Safely Navigate Those Family Celebrations

Safely Navigate Those Family Celebrations

Celebrating with family is wonderful, but often not easy. Times have changed. People no longer live in their home towns. Or, at least, not all of the family members do. Some need to arrange for travel and housing. Other people can’t afford these occasions because of the cost of travel and hotels.  

Working people and those with children in school often find it difficult to take the time to attend an event that requires travel. I have a cousin planning an event to recognize his 90th birthday. He lives on the East Coast. I just visited Chicago to partake in a bar mitzvah. I can’t travel that frequently because of work and expenses.  

I miss the events I cannot attend. I love and enjoy my relatives and welcome opportunities to see them. Distance creates this problem. 

Another complication for many families stems from divorce or death. I have been told many times of the problems associated with inviting former mates or stepchildren to events. One person had married three times and felt uncomfortable inviting his former wives to his son’s graduation. All three women had been involved in his life and the son cared about each one, but there was discomfort with the idea of them all sharing a meal together. The family finally decided to let the young man invite who he wanted; he chose all three.  

When divorces occur, the families can move in different directions. I worked with one young woman whose birth parents had divorced and remarried. With their new partners, half-siblings were born. My client would divide holidays between both families. They alternated Thanksgivings and divided Christmas. The families did not all come to her birthday party because they indicated they felt uncomfortable together. When she got married, she made the decision to invite everyone she wanted. She told me that many did not attend, which disappointed her.  

I find it appealing when divorced couples can agree to get together for family events important to the children. Offspring want to celebrate with their families and do not appreciate the position of having to decide who to include based on the feelings of the parents. I do not advocate inauthentic behavior, but two adults can avoid intimate contact when they choose to.  

In Chicago, stepchildren from relationships that no longer exist attended. One woman came for her grandson’s bar mitzvah and the father of her son attended with his current wife. The mother also brought her stepchildren from her second marriage. Everyone got along and sat at the same table for dinner.  

It can get complicated. The players can achieve amity if they simply focus on the celebration, not who else attended.  


Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to or through her website,