Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Accept In-law’s Olive Branch

DEAR NATALIE: My husband has four sisters, and he's very close to all of them except for one. Over the years, she's been verbally abusive to her siblings, neglected her father when he was battling cancer and only comes around when she needs a handout. She hasn't spoken to me or my children in about a decade and keeps her kids away from us. So I was dumbfounded the other day when we received in the mail an invitation to her son's high school graduation, along with a handwritten card from her husband expressing how great it would be to see us there. My in-laws all received them, too. 

My initial reaction was to tear it up! (That's what my in-laws did.) But I feel sorry for the young man who probably won't have any relatives at his graduation besides his parents. He shouldn't have to pay for his mother's mistakes. But I'm nervous that if we did attend his mother would cause a scene (which she has been known to do). Instead, I thought about sending a card with a gift of money, but even that could stir trouble. (Once when my sister-in-law gave him some money to help fund a school trip his mother insulted her for not giving more.) 

My husband and I are feeling very torn. What do you think we should do? -- CONFLICTED SISTER-IN-LAW

DEAR CONFLICTED SISTER-IN-LAW: My initial gut reaction says, "Buh-bye! Have a nice life!" and rip that note up. But, upon reflecting on that visceral response, I realized something. People who are angry and cruel are the people we need to open our hearts up to and love the most. It may sound counter-intuitive, but think about it. You have to be the light for her to look to and for her son (your nephew) to see. 

Even though she sounds like a horrible person, imagine how hard and awful it must be to wake up as her every day, to be filled with so much unhappiness. Pity her, don't be like her. Instead, be the bigger person in this situation by ignoring her nasty, petty comments and support your nephew. 

Her husband is reaching out, so accept the olive branch. The best thing you can do is to show your nephew that he has other examples to follow in life, and he doesn't need to be like her. If she creates a scene, simply tell her that you won't speak to her if she talks that way and walk away, continuing conversation with others. If you choose not to go, definitely send a card along with a tangible gift and not money. Maybe something that you know he will need for college or his post-high school plans. Don't give this woman what she wants, but instead rise above and give her what she needs. 

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: They say you never remember the first 10 seconds of a conversation (when you usually hear someone's name for the first time), so make sure you repeat their name at least two times during the conversation to help solidify it in your memory. 

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)