They forgot my birthday... again
December 18, 2014 9:33 PM   Subscribe

My birthday is a week and a half before Christmas. My family has forgotten my birthday several years in a row now. I kinda don't want to visit for Christmas anymore.

I live a few hours drive from my mom and two adult sisters. I frequently struggle with feeling like I'm "out of sight, out of mind". I've tried to deal with that by trying to keep in touch more, calling and texting at least once or twice a week. I get responses or my call returned about half the time, and it's rare for any of the three of them to initiate contact.

To be fair, most years, they've realized two or three days later and text me a belated happy birthday. Some years they even give lame excuses. Last year, my thirtieth passed with barely a word.

This year, I was battling depression anyway, so my 1a.m. text message that said something along the lines of how it shouldn't hurt so much after several years in a row, may have been a little bratty and out of line. Even if it was cathartic and allowed me to finally stop sobbing and get some sleep.

This is the first year I've actually said anything more than "That's ok thanks".

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect grand gestures and my family has never been big on sending cards. And we've been pretty clear for a while that I don't expect gifts. But not even a simple text message that most people's auto-complete could do for them? Several years in a row?

I feel like if it were just one of them, it could be one of those silly family quirks, but all three of them? While they live separately, they're in daily contact. None of them remembered to remind the others. I do get a yearly reminder for my grandparents' birthdays, and even my stepfather's birthday. I always remember theirs, and often put a lot of thought into a gift or the card in which to slip a gift card. No, I don't expect reciprocity. I'd just like my birthday acknowledged by my family.

Christmas is a little over a week away. Their presents have been wrapped and packed since Thanksgiving. My husband and I are expected to make the three hour drive to see the family. It may make me sound like a spoiled brat, but at this point, I just don't want to go.

I'll miss my neice and nephew, and my grandparents though. I don't get to see them much. But then, I just don't feel much like a part of the family right now.

Sorry this is long and whiny. I don't even know what the question is. Maybe, how do I deal with feeling like this (like shit), and suck it up and go to Christmas. Or maybe, should I go at all? Shipping the gifts won't cost as much as the round trip gas.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Take care of yourself this year by honoring your feelings and not going. Send the presents by mail, let the family know now that you will be unable to make it, and wish them all a happy holiday. If they ask why, say that you aren't feeling up to it and want to see everyone when you're better. Then, spend maybe one day evaluating how you want to handle this situation from now on. Personally, the advice I'd give myself is to confront my parents about feeling very left out and unacknowledged, and call them out on not remembering my birthday or taking the time to make me feel welcome. I'd tell them I feel unsupported and frustrated, and not particularly inclined to spend time with them any more because of it. Then I'd set a boundary and an expectation; that I want them to make an organic effort to celebrate my existence in the same way I celebrate theirs. And I'd see what happens. If my family's attitude is "tough, grow up, you're not special", I'd draw the line and only visit people here and there. I'd acknowledge the little ones' birthdays at the very most. But you will know best regarding what will fit for you. Just stop training them to expect nothing but submission from you. That's going to help you out long term.

FWIW, my birthday is right after New Years and nobody except my parents remembers, and it has been a sore point for most of my life because I go out of my way to honor my friends for everything and nobody reciprocates. They expect to be treated like kings and queens though. So now when it's my birthday I go and volunteer so my mind isn't on me. It's helping. But I still am sad that my friends just don't love me enough to care about my birthday. Hugs from one holiday birthday kid to the other.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:46 PM on December 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

Hi there,
Belated happy birthday! I'm sorry about this. I can imagine it must feel awful to be repeatedly forgotten on your birthday.

Have you ever sat down and told them how you feel? I know you sent the text, but that kind of communication is just going to make them feel defensive and close down (even if they are in the wrong). Perhaps a sit down conversation might help. I suppose I wouldn't find a belated birthday message a big deal, so you might also ask yourself if there is something deeper going on here.

It sounds like you value connection to your family, but are feeling neglected. If there are no other major familial issues, I think you should go visit for the holidays. If you do value your relationship with your family, canceling your trip would probably hurt you more than it would hurt them, and it won't solve the underlying problem

If you have other issues with your family and need some sort of break, then I think it is perfectly fine for you to spend the holiday with just your husband.
posted by girl flaneur at 9:47 PM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm around your age. My birthday is in March. I'm both of my parents' firstborn, and my siblings' only sister. And yet I've definitely noticed that, over the past few years, my birthday has passed without any notice from my family. I kind of figured it was just a thing that happens as you get older and birthdays become less of a big deal in general.

Luckily, I don't really care that much about my birthday, and for the most part if I'm celebrating at all, I'd rather be concentrating on enjoying myself and not enduring obligatory phone calls. Last year the only notice from my family at all was a long annoying lecture from my mother about how I'm probably infertile now so like thanks for the lack of grandkids I guess. I'd enjoy a card or a care package or something, but we're not big card senders in my family so whatever.

All of the above said, I have two pieces of advice for you:

- If you don't want to go to Christmas, don't. It is tremendously empowering to discover that you get to do whatever the hell you want on holidays and it's really nobody else's decision but your own.

- If you want your birthday to be special, make it special for yourself. Don't wait for family to reach out. Do what would make you feel good, and enjoy it on your own terms. It's not really your parents and siblings' job to make your birthday a special day, once you're an adult living on your own. Make your own fun.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 PM on December 18, 2014 [22 favorites]

I am sorry they forgot your birthday.

Though I am very sympathetic, I am also reminded of Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." And you are doing the same thing over an over again, and getting the same results. Each year you silently wish they'll remember something they've consistently forgotten, said nothing, and then been bitterly disappointed when they have once again failed.

If you want them to remember your birthday, it's pretty clear you're going to have to remind them. Like a week beforehand. With stated expectations: "So for my birthday next week, I know you won't be able to come up, but I'd really like a card so I hope you can make time for that."

As to the other issue, you're an adult. You can do whatever you want for Christmas. But if you think not going for Christmas is going to communicate something about your birthday, it isn't. On the other hand, if you genuinely feel like your family is indifferent to you overall, and you're not just having a sulk but instead are trying to establish your own, independent holiday traditions with your spouse, go for it.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:07 PM on December 18, 2014 [66 favorites]

A suggestion for future years: no one forgets about my birthday, ever, because I'm sure to remind them about it a few weeks in advance. At your family up for success and they will meet your expectations most likely.

I've found the old wait and see is actually setting up for failure. Avoid the hurt with a small investment. :)
posted by smoke at 10:07 PM on December 18, 2014 [15 favorites]

I happen to think you should go to visit if only to show you are so over it. But, that is just what I would do not necessarily what is right for you. I would also send them a calendar reminder or meeting that is annual on your birthday. Send it in 4 months.
posted by 724A at 10:11 PM on December 18, 2014

I think it's probably normal for siblings to forget birthdays especially if they are really far apart in years from you. But even if they aren't you know, life can get really hectic and siblings with their own families and responsiblities can forget those things easily. I have to admit though I find it a little weird that your mom forgets your birthday too. Mothers don't generally forget the birthday of the 8 lbs human being that they carried for almost a year and ripped through their vagina that day.... At least not year after year anyway. My parents were emotionally abusive and even they didn't forget my birthday. They found other ways to fuck with my head instead. The fact that you have several family members forgetting your birthday every year including your mother makes me wonder if they are doing this to you on purpose. That could just be my experience talking since I obviously didn't come from a healthy family environment, but there is such a thing as families who have that one person they love to pick on and blame or even just get kicks out of tormenting. Are they angry with you for moving far from them or something and being passive aggressive about it? Just putting it out there as something to think about since only you know your family history. Either way, it's generally not a good idea to make your happiness dependent on others. First off- Stop saying it's ok if it isn't. Don't attack them for it or anything, but when you say it's ok and lie like that, you're making yourself suffer in silence. There's nothing wrong with politely telling them that it does hurt you a little bit.

Next year you should text them each a reminder a week or two ahead that your birthday is coming up. If your mom and everyone still "forget" after that, then I'd say there's probably something more passive aggressive or perhaps even borderline abusive going on.
posted by rancher at 10:16 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sorry, that's bullshit.

(Hi, Xmas Day birthday here!)

I have spent 42 years trying not to care about the fact that my birthday is overlooked every year. 42 years of trying to squash feelings down. 42 years being disappointed when people made a half-hearted effort at best. I have spent many a birthday sobbing.

My dad once rang me on Christmas day to say "Merry Christmas!". "AND...?" I prompted.
"Er... Happy New Year?" So I feel your pain.

It sucks having a birthday at Christmas and there is no way around that. Previously, you could chalk it up to the immense focus on shopping and baking and parties.

But in this day and age with smartphone reminders, Facebook prompts and e-cards, etc, it's nigh on impossible to forget anyone's birthday.

A few thoughts:

They need to know unambiguously that your birthday is important to you and it hurts your feelings when it goes unacknowledged. It doesn't matter if birthdays are important to *them* - when people care about your feelings, they make genuine attempts to honour them.

I've learned that some people are just terrible at celebrating birthdays, and that's not a moral fault, just a particular weakness. Bad gifts/cards/texts are not a reflection on how much they care.

That being said, if you've told people it's important to you, and they make NO attempt, that's something to take into account. What that means for your relationship is up to you.

Finally - the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I've held bday celebrations in July (after all, bdays are actually quite arbitrary anyway!) This year I threw a hotdog and cocktail party the first weekend in December, and send repeated invites early and often. The only way to reclaim your birthday from those feelings is by taking charge of your own happiness. I know people who book week long celebrations.

Go forth and make a Big Fucking Deal out of it.

Happy Birthday :) X
posted by wayward vagabond at 10:56 PM on December 18, 2014 [22 favorites]

Fuck...maybe I'm just really self-centered (and I'm a doted-on only child) but I'd be PISSED if my family forgot my birthday. I'm really tired and I'm not even sure I have advice for you, but I just wanted to tell you that I really feel for you.
posted by radioamy at 11:43 PM on December 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

Many folks right around your age start getting less attention paid to birthdays no matter what time of year. This doesn't ease the pain you're carrying forward from past years of neglect, however.

It sounds like you are quite hurt, and you should probably let them know that now, so that they have an opportunity to apologize before it affects the christmas dynamic. If you discuss it, try to talk about what could be done differently next year. Tell them you're sending them a calendar reminder (that's a great idea from 724A above). Then, put it behind you and enjoy a nice dinner with the family.

It sounds like you are conscientious gift giver. In part, it might be motivated because you know how nice it is to receive gifts (or haven't been much on the receiving end yourself)- something maybe you feel the recipients are taking for granted. How is this affecting you? Are you 'keeping count'? Is the gift giving making you feel even more resentful that you're not being acknowledged? You might feel empowered by _stopping_ the gift giving cycle. It sounds terrible- but sometimes boundaries have to be drawn. Consider carefully the gifts for the little ones- and only give in circumstances where you sincerely feel it feeds your relationship with them. If not, then don't give- or put much effort into it (any kid old enough for allowance can probably appreciate cash in a cool looking card). But neither hold the parents responsible for reciprocating to you, as the giver.

Take the celebration out of your family's hands. Make huge, awesome plans. Make them public, (or keep them to you and your spouse). "Dad I'm so excited about next week because we have amazing reservations for the theater for my birthday!!". Be obvious. Don't use the event as a litmus test for how much they care about you. Live it up! Your birthday is YOURS.
Happy birthday!!!
posted by iiniisfree at 11:48 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Whatever, I don't care if it's normal that adults start having their birthdays forgotten by their family. If that is true, it's sad. Anyway. If birthdays just weren't a thing in your family, yes you might have grounds for sounding a bit "whiny" and "bratty" as you describe yourself.

But it's clear your family DOES do birthdays, expects YOU to do THEIR birthdays, and pointedly does not do yours. It's also very clear to you that your mom and sisters have quite a cosy and close relationship, whereas your attempts at regular contact are being rebuffed. That sounds absolutely awful and close to outright bullying or rejection to me. This is a bigger thing than a birthday. You are totally allowed to feel hurt by this- and I'm wondering if your self-deprecation and unwillingness to name this as a hurtful thing, or raise it with them, is symptomatic of your "place" that your family have given you in the family pecking order.

I wouldn't go for Christmas, and I would tell them why- that you're fed up of being treated like a second-class afterthought member of the family. Have a joyful Christmas with your husband, friends, or even some strangers. If you want to see your grandparents and other relations, you could always arrange to see them at another time in the year. You can forge your own links with them without it having to go through your mom and be dependent on you playing along with her shoddy treatment of you.
posted by mymbleth at 1:06 AM on December 19, 2014 [26 favorites]

If you don't want to go, maybe you shouldn't. Can you see a scenario where you get caught up in the festivities and have fun? Can you see a scenario where you hash it out with them, and walk away from it feeling better? If you think either of those things could happen, then maybe you should go.

But if you are so hurt and disappointed that the whole thing just sounds like an ordeal, maybe you should skip this Christmas with them and really live it up at home with your husband. Don't get into specifics, just say you have other plans and be brief, polite and firm. Then in a few months, when you are feeling a little more calm about it, talk to whichever relative you feel closest to and explain exactly why you stayed away and how hurt you were. Something like that isn't as dramatic and confrontational as calling them a few days before Christmas to announce why you're not going, but it leaves no question that they have SCREWED UP one time too many and hurt you badly.

I don't know that these are the best suggestions, really. But if any of this resonates with you, it could be something to try. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that you're not just being a big crybaby. You're not asking to be treated like a princess, you just want your family to remember you on one day, the same thing you do for them every year. (Would it kill them to write it on a goddamned calendar? Jeez!)

If you hadn't posted this anonymously, I'd send you an E-card.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:20 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you need to take ownership of reminding your family of the fact that it's your birthday. They have made it quite clear that they're not going to remember, so if you want them to do something, it's on you to remind them to do it. Fairness aside, it's going to enable you to get what you want.

If you want them to remember because they just do, I think you're on a hiding to nowhere. Through fate or genetics or whatever, this is the family situation you've been lumped with and all the wanting in the world isn't going to change it. You have to take some action to ensure that you get what you want. Unfortunately, that's how reality works sometimes. Expecting things from people who have shown you that they can't/won't give them to you is a form of denial. You're contributing to your own hurt feelings by not doing anything about the situation.

Instead of sending 1AM text messages, use your words and communicate with your family about what you want. They're not mind readers, and if you've spent several years not letting them know that something is a problem, it's hardly surprising that they don't think there's a problem. Not going to Christmas is not going to communicate what the problem is at all. Go to the party and use the occasion to explain what the situation is and what you want. It's a perfect opportunity, and probably everyone will be there and you can get it over and done with in one fell swoop.

Ask for what you want. Take some ownership of things. If you tell someone what you want and they can't/won't give it to you, find someone who can. Passive-aggressive text messages and avoiding the situation will not make things any better for you.
posted by Solomon at 1:33 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

A very good friend from earlier in my life was cursed with a December birthday, and while she didn't usually get forgotten entirely, she was bitterly angry about a lifetime of being given "Christmas AND Birthday!" presents. Needless to say, this was not something I ever did to her, because I knew how much it upset her. I knew because she told me, many times over, even though I got it the first time, and it's not the sort of thing I'd do to somebody with whom I was close enough to exchange presents with on birthdays and Christmas.

I think you might need to either let birthdays go, as in not giving gifts or sending cards to the (adult!) people who routinely forget or overlook your birthday, so at least you don't have to experience a lack of reciprocity, or you should step up your efforts to let your family know how hurtful this is to you, ideally in a way that is straightforward and calm, and not an angry/hurt text at 1:00 am. I completely sympathise with you, and I think it sucks that your family does this to you, but an angry text in the small hours might make me so defensive I wouldn't be predisposed to empathise with the person making it.

I think it's OK to make your excuses and skip Christmas, if your feelings of hurt are going to make the experience an emotional ordeal for you.
posted by skybluepink at 2:13 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first thing to do - which you've now successfully done, yay! - is to stop saying it's okay when it isn't. They're lazy and you told them for several years that you don't mind when they forget your birthday! For them it's like "oh, it's no big deal if I forget. Anon is never fussed about it. Plus, we'll see her for Xmas a few days later anyway. Better worry about Sis' present, though, because she'll be really hurt if I forget that one."
I suspect you have a history of toning down your needs for your family and being the "easy" one? You need to stop.
It's okay to want a proper birthday fuss. It's okay to tell your family what you expect. It's not useful to be all "if they cared, they wouldn't forget!" while telling them to their faces that it's okay when they do!
Anyway, call your mom. Tell her what you need in order to feel loved. If she doesn't react with understanding, tell her you really don't feel like celebrating a family holiday with them as you don't feel treated like family.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:28 AM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

You have my permission not to go. Not because I think birthdays in and of themselves are a huge deal (I don't even think my dad remembered when I turned 30 this year, and my sister cussed me out a few years ago for wishing her a happy birthday and told me she never wanted to hear those words again), but because, I think, that if they remember each other's birthdays and everyone else's birthdays, and not yours, they are communicating something pretty clearly. Did they respond to your text message? Was there any communication about it besides the text? In any case, I understand you not wanting to spend Christmas this year with them, and you are well within your rights not to.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 3:05 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need to tell them how you feel. You have every right to be hurt and angry.
But, shutting them out will not solve anything. That will only make you feel more isolated.

One text message sent late at night is NOT good communication.
Go to Christmas. Speak honestly to your mother about your pain.
If you care about these people at all, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Happy belated Birthday.
and whatever you decide to do, I truly hope you can find some joy this Christmas season.
posted by Flood at 4:10 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, that really sucks.

I would fail-proof this by calling and reminding them. "Now you know how important it is that you remember my birthday. It's in a few days." Hell, I'd call them that day and demand my birthday salutations.

Go to Christmas, and don't lay on the guilt, as much as you'd like to. You can say, "It hurts my feelings when you forget my birthday."

The good news is that it lets you off the hook for having to deal with the birthdays of your family.

Clearly there's more going on here than people forgetting your birthday, it's emblematic of your entire relationship with your family. They're all together, doing family stuff every day, you're away from them, perhaps by choice. It's a different dynamic. You want to think that you're in their thoughts, if not hourly, at least once in a blue moon. I suppose you could ask them about it, but you're not going to like the answer.

You made a choice to be at a distance, physically and to a certain extent, emotionally. I feel you on that, my family is 3 states away from me. It's good for a lot of reasons and it sucks for others. But I own the choice.

I suppose the best thing to do is to not rely on your family but to take pleasure from your relationships with your friends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:16 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

So the 1 am text may not have been "good" communication, but it sounds like it's all out on the table now. Your family knows you're upset and why. In my opinion, the ball is in their court. They are in the wrong here. I'm not sure why you have to keep putting yourself out there and making all the effort. If they haven't apologized yet for repeatedly forgetting your birthday then skip Christmas. You will be too angry and hurt to enjoy seeing them. Have your own Christmas and invite over your friends who aren't with family either and have a nice time. It's not too late to just send a gift basket for everyone to share instead of individual gifts and leave it at that. If they call on Christmas, great. If not well that's fine too.

The ball is in their court. Go enjoy your life and if they want to start acting like loving considerate family members you can be receptive to that and if they don't, they don't, but you've stopped wasting your time and energy on people who treat you poorly.

I may be being overly harsh here, but a few years ago I just started cutting people out of my life who didn't treat me very well and some of those people were family members. Some of those people ultimately apologized and shaped up and others largely disappeared from my life. In both scenarios it was without a doubt one of the best things I ever did. I stopped trying. I stopped taking the blame for their poor behavior by constantly thinking I must not be communicating clearly or my expectations were unreasonable or convincing myself I was being selfish by wanting basic reciprocity in relationships. Drastically reducing the time and effort I put into those people opened up a place in my life for people who do treat me well. Now I go to Christmas with other relatives and have a better time than I ever did before. The transition was hard, but absolutely the best thing I've ever done.
posted by whoaali at 4:42 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

This seems like a good situation in which to apply the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. I'm also fond of this quote from Albert Ellis (he founded rational emotive therapy, which is similar to cognitive therapy):
“...there are three musts that hold us back: ‘I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.’ ” From Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2001.
posted by akk2014 at 5:04 AM on December 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

I also love feeling like a victim. It's best to put a cap on it however. As in: "I get four hours of wallowing around in my victimhood." And yes, you should, as you have, acknowledge that you feel hurt and excluded. That does suck.

Then it's time to adult the fuck up. When I read over my own complaints of victimhood, I realize how much I sound like a five-year-old. Your complaint does as well.

You have every right to do whatever the hell you want to do with your holidays. Do something great for yourself! You say your question is how should you deal with this, and how should you suck it up? Well, don't. You're being passive, reactive and boxed in. Start afresh. What do you want to do? Throw everything else away and start there.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:13 AM on December 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

You don't have to go to Christmas. You don't have do anything you don't want to. You can feign illness, or just bow out.

This sounds like an issue of being heard. Your family isn't hearing you. You can talk to them/remind you, as your voice is worth being heard. But you can only change yourself, not your family.
Go live your life. Find ways to be happy. And if you want to deal with you family, that it is your choice: don't feel pressure to do anything anything you don't want to.

Happy Birthday!!
posted by troytroy at 6:19 AM on December 19, 2014

1) Personally, I wouldn't want to remind them because I don't see it being about the action of wishing you a happy birthday, it's about being remembered.

2) I am horrible about remembering birthdays, but in this day and age there are too many ways to set reminders, even if it means transferring notes manually from one paper calendar to the next, to use this as an ongoing excuse.

3) From an "Ask vs Guess" perspective, what I would do is tell them, "You all remembering my birthday is very important to to me. I'm asking that you pick a way to set a reminder so this won't fall through the cracks anymore.". (I'm a bit of a super-asker, so adjust as needed.) If they forget again, they are being thoughtless and that's on them. And then, you have to let it go. You did what you could and it's out of your hands.

4) Go to the dinner for your niece and nephew. Love on them hard. Grandma, too. You can't get that time back.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:38 AM on December 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's perfectly okay to be angry. Even better to tell them that you're angry. Even better to tell them in person that you're disappointed, frustrated, and feeling neglected, and to have a long conversation about this and any other issues that are bothering you, and explain to them what they can do to help you feel better.

Maybe one of the reasons you don't want to go home for Christmas is that you're not excited about seeing everybody and creating the "perfect holiday" image and pretending that your feelings weren't hurt, or maybe you expect they'll shrug and say "sorry" (with the subtext of "what's the BFD?") and you'll be expected to accept the apology and pretend nothing ever happened. That's not good. I wouldn't want to go on a 3-hour drive for that, either. If you know that's what's going to happen then no, you shouldn't feel that you have to go.

What I would want to go home for would be the chance to sit down and really talk. Not rote apologies, but long conversations. Not "I was so upset that you forgot my birthday, you self-centered moron!" but "It's easy to feel isolated living farther away from the rest of the family, and even though sometimes I feel included, like when we all get together and send cards to Grandpa Joe, sometimes it comes up that you haven't been thinking of me at a time that I'm thinking of you a lot, and I wonder what else I'm missing out on." Go beyond the issue of them not sending you a card and talk about the situations in the rest of your life that lead to it bothering you so much. That kind of conversation is something that can really blossom when everybody's in the room together, and that's the kind of thing that you could miss out on by not going to see them.
posted by aimedwander at 6:48 AM on December 19, 2014

I just re-read your ask, and it occurs to me. You have a husband. If he knows that you'll go to pieces if you don't get birthday greetings from your family, why the FUCK does HE not call them and remind them? Ask him to do that for you.

He needs to get his head in the game.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:21 AM on December 19, 2014 [21 favorites]

Was it clear when you said "no presents" that this didn't mean "birthdays aren't a big deal to me" or "I don't like birthdays"? For gift-oriented people, this may have been quite confusing.

Would it be worth visiting more often, as your family seems to have more face-to-face connections? I wrestle with this question too, as it's a 4 hour drive to our phone-avoidant family members.

You are of course allowed to skip Christmas if you want, but if you want more closeness with your family I doubt that it will help move you toward that goal. It sounds like you've never actually talked to them about feeling isolated and missing them. Is that an option?
posted by heatherann at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2014

Are they fun to visit? Do they treat you well, involve you, remember if you like pulp in your OJ or not? I'm guessing not so much Time to develop your network of friends, fun, nice people with whom you want to spend time. Don't go visit people unless those people are loving and welcoming.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2014

My 92 year old Bavarian grandmother managed to send me a birthday card to Japan last year. It is not that hard.
Also, if people are not into gifts and birthday greetings , why do they keep accepting yours?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 8:42 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am really sorry this has happened to you, it really sucks. Please ignore the people above who aren't sympathetic - this really is a crappy thing to experience from your own family.

In terms of changing their behavior, I think that reminding them yourself would get you the result you want, but probably wouldn't really make you feel better about the situation (having to remind people to remember you is a little self-defeating). Telling them once to set up an automated reminder (or having your husband remind them) might feel a little less like all the burden is on you. In terms of celebrating your birthday, though, I would refocus on creating a great birthday celebration with your husband and friends. It can be simple (dinner at your house that your husband cooks? a movie or show? taking a day off work?) but should genuinely make you happy. Really find a way to make yourself happy on your birthday. Your family may just kind of suck - it might be time to create a new family out of the people you care about, who care about you.

I'd suggest the same approach to Christmas - what would genuinely make you happiest? Spending time with your family, including the grandparents and little ones? Spending time with your husband? Don't use your Christmas absence as a way to punish your family, especially if you end up punishing yourself in the process. There are lots of other ways to send a message. Instead, cultivate your own happiness and limit how much you depend on them.
posted by leitmotif at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

As one December bday to another, happy birthday.

I want to echo that, if you decide not to participate in holiday celebrations, you will be putting further emotional distance between you and your family. That may or may not be your desired result; either way is OK.
posted by samthemander at 8:47 AM on December 19, 2014

I'm sorry this hurt so much. My brother and I are busy adults, and so we kept getting worse and worse at celebrating mom's birthday. She's a people-pleaser, so she'd make it easy, telling us it was fine.

One year (after she drove two days to visit and we'd still not even gotten a cake or presents or anything), she told us clearly what she wanted: at least an acknowledgement of her birthday, like a card or call. It didn't have to be a present, but she wanted us to do Something.

We heard her loud and clear, realized we were being clueless and selfish, and have done what she asked each year since, if not more.

In conclusion, ask clearly for what you want. If they still don't give it to you, then you can make decisions based on that information. But if you ask clearly, they're far more likely to do what it takes to make you feel better.
posted by ldthomps at 9:02 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dad forgets my birthday every. single. year. We speak all the time, and I often mention that my birthday is coming up several times, right up to the date itself, to no effect. He just doesn’t remember. This year I called him on my birthday, late in the day, and asked jokingly if he had anything to say to me. He paused, thought, and congratulated me again on the new job I’d started the previous week. Here’s the thing, though: we’re still very close, we talk several times a week, and I know that if I ever needed help he would drop everything in about a half a second to be there. My in-laws, on the other hand, DO remember my birthday and call to sing to me every year. You know what else they do? Monopolize our vacation days from work by planning large trips that they later inform us we are joining them on. Inserting passive-aggressive comments (mostly related to how we don’t visit them enough) into every conversation. Use every phone call with them as fuel for the family rumor mill. It’s exhausting. So this Christmas, I’ll happily make dinner for my entire extended family including my forgetful dad, but will (for the first time in 14 years) opt out of the trip to see the in-laws, because I can.
My point is that you could address the birthday thing more directly with your family, but it might not be that useful to you – it seems to be just a specific example of a larger dynamic that isn’t working for you. I echo the advice above to think hard about what will really make you happy, and go from there.
posted by ella_minnow at 9:09 AM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Instead of saying "That's ok, thanks" you need to say "How could you forget my birthday, Mom? You were there!" or "That's the fourth year in a row you've forgotten. Why am I not on your Google Calendar yet? You people totally suck!"
posted by Soliloquy at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have to say, I completely disagree with the statement that people just kind of forget birthdays as people kids get older or that it's stupid to worry about birthdays after you're 11 or what have you. I'm in my late 40s and my brothers range from late 30s to mid-50s and if anything, birthdays have become a bigger deal as we've all gotten older because we understand the importance of our bond more now than when we were children. There's no reason to not keep celebrating people's birthdays (i.e., their lives) just because they're 18+X years old now; there's no age past which it's no longer important for people to tell you they're happy that you're in the world.

OP, I'd be seriously pissed too if my family completely blew off my birthday every year. So I totally feel you there. However, I would be more direct that just not visiting for Christmas; your family would probably just use that as evidence of how unreasonable you are. I would be more direct and tell them how upset you are that they can never remember your birthday (and forgot a major one, no less). If they don't respond well to that, you can go from there.
posted by holborne at 9:49 AM on December 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think there is some truth to the matter that for a lot people around your age birthdays become less of a big deal, so they start to slide into less recognition. That's not to say you shouldn't want to be celebrated or acknowledged, but that you have to make some effort/declaration (or get your husband to do it) otherwise people will just do nothing.

I'm one of those people who stopped making a deal about my birthday when I was in my late 20s. I think it was partially I couldn't be bothered reminding people, and also I didn't want to have to plan anything only to feel rejection. As a result, most of my friends don't know my birthday (though a few clearly put it on their calendar). The final straw for me was three years ago (I turned 29) when my partner didn't even get me a card for my birthday because he didn't think I wanted anything. That stung. So I told him I want a card at least. I felt dumb telling him that, but I had to and now I'm happier about it.

With the family (particularly with a birthday close to the Holidays), that's a trickier issue. To me it seems like there's the combination of the December birthday, you wanting some fuss but not wanting to remind them about it (which I totally agree is frustrating), and the general distance with them. I think you need to decide how much distance you want. You live a few hours away, and that can be a blessing and a curse. I am the one who lives a couple hours away from everybody else in my family. Sometimes I feel cut out, but I've come to terms with the fact that I chose distance because I wanted it. While I would like to be part of the day to day lives sometimes, overall I think it's good for me. If you want to be more of a part of their lives and vice versa, then you can do things to address it.

If I were in your shoes, I would probably go to Christmas for the niece and nephew, be pleasant but also make it clear I was hurt by the lack of birthday cheers once and then move on. The ball's in their court.
posted by kendrak at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think doing what you can to repair these relationships (I know you've done a lot already!) might feel better for you over the long run than deepening your sense of alienation from your family (unless they are abusive), even if that results in only partial success, with one or two individuals. You can create family with friends, of course, but these are the oldest and deepest bonds. (Not always the happiest or most fulfilling, just, they're important, as emotionally loaded anchoring/orienting relationships, even if you only see them twice a year.) I agree that unfortunately it is on you to propel this, with some home truths this Christmas.

If you do go - families can fall into a funny kind of group dynamic. I know when I'm with certain members of my family, things can go in a particular direction, and I sometimes feel left out. The thing is, they have more in common with each other (gender, a particular kind of humour, interest in sports, a certain interpersonal and conversational style), and their personalities just fit together in a handier, more automatic way, in that configuration. I don't feel they deliberately mean to be exclusive, it's just easy for them to drift into certain patterns, it's the path of least resistance. It's better when I see them one on one, because there's more space to kind of get over difference and meet the other halfway.

It helps me to remember that yeah, I am different from some of them in important ways (that's partly why I've lived far away from them for a lot of my life, to take up Ruthless Bunny's point. Why did you choose to live furthest away? How are you different from your family? Could some of it be down to just accident of personality?)

Maybe talk to one person at a time - it might be easier to penetrate the group dynamic (if there is one). When there are more than one together and big issues come up, they may fall into defensive patterns (because no one likes being accused of poor behaviour, and if they're peas in a pod, they might drift into backing each other up) - you might find it hard to get away from a black sheep/scapegoat role in that group vibe than one on one.

When I'm with some of these family members, I have to remember to speak up to take my place. I'm fairly Guess culture, but I always feel worse when I wait for them to remember to create a space for me than I do when I make it myself. And there are always points of connection that make putting up with all this worthwhile. (For me, anyway.)

Happy birthday, and good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:05 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone else with a late December birthday, I feel your annoyance and pain. Some years it's worse than others. I've embraced making my own fun on my birthday.

I don't think you were being "bratty" in your 1 AM text. If you were sobbing, you were hurt, and you sent the text from that place. If you feel strong enough for it, I think now is the time to call your mom and sisters individually, as it doesn't sound like they've contacted you about this, but I doubt they'll forget your text. This isn't something you want simmering, regardless of the upcoming holiday gathering.

If you can find some peace with your family, then you might feel comfortable enough to go on Christmas morning. If not, think about going later in the day or the day after Christmas, so you can still spend time with those family members you're missing, without making it about Christmas (so much). If you plan on going, but worry about the whole ordeal being nothing but a drag on you, you and your husband can plan something afterwords, so you can look forward to an event and/or let off some steam. Sometimes my wife and I need that after intense family time.

As for your family, what do they do when they communicate daily? How is that different from when you reach out to communicate with them? Do they spend time together, with meals or outings? Are you able to visit them in person once a month? If so, you could make a day of it with your husband, so you can focus on enjoyable couples time if the family time isn't great. (Re)Building a familial closeness will take time and probably more effort on your part, unless you can get your mom and sisters to agree on some fun mid-way meeting places, or even coming to visit you. (Do they ever visit you? Are they able to? Is there things for their families to do?)

I'm sorry there's so much baggage around this time of year for you. Find the happiness and do what you can to focus on that. Happy belated birthday! (It's not too late to throw yourself a party, or ask your husband to do that for you.)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:16 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My thoughts on this:
(a) Screw 'em, skip Christmas with them this year and tell them you have fabulous BIRTHDAY plans at home instead.

"You are of course allowed to skip Christmas if you want, but if you want more closeness with your family I doubt that it will help move you toward that goal. "

On the other hand, I think it makes you (or at least me, anyway) feel worse to try to hang around hoping for closeness with people who just aren't fucking interested even if they are my blood.

(b) You are going to have to ask for what you want. Start dropping reminder anvils on their head come December 1 that your BIRTHDAY is coming in 24 days and they'd better get double presents and a cake. I like Room 641-A's idea of telling them they'd better ensure a way to remember. And then if they refuse....well, then you know how much they care about that.

wayward vagabond's idea of changing your birthday to earlier or later or July is an excellent one as well. Perhaps they'll remember better if you move your birthday to January or June?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:30 PM on December 19, 2014

It's true that birthdays get demphasized as you get older, but if they celebrate everyone's birthday except yours, that explanation doesn't hold water. They are absolutely being careless and hurtful, and I say this as someone who hates birthdays and ignore them for everyone over the age of 18.

Can you call them in the morning? Apologize for being rude (if you were), but reiterate that when they forget your birthday, you feel sad and excluded. Don't make a decision about Christmas until you hear what they have to say. If they get defensive or go on the attack rather than acknowledge their behavior, skip out and make arrangements to see the people you care about after Christmas. But if they're contrite, go and forgive and be gracious.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:33 PM on December 19, 2014

« Older Novels or books featuring how to run a startup?   |   My parent survived child abuse. Is it impacting us... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.