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.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I have a timeshare. This holiday season we plan on going to Mexico, and we want to invite a couple that has become close to us in recent years. It won’t cost them anything to stay with us. They will just have to pay for their airfare and have money for food and sightseeing. We have no idea whether they have passports, let alone whether they would want to or be able to afford such a trip. We don’t want to put them in an awkward position, but we do want to invite them. How can we extend the invitation so they are comfortable with whatever decision they make? -- Making the Invitation, Detroit
DEAR MAKING THE INVITATION: Stop worrying about the outcome. Just make the invitation. Tell your friends how much you enjoy spending time with them. Explain that you know it may be a long shot, but you wanted to invite them to spend some time during the holidays with you at your timeshare. Outline the details and costs, and ask them to consider joining you. Point out that you know it may be inconvenient because of the busy holiday season, but you wanted to ask.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)