My mom's sister, the snow bunny
October 19, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

My mother is holding her annual Christmas party. Due to the presence of an abusive family member, I'd rather not attend. Help!

My mother's sister has had a serious cocaine problem throughout my life. At various points she's: paid babysitters with an eightball; stolen money from relatives and made it appear that my younger brother was the scofflaw; made serious passes at all my mother's SOs (some of which were accepted); read my diary; eavesdropped on my phone conversations; and triangulated family relationships to make others look bad and take attention off of her. Her addiction has had a negative impact on her serotonin levels, and I suspect she still dabbles.

As a kid, my family saw me as an easy target, and I have put up some pretty high, strong boundaries against her. She tends to ignore and disregard these. When she was using heavily, she would become my BFF and do all these great things for me when she was sober, only to use them against me when she got high and needed attention taken off of her. After getting more or less sober, she has given mealy-mouthed "I'm sorry IF I hurt you" non-apologies and attempted to buy my forgiveness by giving me money and expensive gifts (all of which I've returned), all the while rationalizing her abuse. As a result, I've become estranged from her. Unfortunately, because she's present at every other family gathering, I barely see the rest of my family. While my mother has wised up to my aunt's abusive, manipulative behavior, she has remained in touch with her.

My boyfriend of many years -- who has never met my mother's sister -- has decided to spend Christmas here. My mother is overjoyed and wants us to come to her annual Christmas party...which her sister will also be attending.

I really, really don't want my boyfriend to have any contact with my mom's sister. Although our relationship is pretty strong, I don't like her provocative behavior and don't want him to get drawn into her triangulation. I also don't want to put my mother in a position where she has to choose between me and her sister for party invites. I am really, really upset at what her sister has done, and I fear that I might do or say something I regret if she were to have any contact with my significant other. I'm stuck and I don't know if I should just decline the invitation, or if that would cause further drama.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't go. If it causes drama, that's their problem. Then invite your mom to join you and your boyfriend for coffee, dinner or whatever else seems like it would be enjoyable. You can also do this with any other family members or friends who you'll miss seeing because you're not at the party.

Sounds like you've set great limits about not being drawn into this woman's chaos any longer. Good for you. Now stick with it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:33 PM on October 19, 2011 [27 favorites]

Also: It's okay to say, explicitly to your mom, "I will not attend any events where Sister is present." It's not okay to hold that over your mom, or attempt to influence the guest list further. But it would be great to make it crystal clear to mom why you don't attend these events and give her the opportunity to not invite Sister.

(Because I couldn't tell from your question whether or not your mom understands precisely that you do not want to have this contact at all.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:36 PM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not going will cause more drama. Your BF is a grown man, I trust, and should know how to ward off flirty, wacky females. Why does he need you to run interference for him or intervene or guard him?
Go, stay 30 minutes, and duck out early.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:36 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't go. If anyone asks, or even if they don't if you feel like it, then tell them why. You're avoiding drama, not making it. What's the question?
posted by cmoj at 3:37 PM on October 19, 2011

made serious passes at all my mother's SOs (some of which were accepted);

You know she doesn't have super powers, right? If some of your mom's boyfriends slept with her, it's because they decided to.

Although our relationship is pretty strong, I don't like her provocative behavior

She can't magically make your boyfriend sleep with her. If you have a problem with trust in your relationship, don't blame that on her.

That all being said, if you don't want to go, politely decline, and the two of you can visit mom on another day.
posted by fritley at 3:51 PM on October 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Go. Be minimally polite, and otherwise avoid engagement with her. Don't let the painful history control your life. You are no longer the vulnerable person she was able to take advantage of. Your aunt's story is sad, and the way it affected you when you were younger is also sad and was certainly unfair, but her life is not your life and your past needn't be your present and future. You have nothing to fear, except possibly the need to mourn and let go of an unhealthy relationship. Go.
posted by jon1270 at 3:58 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Say "due to the presence of an abusive family member, I'd rather not attend." Then don't attend.

This will cause all kinds of drama, which you will not be there to experience.
posted by tel3path at 4:00 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go, stay 30 minutes, and duck out early.

Why? She should just say she'd rather not, thanks for the invite, and she'd LOVE to do something with mom and/or family sometime when Crazy Aunt isn't there. If it gets all drama-y, well- there was going to be drama in any case, it might as well happen in the OP's favor for once.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:08 PM on October 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

Is the party on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day? Those dates are harder to skip. In any case, can your mom broker a deal where you come early & leave early, and Aunty Addict arrives later? I do think the skill of being where you belong, and having nothing to do with a screwed-up person is a really useful skill, but you sound like you aren't ready to try that yet.

Just make sure to schedule some special time with your Mom and your BF, and skip the party if you don't want to go.
posted by theora55 at 4:42 PM on October 19, 2011

As a kid, my family saw me as an easy target

Does this mean what I think it means? Because it really, overall, sounds like your family have consistently put Auntie Addict before you. That makes me see red on your behalf. Seriously you do not owe it to them to spend time in any situation where Auntie Addict is likely to be around.
posted by tel3path at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

What day is the party? If it's on Christmas Day, could you take BF and visit mom on Christmas Eve? You could bake some cookies and help with getting the house in order for the party so your mom doesn't feel like you're abandoning her.

That way you can send the message that you still love your mom and want to spend time with her, you just won't* be around Toxic Auntie.

*don't want to & shouldn't have to be
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:09 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
My mother traditionally holds her party on Christmas Eve, after the 7pm church service. There are a few other relatives and friends of the family who I might not otherwise see, but...Auntie Addict.

Up until recently, my mother has wanted me to forgive her sister so that we might all be able to spend the holidays together (among other reasons). A^2 knows that I had the tendency to be a drama queen, and would exploit this fact to either gain sympathy for herself or to discredit me. Over the past year, A^2 has engaged in some passive-aggressive actions directed at my mother, which has caused my mother to likewise become estranged with her for temporary periods of time. She's eased up on telling me to forgive her sister, but she still expects me to attend the occasional holiday party where her sister will be present. While she has occasionally made me feel bad for not attending get-togethers where A^2 will be present, over the past year she has respected my desire to keep my distance from her sister by making alternate plans for the holidays.

As a side note about my "trust problems" involving my boyfriend...there's a big difference between having "trust problems" and not wanting to put him in a position where he's put in the middle of a triangulated family conflict that has been going on for decades, or not wanting to have a volatile, unpredictable family member flash her junk at him. My boyfriend is a very private individual, and he has expressed resentment in the past at the way both my family members and his have put him or me in the middle of a family conflict, and I know this would raise his hackles.

And, finally, tel3path...the "easy target" remark means EXACTLY what you think it means. Because I was perceived as a drama queen and a liar as a teenager, my family would imply that I was bringing all the family drama upon myself, and A^2 would say this explicitly while she was on her benders. She would say this to me and to my other family members, and because I was young, I was a liar, and I was a drama queen, they would give this opinion more weight.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:24 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Life is too short to put up with other people's shit without a damn good reason. And anyone who would give you a hard time for not wanting to spend time around someone abusive has serious problems of their own. Would they expect you to show up if it was a physically abusive relative, who was guaranteed to throw punches at you an your boyfriend?
Skip the party, and maybe go volunteer at a soup kitchen or something if you want to do something Christmas-ey, but don't volunteer for abuse from a relative. You deserve better.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:34 PM on October 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Will the party be in several rooms? Stick to the ones AA isn't in....and if she starts saying awful things to you/behaving inappropriately say goodnight to the family members you do like and leave.
posted by brujita at 5:40 PM on October 19, 2011

Don't go. Make plans to do something with BF, your mom, and family members who you would like to see on a different day than the party.
posted by emd3737 at 6:04 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't go. You are in a long term relationship with your boyfriend. As such, that relationship should take precedence over any desire on the part of your mother for you to act nice with Auntie.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 6:15 PM on October 19, 2011

I don't see a single upside to going. You're just teaching your mom that if she guilts you enough you'll go, and you're teaching yourself and your boyfriend that your basic dignity isn't worth fighting for.

If your mom pushes tell her you'll be happy to attend your aunt's funeral when the time comes, and all Christmas parties thereafter.
posted by SMPA at 6:47 PM on October 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

don't go, make plans to see your mom some other time. I wouldn't want to drag my boyfriend into family nonsense either (does she really flash her junk or was that a joke???)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:40 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

After your update, I'd say you absolutely shouldn't go. If she sets up something where your aunt leaves before you arrive or vice versa, you could go, but be prepared for your aunt to stay longer or arrive earlier and to leave if that happens, which sounds like it would just be more drama.
posted by jeather at 5:05 AM on October 20, 2011

If you're capable of emotionally disengaging from your aunt and going, then go. If you're not, then don't.

Without knowing your family dynamic, it's impossible to say whether not going will cause drama. My take is that your mom will be disappointed but may understand.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your mom is choosing her sister over her daughter, when it so clearly should be the other way around, so you need to be somewhere else for xmas. You & your s/o should have holiday traditions based out of your own home, and stick with that from now on. It's also the perfect excuse if you need one; most adults don't go to their parents for the holidays.
posted by zarah at 6:27 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Over the past year, A^2 has engaged in some passive-aggressive actions directed at my mother, which has caused my mother to likewise become estranged with her for temporary periods of time.

If this were all 10 years in the past, I'd consider telling you to suck it up and go to a family event, although possibly making an excuse for your boyfriend. There is something to the notion that family is family and you should not lightly cut ties with them.

But this isn't a post about how your aunt has changed, is now living like a saint, and you can't get over her past misdeeds. Just because your aunt has tried to apologize does not excuse behavior that it seems like is still going on. It's perfectly appropriate to tell your mom you won't attend events with your aunt, period. Don't go.
posted by _Silky_ at 6:37 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not only do I think you're free to not go, I think you should stop self-identifying as a "drama queen". Just because others have said it about you does not mean that it's true.

Good luck!
posted by kavasa at 7:59 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I strongly feel that once you're an adult, you get to choose which family you associate with based upon how they treat you. Seek out those family members and friends you want to see and make arrangements to see them when Auntie Addict isn't around. (Like before Mass?)

When my Godfather's wife died 2+ years ago, I decided it was a sign that I needed to reconnect with family members I lost touch with because of family drama. So I did, and have never regretted it. In fact, I just had a great dinner earlier this week with some of them. Everyone was happy to be there, and I left that dinner feeling loved.
posted by luckynerd at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2011

I had the tendency to be a drama queen

You know what I think? I think a lot of "drama queens" are just people in pain. People who have unresolved pain and abuse that's not getting addressed, such that they seek affirmation, attention, and love in "dramatic" and inappropriate ways. . . but their need, and their pain, is very very real. I think a lot of the manufactured conflict in a "drama queen"'s life is an attempt to express the level of pain and conflict suppressed inside of them, and to get someone, anyone, to recognize that they are in pain, for any reason.

And, Christ, it doesn't sound like your family-of-origin was exactly an environment which would encourage habits of honesty and truth-telling.

You mention your reputation as a "drama queen" as a cause of being targeted by Auntie Addict; I think it may be a consequence as well.

Personally, I'd say "fuck this dysfunctional make-nice bullshit party." Find some psychically healthy people and spend your time with them.
posted by Iphigenia at 12:33 PM on October 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

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