Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Spending Time With Family Not a Holiday Requirement

DEAR HARRIETTE: I spend a lot of time by myself, which I prefer. I moved back home a few years ago to take care of some family business after my mother died. Though I have some family here, I don’t see them much. They have invited me to come spend time with them over the holidays, which is nice and all, but I don’t really want to do it. They have a big family, and it brings back a lot of uncomfortable memories that are extra hard for me now that all of my immediate family is gone. How can I continue to do what I want -- to lie low -- without offending them? -- Bowing Out, Detroit

DEAR BOWING OUT: Thank your family for always including you in their celebrations. Express how much you appreciate them thinking of you. Tell them that this year you will not be attending their events. You don’t have to explain why. You can simply decline their invitation -- graciously. Know that one day they may stop inviting you if you never go. Know, too, that getting out and being with family, even if they are a bustling one, may be good for you. You don’t have to like every aspect of the experience, but you may find joy in the camaraderie.

Read more in: Holidays & Celebrations | Family & Parenting

Sister-in-Law Berates Family at Every Opportunity

DEAR HARRIETTE: My brother is married to an opinionated big-mouth who never has a kind word to say to anybody. She frequently berates him and other members of our family. This behavior is disturbing to the entire family, especially to our mother.

My other brother is in prison on drug charges. Our family has suffered a great deal of pain because of his sentencing, but we have found strength in our unity and have remained supportive of him. My brother’s wife, however, never misses an opportunity to express her hatred for my brother in prison. She's completely insensitive to our feelings. I don't treat her like a sister-in-law because she does not behave like a member of the family.

I would like to write her off and never have any contact with her again, but I worry that it would upset my mother and brother, and they don't need any more problems.

Can you please advise me how to deal with my sister-in-law without starting a family feud? -- I've Had Enough, Jackson, Mississippi

DEAR I’VE HAD ENOUGH: Speak to your sister-in-law separately, and ask her to be more considerate about your brother who is in prison. Tell her that her derogatory comments about your brother are hurtful and unnecessary. Be direct with her, and let her know that when she speaks unkindly about him, it hurts his mother’s feelings and creates unnecessary tension. Ask her to stop.

When she goes in with her barbs about him -- or anybody else, for that matter -- speak up and change the subject. You can even say, with a bit of humor mixed in to lighten the moment, ”OK, Delores (or whatever her name is), let it be, girl. Let’s move on.” Don’t let her keep control of the conversation. If you interrupt her enough, she should eventually stop.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Etiquette & Ethics