkward abusive dinner per year [though I wouldn’t recommend it. Ideally, your husband wouldn’t want you anywhere near a place that makes you feel like shit, since he loves you and the people who love you care about your being happy].

    And I’m just about to suggest you take your music and headphones to any future events you have with Family Full of Assholes (TM): didn’t your husband say to do your own thing and hope somebody’d ask? Your own thing can be listening to lovely music during dinnertime and trusting people who truly have an interest in you to make themselves heard over your sweet, sweet music. Of course, then you’ll obviously be the one at fault for ignoring everyone, and how can you expect to belong in this family when you’re like this, but can’t please everyone, right? Enjoy the food, ignore the assholes.

    I think that this family is punishing you and your kids for something (not being your husband’s former wife maybe?) and will strongly push back against anything that’s not you offering yourself up to take all their emotional abuse (the Captain has explained before how the silent treatment is abusive behaviour, although I forget exactly where). So, if you do anything that deviates from that, there can be a lot of push back and an increase in pressure to conform/abusive behaviour.

    However, you should know that we all, here in Captain Awkward’s site, will be in your corner and will be cheering for you. You deserve respect and attention, and if you won’t get that from this family, you certainly deserve not to be subject to their scorn. So, go you, LW! You rock, your kids rock and with a few years of practice your new Thanksgiving traditions are going to rock, too!

    • Awesome post B. Thanks for the right on target and laughs.

    • B. said:

      Thank you all for your kind words. This community is awesome 🙂

  20. Lily said:

    I kinda get the feeling that the “my family, your family” goes a little both ways? I’m re-partnered and my partner would never refer to “my” son as “my son”. He refers to him as his step-son. It comes across in the letter as though you don’t see your husband’s daughter as your step-daughter- and that you don’t even see her as a daughter to your husband in the same way that your kids are. It’s like everyone in this family sees each other in terms of whether they have a “right” to be called a family member.

    Your husband is still being a jerk and all- I’m not excusing his behavior. Im just sayin’ that it feels like the family division runs deep on both sides. If you want it to be “our family”, in my experience, you need to put out that vibe 100% if you hope to receive it back. Step-families are hard, and wonderful. Good luck.

    • TheWhiteTree said:

      I think you’ve really hit on something. I know letters can only be so long, but it seems really telling to me that, in a letter where she constantly reiterates that her husband and her children are family to each other, the only mention LW gives to her husband’s child is when she’s basically saying that she isn’t even a real daughter to him! Maybe I’m being unfair to the LW. Maybe she and her husband really strove for a blended family of all of their children and are sad that his daughter has behaved selfishly or coldly to her father. But a part of me wonders how much LW instead saw his daughter as an intrusion on her “real family”.

      • Cassandra said:

        I got that vibe too.

        • EM said:

          Yes. That struck me too.

          I am just remembering that when I was 19-20ish and living away from home I definitely a) hardly saw either of my parents b) always took Dad’s money. It was – to me anyway – the cost of bringing me up – not any reason not to be a really difficult teenager/young adult. My step-mother used to politely pretend she hadn’t heard Dad and I fighting on the phone, and still make a fuss of inviting me over later. She had a bedroom for me at their house and always made sure I knew I was welcome, including sending me a key. It was important – because they had ‘new’ kids together, and not making physical space for me could very easily have felt like no-emotional space too. I didn’t stay with them for years, but eventually I did and she and I became quite close. (True story, she’s totally amazing.)

          It may not be a thing here, but the LW’s stepdaughter is hardly older than her sons who still obviously still need parents. She might still be testing the boundaries, she might be wrapped in her own world, she might be wanting to know if her father’s love is conditional. Her relationship with her family isn’t fixed yet, it’s still evolving. If the Grandparents feel that step-daughter (who is still quite young) has been made to feel unwelcome, unloved or ‘replaced’ then that doesn’t justify their rudeness but it might be causing hurt feeling. It might be worth the LW reflecting on her own behaviour and wondering if she too could be more welcoming? Or if her husband is being a bit thoughtless around his daughter’s feelings too? Or, if nothing else, allowing that her stepdaughter might just need a bit of time to grow up.

          • lk said:

            I did! I made a room … like, hired contractors to make a room … in my house for her! (My husband’s house wasn’t big enough for everyone, so we moved into mine together). My daughter would introduce her as “my sister”, my mom knit her sweaters and talked with her (my mom has a separate apartment I made for her years ago in my home). I’d try to give her any advice, help, and all ever got was either a polite “thank you” but no conversation, or a direct “you’re not my mom.” I so much wanted us all to be a family together. But she sees her mom all the time – every holiday, every vacation, she tells my husband she already has plans with her mom. I was shocked that she said she’d go with my husband for Thanksgiving, it’s been years since she’s done anything with him on a holiday. I still encourage my husband to see if she’ll do Friday-night dinners with her, like he used to, when she’s in town, and she almost never does. I promise I’ve tried so hard to be a family, but it is very hard that she only wants any kind of relationship if she wants something. Otherwise, it’s nothing.

  21. rainbowcolouredcactus said:

    I feel like you have two problems here:

    1) That your husband’s family are rude to you; and

    2) That your husband isn’t supporting you or acknowledging your feelings as real and valid.

    In my family, I’ve seen a lesser version of the first part of this situation: my mother feels like my stepfather’s parents don’t really see her as a person in the same way they see my step-dad or my (half) sister or (to a lesser extent) me. She doesn’t have to face the same sort of hostility as you (and to be clear, what they’re doing is a type of hostility – there’s a reason that anti-bullying programs in schools teach that exclusion is a type of bullying), but she feels the ways that they don’t really try to get to know her or make her feel like she belongs. They’re excruciatingly polite, but she can sense that they don’t really like her and that hurts when she longs for close family relationships.

    The key difference, though, is that my step-dad cares about how unhappy and stressed she gets when we visit his family. We try various workarounds. Sometimes we go up for a holiday but budget to stay in a hotel so there’s space for mum to recover. Sometimes we go up and stay with my step-grandparents, but make sure that we validate Mum’s feels and let her know that she’s not crazy for feeling unhappy or on edge. Sometimes we have a nice holiday at home but organise my step-dad and sister go up to visit on their own later without mum and me (e.g. we spend Christmas at home and then they go up in January). We mix it up and there’s compromise based on the premise that it’s important for my step-dad and my sister to see their family but Mum’s well-being is also important. It’s possible to visit but not during the key holidays every year, and to spend some of those holidays at home as our own family. The options (a), (b) and (c) that you came up with are not mutually exclusive. You can visit with your husband some years, stay home on your own some years and stay home with your husband other years (or whatever compromise works for balancing your well-being against your husband’s desire to spend time with his family).

    (There’s also an option (d) that has your husband try to talk to his family on your behalf, but that relies on them being willing to change and if they don’t have the decency to care on their own I don’t know that they’d be able to do more than pretend which would still be stressful for you.)

    To be 100% clear, you are entitled to feel the way you do and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling that way. Not excluding someone who you’re in a group situation with is fairly basic politeness (assuming that person hasn’t done something to justify exclusion, which you haven’t). Not excluding children is fairly basic politeness. I’ve made small talk with children who I don’t know particularly well or have much of a relationship with, because they’re people and it’s really not that hard to ask about what year they’re in and whether they like school and so on. One of the things that kills me about this letter is how you seem to be wondering whether you’re even entitled to your feelings, and I want to make sure that you know that you are.

    Like a lot of these sorts of in-law relations situations, I tend to think that the problem isn’t as much your in-laws as it is your husband. If he was willing to take your feelings seriously then you might be able to come up with a compromise that you can both live with. As it is, he’s invalidating your feelings: he makes you feel like you’re selfish for not wanting to be bullied (since exclusion is a type of bullying!) to the point where you almost feel like you’re crazy for having those feelings in the first place. That’s not okay! If he finds your feelings inconvenient, that’s no reason to shame you for them or act like you’re not entitled to feel sad (when you’re being bullied!). It should be on him to try to fix things, to try to work with you and with them to come up with a workable compromise. I feel like that’s where things should start: with your husband respecting you (because he’s not, in this context at least). You have two problems, and the first problem of your husband’s family being rude to you would be easier to deal with if your husband at least treated it like a problem.

  22. Auntie said:

    It’s awfully sad that, while your children might think of him as a father, he doesn’t return the sentiment. Sometimes, I’m sure, but not when his family are in the picture. Then, *they* clearly come first. Which is pretty sad, especially since, given your children’s ages, they’re probably starting to notice this. “Dad loves us and he’s wonderful… except when his family treat us like we’re less than human, which he’s fine with.” You and your children are being mistreated, and your husband is so totally on board with this that he’ll actually call you selfish when you try to stand up for yourself after it becomes apparent that he won’t. This is a really sad situation. I’m sure he’s a lovely person otherwise (why else would you have married him?) but his family clearly take the top position in his mind, not you and your children. It’s possible he genuinely cannot see what is happening because he’s been acclimatised to it after a lifetime of such things. I doubt he’s being actively malevolent here; it’s just very tragic to find out that you don’t quite occupy the place in his heart you thought you did.

    The Captain has good advice. Give your children the choice (they are old enough, after all) and maybe your husband will listen to their actions instead of ignoring your words. It’s doubtful, since his actions have shown pretty consistently that they aren’t close to being as important to him as his family. It is not good to teach them that they have to be mistreated in life. That is not a good thing to be made normal for them. Most likely, your husband will be largely unaffected, but you and your kids still get a holiday where you aren’t treated like dirt, so it’s still a plus. Organise to do something enjoyable as the captain suggests, so that way you’re guaranteed to have a good day, and let your children choose. Your husband might be miffed for a while, and his family might respond as the Captain predicts, but at the end of the day, you’ll enjoy yourself and you won’t be treated like an unwanted guest all day.

    But this whole story strikes me as rather sad. It’s always sad to find out someone you love doesn’t love you back in the way you thought they did.

    • lk said:

      I think he doesn’t see, because he was raised with this way of seeing family. And raised not to bring up deep topics with his parents. He tries to brush it under the rug, that is true, and to make me feel like it’s not a big deal, but he has also offered to not go up at all. I just won’t let him do that, because I know if he doesn’t spend time with his parents before they die, he’ll feel guilty for the rest of his life. I can’t be the cause of that. But even though he doesn’t see this, and he just wants it all to go away, he would support me by not going if I wanted. And he did try to bring it up to his mom once, for me, and she said the things I mentioned, and also that she was ‘hurt that he’d bring this up.’ There is no change in site, for them. But he is a good, kind man, who is just conflicted.

  23. Lori said:

    Yes! Do this! I stopped going to my In-laws terrible Christmas party – they live two states away, so that means missing the whole holiday. IT HAS BEEN AWESOME. I stay home alone and do whatever I feel like for three days.
    Your situation is harder, but this choice can be a gift to yourself.

  24. just passing through said:

    Well I agree with the Captain that the letter writer should have her own celebration while her husband does her own thing. If going to his mom’s makes her feel excluded then don’t go. But I think if the husband only goes to visit his parents very occasionally, I don’t think his parents are as evil as most of the commenters are making them out to be.

    • B. said:

      How so? I don’t see the link between the frequency of their son’s visits and their purposefully excluding their daughter-in-law and their new grandchildren :^/
      Also, the husband’s comment on LW’s duty to be there so she can offer him moral support makes me think that, if he’s not there more often, that’s entirely his intention.
      So why’re LW and her kids getting punished by the inlaws for the husband’s actions?

    • neverjaunty said:

      How many times per year is it acceptable to mistreat children simply because they had the misfortune of a parent marrying into the family?

  25. Hi LW,

    I’m so sorry you’re in this tough situation. Wanting the attention and basic niceties that you deserve and having to survive on breadcrumbs is not a ticket to fun place-city.

    I’ve had a similar thing with my step-faaaamily where I had Real Talks, difficult talks that left me exhausted and in tears after, about how I needed to feel more included. That it’s not okay to assume that people will just know unwritten rules. How my traditions were different from theirs and maybe we could start incorporating some of mine. You get the picture.

    And they seemed to listen. They smiled and nodded and hugged me and nothing changed. It hurt all the more for that. I’d really rather save you from that situation. The Captain’s suggestion is easier. I know you want that validation, to be really seen and heard and you deserve it, but they are not likely to give it to you. So just.. don’t waste your energy and spoons on them. You’ve already tried so hard.

    There are great suggestions in the comments about ways to make the different holidays a special time of joy for you and your kids. I hope you consider them.

    And it’s not the same, I am not the people you want recognition from. But I believe you and I see you. You deserve this and it’s a damn shame that they’re not stepping up to the plate.

  26. slfisher said:

    Yeah, the family is one thing, but it’s the husband that’s really annoying me.

    As far as non-holiday holidays, my boyfriend’s mom started having Thanksgiving on Friday because when he got divorced, the ex-wife got the kids for Thanksgiving, so his entire family shifted dinner over to Friday.

    • “Why do you NEED to belong” is a question that just sticks in my craw. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because BELONGING IS THE DEFINITION OF BEING PART OF A FAMILY.

      • “Why can’t you just sit in the corner and play with your shame puzzle? Why are you being so divisive?”

  27. Here and There said:

    Two things you mention in your letter give me pause; first, the line “Pennsylvania is very different from Virginia in the concept of hospitality and family welcomes, I’m finding.” I know you feel excluded, and that’s awful, but make sure you’re not interpreting that these in-laws are jerks to you because Pennsylvanian don’t care about hospitality like your people in Virginia do (or vice versa, depending on which one you’re from).

    You’re right, there can be regional differences in *how* people express hospitality! It could be useful to step back a moment to see if maybe different cultural backgrounds are affecting how both parties are interpreting each other’s actions. My WASP-y parents can seem stand-offish when my siblings bring home gregarious boy/girlfriends, but I think they quickly realize that my parents’ polite, almost bland conversation IS their way of showing welcome and respect. We’re not huggers, we err on the side of undersharing, but that doesn’t make us cold.

    So no, the in-laws really being jerks to you, it’s because these individuals are jerks. Make sure you’re neither excusing nor blaming behavior on cultural or regional differences.

    And second, the note about how the 20-year-old daughter stopped seeing her dad but takes his money? That’s an age when a ton of young people are naturally pulling away from their parents while blithely accepting tuition checks or support, and it sounds like this daughter dealt with her parents divorcing during her childhood, her father warmly embracing his stepkids while she was enduring tumultuous teen years, and an extended family that engages in emotional favoritism and warfare. She might deserve a break, even if she is being pill right now. I have no idea the full situation, of course, but I also wonder if your opinion of the dad-daughter relationship is apparent to the rest of the family.

    But I totally agree that if you’re feeling excluded and unhappy, you deserve the chance to step back and make a new kind of holiday. I like the idea of doing an alternative event on another day so you can get your fill of holiday family time—and inviting his daughter, every year, every time, even if she doesn’t show.

    • Myrtle said:

      This caught my ear too. Is this LW expressing her stress? Because LW’s choices in describing the daughter sounds equally abusive. Considering that this kid’s brain isn’t even fully formed yet (takes until 23!) and has now been presented with someone else contemptous and dismissive of her (and money being used as bait to control her) LW’s “we’re not invited” premise sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. Does the husband’s family see this playng out? What is LW’s plan to mature the relationship with this daughter?

      • Myrtle said:

        “Why do you NEED to belong?” “Get out a puzzle or something interesting.” Remarkable.
        Where’s LW’s Mom spending her holiday-home alone?
        Can’t any of these bees make honey?

        • lk said:

          My mom usually spends the holiday with my sister and her family, since she lives with us. My husband’s daughter is invited to everything we do, she has a room in our home, which I made, and furnished, and painted, all for her. She wants none of it, or of us. And yes, her life has been difficult, but she doesn’t need to treat her dad so badly. My kids have two step-parents, who they love and treat well, and two parents, who they love and treat well, and so it’s possible for kids to come through bad times and be loving. And if my kids only contacted their dad if they wanted something, but otherwise ignored him, I’d be just as mad at them, because that’s not an ok way to treat someone.

      • Dizzy said:

        Yeah, it’s hard to tell what’s going on here, but I think these are perceptive and good questions. The LW’s comments about her step-daughter pricked my ears too. Whatever the case I think it would be good if LW could be as kind and understanding about her step-daughter as she possibly can be.

        I think it’s natural to find it difficult if LW feels like step-daughter is treating her dad badly – natural to be protective of one’s spouse – but there could be a lot at play between the dad and the daughter that LW hasn’t been privy to and I think it would probably be helpful for the LW and her family if LW tried to see the daughter in the most positive light possible and make her feel welcome too.

        • Kettle said:

          For sure. I bet if LW asked her ex, he’d say his kids don’t talk to him as often as he’s like. And if daughter is “taking her dad’s money”, well sorry LW but his daughter is his primary financial responsibility, not LW or her kids.

          • lk said:

            It’s not about the money. We have more than enough money. It’s that she only wants to see him if she wants something from him, and not because she loves him and just wants to spend time with him.

            My kids see their dad whenever he sets up time to see them. They’re always like “hey, dad wants to know if he can come get us next weekend” and I have never said no to that, unless we had tickets to something.

  28. altria said:

    Oh, this one really resonated with me. I’m a step parent and a biological parent, and while the difficult aspects of my blended family are different to lw’s in some ways, I can relate all the same. I can’t speak for all blended families (and tbh I don’t know if this is even a blended family thing, necessarily), but I’ve found with certain members of mine there’s this weird, powerful need to… *prove* stuff? Like in order to *be* a healthy loving family, you must *prove* it by not opting out and putting your own needs first, even when you really need to. And it often feels like there’s extra need to prove our *familyness* because of complicated history, because of manipulative ex’s manipulations, because of step kid not living with us full time, etc. And I don’t know if this is a burden you live with, but if you do, I release you from it. Family doesn’t have to mean always saying yes, or always doing everything together, and it especially doesn’t have to mean spending holidays surrounded by veloceraptors, just to prove how excellent you are at *familying*.

    Treat yourself with kindness and say no to Thanksgiving with his family. Do your own thing. No matter what you choose, I promise it will be a thousand times better.

  29. The LW could have been my mother in my own family way back in the 1970s – I was a product of my parents’ second marriage for both of them, and my frosty and unkind paternal grandparents did not approve of their son marrying a divorced woman with two children (having been married before naturally reflected badly on a woman; less so on a man, at least in their eyes – what a surprise!). The upshot of all this was that I barely saw my grandparents growing up – we visited them one afternoon each summer on our way to the beach with my aunt (dad’s sister, who had no problem with any of us), and my childhood family movies with my paternal grandparents show us making hilariously stilted conversation about sunburns, beach weather, the family pets….and absolutely nothing else. Which is not to say that my dad didn’t keep in touch with them, but I think our family line was “oh so sorry we live so far away and [Dad] has to work as usual; please enjoy these fun family holiday photos. See you next summer for our extremely brief visit.” My dad did visits on his own, carefully calculated to join hunting or fishing trips that nobody else would have liked, and dealt with them that way. And eventually, many years later after my grandmother died, my grandfather mellowed out, joined us at the beach occasionally, and even traveled to our house one year for Thanksgiving. But damn, it took at least 10 years if not more.

    The LW’s situation sounds a little different in that possibly most parties are older than my parents and extended family were, but yes, I’d absolutely recommend that you, LW, treat yourself the way you’ve already treated your kids – you don’t have to go and spend any time with people “who won’t lose sleep over you.” I know it’s small comfort to treat Thanksgiving as similar to a holiday that is less of a real holiday because a portion of your family has to “work” [deal with highly difficult family members], but certainly give yourself a day off from Difficult People being Difficult.

  30. This is where I say: Your familys’ traditions aren’t inclusive and don’t make you feel happy, so you start your own.

    Ive done this. I don’t have kids, but I still want to spend Christmas with my husband, neither of us staying sober enough to drive (or not argue, ahem) and we didn’t want to debate over whose family we went to (this would have been a very overbalanced discussion as his family have space, money, are nearer us and actually value our company, but if we spent The Day with them we’d be obliged to spend the next one with the other side).

    So we declare we are setting our own new traditions. And while the rest of my in laws may choose to gather for a meal, that is their choice. It sits well. Husband and I and dog enjoy Xmas together, then meet the family a day or two later to exchange presents, when the kids think there are no more gifts to come.

    So, OP, make new traditions, for thanksgivings or whatever. Stick to them. Make happy time for you and immediate family and anyone who you *choose* to invite. Then see the parents for a timed visit to help eat up scraps, be on your most delightful behaviour, but also have a reason to leave at a certain time.

    You’ll all adjust. Maybe, when your in laws recover from not being in control and going with your suggestion… They’ll discover and admit that they liked it 🙂

  31. TO_Ont said:

    “my kids, who treat my husband like a dad”

    Ouch. If that’s how they feel, it’s just heartbreaking that it’s not reciprocated by him. What an aweful situation for a child to grow up in, to love an adult who is with them every day but who won’t make a commitment back to them. (Which he isn’t).

    Although, if it’s typical of how he acts towards children who love him and see him as a dad, then you may have your answer for why his daughter distanced herself from him as an adult.

    • Anothermous said:

      Seconded. This is what I was thinking too. He clearly won’t stand up to his parents for his step-children to be treated with dignity and respect, so how good a dad is he, really? I mean, if his step kids treat him like a dad, why doesn’t he treat them like his kids and insist that the rest of his family do too? Honestly, given the LW’s description, I don’t find it at all hard to believe that his adult daughter doesn’t want to talk to him.

    • Dizzy said:

      I agree with this comment. If LW’s husband feels like he’s the dad of these kids, he’s not showing it in allowing them to be ignored and excluded by his family. That being sad, even if LW’s husband feels more like a stepdad, I’d still say he’s letting his stepkids down here.

  32. Michelle said:

    My mom was married once before she married my dad. No kids came from that first marriage, but mom’s family has always been a little weird about dad. He was the guy mom ‘brought home’ from the military (mom joined after divorcing first husband, dad is from another state and we live close to where mom’s family lives), whereas first husband was the ‘perfect man from a good family’ as far as mom’s family was concerned.

    I don’t remember much of it, but from the time I was 4-ish to when I was 13 or so, we stopped going to all family holidays and did a small family thing with just the three of us (and four of us, after my sister was born). Mom’s family was being shitty to dad, and mom put her foot down. The family either got both of them, or neither. It took years for that to finally sink in, and now dad has a very very polite friendly conversation kind of relationship with mom’s family. They talk about the weather, they talk about Local Sports Team, and they are nice to each other for an hour or two every holiday.

    There is no guarantee that this will happen with your situation, but I think having your husband back you up would go a long way to helping it. And until he willingly does that (forcing him to choose won’t help), you’re better off staying home on the holidays. Don’t deal with that particular headache of an icy family if you don’t have to.

    And do talk about your husband about it, but not during the holidays. Do it in the off season, when you have time for discussions and possibly arguing if it comes down to it. Because you two are supposed to be a team, and he is not doing that very well right now.

  33. neverjaunty said:

    LW, if you follow the excellent advice here, you should be prepared for some pushback from your husband. If he is this invested in allowing his family to mistreat you and your children (his stepchildren) in the interests of pretending everything is fine with his family, you can expect some more gaslighting and BS about your decision not to go.

    Do not argue with him or try to engage if (when) he does this. You are not asking for his opinion or input: you are informing him of a decision that has already been made. “The kids are with their dad and I’ll be staying here for Thanksgiving. Love you, see you Monday, have a great time.” Period. Why? “Because I don’t want to visit people who shun me, and it’ll save them the awkwardness. See you Monday!”

  34. “Pennsylvania is very different from Virginia in the concept of hospitality and family welcomes, I’m finding.”

    Um… no, no and NO!

    What there is, is the difference between being a scumbag and NOT being a scumbag. And your husband’s family — and apparently, your husband — do not comprehend the difference. I hope that you will ditch them all.

    • lk said:

      I think some people took this to mean I was dissing PA. I didn’t mean it that way, only that there do seem to be cultural differences in how welcome ‘new’ or ‘strange’ people are, and how far family extends (and how long you have to be a member of a family to be considered family). The south is very welcoming – honestly, if my kids (too young now) or my husband’s daughter were dating someone with kids, those kids would be treated like grand-kids as long as they dated, and even longer if a relationship had developed. I just think there’s a protectiveness of ‘family’ in the North that’s different from the South.

  35. another lost angel said:

    I think a lot of people have already given a lot of good advice along with CA in regards to holidays with her in-laws and what to do, so I have nothing to add on that front.

    HOWEVER…

    1) I sense some…negative energy (for want of a better word) surrounding your stepdaughter, LW. I think you need to back it up and remember that’s his daughter. Their relationship may not be perfect (are any?), but that is a forest you need to be very careful navigating. It’s not her fault that your in-laws treat you like crap. It’s not her fault that your in-laws treat her like gold and your kids like garbage. Remember, if you expect him to accept your kids and treat them well (even when they mess up), the same applies to you in regards to his daughter.

    2) Location has nothing to do with manners. I’ve lived in many places across the US and have travelled to a few different countries, as well. Rude people exist everywhere, and yes – even in the south.

    • Seconding everything you said about the stepdaughter. Sounds like her relationship with her dad has suffered (and it wouldn’t be the first parent/teenage offspring relationship to take a big hit when the parental relationship breaks up or a parent remarries. Add some shiny new stranger and their children to the mix and there are plenty of teenagers who will react with less than wholehearted enthusiasm and acceptance. I’m a bit baffled as to why the stepdaughter seems to be judged so harshly when LW and her husband don’t seem to claim any culpability for the icky tension that exists there. Y’all were adults with an active say in how this all came about. She was a child who was completely without control over the total rearranging of life as she knew it. Cut her some slack?

      • another lost angel said:

        Agreed, also something I just caught, too is how LW compares her kids to her stepdaughter, casting her husband’s own daughter in a negative light to her kids. It is seriously not a good look at all.

        • Kettle said:

          I wonder – and I’m not excusing the in-laws’ behavior with this – if the reason they give LW and her kids such short shrift is because LW’s husband, who seems to have been his daughter’s non-custodial parent, was content to not see her very often/confused “having her at my house” for actually spending quality time with her but now is playing Superdad to LW’s kids. It’s much easier to blame an “interloper” than to admit your son is a bit of a shit and has hurt your granddaughter through his actions.

          None of which is the LW’s problem, of course.

  36. Kettle said:

    Maybe they don’t like LW because she clearly doesn’t like their granddaughter? The bit about how she “happily kept his money” and “treats [her father] so badly” leapt out in a really ironic way.

    • I came here to say exactly that (though in a much less succinct way lol).
      Sounds like stepdaughter is not only not a part of LW’s family, but she’s actually disliked by the LW, based on her behavior largely as a teenager reacting (probably completely ungraciously – but…she was a teenager!) to the new family dynamic. That seems awfully unfair. Maybe I’m identifying more with the daughter because I’m closer to her in age, but LW wanted a different perspective – this might be one worth considering.

  37. Maybe your husband’s family isn’t maliciously excluding you so much as demonstrating their loyalty elsewhere?. Story time! My best friend when I was younger was in almost the exact same position as 20 year old step-daughter in this letter. Her parents split a bit messily when we were about 13, and within a year her dad was dating someone else, within 2 he was remarried and had this whole brand new family that my friend couldn’t fit into. He’d slotted happily into a role of doting, amazing stepdad to the new kids. From her perspective, she was replaced and her whole childhood with her parents together seemed like it was just brushed aside for a newer model.

    To a 15 year old, that was gut-wrenching, and a decade later, her relationship with her dad is still fraught. Her new stepmother had smaller children and had zero interest in putting the kind of work in that would be needed to really integrate this other teenager into her shiny new blended family, and as teenagers very few of us have the emotional maturity to lead the way navigating something like that, so I’m positive her hurt reactions to all this would easily have been classified as “awful”.

    Is it possible that your husband’s family is rallying in support of their granddaughter in the face of her feeling estranged from her own father?I know your position is to have your hubbies back and see the best in him, but is it possible that prior to you coming on the scene some pretty miserable stuff went down in the breakup of his last relationship and with his relationship with his daughter? Can you see how him being such a stand up guy when it comes to your kids might feel pretty awful to her when their relationship is so strained? And can you see how you characterizing her as awful and taking your husbands money etc etc etc is alienating and mean? She was a child when you married her father; she doesn’t have to have handled the obliteration of her family unit with adult level grace and understanding.

    I’d like to think that if, as a young teenager, one of my parents had pulled what my friends dad had done, and I felt that awful about it, my grandparents and extended family would have made *my* feelings and wellbeing a priority over that of the new wife. After all, you have your family unit, your kids already have lots of other loving people around them to help *them* with the transition – they want to help the granddaughter they’ve known all her life through this instead. Maybe they don’t want to buddy up to you too much out of a sense of loyalty to their granddaughter, who feels hurt by the whole situation. I’m not saying you’ve done anything wrong, but if you had to choose: a)your husband’s family embrace you and your kids wholeheartedly, and as a result, hubbies daughter feels even more isolated and rejected and replaced OR b) your husbands family is base level civil (though they may be falling a bit short of this too) to you when you come by, and you see them less because of it, but that young woman keeps her sense of belonging and familial support when she probably needs it a lot more than you? ….you’d choose b right? I’d choose b.

    I (and this novel of a comment) may be way off, but I feel like there are other perspectives here that might make you feel a little more generously towards his family’s (admittedly rude) behavior, and maybe feel a bit better about bowing out of spending unfun times with them in the future.

    • lk said:

      I keep trying to post this, but it’s not posting. Sorry if it posts 6 times. But first, I’ll say, thank you, yes, your advice is good. I was also a step-daughter, who was pushed out of my dad’s life by my step-mom and her kids. But my dad never tried, and my step-mom overtly disliked me. I’d never do that to someone. I wrote his daughter letters, saying please could we try, please come over, we’d love to be a family, she told me my letters were ‘stressful’ and to please stop sending them. I’d invite her to things, she’d never respond, and certainly wouldn’t come. I know it’s hard, and I shouldn’t resent her, but we all reached out to her over and over. And I wouldn’t mind if she blew us off, if she’d just stop hurting her dad.

      Here’s what I tried to post:

      Firstly, you all are right, and I will try to not resent her, even though she causes my husband such pain. She is young.

      But you are wrong, about him as a dad – he took her on trips, had her over and watched her disney shows with her, took her to dinner, shopping, they’d talk in the car, he was (and still would be, if she allowed it) an excellent parent. I do know she didn’t want him getting remarried … she was mad at him for ‘not asking her permission.’

      But we have done everything we can to include her, and to let him keep having time just with her.

      That said, I should be more kind, because she is only 20 and maybe will mature. But I just can’t stand how easily she hurts him, and is always with her mom (and lets him know it). (And backstory, the mom ended their marriage, and my husband didn’t take her to court, or fight, he gave her everything she asked for, not because he’d done anything wrong – he hadn’t – but because he wanted it to be smooth and he felt it was the right thing to do).

  38. Amphelise said:

    Just adding to the voice of concern that the in-law family’s disdain for the LW and her kids is mirrored in the LW’s disdain for her step-daughter. I think there’s some very hinky vibes throughout all of these relationships and some serious all-round reflection and possibly family counselling would be a good thing.

    LW, I am both a step-daughter (who acquired step-parents at the same age your step-daughter was when she acquired you) and a step-mother. Thus, I would offer you two actions:
    1) Stop going to visit his family, at least for now.
    2) Make a serious, concerted, genuine effort to reconnect with *your* step-daughter (not your husband’s daughter – own the relationship) and build a positive, friendly connection there. You are bound to this very young woman for life; you cannot go through it treating her as an outsider. You know how that feels, so don’t do it to her.

  39. Clarry said:

    I have a different take on this. I see nothing wrong with not going and not forcing the teenage sons to go, but another alternative would be to go and have a great time.

    The in-laws ignore my family? We get into an excellent conversation, right there, just the three of us, about books or movies or the art installation in our town, or the great fun things the kids are doing in school, and we make the topics engaging and inclusive so anyone who wants to join in can. (This might take some rehearsal with the kids ahead of time.) They ignore us? Doesn’t matter because we’re so happy on our own.

    The in-laws talk about their own topics? I and my family listen with apt attention, then break in with some small intelligent comment.

    Jump up to be helpful with the teenagers, and do it energetically and like you LOVE it. Do the dishes in the kitchen the 3 of you together, laughing often, then come back to where the rest of the family is watching sports or talking, and at an ad break, say how nice it is for the 3 of you to spend time together.

    Don’t go off with a sudoku puzzle. Go off with a fabulously entertaining and funny book. While reading, get to some hilarious part that you can’t help laughing out loud at. When people look up, read the terrific paragraph out loud. When they look bored, say “you didn’t think that was funny? Oh well, I’m enjoying this so much!”

    Bring a game or a puzzle that can be expanded to include many people. When you’re left out of the conversation, the 3 of you start to play on your own. If anyone looks interested, you say pull up a chair and we’ll include you in the next round. If no one looks interested, you continue playing by yourselves.

    If you do this right, you can make them feel left out in their own home. But don’t do it often. Once a year is plenty.

    • Jane said:

      Ergh, this seems like way too much effort to make a point, and it could escalate the situation from “neutrally bad” to “aggressively bad.” Also, the in-laws aren’t guaranteed to respond as you want them to this performance. I would give up on trying to convince the in-laws of ANYTHING and just do what’s comfortable.

    • JenniferP said:

      That’s a lot of work, and not actually fun.

  40. Stina said:

    LW, if you are still reading, you will be seeing a bit of concern about your relationship with your step daughter. I read your comment that you tried to include her in your family, but were rebuffed. Please don’t give up.

    I acquired a step mum at about 15, and my dad sent me money when I was in university, and I didn’t give him much of my time. I was frankly a massive arsehole to my step mum. I still feel really shitty about that. The thing is, I was still REALLY ANGRY with my dad. Like, super angry. For reasons I won’t get into here (suffice to say his behaviour throughout my parents’ divorce really fucking traumatised me), I was PISSED OFF. It enraged me that he basically moved on and made a new family without so much as saying sorry for the stuff he did during the implosion of his old one (to be honest, that still makes me angry now, and I’m 30!).

    Before you judge your step daughter too harshly, remember that she’s been through something big. And I hate to say it, but don’t rely on your husband’s telling of his divorce. I’m sure my step mum still thinks my dad was a poor slighted man whose wife cheated on him and then all his children hated him. Well, that did happen, but A LOT of other things happened too. Really horrible, dark things, that I’m sure my dad would flat out deny. You know your husband can be wilfully unsupportive and that he chose to put his own comfort first in the matter of you and his parents. Imagine those tendencies during a divorce. Imagine being a teenager and dealing with that shit. Allow for the fact that your step daughter might still be very angry and hurt.

    And don’t go and see his awful family again! Even if all you do next time is stay in and watch films and eat ice cream. It sounds a hell of a lot nicer than what you have been doing.

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