DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am about to start skipping family holiday parties. Let me explain.
My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia two years ago. During the last sixth months, with treatment, he has begun to return to the brilliant, creative young man that he was before. As you might imagine, the past two years have been the hardest of my life.
My family has not been a source of support during this trial, mostly just standing on the sidelines and watching. I was not surprised by this, as it has been like this my whole life. I wish to stop attending family gatherings as I feel they will be detrimental to my son’s recovery in the following ways.
1. A lot of alcohol will be served, and we have learned that alcohol is very problematic for my son. I do not think that he will have the self-control not to drink when almost everyone there does.
2. My mother has a tendency to speak without thinking about context. (She once asked me in a crowded theater, “Are you still having that hemorrhaging problem?”) The last time she saw my son, she said to him, “You are fat!” This is concerning, as he was severely underweight prior to treatment (the voices were telling him not to eat), weight gain is a side effect of his medications, and he is ambivalent about taking them.
I have little hope of my family reforming their behavior. I explained to my mother why the fat comment was so destructive, and she replied that those sorts of comments “just come out.” She is unlikely to change.
I do plan to get together individually with family members who have healthy relationships with me and my son, but we will not attend the big gatherings. You have said that it is necessary only to decline invitations, not to give the reasons why. Do I owe my family an explanation for declining their invitations?
GENTLE READER: Remember that Miss Manners’ stock answer when declining unwanted invitations -- ”Thank you so much, but I just can’t” -- must be provided one invitation at a time. The only way to avoid all future invitations from a specific host is to repeat the process until she gets tired of asking.
That she is also likely to be offended by then is less important when the intention is to dispose of the relationship. This is likely not the outcome you want.
There is, however, an easy solution. Since your family is aware of -- but apparently indifferent to, and therefore uninformed about -- the details of your son’s condition, a useful alternative is, “Thank you so much, but Noah isn’t up to large gatherings yet. When he will be, we will just have to see.”