Party Poopers: Opting Out of Family Functions


By Wendy Belzberg

Published December 26, 2003, issue of December 26, 2003.
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My mother died a few months ago. Her husband of 15 years is talking about what a close family we are and how we will continue to celebrate holidays together; he is already making Passover plans. I was a grown woman when they married and never considered him my stepfather. I tolerated him for my mother’s sake while she was alive. Must I continue to do so now that she is gone?

— Uncertain ties

Your mother has only been gone a few months, and both you and her husband are presumably still raw from her loss. Without your mother there to preserve the bond, I predict that over time he will feel less urgency to be part of her family. As he drifts further away — presumably he has another family of his own — I suspect your intolerance will soften. He may also be waxing on in what he believes is an appropriately sympathetic vein for your sake. Uninviting him from your Seder is unnecessarily harsh and uncharitable. Even if you do not care for him personally, he is in mourning and should be treated with tenderness and respect. Anger is a natural reaction to death. Don’t let yours about your mother’s death contaminate a relationship that was important to her.

* * *

My relatives have hosted several hugely expensive bar and bat mitzvahs that, to my mind, are in poor taste. The parties are formal and require fancy clothes, and the music is so horribly loud that you can’t hear anyone speak. I’ve decided to attend the service but to opt out of all parties. I’ve got a good excuse. I just hope I don’t offend anyone. Comments?

— Opting out

I support your right to an opinion in every situation, but sometimes an opinion is best kept to oneself. In principle, I agree with you wholeheartedly about bar mitzvah excess. However, the old cliche about walking in someone else’s shoes comes to mind: All families celebrate in their own way. And even if you would choose to celebrate in a different fashion, a bar mitzvah is the wrong occasion for harsh judgment. There are too few simchas in this world. I would never pass up an occasion to celebrate one — especially with my family.

* * *

I have a nephew who is rude. At holiday dinners, when someone disagrees with him he calls the person “naive.” He often refers to other people’s financial status. I feel he will suffer socially for behavior he has no idea is offensive. What to say? What to do?

— Offended aunt

Does said nephew have parents, or was he cloned? Technically, it is the parents’ job to teach a child good manners; the rest of the world is there to reinforce them. Clearly, in this case, everyone has fallen down on the job. As his aunt, you have the right to call your nephew on his bad behavior. You could couch your message by saying that “others” may be offended by his remarks, but I think your message will pack a bigger punch if you let him know that you personally find his manners appalling. Take him through chapter and verse and encourage him to call when in doubt about a particular response. It is possible that his intentions are good but that he is lacking in social sense. Don’t give up on him. If you love him and find him offensive, imagine the effect he has on others.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at

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