F-O-B knows best?

Carolyn’s column from yesterday felt remarkably familiar to me…….:

Hi, Carolyn:

My brother’s daughter is getting married. He called me last night to “get my thoughts” on whether my stepdaughters should be invited to the wedding, because he “didn’t want them to feel obligated.” I was stunned and my husband was incredulous.

Lots of history here, but I’m going to condense it. I have been happily married to their dad for almost 20 years, and while they didn’t live with us, I love my stepdaughters as my own children. When the older daughter married, my brother and all of his adult children attended except one.

We live in a different state and are not close, but have a superficial “friendly” brother/sister relationship that has been contentious at times.

I totally get that wedding guest lists are maddening. But I feel my brother put me on the spot. His “obligation” reasoning sounds more like, “Will you give me permission to not invite them?”

Flustered, I told him I thought my stepdaughters’ feelings would be hurt if they weren’t invited.

I want to tell him that I thought he was insensitive. Or do I let it lie and not create more wedding stress? I can’t help feeling that my brother doesn’t see my stepdaughters as true family. Whew. I’m in paralysis here.

S.

Clearly, there’s history. But the surest way to keep half-century-old grudges alive is to make them the lens through which you view everything your brother says or does.

Guest lists for weddings are maddening: Inclusion costs are prohibitive; exclusion costs are wrenching. Exploring whether farther-flung relatives care about being invited is one logical, if not quite mannerly, approach. So, Brother calls Sister to feel out her family’s interest.

This, at least, is how someone without your history views your brother’s question. And flustered as you were, your response was exactly what the situation demanded: honest and clear. “They care.” A successful transaction completed.

Your stepdaughters are your real family, regardless of what (you think) your brother thinks. It may not come naturally to drop your dukes and just take people’s words at face value, but that kind of stress reduction is worth practicing until you’ve got it down.

I think Carolyn’s right that this woman (though her reaction is certainly understandable), will save everyone (including herself) a lot of grief if she does her best NOT to see this as evidence that her brother doesn’t and never has and never will truly consider her stepddaughters “real” family. I seriously doubt that’s the case.

I’m working through the “maddening” experience of wedding guest lists myself, and recently went through this exact scenario. Both of my parents included their first cousins on the guest list. I know and love a couple of these folks, and certainly want to include them. Others, I can count the times I’ve met them in my life on one hand. One, in particular, I don’t think I would know if I saw him on the street. When our guest list needed to be cut by 50+ people, I was hesitant to just make cuts and announce that I was making them. I sent the list and the numbers to my parents and sort of assumed they’d come to the same conclusions I came to.

Instead, my dad got on the phone, calling his aunt and uncle to see whether their son (the cousin I haven’t seen in 15 years, and hadn’t even seriously put on my list) and his girlfriend would be likely to make the trek from out of state to the wedding. They called HIM and he said he’d be DELIGHTED. So now what would have been an understandable decision on my part–I don’t know this person from Adam–would now be a snub, and instead of reducing the guest list, we increased it. By two. Not to mention I was mortified that it would look like I sent my dad out to pre-un-invite obscure relatives.

In short, this isn’t about the dad trying to exclude the stepdaughters. On the contrary, it’s likely about him trying to INCLUDE them in a strange, too-logical-for-comfort-or-etiquette way (is this why women do most wedding and party planning?)

My guess is the bride doesn’t feel close to her aunt’s stepdaughters. If they never lived with her aunt, and the aunt and FOB aren’t close anyway, they likely weren’t raised as cousins. If they’re adults, they’re likely to have serious partners…depending on how many of them there are, this could mean inviting anywhere from 4 to 8 or more extra people. I’ve found the generational divide to be a fairly reasonable way of limiting the guest list (i.e., inviting my parents’ friends, but not their children). Bride probably wanted to cut the stepdaughters not because they’re steps, but because she doesn’t know them well and because the generational boundary is a natural one. FOB probably didn’t feel comfortable with that and wanted to feel it out.

Still uncomfortable for everyone, and the bride, if she knows about the phone call, is probably embarrassed. But I don’t think it’s a slight from the FOB–instead, it’s probably an indicator that he cares and DOESN’T want to slight anyone. Although I don’t think this is the best way to handle it, his intentions were most likely good. I agree with Carolyn: the sister gave a straightforward answer, and I think that’s the best thing she could do in this situation. Bringing it up again as a bone to pick with the brother doesn’t seem useful, and I think reads more into the phone call than was meant to be implied.

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