Making plans without Nigel
July 11, 2009 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Family rejection: am I overreacting?

A couple of weeks ago my Mom told me about a trip she and my aunt were taking to see her brother, and this week I was CC'ed on an email where they had expanded this into plans to have a gathering of the cousins of my generation on Sunday (tomorrow), a dinner in which everybody had confirmed, yet I was only finding out about it for the first time on Wednesday. My heart sank when I read this, since - as a blacksheep - I don't think anybody should be an afterthought in their own family, and I know this to be a hot-button for me.

When I replied to this email saying that apparently I had been left out of the loop, my aunt said that she was supposed to ask me and that I should give my Mom "hell," yet when I talked to her she said it wasn't intentional, she just forgot, and that the plans really just came together quickly. That "quickly" is a period of about five days (while everyone else was planning) does not register with her. My mom does not typically forget things like this, and no, I have no reason to believe that there is anything medical involved here. She thinks I'm being thin-skinned and should attend anyway, but I'm still hurt about this and think of the event as ruined for me, and that I wouldn't have a good time. Not to mention the 4hr drive there and back.

So to pull a question out of all of this, how do you deal with a situation where one side is too-sensitive and the other insensitive? I feel pretty lame, outsider-y and humiliated for all of this to be happening to me, while I'm being told to let it roll off and to go anyway. I being made to feel like I'm 13, and I'm 41.

I know therapy is in the cards here, just from the effort I've had to put into explaining this in a coherent way. I'm not sure that's been the case, so here's a throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total)
I'm almost never invited to family things; part of this is (I hope and have always taken this for granted even though I'm more the family WHITE sheep: professional, only college grad, etc etc) because I'm the only one who moved away. In your case, maybe you cousins all live near one another and you're a 4-hr drive away and they figured you couldn't or wouldn't make it?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:22 PM on July 11, 2009

You have to think about your mother's age (if you're 41 she's going to at least 65) and how that affects her communication skills (people will sometimes 'forget' at that age), plus how age is going to affect how she uses email (my Mom, who is about the same age, doesn't even know how to CC), and then take into consideration that five days is pretty quick indeed.

You also need to come to terms with the fact that you may not ever be the first person your mother thinks about, and there could be some really good reasons - such as your prickly relationship - for this. You're also at an age (41) where you should perhaps be taking more of a leadership role in this relationship, and that means with yourself.

If you can somehow come to terms with your status in the family, you will be a lot happier. You may have to slip into a more "transactional" relationship with your mother. It's all well and fine for you yourself to accept the fact that you're an afterthought, but if greater demands are placed on you (ie, if decisions are made about your responsibility for something) without your input, you're going to have to figure out your position and stick to it.

You should go to the get-together. Your mother isn't the only member of your family. You need to be there with family and have fun and move forward. Stop worrying about your mother so much, accept who she is, and try to predict her behaviours.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:27 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry. My feelings would be really hurt by this, too. I guess my advice to you is to think about whether or not you would have gone if you'd been invited normally. Do you want to see all your cousins and, I assume, their families? If so, then go, and enjoy spending time with them. If it's not something you'd want to do on a normal day, then just forget about it.

Don't let your sense of pride keep you from making good memories. You don't want to see the pictures showing up on facebook or whatever over the next few days and curse yourself for not being there. Of course, I always feel like it's better to regret something you did instead of something you didn't.
posted by sugarfish at 12:29 PM on July 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd treat the event and the mis-handling of it as two separate issues. Decide what you want to do about the bad or no communication and resolve to do it (if you choose to - I would) at an appropriate time. Then, decide whether you want to go to the event or not (I'm guessing you wouldn't feel left out as much, if you didn't care about seeing your cousins), and do that.

It's entirely appropriate for you to make your feelings about having been left out until the last minute known to your mother and aunt, and expect some resolution. "You're too thin skinned" is too dismissive and you should not accept that. You may get nothing more than an acknowlegment of how it made you you feel, but that much is just basic consideration. If they can't/won't even give you that, you'll know where you stand.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 12:31 PM on July 11, 2009

The only person you can control is yourself. I think you should go to the dinner and have fun. And give everyone your email address and suggest they contact you directly. It sounds like an oversight.

Seriously, five days? That's pretty fast! I can easily go a week without remembering to mention something. The problem, if there is one, is that you didn't get cc'ed on the original email plan (or, if the planning was done over the phone, the problem is that your mom said she'd deal with calling you and didn't call you right away; I don't know why this was but you can at least treat it as a mistake).

Whatever the source is of your being a "blacksheep", or what you mean by that, you really don't cover it here. It sounds like that's making you more sensitive and leading to the rest of what you're reading in here. It's normal that you feel like everything has been pretty much sprung on you, it really does sound like a last-minute plan overall and you got notified even later. But if you want to be included and see your family, you should try and treat it like everyone got their invitations/notification at the same time. Short notice, but nothing targeted at you.
posted by Lady Li at 12:33 PM on July 11, 2009

You live 4 hours away right? I probably wouldn't have thought to invite you either because that seems like an awful long way to drive for dinner.
posted by fshgrl at 12:48 PM on July 11, 2009

Five days? In our family things usually get organised at a lot less notice than that (often a few hours) and who get's a "wanna come" phone call depends on how far away they are and how likely they are to be available at short notice. My son and his girlfriend plan their social lives months in advance and I gave up asking them to short notice events because I was the one who felt hurt when they declined. They get invited to the fixed date ones.

Mention that you felt like a bit of an afterthought, but then let it go. And if this is going to affect your ability to enjoy the event, then perhaps not going this time around is a better option than going with resentment as your companion - which won't just affect your enjoyment but also how enjoyable the event is for others.
posted by Lolie at 12:48 PM on July 11, 2009

If this is an one-off, isolated incident, then, you're overreacting.

If this had happened to me, I would sulk and indulge in self-pity for a bit, but really, unless if you have a good relationship with your mother and this isn't a common recurring incident (meaning, she doesn't keep forgetting about you), just live, let go, and be happy.
posted by moiraine at 12:54 PM on July 11, 2009

We can't appreciate the full situation as much as you and we don't know the dynamics of your family or the genesis or history of your self-proclaimed status as a black sheep, but from what you've put here it does sound like you may be overreacting. Some plans got thrown together haphazardly while people were going about their otherwise busy lives and you accidentally got left off a list temporarily. Ultimately you were told about it and encouraged to attend. It always hurts to be left out, but this one appears to have been salvaged. You can give your mom the benefit of the doubt and let it go. If it's part of a pattern, and your black sheep status gets you left out by the family repeatedly, and you want to be included more, consider whether it's worth making some white sheep outreach effort and ongoing maintenance.

If you like your family, go to the event and enjoy being around them, particularly if you don't get a chance to see them much. If you're focusing on yourself the whole time, and on what could be an imagined offense against you, you'll miss out on what could be a great and memorable visit with loved ones. They'll be dead one day, so don't squander the opportunities you have to be with them now. And don't bring it up at the party either - just enjoy and be enjoyed.
posted by kookoobirdz at 12:55 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

but I'm still hurt about this and think of the event as ruined for me, and that I wouldn't have a good time.

Are you 41 or 14? Because I know what I would guess from this statement! Really, when you get to your 40's it's time to realize that you may not be the first person in the family that your mom thinks of when planning events - and I think that's a healthy thing. You have your life and she has hers - step back, stand down and go if you want to...or not. You really don't have much of a case for being upset, though.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:26 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to the gathering. They want you to come. If they didn't, when you brought up the fact that you weren't invited, they would have come up with some excuse ("Oh my gosh, we only got a reservation for 10, I'm so sorry..."). Please go and have a great time.
posted by srrh at 1:29 PM on July 11, 2009

being made to feel like I'm 13, and I'm 41.

Until I read this, I thought the question was posted by a much younger person, that's how immature I think you're being about it. Since you did find out in time and can go, there is no crisis here beyond "Next time could you please remember to keep me in the loop?" This non-issue will only become as big an issue as you let it. Save your black sheep indignation for occasions when you're actually being slighted.
posted by hermitosis at 1:44 PM on July 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

Firstly -- I DON'T think you are being immature (she said, glaring at the people accusing you of it). No matter how old you are, family stuff just always gets us -- it's a spot where we are ALL vulnerable.

Now then.

If this is something that happens all the time, then I'd maybe take your mother aside on another date, when things are calm, and calmly tell her that she has a habit of doing XYZ, and this is how it makes you feel. It's not an accusation, more like, "I know this is the way you've been operating, but what you HAVEN'T known is that it makes me feel like blah blah blah in the process. So, I'm informing you of that." What she does after that is her lookout, but at least now she can't claim that you didn't tell her it'd make you feel that way.

But if this is a one-time thing -- you may also be running into people's differing scales of what "enough advance notice" actually may be. Me, I like knowing things a few days in advance. But some friends of mine don't plan things until maybe an hour before. These are both kind of extremes -- but for each of us, they are indeed totally valid. It's very possible that you weren't an afterthought -- more like, one of your cousins was trying to make up his mind about whether he wanted to come, and your mother and aunt didn't want to stir anything up unless they knew they were coming, and meanwhile this one cousin put off deciding because "Oh, that's all the way on Sunday, I've got PLENTY of time," and it just became a whole clusterfuck of flakey. That's another thing -- some family members like to be "fair," but to them "fair" is "oh, we shouldn't only invite SOME of the cousins, we need to invite ALL of them, but so if Sid wants to come then we have to invite EVERYONE, but if Sid doesn't want to come, maybe we SHOULDN'T invite the cousins...gee, when is Sid making up his mind?..."

Again, it depends whether this is a regular thing for them, or this is just this one time. If this is just this one time, it may just be a perfect storm of weird miscommunication. I still hear you on feeling left out of the loop, but I can also see that it very likely was not intentional.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:16 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Swear to god, I had this conversation with my mom this morning:

Mom: "We're packing to leave for vacation Monday morning!"
Me: "Oh, awesome! Where are you heading?"
Mom: "To California to see you!"

If my parents forgot to tell me that they're planning to drive 2000 miles and show up on my doorstep within days, it's totally possible your relatives accidentally forgot to cc you in the email planning stages. I vote for giving them the benefit of the doubt.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:27 PM on July 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think this depends quite a lot on the geography: are the cousins who were included all pretty much in the same area? If they get together casually on a fairly frequent basis, whereas you only see them for holidays or other plan-ahead events, it seems like a simple human error, rather than something worse, that they forgot to invite you early in the planning of this gathering.

There may be some embarrassment on your mom's end, which might contribute to her "stop being so thin-skinned!" response. I think it would be entirely reasonable to call her up and say, "Look, I understand that it's easy to forget to invite someone to any big family gathering, and that it doesn't mean anyone was intentionally unkind. I get that. But it's also natural and reasonable for me to have hurt feelings when I'm the one who gets accidentally excluded, so I wish your reaction wasn't to tell me to get a thicker skin. I don't need a big dramatic apology, I'd just like to have my feelings acknowledged."
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:40 PM on July 11, 2009

This happens in my family all the time. I'm somewhat of a black sheep when it comes to cousins in my age group, and I never get invited anywhere. If I happen to be at an event (invited by relatives of my mother's generation), cousins will say "oh, why weren't you at so-and-so's party/reunion/holiday dinner" and it's always awkward to answer because I don't want to say "well, I wasn't invited" and create an embarrassing situation for the asker, and at the same time, I wasn't invited so I have no other response. Frankly, I don't think it's an oversight because I don't think my cousins (second cousins, mostly. I have a large, closeish extended family) of my generation like me much. Not a drama, just personality clashes. I'm really shy, they are really outgoing and they must take my shyness as snobbishness, and probably the normal method of event communication for them would be to find out about something through the grapevine and just assume they are invited and RSVP w/o invitation. I could never do that. So, we're just different sorts.

Now, relatives of my mother's generation (the generation distinction is because they are my mom's first cousins, but if I just said cousins that usually implies that they are my age) always remember to invite me to things, and always remember to invite my mother, except when they forget. No malice is intended. There's no reason I'd get an email invite and she wouldn't, just slipped their minds when they were CCing.

Finally, my sister lives across the country and has since '89. She hardly visits, seldom stays in touch with anyone other than me. Most of the extended family forgets she exists, and she's almost always overlooked on wedding or other event guest lists. Probably because she lives so far away and even if she's remembered they assume she won't attend, but also they forget she exists. Since, as I said, she doesn't keep in contact with my mother (despite my mother's efforts), my mother has a tendency to forget about her from time to time. Hey, never said my family was functional. Anyway, my mother doesn't love her less and doesn't seek to exclude her, but sometimes she just doesn't think. Same with extended family.

So, in your situation it seems clear that it was an honest oversight, and nothing more. It doesn't sound like they didn't want you there (if that were the case, was the cc'd email just an effort to make you feel bad?), sounds like they just forgot. It's not symbolic of how your mom feels about you, or how the rest of the family feels about you, it was just a mistake.

Since you do know about it now, and it was clear that they wanted you there despite the error, I think you should go if it is logistically practical. The more absent you are, the more likely this will happen in the future. Out of sight, out of mind extends to family relationships.
posted by necessitas at 3:19 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

uh, well, you're acting like you're 13.

you live 4 hours away, that's a long trek. you're outside the range of spontaneous get together invitations. i am too. if you want to go, go, and don't let your oversensitivity ruin it for you or others.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:27 PM on July 11, 2009

It sounds very much like you want to go.
If you like, go in the spirit of a party-crasher, as a good-natured ribbing for your mom.

My family's been doing this sort of thing for decades.
I'm a shorter distance from them than you are, yet keep getting those phone calls telling me about some relative's funeral they just returned from.

So, go!
posted by Busithoth at 3:38 PM on July 11, 2009

You feel what you feel. See, I don't know whether you were wrong or right about the email, the invite, the dinner etc, but I admit that even relatives I am close to, have had events without inviting me and I've felt a little hurt.

But this one:
You're too thinskinned.

This is where a family member says your feelings on this (and any other situation) are not important because you don't feel the way they expect you to. This one cuts. In an ideal situation, if you say, hey guys, why did you leave me off? I'm hurt, the response might be something like oh sweetheart, I can see why you're hurt, I'm sorry.

That's not going to happen in your family. Can you live with that? If you can, then pretend everything that went before didn't happen, and go. Otherwise, don't go. Don't call (except to say you can't make it). Don't participate in family events. Don't respond to emails. Not to be a sulky brat, but because you are not going to be comfortable with people who see your reactions as wrong.
posted by b33j at 3:44 PM on July 11, 2009

You are using "fortune telling" methods of "knowing" what these people thought when they invited you at what you think is the 11th hour. You are leaping to your ideas of why they invited you late.

For future reference, you should be very clear in asking questions about matters like these and make "I" statements instead of "you" statements.

"Aunt (name) ...If I may be honest, I feel hurt that it seems I have been invited me as an afterthought. Is that the case? Can you tell me why I was invited after everyone else knew a lot sooner about this?" (Personally, I think it is extremely likely that it is the 4 hours between you and the event that made them think you might not come or probably wouldn't come).

At this point, if it were me and I had already been accused of being thin-skinned I would let it go and not bring it up (again). You've brought it up, they've "dismissed " you and if you bring it up more it is possible to escalate into a full fledged argument. Best not to go there until later after the event when you could say "I hope you'll invite me when you invite everyone else in the future".

I disagree with the others who think you are being too sensitive. It DOES sound like they are not concerned with your feelings --but they are buoyant about visiting with one another and happy--don't rain on their parade! I hope you go and make up your mind to have a good time. It really is up to you.

You have stated that this is a "hot issue" for you. I like what Chief Joseph is quoted as saying...."be a friend to all, but let no one abuse you". This goes for family too. If you feel that your family's treatment of you crosses over into abusiveness---simply steer clear of them. You are the best judge of if they are playing games with you--but it is most likely that they aren't and you would do everyone, including yourself, a favor if you don't make this get together "about you".
posted by naplesyellow at 4:27 PM on July 11, 2009

What often happens in my family: one or two people plan to visit someone in particular. It quickly snowballs into a big deal, with relatives at the 'visited' location wanting to join. If this is the first time it's ever happened, try to assume it's a fluke, and that your mom didn't incite all those people to gather.
posted by wryly at 4:52 PM on July 11, 2009

Possibly it was just a genuine miscommunication, in which case the best thing to do would be to go to the dinner and not mention the trouble at all.

Possibly there is some passive-aggressive stuff going on, in which case the best thing to do would be... to go to the dinner and not mention the trouble at all.
posted by equalpants at 4:56 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

One year my mom and my sisters called me up from a restaurant (on my birthday) asking me where I was.

Well, I was doing my own thing my own plans. Why? They had all made these plans to celebrate my birthday, but had ALL forgotten to tell me about it...

As to deciding that you are going to have a bad time in the future, well, that is not a fun way to live your life. Why in the world would you decide on that option? I would rather choose to feel excitement and fun at the thought of the occasion.

Careful of this kind of emotional choice, it is only going to give you a bad experience.
posted by Vaike at 5:10 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

The issue isn't this party, it's whatever has been going on for years, probably decades, that makes you feel alienated from your family. I say this because your post sounds like an upset 12 year old being overly dramatic. The party is ruined for you now, seriously?

I being made to feel like I'm 13, and I'm 41.

You're 41, no one can make you feel any particular way without your permission. Ask your mom and aunt to call you in the future over stuff like this and make it clear that you want to be included.

Remember, the role you're falling into over this, you don't have play your usual part. You perfectly within your rights to say to your mother "Look, this is bit rude and I feel left out. Next time, when ya'll plan something over five days, do me a favor me in. I don't care if you think I'm being sensitive, you had five days to call me, you didn't and now I have to run around and hastily plan things because I live 4 hours away. Next time, please call so I can make arrangements. Thank you."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:57 PM on July 11, 2009

Maybe you should just be glad they didn't "forget" to tell you they had planned to have you bring the main dish, a salad, dessert, and all the paper goods.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:02 PM on July 11, 2009

Go or not go, but not because of this slight. I would go and when I get there, I would make it a point to say a few times to as many as possible, "I am so glad I came and to think my mom didn't even invite me until the last minute. I'd come to more of these things if I only knew." But, you damn well better show up to the next event to which you are invited.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:52 PM on July 11, 2009

You're being thin-skinned and should attend anyway. There is a difference between not being involved in the planning and not being welcome.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:17 AM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

This struck a chord with me, so my apologies if I'm repeating what someone else already did.

I'm kind of the blacksheep in my father's family for a lot of reasons, and we don't all get together as a group very often. However, on the rare occasions that we do, it's kind of awkward but generally nice. There's a strange (to me, anyway, as I'm an only child) kinship there. There has been some drama at various times in the past, but nothing major. Certainly nothing unforgivable after some time and understanding the circumstances. But it is sometimes like a bunch of strangers hanging out. We tend to "catch up" since the last time.

So go! You know you're welcome there. There was just a communication breakdown.

To me, the plus side of this is that I'm not required to be somewhere every holiday. Instead, I get to choose who I spend my time with. One of my favorite things is to stay home at Thanksgiving and take in strays from the college town I live in for dinner and movies.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:57 PM on July 12, 2009

yet when I talked to her she said it wasn't intentional, she just forgot... My mom does not typically forget things like this

So this is the first time something like this has happened?

I have a generally good relationship with my parents. They're generally good about inviting me to events. I see the about once a month or so. Yet, once or twice over the past ten years or so they've forgotten to tell me about an event:

Mom: Good to talk to you! Looking forward to seeing you Friday! [said on a Wednesday]
Me: Huh?
Mom: We're celebrating [X], remember? Will you be there?
Me: This is the first I've heard about it. [Sure, I'll be there|Sorry, I've already made other plans.]

The point is that that's the exception, not the rule, and has only happened once or twice over the past ten years. It works both ways too: once I had agreed to meet them for dinner, and totally forgot and went home from work and made myself dinner and then remembered with a shock about 45 minutes after I was supposed to have met them.

Neither caused any damage to our relationship.

If this is the first time, she just forgot. People forget, sometimes. Even people with very good memories forget occasionally. The rarity of the occurrence might make it more shocking, but if this is the first time I wouldn't interpret it as an intentional slight.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:00 AM on July 13, 2009

Oh, a thought -- it's possible that the cousin-element of the plan was planned amongst your cousins themselves, and your mother and aunt told you as soon as THEY knew. You know -- two weeks ago they decided to just have it be them, but then one of your cousins found out, that cousin and his/her siblings talked amongst themselves for a week about maybe joining in with your aunt and mother, and then only just now did one of them finally go to your aunt or mother and say "hey, we all have an idea about having all the cousins in on this too, and here's what we worked out," and your mother cc'ing you on her response was her way of correcting the fact that your cousins hadn't told you anything.

In short -- the potential is great for this to be just An Outbreak Of Flakey rather than anything more nefarious.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on July 13, 2009

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