DEAR HARRIETTE: I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my home for the first time. It was always celebrated at my mom’s house, but she passed away last year, and it naturally fell to me. I am happy to host this event, but I do have one problem. I have two cousins who have always been difficult. They come around during the holidays, constantly freeloading without bringing anything to add to the meal -- while everybody else brings something. Not only do they want whatever we are serving, but they also criticize everything. They are rude and disrespectful.
I don’t want to invite them, but my siblings think this would be impolite. I don’t want that negativity in my home with the family. What can I do or say to gain control over this very special gathering of my family? -- New Traditions, Salem, Massachusetts
DEAR NEW TRADITIONS: Give them a chance this year. Contact them by phone and extend a personal invitation. Tell them that everyone is bringing a dish, and ask what they will bring. You may want to recommend something specific so it is easy for them to accept the invitation. Be clear with them and get a commitment. You can also let them know that everyone is sensitive now that your mother has passed away. Tell them that you are requesting that everybody make the commitment to be positive while you are together. Give them fair warning that you will jump in and change the subject if anyone starts complaining or criticizing. Your intention is to create a positive environment where everyone feels supported.
If you get pushback from your cousins about your intentions, remind them that in the past there have been uncomfortable moments thanks to their critical attitude. Make it clear you do not want them to bring that energy into your home. Yes, this is strong, but it may help the whole family to turn the corner.