Carolyn Hax: Family ‘extremely upset’ over guests who left wedding early


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn, My son got married last Sunday and it was a wonderful day about a three hour drive from where we all live. My sister and my son are very fond of each other and my son often babysat their young boys. We knew they wouldn’t stay until the end. But we didn’t expect them to leave right after the meal, before someone speaks, on the grounds that their child “hadn’t done his homework” for the following school day.

My son was extremely upset, although he later said – through slightly gritted teeth – that he was over it. I told him I know my sister, her husband and her boys have been having a hard time lately. Plus my brother-in-law doesn’t always understand the emotional connotations of what he says and is hopeless at time management. My sister enjoyed herself immensely and said she wished they could have stayed.

There is no way to change what has happened and it is not possible to make changes or save. The wedding was otherwise pure joy.

My problem is that I am still, irrationally, seething with rage at my sister and brother-in-law on behalf of my son. I always find avoidable but irreversible losses disproportionately upsetting and the most difficult to process. I’m not sure I trust myself to keep silent to my sister and brother-in-law forever about something that really hurt my son. Is there any way I can say something, if only in response when at one point she says she’s sorry they couldn’t stay longer?

Upset: Your son is upset, for real – and actually quite touching – reasons. But your sister and brother-in-law did not “hurt” him in the sense of showing malice or intent to harm.

It hurts to fail to anticipate what your son might have felt, yes. For perspective, consider that they too may have felt “hurt” because he/you booked a life event three hours away on a school night despite being fully aware of their young teenage kids.

You also don’t know why they left early – or that it was “unavoidable” – because “homework” could have been a false excuse. There could be any number of things going on with their family that they had sufficient filters to not broadcast at a wedding.

Or they just made a short-sighted choice for reasons that seemed legitimate at the time, but now in retrospect would seem stupid even to them. Have you ever been obsessed with a thought that seemed urgent in the moment, and only a few days later was clearly not the big deal you thought it was?

Again, or they had something bigger going on and they handled it internally as best they could and their handling wasn’t that great. Or maybe it was great that they attended at all – you just don’t know. Maybe (just for example) one of the boys is struggling and their departure was to prevent a crisis.

Anyway: They came; they celebrated your boy. They might have dropped the ball. That’s not the same as serious emotional harm, is it? One you just can’t stop from becoming a grudge?

Why not just assume the best of them?

There is plenty of room to downgrade this from damage to nuisance. (And to consider whether this rage trigger is a proxy for something else.) I encourage you to make that choice. Assume they had their reasons and life will balance things out.

And when it’s time to say something: “We were so sorry you had to go. Hope everyone is well.

Congratulations to you and your son.

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