I have two beautiful daughters in their 40s. One of my daughters, Katherine, lives 15 minutes away, and my other daughter, Anne, lives on the opposite coast with her children. Anne is only able to come visit us once a year, on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the only time when my daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren come together. Three years ago, Anne’s 17-year-old daughter Molly decided to become a vegan. I respect her beliefs. Molly is deeply affected by seeing people consume animals, and told me that she is not comfortable being present at a meal where any meat is served, and that she will not be present in the house when meat is being cooked. In order to make Molly feel comfortable, I decided to make a vegetarian Thanksgiving. However, Katherine and her husband are livid, and say that they will boycott Thanksgiving. I've tried reasoning with them, and reminded them that we buy organic produce when they come over, to accommodate their beliefs. However, they have decided that they will stay home and won't see Katherine’s family at all if I "side" with them by making a vegetarian Thanksgiving. What should I do?
Welcome to the vegan version of the Cheney family Thanksgiving. (Though it’s hard to believe Tofurky could sunder a family as effectively as two sisters’ opposing stance on gay marriage.) This fight is ridiculous, and what’s really unfortunate is that you’ve got brats on either side. I think your original mistake was in completely accommodating Molly. It’s admirable that she is taking an ethical stance on her own consumption; however, part of growing up is understanding that not everyone shares your views and that you are not entitled to cram them down others’ throats. Especially on Thanksgiving. It’s hard to believe that for the past three years Molly has refused to be present anywhere meat is served. That must make for lonely times in the high school cafeteria, and an inability to have dinner at most friends’ houses—even assuming her parents have turned their own into an entirely meat-free home. You should have told Molly there will be several vegan options for her, but also the traditional meal for everyone else. If she decided to eat by herself in the den, then you accept that’s the kind of thing 17-year-olds do. But how pathetic that Katherine and her husband think the kind of thing fortysomethings do is boycott Thanksgiving because they hate tamari-roasted Brussels sprouts. If Katherine had been lobbying you to stick with a traditional meal and have side dishes for Molly, that would have been fine. But she feels entitled to ruin the holiday. So since you’ve already given in to one set of demands, I don’t think you should give in to another. Tell Katherine this is a one-year experiment and you hope she can be grateful enough to be together with her entire family to keep the peace. If not, it sounds as if there will be some empty seats at the Cheney table.
I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and I don’t want to invite two people: my sister's boyfriend and my uncle. Both for the same reason. My sister's boyfriend was accused of child molestation but pleaded out to assault on a child. I don't doubt the original accusation. My sister won't go if he is not invited; my parents won't go if he is. I have small children and won't have time to watch all of them around him in addition to hosting. My uncle actually was convicted of child molestation many years ago. But he has come to family events regularly since being released from prison. Again, I can't really monitor him throughout the whole thing, and quite frankly I don't want to deal with the stress of having these two in my house with my children. My grandparents will throw a fit if he is not invited, though. Should I suck it up and deal with the stress? Maybe assign them unofficial babysitters? Or should I just deal with the fallout and not invite them?
—Not a Fan of the Black Sheep
Having to come up with a policy to deal with the multiple child molesters puts into perspective the average Thanksgiving dilemma. For advice on how you could proceed I talked to Deborah Donovan Rice, executive director of Stop It Now. Rice said your two priorities are the safety of the children and your comfort. To address those you need to consider each guest separately. Your sister’s boyfriend is an unknown quantity, has recently been prosecuted for a crime against a child—and your parents don’t want to be in the same room with him. Rice suggests you tell your sister that because of these concerns you are unable to open your home to her boyfriend. Tell her you hope she will come for the meal or at least drop by, but you understand if she declines and if so, you will miss her. Your uncle is a more complicated case. You say it has been years since he was released, he has since been at family gatherings, and you don’t indicate further harm to any children. Rice points out that it is important to know if any family members are among his victims. If so, their feelings about being in a room with him are paramount and will determine whether he’s invited. If this is not an issue, you need to talk bluntly to your uncle about your concerns about his being around children, and his plan is for keeping them safe and himself out of trouble. Ideally, he will suggest, or agree with you, that he not have any physical contact with the children, nor will he ever be alone with them. You can tell him you will back that up by enlisting family members to monitor this promise. If he freely accepts these terms, then it seems reasonable to let him attend. If your uncle dismisses your concerns, or says his behavior is in the past and it’s not fair to bring it up, then you are entitled to say that given the fact you have children and will be busy with hosting duties, you are more comfortable if this year he makes alternate plans for the holiday.
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