Holiday drama, who is wrong... is anybody right? (sorta long)

Background. 6 years ago, my nephew “N” (after some years of uncertainty) was diagnosed with an incurable genetic disease, he was 8. This disease (at least for him so far) affects the brain, he is cognitively at about 1.5yo, physically he’s still pretty healthy (which may not be the case long term). He also, as a result of the disease, is pretty unreliable with respect to self control. He throws things, hits (though not generally in anger) and yells. N seems to be happy, content with the limited scope of his life, and doesn’t understand how his behavior affects others.

N’s disease, or more specifically, the behavior that the disease causes, has become an increasingly difficult problem around holidays. The family, both of my parents, my family, my 2 sisters’ and 1 brother’s families tend to get together at my parent’s house, somewhat central, and a multiple hour drive for most parties.

My sister, N’s mom, insists on bringing N to every holiday. Due to his behavior*, this results in everyone being on edge. Parents of small children have to keep a wide berth in case N throws something or plays “patty cake” with the little ones. The older grandkids have to watch out for themselves, and the aunts and uncles are uncomfortable, but were OK as long as N was little.

He’s now 14, larger than the aunts, and strong enough to injure someone. Unfortunately, nobody in the family wants to tell my sister that N is unwelcome, but his presence, outside of a very controlled scenario, is incredibly disruptive. My sister is also very sensitive about the situation, she ran off crying when I set up a baby gate a couple years ago to manage N’s entry and exit from the front room to the kitchen and remainder of the house.

This issue is now blowing up, with my mother cancelling Thanksgiving, so she and my dad (who is ill) will be alone on the holiday rather than deal with trying to prep for a visit with N (clearing rooms of throwables, etc.), and unwilling to have other guests without inviting N as well.

From a personal standpoint, I’m sort of pissed that my son (now 6) has no memory of any single family holiday that hasn’t been engineered specifically around N’s condition.

Am I wrong for being angry, is my sister wrong for insisting on N’s attendance, is my mother wrong for not standing up and saying that N is too unmanageable at her home?

*I consider his behavior an unavoidable consequence of the disease, and not a failure of his mother to discipline him.

Man, that situation just sucks.

You’re probably wrong for being angry, only because the situation is unwinnable.

Either you have family events with N, or just you and your son have Thanksgiving by yourselves. Neither is a solution you want, probably. Ergo, unwinnable.

However, having Thanksgiving by yourselves might be a great relief, and that might be enough to mitigate everything else.

What do you propose they do with N? Lock him in the attic? Or the basement?

Is your dad really ill? Is your mom lying to get out of it? I’m not sure by your account. Is avoiding N the reason for the cancellation or is the illness?

Yep, that’s a rough situation, sorry about it.

Doesn’t N’s mom have ways to control him after 14 years, tho? What do they do at home during meal times, play times, etc? Just let him run around anywhere throwing stuff and hitting things?

Start a new tradition and have Tgiving at your house. You’re certainly not wrong for being angry and frustrated, but this is an unwinnable situation, and at age 6 it’s about time for your family to have your own holiday traditions anyway.

Can you invite your parents over? Or go see them on Saturday or something?

Your mother is not going to standup to her grandson and tell him he is not welcome, even if she probably should. This is her way out of it. It’s probably about time for her to stop hosting the party anyway, it gets tiring, especially if your dad is ill.

You can’t change how you feel, but I think it’s unreasonable for you to expect your sister and her son be excluded because of his condition. Try to have a little empathy here; you all feel tense, uncomfortable, and put out once or twice a year. She has to live and cope with his condition everyday for the rest of his life.

I don’t know if you sister has a professional caregiver for N some of the time, but a solution maybe that one is used during family celebrations so that everyone, including N, can participate.

It sounds like a tough situation for everyone involved.

My sister and her daughter ‘D’ have managed to arrange vacations without N, leaving him with appropriate caregivers or N’s father for the time period. No such split arrangement (one parent takes N, the other takes D for the holiday) been proposed for any holidays.

My father is seriously ill, he can’t assist with prepping the house for N’s visit as he’s done in the past. His illness has been very stressful on my mother, and is at least part of the reason for the cancellation.

A bad situation all around.

On one hand, it isn’t fair to your immediate family (as well as others) that all the family gatherings have to be tailored around N and his condition, to the point where the host and attendees have to be extra vigilant at all times, lest there be damage or injury.

On the other hand, I definitely sympathize with N’s mom. She has to deal with the condition all year round and it would no doubt be hurtful to be excluded from family holidays for something with which she is (presumably) dealing the best she can. I’d understand if it was a birthday party or maybe a nice dinner, but I can’t fathom leaving behind my child on Thanksgiving while I’m with the rest of our family. Even if N isn’t aware of the exclusion, that just seems wrong.

I’d be wary of inviting some family members over for the holidays, but excluding N and his side. Even if you are okay with the concept and repercussions, that just seems to be a recipe for family drama.

I’m another vote for “make your own tradition.” In my family, we used to have a huge family gathering on Christmas Eve and Christmas, where grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. would get together on both days. As years went by and certain family members passed away, got married, etc., it started to seem more effort than it was worth. It took a snowstorm on Christmas morning to have us cancel the Christmas Day get-together. So, my parents and I were at their house and I saw that they had vodka, champagne, orange juice, etc. After we’d exchanged gifts, I made bloody marys for my dad and me, and mimosas for my mom. The next year, we did the same thing, and it has now become one of our favorite Christmas traditions.

I think it’s just a shitty situation all around and nobody is specifically wrong.

I think there’s a fair amount of time where he is in a room with activities he enjoys and she does other things, and other times it’s just chaos, but chaos she’s used to living with.

This is ultimately what I think is going to happen. I live close enough to invite them over, but that’s feeling just as exclusionary.

I feel extra lousy this year because they’re going to be alone on the holiday, and it’s been rough for them lately.

Probably too late to plan now, but why can’t you all plan to go stay in a hotel nearby mom & dad, then make reservations to go out for Thanksgiving dinner? That’s what we did when my grandma couldn’t handle making a huge Thanksgiving meal (and house full of kid-chaos).

Everyone gets to see each other, the grandkids get to swim in the hotel pool, and sidesteps the problem of N being “unwelcome” at your mother’s house. From what it sounds, N would probably be a handful at a restaurant or buffet, but he’s already a handful at the family dinner so really no difference there.

How does your sister manage N at home? Is he any more likely to be less disruptive in a familiar environment?

This was actually considered, and may be a future solution. Didn’t work out this year, and I know the family isn’t keen on dining out for Thanksgiving, but maybe that’s the reimagining of the tradition that we need.

Meh. If they whine about not getting a home-cooked meal, they can go home and cook it themselves.

Pissed is kind of a strong word. The point of getting together as a family on the holidays is to get together as a family. Your family includes N, and there’s no way to avoid it. Think of it as teaching your son a valuable lesson about the importance of accepting and loving everybody, despite their differences.

On the other hand, I totally get the need to avoid the stress. What does Mrs. Cheesesteak’s side of the family do for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Is alternating holidays an option for you?

Holidays in my SO’s family started rotating through the siblings households since her Mom and Dad got a little too old to host 12+ people. Maybe you can also take turns through the day wrangling N.

I don’t really see that as the issue, it’s more about keeping your loved ones from being mangled needlessly. I personally think the sister is being a little selfish in the situation - endangering, inconveniencing and making it impossible for everyone to get together because of her child. I can see why the mom would want to not exclude her kid; but I think it is selfish and not a mature way to handle the situation. Her concern for her son should be more balanced by a concern for the welfare of everyone.

I think this is the root of the problem. Is N part of the larger family in his own right, or is he part of your sister’s family?

This is why they don’t want to talk about a split arrangement: leaving him at home suggests he has no right to be there on his own account, that he’s only part of the family because of the connection to your sister. This has all sorts of implications that she has probably considered on some level, and is uncomfortable with. I am really glad to know that even if I alienated my mom and dad, they’d love my son for his own sake–to them, he is their grandson, not my kid. Because her kid is so hard to love, she may fear this isn’t the case with him, and in no way wants to further that impression.