I am having a hard time pretending everything is all right for the holidays and I am not angry. My daughter and son-in-law live out of state and invited us for a holiday dinner. His parents will be staying with them for a few weeks. We happily accepted and booked a room. When we told them our plan to bring my partner’s grown son with autism, my daughter was shocked that we had just assumed he was welcome. The next week they called us and politely uninvited us because they can’t handle our son. He has never bothered anyone, but she said she can’t handle the stress of trying to keep the children quiet. Their screaming does bother him, but we have headphones for him. How do my partner and I move past this without holding a grudge?
Anonymous / Boston
Oh goodness, feel your feelings! Please! Your daughter has asserted the boundary she needs. It sounds like you need some time to process and cool down, so take that time. Let your relationship with her skate on the surface for a bit, mourn the holiday you thought you were going to have, and then focus on the one you’re going to create, instead. There’s no need to fake being jolly and to perform holiday cheer right this very minute for . . . whose benefit, even?
In fact, let me soapbox for a minute more generally on the fact that Holidays 2021 are going to be frustrating and weird and sad for a lot of people, and we will all be in better mental health in 2022 if we acknowledge that. Last year, awful as it was, the choices were more clear-cut. Now we’re in a kind-of-back-to-normal-but-not-really-and-what-is-normal-anyway fog, and everyone is tired and burned out and still awkward from social reentry, and there’s a backlog of postponed visits and ceremonies and celebrations to be gotten through. Whatever you feel now or later, dear readers, is perfectly OK. (And for advice on what you should do about those awkward situations, send me a note at email@example.com!)
Back to you! When you’re a little less raw — probably after the holidays — talk to your daughter. More importantly, be prepared to listen. This communication misfire was undoubtedly painful for both of you. Her disinvitation was not a good look, but understand: She has more than one child of screaming age, and in-laws staying at her house for a period of weeks. Weeks. Jet-lagged in-laws who almost certainly are not familiar with her house or neighborhood, and who may have different cultural expectations about family, food, hospitality. Your daughter is not a monster for being overwhelmed at the prospect of adding one more person with unique needs to the gathering. She knows her family better than you do and made the call that was best for everyone, quite possibly including your partner’s son. (Keep in mind, too, that while you see the man as a stepson, that does not make him and your daughter step-siblings.)
To summarize: Feel your feelings, then make a holiday, then open a conversation with your daughter, and then listen. Repeat what she says, then listen some more. You may not get over it, but you can, together, get through it.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.