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Why Didn’t My Sister Include Me in Her ‘Family’ Birthday Party?

My sister and I live in different parts of the country. We’re not close, but we are cordial and visit each other every year or two. She is about to turn 70, so I offered to fly halfway across the country to help her celebrate. She declined, saying that “all her family” — her kids and grandkids — were coming for a party, so it wasn’t a good time for a visit. I stay in a hotel when I visit her, so it’s not a matter of putting me up, and there are no hard feelings between us. I am hurt not to be included. I thought I was family, too. I might have accepted a white lie (“I’m not doing anything special”), but telling me I’m not invited to her party seems hostile. Thoughts?

SISTER

I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. I’m also struck by how readily you placed yourself at the center of your sister’s birthday — in the same breath as reporting you aren’t close to her. (I get it, of course: We are all the starring players in our lives.) I agree that your sister chose her words poorly, but it doesn’t take a big leap to decipher what she really meant: She wants to focus on her children and grandchildren when they visit.

Many siblings drift over time (and distance). And your “cordial” relationship with your sister is not uncommon: You may have been central to each other — formative, even — in early life but not so much today. That doesn’t take away from the warmth you feel for each other. She was simply being honest when she said she wanted to give her undivided attention to her children and grandchildren on her birthday. She may not get to see them as often as she would like.

Your visit probably constitutes a different kind of special occasion: more nostalgic and rooted in the past. And a gentler reading of your sister’s response is that she didn’t want you to fly halfway across the country and feel neglected. So, I hope you can get past your hurt feelings and find another time for a sisterly celebration.

Credit…Miguel Porlan

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