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Carolyn Hax: Sibling’s families are out of sync at holiday time

Dear Carolyn: My brother and his family no longer spend Thanksgiving or Christmas day with me and my parents. They just fly down after Christmas to my parents’ place and don’t seem concerned about making sure their dates line up with when I can fly down. It has been hurtful to me and I find it heartbreaking as to how my parents must feel, though they would never say.

My brother’s wife has no immediate family and all her relatives live where she is. My family is very small and my parents pay for my brother’s family’s flights and private suite in paradise.

I put my brother on notice this fall that I don’t really feel like a family sometimes when they don’t want to spend either of these two official days with us. No response. I am just trying to accept the way they are.

I get that parents with kids want to wake up in their house on Christmas Day. So I felt that spending Thanksgiving together was expected. Apparently not.

I’m curious how others in this situation feel.

– Family

I realize you posed this to readers, but I’m answering directly:

How warmly do you feel toward people who put you “on notice”? How eagerly do you then inconvenience yourself to visit them?

I’m not saying your frustration isn’t valid. I’d be hurt, too, if a sibling didn’t even text me about potential visit dates ... though I’ve also relied plenty on my parents to be the travel communication hub.

What I am saying: Tone rarely matters more than when you’re trying to encourage people to spend time with you.

And your tone is coming across as, “How dare you blow us off – we have as much a right to you as her family does! And we expect you here! So you can complete our idea of family!”

Total nonstarter. Take it from in-laws immemorial, whose experiences with such tactics roughly equate to displaying SCREEN ME with every call they place.

Your brother has obstacles to visiting – he’s got a spouse and kids and a long enough distance to cover that he uses air travel. People with spouses and kids don’t get a magic pass from making an effort, of course – I see you’re flying too – but they do have more than one person’s needs and preferences to consider. It’s not special privilege, it’s just math.

The answer that many non-local families get when they do that math for themselves is to stay home and start their own traditions. (Or whatever answer doesn’t involve airports around Thanksgiving.)

And why shouldn’t they? Just because some families do brave holiday travel to see extended family doesn’t mean the ones who decline to are selfish or less committed. This is each person’s, each family unit’s prerogative.

Your mother and father exercised theirs in their day, obviously, since they’re now the “expected” hosts of your nuclear family. There was possibly even a sibling or cousin resentful of the switch; consider asking your mom and dad how they dealt with this.

Even if their situation wasn’t analogous, it’s safe to assume it wasn’t just a snap of the fingers and “OK, we’re having Thanksgivmas our way from now on.”

As such, taking it personally that your brother has broken away from the fly-home-for-holidays routine is more of a reach than you need to make, not to mention much tougher on yourself. You’re shaking your fist at the inevitability of time.

Please instead concentrate not on where your brother chooses to be or when or (ahem) on whose dime, but how you can remain in his and his family’s life. Period. Tell him you miss him and then lob over some ideas for seeing each other occasionally, in hopes that something fits with both of your schedules and priorities: “No pressure, no problem if it doesn’t work – just something to keep in mind.”

Being easy to please is a gift to the people you love. Above all, though, it’s a gift to yourself, by making it easy for others to want to please you.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.