March 18, 2009 in Features

Brother’s inquiry seems harmless

Washington Post

Hi, Carolyn: My brother’s daughter is getting married. He called me last night to “get my thoughts” on whether my stepdaughters should be invited to the wedding, because he “didn’t want them to feel obligated.” I was stunned, and my husband was incredulous.

Lots of history here, but I’m going to condense it. I have been happily married to their Dad for almost 20 years, and while they didn’t live with us, I love my stepdaughters as my own children. When the older daughter married, my brother and all of his adult children attended except one.

We live in a different state and are not close, but have a superficial “friendly” brother-sister relationship that has been contentious at times.

I totally get that wedding guest lists are maddening. But I feel my brother put me on the spot. His “obligation” reasoning sounds more like “Will you give me permission to not invite them?”

Flustered, I told him I thought my stepdaughters’ feelings would be hurt if they weren’t invited.

I want to tell him that I thought he was insensitive. Or do I let it lie and not create more wedding stress? I can’t help feeling that my brother doesn’t see my stepdaughters as “true family.” Whew. I’m in paralysis here. – S.

This is why the print edition is still useful – you can crumple the top page into a bag and breathe into it when you’re hyperventilating.

Clearly, there’s history. But the surest way to keep half-century-old grudges alive is to make them the lens through which you view everything your brother says or does.

Guest lists for weddings are maddening: Inclusion costs are prohibitive; exclusion costs are wrenching. Exploring whether farther-flung relatives care about being invited is one logical, if not quite mannerly, approach. So, Brother calls Sister to feel out her family’s interest.

This, at least, is how someone without your history views your brother’s question. And flustered as you were, your response was exactly what the situation demanded: honest and clear. “They care.” A successful transaction completed.

Your stepdaughters are your real family, regardless of what (you think) your brother thinks. It may not come naturally to drop your dukes and just take people’s words at face value, but that kind of stress reduction is worth practicing until you’ve got it down.

E-mail Carolyn at, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. Pacific time each Friday at

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