Dear Margo: Of Relatives and High Horses

Margo Howard’s advice

Of Relatives and High Horses

Dear Margo: My family had another miserable Christmas dinner at my sister’s house. I’m 55, and I have two brothers, two sisters and an elderly mother, 78. My elder sister insists on having holiday dinners at her house, even though she always seems miserable during the event. This sister and her husband are professionals and are the highest earners in the family. Her children ignore me and my family, as well as one of my brothers and the other sister. If they say anything, it is something rude or snarky. I am a college-educated woman with a good job. I am well-traveled. We own our own home and are financially in good shape with retirement on the horizon. We always come over well-dressed, and we’re well-spoken. And we always bring something. In other words, neither we nor my other siblings have done anything to deserve the silent or rude treatment that we get.

My question is: How do we handle this situation? If it weren’t for my mom, I wouldn’t hesitate to simply skip these events, since we all live within 25 miles of one another and can see one another whenever we want. I don’t believe that talking to my sister would be helpful since we’ve never been close, and she has looked down her nose at me since childhood, regardless of my accomplishments. I have thought of having my daughter’s small family over and then visiting Mom afterward for coffee or simply declaring a “holiday from the holidays” and going somewhere for a vacation. I’m sure that other people out there are going through similar circumstances. If there’s a better solution, I’m willing to listen. — Second Sib in S.C.

Dear Sec: Too bad about the pretentious and rude children, who sound as though they’ve inherited the views of their mother. With snooty behavior like that, they are going to have trouble at more places than their parents’ dinner table. I very much like the idea of stopping in for coffee, and I like the idea of getting out of Dodge even better! Short of reading these kids the riot act, which I know is unlikely, avoidance is the best solution. Your immediate family need not be pinatas for those kids from the lucky sperm club. — Margo, pragmatically

Workplace Troubles

Dear Margo: I suspect you do not, but most people work in an office. Wherever there are different personalities, there are all sorts of things you’d love to tell your boss — anonymously. I thought you and your readers would like to know about a free new service at that helps you do just that.

Think of this website as a virtual version of the classic suggestion box. Upon signing up, an employee is prompted to enter their own email address, their boss’s email address and a thoughtful message about what is bugging them. The site then delivers said message to said manager, who can review the complaint and reply in kind, all without knowing who they’re actually talking to. — Hope This Is Helpful

Dear Help: You are right on the money about there being workplace troubles galore, and often the person who would like to report the difficulty feels unable to do so for a number of reasons. Sometimes the trouble has to do with a relative who is employed, the boss’s secret or not-so-secret romantic interest, or an employee who somehow has ingratiated him or herself with the boss despite poor performance, just to name a few possibilities on a list that is endless. (And you are correct that I do not work in an office — which is a good thing, because my “office attire” is a nightgown and robe.) Thanks for the good suggestion. — Margo, remedially

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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34 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Perhaps your sister acts like she is miserable because she is miserable with or without family there and her children are as rude and snarky to her as they are to her guests.    Clearly, however, your niece(s) or nephew(s) conduct is NOT your problem and if you cannot avoid these occasions without hurting you mother or causing a huge family drama, simply go with the attitude that *we are going to be dealing with some very boorish people so we will behave properly, kindly, and pleasantly in hopes our example will rub off* (it will not).  You have made a nice life for you and your family and you don’t need anyone’s approval (least of all that of bratty kids).  If you approach the occasion confident in your own worth and forget about the higher earnings of your sister and her husband or their high and mighty ways and consider yourself lucky for having a family that behaves well, maybe it will be less miserable (and you can always scoff at them on the drive home). 

    LW#2:  I suppose that the website will be useful to some but I would be very cautious about using it.  Of course, I don’t work in an office either. 


  2. avatar voiceofreason says:

    LW1, why put up with this on a yearly basis? The holidays are supposed to be fun and festive. After my grandparents passed away, my aunts and uncles do not get together for the holidays. They live in different states and not everyone is a fan of mine. I choose to celebrate with my small family and a smathering of friends. I agree that you should see your mother for coffee and dessert. Life is too short to compromise with those who treat you poorly, especially your family. Next year change your plans. I won’t be mad at you if you do! Happy New Year!

  3. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: “…neither we nor my other siblings have done anything to deserve the silent or rude treatment that we get.”

    Yes you have, and you apparently ask for it every year by showing up to your sister’s house with a big gift-wrapped box of enabling for “another miserable Christmas.” I never understand people like this—who complain about a yearly ritual that they could simply avoid by Making. Other. Plans.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      Sometimes, it’s a battle you have to pick. If you skip you might have to hear your mother whine and complain about your breaking up a family tradition. My mother is in perpetual denial about family dynamics. I think if that is the case with the LW, make the visit as short as possible and get the heck out of there.

    • avatar jadez says:

      you are 100% spot on.
      ANY other point of view is TOTAL BS.

  4. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    Since my Mom passed away in 1999, we have had very few family holiday gatherings.  Many of my siblings are not talking to me or each other due to, in my humble opinion, small petty differences.  I recently (a month ago) moved back to my home town so I could be closer to my son and granddaughter.  A few days later, I called my sister and left  amessage on her machine giving her my address and my phone number.  I have yet to hear from her.  On holidays, I call and wish her a good holiday but never get a call back.  My other sister lives in FL and we have a bit of contact via facebook.  Another sister no one has heard from in years.  My brother and I have not spoken in 2 years.  I spend my holidays with my son and granddaughter or close friends.  There is no reason to put yourself through that torture, year after year.  Do some thing different next holiday and when asked why, be truthful – honesty is the best policy.  I think that your sister has control issues.  For many years, I traveled to my siblings houses for all holidays – an hour ride one way.  I finally insisted one year that they all come to my house.  I wanted to show off our new home we had just moved into.  I went to rehab and was released just before Thanksgiving with a positive, glowing discharge.  My sister took it upon herself to convince the rest of the family that it would be too stressful for me to do a big Christmas gathering so they decided, without consulting me, that they would have it at her house.  They announced their decision to me on 12/15 – after I had purchased all the good and spent hours decorating and baking and freezing foods.  Needless to say, there were empty seats that year as my now ex-husband and my children decided they did not want to go there after the blatant disrespect shown to me.  Our lives and happiness are what we make – not what our families or friends want. 

  5. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    For letter #2 –  I would never trust a web site to do that.  There are many ways for someone to find things on the internet.  I would not put my job in jeopardy in such a way.  As the saying goes, once it hits the internet – it is no longer a secret or unfindable.  Just saying…..

    • avatar lebucher says:

      I agree.  Better to have drinks with a friend and just grouse about it and then learn to live with it.  Or try as tactfully as possible to suggest things to the boss, but only the employee knows how well THAT would be received.

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – Okay…..first of all…..brilliant!

    A BIG kudos to the person(s) that came up with that idea for a website, I love it! For mid to large size businesses this is excellent. Because it is anonymous it doesn’t give a manager any leverage in terms of terminating an employee for anything, but it does alert them to behavior that they may need to watch in an employee. I truly believe this is a wonderful idea and if I worked for a larger office I would use it.

    For small and tiny businesses like the one I work for, it would be relatively easy to figure out who made the complaint or voiced an issue. AND I think it would lead to a ton of paranoia. I am going to promote the heck out of this site because I really do see a lot of benefit in using it.

    Letter #1 – Maybe it is me. Maybe it is because I am having one of those nights when I can’t fall asleep so it is the wee hours of the morning when I am typing this….. but the letter writer is the one that comes across as a the snob in my eyes.

    “I am well-traveled. We own our own home and are financially in good shape with retirement on the horizon. We always come over well-dressed, and we’re well-spoken. And we always bring something. In other words, neither we nor my other siblings have done anything to deserve the silent or rude treatment that we get.”

    Really? So if you had not accomplished all of what you say you are, then you WOULD be deserving of the rude treatment you feel you are receiving?

    For me that mindset on its own tells me YOU are one with the problems, not your sibling. You are a mirror to the behavior you are complaining about. This is a case where you don’t like what you see and what you are seeing is yourself. This is not to say that families don’t have legitimate sibling rivalries. We are all human and sometimes you just don’t like someone, even if they are your own blood. This could be the case. Or it could be that this letter writer is full of herself and perceives her siblings as “she has looked down her nose at me since childhood” for no reason. Maybe she hasn’t and this letter writer has a huge chip on her shoulder.

    My advice would be to forgo future holiday get-togethers. I am big on “intent” and energy. When she and her family get together, what is the intention? It matters. Because IMO we are all balls of energy and if she is showing up negative and everyone there has shown up negative, each in their own minds pointing the finger at others as being the negative ones, that leads to one big negative ball of energy in the room. 🙂

    What gift are they truly giving their mothers by getting together if the experience is nothing but negativity. Better to see her separately when the energy and “intentions” are positive and uplifting.

    • avatar D says:

      Maybe it is me.

      Nope. It is not just you.

    • avatar KL says:

      I had the same thought, Belinda. At the very least, this LW sounds like she has a HUGE chip on her shoulder and that sort of feeling is almost always picked up on by others. Perhaps they stopped talking to you because everytime they said something, you took it as an insult where there was none. There are plenty of people that do that and so people feel like they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, so they just shut up or withdraw completely.

      Your siblings and nieces and nephews may suck, but it sounds like they aren’t the only ones in the family with that affliction.

  7. avatar Toni Jean says:

    Lw1: you can announce now that next year you’re hosting in YOUR home – but then the rude snarky children might be in your house! It’s time for you to take control over it. If you continue to suffer through wo taking action then you deserve no more sympathy.
    Lw2: this is a HORRIBLE idea. As the other poster said, once it’s out there it’s out there. If something is that amiss, brush up your resume.

  8. avatar Michelles11 says:

    LW1 I think this writer seems very well-mannered and feels that she is in the position that she has to defend herself from the rude treatment she gets from her nieces and nephews. I don’t think she has a problem at all except for that she feels uncomfortable in her sister’s home. Obviously, these holiday gatherings are unpleasant for her and her family and at her age, why in the world should she have to put up with it? Sometimes people are just unpleasant and negative, doesn’t mean she has to be! I think the idea of dropping by for coffee or dessert afterwards is a grand idea. I used to have my own whole family over the entire day of Christmas and found that, though we get along great and love each other, it was just too much. I felt I was cooking and cleaning all day and couldn’t enjoy anything, so we decided that the family should just come for dinner, instead of brunch, gifts, dinner, dessert, etc. And you know what? Everyone loves it. We all get up and stay in our pj’s the whole morning, drink our coffees and enjoy our own families. Then everyone shows up at 4 o’clock. So much calmer and enjoyable for everyone. Sometimes change is a good thing.

  9. avatar TralfazB says:

    As one of the bosses that might be getting one of those anonymous emails… I probably already know what’s going on. I’m tired of hearing you complain about it. I may or may not be dealing with it as appropriate. Why don’t stop being so damn nosy about your neighbors and do your own work. I swear, you are all behaving like children.

  10. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Family should love and accept (yeah I know…I’m dreaming) regardless of level of education, earning power, etc. For you to “fit in” on every level yet still be treated like 2nd class by relatives (especially nieces/nephews) is especially ridiculous. Some people must feel superior no matter what. I’d just skip it next year. If you’re continuing merely for your mother’s sake, well? I wouldn’t, frankly. Maybe your mother doesn’t truly enjoy these get-togethers either, and is doing it for your sake? Life’s too short. Your sister apparently doesn’t truly like doing this either. So why are you all bothering, pretending, etc.?

    L #2: Most bosses I’ve known/worked with wouldn’t appreciate that. In the office you’re expected to step up and own up. And of course if you do, 8 times out of 10 you’re branded “a troublemaker” and subjected to vindictiveness (which is why troubles continue to brew and fester in offices, people grumble and backstab, the boss turns a blind eye). I work in my home since 1998 and glad for it.

  11. avatar cincyreader says:

    It sounds like this complaint is sent anonymously to the boss. I once received an anonymous note that listed things this person thought needed to be fixed. It was a miserable experience because you keep wondering who sent it. If you have a problem talk to the person directly, don’t take the cowards way out.

  12. avatar azbrown says:

    LW#1 You’ll be treated the way you allow others to treat you. In my family, if you’re acting like a horse’s behind for no reason, someone will ask in front of everyone “Why are you acting like such a horse’s behind?” You can either call them out on it or refuse to be subjected to it any longer.

  13. avatar R Scott says:

    LW! – The hosting sister is no prize winner but then neither is the LW. I get a sense that they both barely tolerate each other and probably think the same thing of each other and their respective families. I find it absolutely amazing that educated, accomplished, well traveled, well dressed, well spoken, financially secure people with good jobs cannot figure out how to be otherwise occupied and unable to attend something they dislike. Did this LW really just need a venue to list her many supposed virtues? What an educated, accomplished, well traveled, well dressed, well spoken, gainfully employed and financially secure idiot she must be. Does she need Margo’s permission to stop going to her sister’s?

    LW2 –  Oh boy. I fully expect adult employees to behave like adults and address issues head on (and if they’re not adults they need to learn how to do that). I don’t know what job level this is geared to but if you proposed this to my employees they’d just have a good laugh and get back to doing the work at hand because they have jobs to do. You would be surprised just how much your bosses actually do know. Too many of these anonymous emails to higher-ups and someone will start to think that maybe there’s too much idle time in the  work place. That would not be good. Seriously think twice about this.

  14. avatar redhead says:

    LW#2 – I have worked in a few offices, and if the boss knows their employees, it would be easy to figure out who sent the email. First clue, grammar and spelling. Second clue, situation and who is close to it. Add to that bosses who have favorites in the office (usually the ones being written about!), who the boss confides everything to, and it can just make things more uncomfortable.

  15. avatar redhead says:

    LW#1 – With Mom still alive, it will be pretty hard for her to stop going. Coffee sounds great except to the parent who wants to “see all of her children together on the holidays”. And they don’t care if you are ignored, berated, or insulted because that’s just FAMILY!!

  16. avatar QuietGitl says:

    I have to agree with Redhead.  I am in that position.  I live with Mom, as she can not live alone.  Although we don’t get together on Christmas day, we all do get together that week.  For several days, all in the same house.  I know that if I didn’t live there, I would be subject to reproaches if I did not show.  As it is I spend as little time there as possible.  For example, we had filet mignon, a treat.  My brother complained that he had had filet mignon for Christmas and he was bored with it.  The rest of us were blind because we disagreed with him politically and he also commented that he had previously believed our mother to be smart, he now knew she was stupid because of her political stance.  The only one who tried to converse with him over politics was my mother – she really thinks that he will listen to someone else’s opinion.  I gave up after he sat in my bedroom at 2 am and called me whacked several years ago because I told him that he has no idea of what my life was like or what worked for me.  Mom knows all of this and has had her own experiences, but still wants us together for the holidays.

    As to the web site, it may be useful, but is not for me.  My only co-worker problem was early in my working days when I was promoted to an assistant supervisor.  One individual complained, stating that she was given some of the other duties of the previous asst sup she should have been given the title.  (It really was weird as there were no duties assigned to the asst sup, it was an empty title with no additional pay.)  I stated this when management interviewed me (not the pay, just the empty title with no duties) and I was demoted.  I left, not because I cared about the title, but because through this experience I understood just how badly organized the company was.  I learned, through this experience, how to deal with this type of person and management and have been able to avoid employee bickering since.

  17. avatar sdpooh says:

    LW#1 — Next year, arrange to be “very busy” on Christmas Day.  Tell your nasty sister that your children have plans and that you need to attend their event.  Then, tell mom that YOUR family will be have a feast on Xmas Eve, invite the other sibs too.  Make sure mom attends and everyone can have a wonderful time at your house.  Start a new tradition.  Then the year after next, have the party at your house on Christmas Day.  The other sibs can spend Christmas Day with the Grinchy Sister if they want or with you guys.  No one can force a person to be miserable.  Control your own destiny there, Second Sib.

  18. avatar luna midden says:

    lw1-I really wonder, percentagewise- the amount of people who ACTUALLY have holidays like those portray on TV/books, etc. i.e. ‘Leave it to Beaver’, the ‘Brady Bunch’, etc. ??? 

    WHY DOES THE SISTER GET TO HAVE DINNER AT HER HOUSE EVERY YEAR????  Does she have a really large house? the LW seems to have 5,6 siblings, do they have families? and do their families have families??? I cannot believe EVERYONE is there for dinner. Why she is not with her daughter’s family????? (guess she is used to this overcrowded &)^)*(???) STUPID STUPID STUPID!!!

    All the LW has to do is get a majority of her other siblings together to agree to rotate, or at least switch to other houses (those big enough and able to host dinner).. If this is done MONTHS ahead of December and someone then speaks to BULLY SIS… what can happen then??? She can have her dinner and Mother can decide whether she will have dinner with the SNOTS or with her 4,5,6(???) other children and their families. OR, since there seems to be a large# of them, why do they not just meet for dessert???  The maJority obviously DO NOT GET ALONG. aND IF THE ‘KIDS’ are nasty to the LW and only certain aunts and uncles… well, I would suspect they are hearing things from Sister dearest.   

  19. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1) Make other plans. If mom asks, tell her why, otherwise say nothing. Be sure, of course. to let sister know well in advance that you won’t be stopping by for snobnog.  

    LW2) Steer clear of this website for your personal use … too risky that employer would identify you and lower the ax. 

  20. LW#2: This sounds like a great idea. The catch? As other people have noted, things aren’t always secure on the Internet. The information submitted could fall into the wrong hands. ALSO… this will give the service at least two working email addresses, which may then be spammed. Even if the website promises it won’t spam or won’t sell the address, all of that goes out the window if, like so many other online services, they go out of business and sell off their assets.

  21. avatar TralfazB says:

    I actually used the “anonymous message to boss” service by sending a message to myself. The email I received in my work inbox looked so much like scammy spam I would have deleted it in a millisecond if one of my employees used it. What a waste.