What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?

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Breakthrough

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So my uBPD sister has uninvited us to Christmas at her house indefinitely.  In general, my parents will be there and so the rest of my family will follow.  We couldnít travel there this past year because of the restrictions, but we might be able to this year.  What do I tell my kids?  They are 8 and 6 and bound to ask questions.  I want to be honest with them, but I also donít want them to bear the burden of what is going on between the 2 of us.  My sister has always be most abusive to me, and I am realizing how much her behaviours have affected me, to the point where I just let ppl trample my boundaries.  I have done a lot of work on this, but it takes a lot of effort and mental energy, and when I am physically tired or ill, itís harder for me to do.  I have, for the most part, developed an extremely calm demeanour most of the time, which is amazing seeing as how my parents and family taught me zero conflict resolution skills and yelling and insults were (and sometimes are ) common.  I really value honesty, but I donít know what to say to my kids.  I donít want to poison them against their aunt, but I also donít want them to think I am keeping them from the rest of their extended family.  I plan to invite my other siblings to visit us in the summer once travel opens back up, they have already stated they wonít visit me for Christmas (and they have valid reasons, mostly wanting to be with my parents for one sibling and the other is because her husband refuses to fly and my BPD sisterís home is driving distance). 

My husband also pointed out that my sister does this almost every year, she would find some way to bully me and start a fight and then scream at me about how I am wrong about everything and I am not allowed to come to her home.  This usually happens in September, when tickets are still reasonably priced.  Then sheíll act like nothing happened in late Nov, after ticket prices have shot up, and doesnít acknowledge said argument, and pretends like nothing happened.  I have her blocked on my phone for many boundary violations now.  I honestly feel done with putting up with being abused in the name of keeping the family peace.  I get enough of that nonsense from strangers I have to work with. And I feel resentful at the family members that encouraged me to somehow invite this type of behaviour.  Mostly my sister, but sometimes my dad and mom as well.  My mom and dad can still be quite cruel in their words at times, but I can walk away from them the times they donít listen to my request for them to stop talking.  They are old, and I feel they have grown a lot, and can apologise, though they donít always, getting any apology from my dad is sort of amazing, and he is much better at apologizing to my kids and respecting boundaries with them than her ever was with me.  I still enjoy having my parents in my life.  I canít deal with my sisterís drama anymore, and itís been a relief to have cut contact.  That being said, I feel like I am failing my kids for not providing the big family Christmas they know and love.  We can always have my inlaws over, but itís not the same.  Only 2 cousins on that side, and my MIL and FIL are not exactly festive ppl (though MIL was at least good practice for forming better boundaries with family, given she is uNPD).  I donít think weíll travel for the next Christmas yet, as I expect weíll see restrictions tighten up again over the winter, and I worry weíll see that again next winter too.  I am hoping we can form our own Christmas traditions those years.  After that, I honestly donít know what weíll do.  I donít want to miss out on my nephews growing up, but I also remember my sister trying to use her kids as leverage to get what she wanted when they were little and the only babies/grandkids in the family.  I doubt she feels the same about my kids, she really doesnít make any effort with them.  My mom gets stressed at any family discord and has heart issues.  I just leave her out of it and have my own separate relationship with her.  I also am pretty removed from my family.  They donít live close, I donít really want to talk to any of them except my mom and dad right now.  I do want a relationship with my other sisters and brother, but I also need space from them right now and life and things with my kids has been really busy. 

So my main question.  What do I tell my kids, how can I be honest without making my sister look awful?  The honest truth is, she told me she doesnít want us in her house ever again and we are not invited to Christmas.  She also specifically mentioned my kids.  yeah, I know, classy of her (that part I will leave out)  I donít feel like there is any other way to say it.  It is much kinder than how she said it to me. 

Here is the other infuriating thing.  She gossips about me and my husband with her husband in front of their kids, they donít really know us that well, and everything they say is negative.  We know because the boys have told us what they think of my husband and itís worded in ways that sound exactly like my sister and BIL.  I donít want to raise my kids with this same toxic type of attitude.  I also need to have honesty.

Appreciate any insights.  Thanks.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2021, 04:02:25 AM by Breakthrough »

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Call Me Cordelia

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2021, 08:54:16 AM »
I can write more later, but if your sister told you you and your kids are not invited, thatís the simple truth. We arenít invited this year. No need to go into the future. We arenít invited this year. Ok, we made other plans. No matter what drama your sister or other family may throw at you come the fall. Youíre keeping those other plans. At 8 and 6 thatís all you really need to say. If they say, ďWhyyyy?Ē You can say thatís all you can tell them. Iíve been in this position with my kids too. Itís definitely the idea of family and grandparents they have missed, not the actual people.

It hurts, but as young as they are theyíre going to be ok. They will take their cues on how to react from you.

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Call Me Cordelia

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2021, 09:01:53 AM »
One more quick thought: You can do something quite nice for yourselves with the savings from four plane tickets. Our first year NC we took the savings from the suddenly freed up annual travel budget and had a really nice vacation over Christmas. I highly recommend it. Focus on your own life and not what your kids are missing.

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Leonor

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2021, 11:32:37 AM »
I'm sorry that your family is so abusive. It makes me furious when adults use children to hurt one another.

You don't have to say anything to your children about your siblings' bad behavior. They're so little, and there's no reason for them to have any idea about the relationship issues among the grownups.

Instead you and dh can bypass the entire situation. "Hey, Daddy and I wanted to plan something special just for us this Christmas. What would you two like to do?" Or, "Actually, we will celebrate at home this year. Let's think about fun things to look forward to!"

Little kids like simple things. A holiday movie night. A cookie decorating contest. A blanket fort.

Think of this as a special opportunity to create traditions just for your little family. Then when they're older, they'll remember making popcorn balls, or sledding, or driving around looking at holiday lights with you.

Little kids ask questions, but adults have kind and protective boundaries. You and little family in; crazy abusive adults out.

Maybe one day when they're grown up and want to know about their family history, you can give them some idea, but I'm not convinced that getting into the nitty gritty of your abuse is ever really necessary.

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square

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2021, 11:58:37 AM »
Thereís an implicit assumption there that Christmas SHOULD be at Aunt Xís house and you have to explain what has gone wrong.

But Christmas does not belong to your sister. This year you are going to enjoy a lovely Christmas at home with YOUR familyís traditions.

My MIL believes she owns our Christmases. When she was a mom with kids, her parents came to her house for the holiday. HER holiday. And her two kids were expected to continue.

My DD doesnít really know what itís like to wake up on Christmas morning in her own home and have a calm holiday without myriad people controlling every move. Only two Christmases at home. As a result, she hates that holiday. I think we are all going to spend it seperately now, H doing the obligation with his mother, me enjoying it with mine, and DD with a friend.

Donít let it happen to you. Christmas at home is normal and does not have to be defended. ďWeíre going to be home this year! Yay! Weíll bake cookies and go for a walk in the snow and have hot cocoa with peppermint when we come back and (etc.).Ē

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LemonLime

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2021, 03:28:24 PM »
BT, I'm really sorry you're having to live with this.  It's not right.
My situation with my uPD sib is so similar to yours.  She doesn't uninvite me to things, just plays victim after raging at me in front of my tweenage daughter.  Sort of the "it's too bad Lemon Lime is so petty and can't forgive and forget" kind of act.   After never apologizing or acknowledging that raging at someone is not a healthy communication tool.   After all I guess Lemon Lime deserved to be raged at for not reading uPD sib's mind.
Sure.....right.  However I do know she adores my kids.

Having kids changed me.   I won't put up with things that I used to put up with.  And being raged at is one thing I will not allow my children to think is "normal" in any way.
So when this happened a few years ago I remained calm.   I removed myself and my daughters from the situation.   And I told my daughters that their beloved aunt is not quite grown up yet.  "You know how when you were really little and when you had big feelings sometimes you screamed or cried or even hit other people? You don't do that anymore because you grew up.  Well, I really love your aunt and I know you do too, but she is not emotionally grown up.   She is physically grown up but not emotionally grown up.   It's funny, isn't it, that grownups can act like little kids?   It's good to know that growing up is not just physical, it's emotional.  I don't know why Favorite Aunt is not emotionally grown up but what it means is that I have to stay away from her when she is acting out her emotions on me.   And it's sad because we can't see her as often and I won't stay under the same roof as her anymore.   When you're 18 you can decide if you want to see her on your own but til then it will be somewhat limited. "

End of story for them.  They accepted it.  The situation is not ideal but that's not my fault.  I will say that my kids learned a lot earlier than I did about low EQ and coping skills so that's a silver lining I guess.   They will encounter many more PD's in their lifetime and hopefully this prepares them.  At least I can take solace that I am a better role model than my parents, who swept all this bad behavior under the ginormous rug in our house.


« Last Edit: May 20, 2021, 03:30:11 PM by LemonLime »

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Andeza

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2021, 03:47:14 PM »
Yep! "This year we're having Christmas here, just us! It's going to be great!" Or maybe invite friends you have in the area to make it a larger, more engaging event for the kids. Nothings saying we have to limit Christmas to blood relatives. Especially when those blood relatives are acting up.

A trip might be fun, but it depends on your personal feelings about flying/road trips. I know they aren't for everybody.

If the kids start asking or whining about going to see Aunt and other family, just say Aunt didn't invite you this year. If you get the typical kid "Why?" You can say you don't understand why really, just that you're not going. And it's true. Because we aren't in the heads of disordered people and we hopefully will never fully understand their reasoning (because it's based in the disorder and we ourselves would have to go there to some degree to really get it).
Remember, that there are no real deadlines for life, just society's pressures.      - Anonymous
Lasting happiness is not something we find, but rather something we make for ourselves.

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daughter

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2021, 11:47:08 PM »
I've been there, in this specific situation. We were not invited in May for GCsis's family trip, a Big Big Big Christmas Vacation w our parents, Ndad and BNmom.  What I did was accept my GCsis and parents were insufferable, not worthy of my/our continued familial presence as their #1 SG target, and thereon planned our own Christmas activities and traditions.  These dysfunctional dynamics aren't fixable. We need to stop "dancing to their tune".

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Breakthrough

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2021, 07:06:18 PM »
Thank you everyone for the responses and insights.  I am definitely going to plan something different this year.  They do enjoy seeing family but we have a lot of things we can do with our family that they love.  I will need to work on this. 

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sandpiper

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2021, 05:38:36 PM »
What the others have said.
Something that my T talked about was 'shifting the trajectory' by small degrees over time so that you change direction and end up in a totally different place, gradually, without doing a radical u-turn and having to shift gears.
My background is health & FWIW I cannot see the global pandemic situation being under control any time soon. So in addition to the 'well, we're not invited this year' statement, I think you can add 'the virus has changed the way that people do things so this year we are having smaller and more intimate gatherings and big crowds are off the table for a while.'
They'll adapt very quickly.
What I would suggest doing is building FOC - Family of Choice.
This takes time and effort and consideration.
I look back on all the time that I tried to put into my own family over the last 4 decades of my adulthood and I have days where I think, all that effort to try to maintain a relationship with my disordered FOO and what is there to show for it? Nephews and nieces who are now in their 20s, 30s and 40s and who have either inherited their parents behaviours & substance abuse issues or who are angry and reactive about it and just as shut-off from the idea of doing therapy as their parents were. Whereas, decades later, I have a much stronger relationship of the children of my functional friends. Their kids value me as an Aunty. DH commented how much one of them was like me and I chuckled & said 'Poor you, lovely, how did you manage to pick up on my neuroses,' FOC niece laughed and said 'Actually being told that I am like you, that is such a compliment.' Anyway. My friend's children have a good relationship with me and the critical difference in all of this is that they value me because their parents value me. My sisters and my cousins and my in-laws never valued me and have always dissed and devalued me, either to my face or behind my back, and so their kids - who are now adults, do the same.
I grieved a lot for what I lost with FOO but now, in hindsight, what I grieve for is the lost time and energy that I put into them, thinking that one day they might change, they might love me, they might appreciate me, if I just kept doing the right thing.
If I could go back in time a few decades with that hindsight, the one piece of knowledge that I would want is this: learn to care less about the people who don't care about you.
And start going about the business of using that space to build better relationships with other people who do treat you well.
Your kids will benefit from that, and they'll benefit from having less time around your damaged and damaging FOO.
When I did group T, the first exercise that my T would do was she would say 'Hands up if you have a sibling who you don't really like or you don't get on with.' Nearly everyone would put their hands up. Sometimes the people who didn't put their hands up would be the ones who would later on, when they felt safe, tell stories about some really shocking instances of abuse by a sibling that they blamed themselves for.
My point being, it's actually quite common for everyone out there to have one sibling they don't really like and there's no reason why your kids should be forced to spend a lot of time in a relationship that simply isn't enjoyable for any one of you.

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bets

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2021, 02:32:21 AM »
I'm late to the party, but I've raised two kids with dysfunctional FOO on both sides. There've been times we've had to pull away from our family.

I am a strong believer in being honest with kids. It's ESPECIALLY important to be honest when honesty is hard. What did the newscaster mean, mommy? Did the kids on the plane die, too, mommy? That's when it's tempting to lie and important to tell the truth.

A major reason for honesty is that kids overhear things, they pick things up, it's amazing what they find out. They see your sad face when you talk about Christmas. Just offering them a fun alternative won't solve the problem because they'll see the sadness in your eyes and they'll be confused. I have one kid who seems to be able to read my mind. I have another who is very involved in her own thoughts and dreams. But they both notice when I am sad, I can't hide it, much as I'd like to.

I'd tell your kids an age-appropriate version of the truth. Their aunt is not being nice. She's confused and not being friendly to us. It's better for our family to stay home this year, even though it makes everyone a bit sad. What can we do instead, that is fun?

Be prepared for them to be sad themselves. Kids are big traditionalists and they love doing the same thing year after year. Be there for them, in their sadness. Be willing to hear it. It will pass.

These are just my thoughts, for what they're worth.

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Leonor

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #11 on: May 31, 2021, 03:39:47 PM »
I believe in honesty, too, as bets says, especially as age-appropriate. I'm also a big believer in not burdening kids with grown up problems.

Saying to a child that a relative is being mean to her (or mommy) may be true, but is it necessary? Little kids read their parents' moods, but they also personalize everything. Why is auntie being mean? What did she or mommy do? Is mommy in trouble?

If a child asks why you are sad, you don't have to pretend. Mommy's feeling a little sad today, but I'll be okay. It's okay to have sad feelings sometimes. I just take a little walk and feel much better.

You can talk about feelings and what do do with feelings without talking about why the feelings ... Save the why's for their feelings.

There's a fine line between being honest and bringing adult drama into your home and sanctuary.


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Liketheducks

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2021, 06:49:34 PM »
Have dysfunctional FOO on both sides.   Hubs and I have had our moments with them both.    That being said, using age appropriate truth always worked for us and our DS.    Never had to tell DS that people we're bad or mean.     We planned great memories for our FOC.   DS missed the contact with family - but also, sadly saw enough that it didn't need a lot of explanation.   I remember using the bully analogy many times when he was younger.   
"Sometimes, people are broken and they break or bully other people....but you've done nothing wrong....we're here for you....ask any question you want...."
It's sad to have to have to do this.   But, you're so not alone.

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Fiasco

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #13 on: June 04, 2021, 08:34:05 PM »
I think the very first thing I would do is figure out what would be fun for you. You personally. Christmas in the mountains? At the beach? At a lake? You don't have to book travel that might be affected by covid or that's far away. What about Christmas at home? What would make that fun for you? A cute little Christmas village with a train? A hot pink Christmas tree with a disco ball on top? Get creative and really look into your own heart for what would make this Christmas special for YOU. Because kids are mood rings and lie detectors all rolled into one. They will see right through you in a hot second if you're faking enthusiasm.

Step two is to tell them, like in December or when they start writing letters to Santa or whatever, about your fun plans with some true excitement in your eyes. Kids do not give a fig about traditions. They may enjoy traditions but that's a nice coincidence, not a given. Do not tell them any negatives. For the love of all that is holy don't tell them "sorry we can't go to the good Christmas this year because we aren't invited so we're having second rate crappy Christmas". If they even ask about big family Christmas just say the family isn't doing it this year. Because they aren't if you're not there, are they.

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bets

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2021, 08:55:11 PM »
I'd like to add that I don't believe in burdening children with grownup problems, I'm sure none of us do!  However, in this case, they are *already* burdened. Their aunt's actions have affected their Xmas. There really are only 3 options: tell them the truth, evade the truth, or tell them a lie.

I was surprised, myself, when I realized that my kids, no matter how I protected them, would be affected by my dysfunctional FOO. In my case, my daughter was only 2.5 when my inlaws got mad at us, and visits to their home halted. My daughter didn't seem to notice at first that we no longer visited her grandparents every week. Then one day, out of the blue, she said, "Grandma is lost. I've lost her." That's how I knew she had noticed and was sad.

A 6 and 8 year old will know that something is wrong if all of a sudden Xmas plans are very different from previous years. They may not say anything, but they'll wonder. A fantastic alternative (like Disneyland!) might please them, but they'll still wonder. If the grownups don't explain, then they'll assume it's something they can't talk about, and they'll wonder silently.

Of course, you give a different explanation to a 5-year old  than you would to a 13-year old. Nonetheless, it's not maligning the PD relative by telling children the truth. In fact, it may help them understand some puzzling behaviors about their aunt themselves.

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Breakthrough

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Re: What to tell my kids about family get togethers and not attending?
« Reply #15 on: June 24, 2021, 02:05:02 PM »
I spoke to one of my non PD sisters, who told me they have decided to have Christmas somewhere else, a place with separate cabins because family is all still understandably concerned about the virus.  That way they can meet outside together.  I was invited but forgot, because it was by txt.  We already know because of the virus, we may not be able to travel to them (they are all in a different country).  My sister also told me, these are the things you might not be hearing.  My mom, who is currently at BPD sisterís home and lives with her half the year, told PD sis that she wonít stand for me not being invited to her house/Christmas.  They decided it wouldnít be a great idea to congregate in one home anyway, so this new plan is now happening.  Unfortunately, since we donít want to have to quarantine the kids from school (which would still be required by our country), we arenít likely to be able to attend unless the travel requirements change. 

My sister had banned me from our weekly zoom Bible studies, to be fair what she said was, I wonít go if sheís going, make a schedule (to my other sister).  I felt that put my other sister in the middle, and so I told my sister I just would stop coming, I needed a break from all the drama and abuse anyway.  I havenít really reached out to either of my other sisters that much because I just wanted a break from all the family dynamics.  Generally what happens is because I dislike conflict and am more reasonable and pliable, I get sucked back in, without my PD sis apologizing or acknowledging anything happened.  The abuse continues, and everyone else turns a blind eye.  I am just tired of it.  I donít want to be under that abuse anymore, limiting her contact with me is helpful, blocking her on my phone is helpful.  I used to worry about having her blocked on my phone in case something happened to mom or dad, but one of my other siblings would get a hold of me (or the other parent).  I do miss her kids, but they are pretty grown up already.  I do want to see my family, but I also feel they take up a lot of my emotional energy and then itís hard to find and make friends here (though that is also partly because the church we attend is very cliquey, though thatís probably for the best too, I have realized the 2 women with kids similar in age to mine that tend to gather people are also very catty and gossipy, I hate that, so itís better to avoid, not ppl I would choose for myself).  We make an effort with my daughterís friends instead.  I need to do that for my younger child as well, but so far I am not totally sure which kids she wants to hang out with, she tends to float and likes to play independently as well. 

I did some phone counselling which was helpful.  The counsellor said, instead of big family gatherings it would likely be me meeting up with one of my siblings at one time or another.  Sheís right, that is probably what we would do.

Thanks for all of your insight.  Honestly and not bringing kids into adult drama are exactly what I value. For this year the truth is we probably canít travel due to pandemic restrictions and so weíll have Christmas on our own (and we are invited and wanted by most of the family).  For next year, I probably wonít have time off at Christmas and so wonít be able to travel, so weíll have Christmas by ourselves.  The year after is when I am hopeful weíll see family.  At that point, I know my siblings will probably decide to go somewhere so we donít have to worry about the PD sisís house being her point of control as it has been in the past.

What my non Pd sis said is that PD sis says a lot of things out of anger that she doesnít mean.  Ok, but she never takes responsibility for them and rages at me over 45 txts and 10 emails, so I have documented proof she meant it at the time, and itís quite nasty.  If she wants to retract that, I am at my capacity for sweeping under the rug.  I donít forgive her because she has not apologized.  I told my non Pd sis that too.  She says she prays everyday about us.  Ugh, I told her, she doesnít need to pray for me, if PD sis ever acknowledged her bad behaviour and apologized, I would forgive, but I am not getting sucked into a lot of contact with her again.  I think keeping her blocked on my phone is healthy.  I think the issue my sis is having is she doesnít like conflict.  I donít either but I will also no longer tolerate abusive behaviours.  If that means I am isolated from my FOO, so be it, the border already does that for now with the pandemic.  Itís a relief not having the stress of the emotional roller coaster of being uninvited to her place, at least for the next 2 Christmases.  I honestly am sick of being treated like a second class citizen at Christmas.  My PD sister also insists we buy groceries and do the meal planning and cooking while we are there, which is again fine, but I think itís weird because they didnít have to buy plane tickets or have travel expenses. This is mostly due to her husband, but I still find it strange.  If my family pays for plane tickets to come see me, I will be paying for food, since they are my guests.  I should say, the BILs also play some role in these dynamics.