Care and Feeding

My Brother’s Girlfriend Is Trying to Hijack My Adults-Only Thanksgiving

A couple toasts over Thanksgiving dinner.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ahirao_photo/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I am hosting an adults-only Thanksgiving this year. There will be a bunch of wine and our place is on the small side. I had six people RSVP, but my sister-in-law asked if she could bring her roommate. I said sure. My brother got wind of it and asked to bring his girlfriend of six months. She is a single mother of four. He didn’t breathe a word about the kids, so I assumed they were at their dad’s. The girlfriend, however, texted me about her kids’ allergies and that her daughter needed vegan options. I confronted them both and it launched a fight. I told them they knew this event was adults only. My brother’s girlfriend basically called me an idiot and said where she goes, her kids go. So I un-invited her. That sparked a bigger fight between my brother and me. He has not had a lot of luck with relationships and is very invested in this one. He told me I was being petty and sabotaging him. He said there is nothing wrong with kids, and that I am just hateful. We aren’t speaking. My husband has suggested we offer to buy them a Thanksgiving dinner package as a peace offering, but everywhere I called has them sold out. I don’t know what to do now. Our than a few cousins and our estranged dad, my brother and I have only had each other since our mother died. Help.

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—Adults Only

Dear AO, 

I understand how much your brother must mean to you and why it’s important that you two hold on to one another, but he is being absolutely unreasonable and should be made aware of that. You should talk to him one on one, independent of his girlfriend of a mere six months, and reiterate what has taken place thus far. You and your husband intentionally planned an adults-only holiday dinner, to be held in a small space; he took it upon himself to invite his girlfriend knowing that she’d need to accommodate her children…one of whom is a vegan! This is a completely ridiculous set of expectations for him to have for you, and he owes you an apology. Be clear that you have no issue with children, and that it isn’t your intention to disrupt a relationship that obviously means a lot to him. However, him dating a woman with four kids does not obligate you to change the nature of your planned adults-only Thanksgiving, nor should it.

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Hopefully, your brother will see the error of his own ways and will offer you an apology. There isn’t much else you can or should do in this situation; purchasing Thanksgiving dinner is an incredibly kind idea, but you shouldn’t worry yourself over what this family and your brother end up doing to salvage the holiday. If this relationship is going to continue, your brother will likely have to figure out how to feed four children on a regular basis; let him get some practice this Thanksgiving. I hope your brother gets it together soon.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

One of my teen daughters is a trans girl who, during the pandemic, began wearing gender-affirming clothes and using both her chosen female name and she/her pronouns. I absolutely support her. My elderly, ultra-conservative, religious father lives 400 miles away and doesn’t yet know about any of this. I avoided saying anything the past two years because during that time, my mother died (they were together 54 years) and my father had multiple medical issues, so I didn’t want to upset him or, honestly, deal with the blowback. Now Christmas is coming, and I’m planning to bring my kids to my hometown to visit my extended family and, ideally, my dad, for a few days. It’s time to tell him the truth, the sooner the better.

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Based on the totality of my experience with my father, and after consulting my daughter’s therapist, the best bet in terms of her emotional safety is for me to tell him. He’s not empathetic, and he emotionally and verbally abused me as a child and continued acting out in my adulthood until I set and maintained clear boundaries with him. He showed the same tendencies when my kids were little, so I’ve never trusted him to be unsupervised around them, and I’ve limited their contact with him as a result. Still, I’m an only child, he’s old, sick, and alone, and if I cut him off he has nobody. Maybe he deserves that, but my mother wouldn’t have liked it. I have been able to forgive (but not forget) his past behavior, temper those memories with things he did right, and be a source of support for him, always subject to my boundaries. All of that said, if he does it says anything that harms my daughter, all bets are off. How do I go about this?

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—Worry for the Holidays

Dear WftH, 

I am very concerned that your father will say something harmful to your daughter, considering the experiences you have had with him up through when your children were small. I understand you not wanting him to spend the holidays alone, but sometimes, people deserve to be alone. Sometimes, people have to be alone to protect other people. Your main priority has to be your daughter, and it’s worth acknowledging that you are already limiting your father’s access to your kids because of who he is; what about this situation makes you think that he’s going to be enlightened, or different?

You can, and should, tell your father this important development in your daughter’s life. You can give him an opportunity to accept the news and to participate in the family celebration, but only if he is willing to be completely accepting of your daughter. If he says that he embraces the news, and you believe in your heart that he is going to do his best to use the proper pronouns and name for her, then go see him. However, I am not optimistic that this will be the case considering what you endured in your childhood, and earlier in your children’s lives.

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I think it is important that you prepare yourself to have Christmas without Grandpa this year. You have devastating memories of being spoken to unkindly by this man; your children do not. I don’t think it’s worth the risk to your daughters, both of them, for you to gamble with the probability of your father saying something inappropriate. Again, I think it’s fair for you to talk to him and to give him a chance to say for himself how he feels about your daughter’s identity so that you know whether or not it is safe to be around him anymore. But considering that he has a history of creating unsafe environments for you, you’d be wise to develop a script to explain to your children, other loved ones, and your father himself, why he won’t be part of your family’s holiday celebrations going forward.

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Maybe your mother wouldn’t want him to be alone; maybe she’d want him to pay penance for how he has treated his family. If the idea of going to your hometown without seeing him doesn’t sit well with your soul, go see him by yourself. But whatever you do, you must protect your children from unnecessary harm at all times, and that is what your dad seems to represent. Wishing you all the best as you navigate this.

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Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding, 

My 16-year-old daughter, “Bailey” just got her driver’s license in June. I gave her my old car to drive to school, and she has a credit card (paid by me) which she’s allowed to use for a few agreed-on things, including gas. I just got around to reviewing the last couple of statements and saw Bailey had spent more on gas than I expected. When I asked her about this, she revealed that instead of the 5-mile, 10 to 15-minute obvious route to her school, she has been driving about 4 miles in the opposite direction, 5 miles on the interstate, and (because there are no interstate exits anywhere near her school) an additional 5 miles to arrive at school from a completely different direction. This must take 25-30 minutes, at least in the morning. I leave for my own commute well before Bailey leaves for school, so I hadn’t noticed her leaving earlier.

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I pulled up a map and started to explain this, but she said she knows, and prefers to go her way. She acted cagy and annoyed, so I pressed her a little. I asked if she was giving a classmate rides to school, and she said she wasn’t. I asked if something had happened on the usual route, or if there was something she didn’t like driving past, and she said no. Finally she said that she just likes driving and feels like it helps her de-stress. I told her I sympathize, but she should be able to find some way to de-stress that doesn’t waste time and gas, or expose her to the increased accident risk on the interstate and the notoriously chaotic intersections around the on and off ramps. Bailey said disgustedly that there’s no way she’d ever have an accident because she has lightning reflexes from all the video games she plays. She is a very good driver, but when I told her I’d still prefer she take the shorter route, she threatened to blow up, so I let it drop for the time being. So I’d like your input. Is Bailey old enough to make this call for herself, or should she listen to my reasoning?

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—Road Worrier

Dear RW,

Bailey is old enough to drive, but still young enough for you to set rules about where and when she drives. This alternate route isn’t just costing money, but as you said, it’s increasing the risk that she could be involved in an accident. I think it would be fair for you to mandate the route that she takes to school as a condition of her being able to drive to school at all. You can offer her a compromise: perhaps she can drive aimlessly around the neighborhood for 20 minutes before making her way to school. However, I would draw the line at the daily, unnecessary interstate driving, conditions under which people with much more behind-the-wheel experience recognize to be dangerous and less-than-ideal.

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Furthermore, I don’t think it’s cool that Bailey is threatening to blow up on you when for months, she has been somewhere you couldn’t locate her on a daily basis. You expected her to be on the normal path to school and she was elsewhere; that is dishonest, though it may not have felt like it to her, and she should not have done that. There is a lot of trust required of teens who are allowed to drive, and one of the most important things they must do to maintain that trust is to be where they are expected to be with the car at all times. She can get angry all she wishes, but if she expects to have continued access to the car, she should adhere to the rules you set for its usage.

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If you feel that the extra time and distance isn’t the worst thing in the world, then allow Bailey to de-stress as she sees fit. From what I’m reading, that’s not where your heart is. Again, she can be upset with you about this; teenagers are upset about rules and boundaries all the time. You decide where that car goes and if you can’t trust her to adhere to that, then she isn’t mature enough to drive after all.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding, 

My parents are not good pet owners. They have an outdoor-only cat, and for the last decade I have been hearing stories about how he gets hurt and they basically don’t care. A few months ago after yet another one of these stories, my wife suggested we wait until my folks were on vacation and then steal the cat and take him to the vet. We did, and he turned out to be in bad shape (he required a $1500 emergency procedure for a massively infected bite wound). We decided not to give him back to my parents; he is super sweet and friendly and we hoped to rehome him. However, I’m getting really attached to him. I’m not sure what to do as my parents still don’t know we have him (they told me he must have died, and they weren’t particularly upset). We’re planning to hide him with a friend for Christmas when they visit, but she wanted to know why we don’t just come clean. I feel like that is a question that can only be asked by a person with a very unfraught parental relationship, which I don’t have. I’ve been wondering if we could just gaslight my parents into thinking he’s a brand new cat, but he has some unique scars and a VERY unique meow, so even if that weren’t a bananas idea I’m not sure we could pull it off. Should I stick to my original plan to rehome him? Should I be honest with my parents? Do any of your readers want a sweet old cat with a truly unique adoption story? I can’t believe I’m in this situation.

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—Cat Napper

Dear CN, 

You know what? Sometimes, lying is just easier than telling the truth. And it sounds like even with the inconvenience of hiding the cat with a friend, it would be easier not to tell your parents what happened to their cat. If it is reasonable for you to keep up this lie forever–like, if they only visit you once a year and you only have to hide the cat then–then I suggest you go for it. Your relationship with your parents sounds delicate, and there’s no reason to rock the boat if you can avoid it.

However, if your parents are going to be in your house more frequently, then you should come clean. You don’t have to do it just yet, maybe you just give yourself a break this holiday and enjoy your peace. But in advance of their next visit, you can give them a call and let them know what you did. Explain why, and how your trip to the vet confirmed your concerns that the cat was being mistreated. Apologize for taking him but remind them that they didn’t seem overly concerned when he “died” in the first place. Hopefully, their ambivalence about the life of this cat will continue on through his resurrection. If his reemergence does cause tension between you and your folks, just know that you did the right thing. Considering all this poor little guy has been through, I don’t think you should rehome him. You’ve gotten attached and I’m sure he has too. Hopefully, this won’t be a big deal to your parents and if it is, well, they shouldn’t have neglected him in the first place and they got what they deserved. All the best to you.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I are parents to an amazing 20-month-old boy. Before I became pregnant, my husband and I went out weekly with co-workers after work. My husband still attends these and ends up getting sloshed. I love staying home, and I’m over these get-togethers, but my husband insists I need to get out more and should come along. What should I do? 

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