Miss Conduct

Advice: When family goes rogue on Thanksgiving dinner food assignments

Last year, we were mashed potato-less with no warning. What fresh horror this year?

Chef woman holding plate in hands with turkey meat ham decorated lettuce, asparagus, carrot, strawberry and lemon isolated on a white background
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Last Thanksgiving, I invited my brother and his family to our home as usual. Two weeks prior, he texted to say his wife wanted to “try out new recipes” for vegetables. I said I was happy to have my sister-in-law bring her dish, asked him to make the two veggies he has in the past, and e-mailed him the recipes. Thanksgiving arrived, and I was so happy and looking forward to the results of weeks of hard work by my husband, children, and me. I can’t describe the sick feeling I had when I realized my brother had not made the mashed potatoes or salad I requested. A few days later, I called him to ask what happened. He told me his wife “was sick and tired of doing those recipes.” I was shocked. I explained that Thanksgiving is a formal meal with a well-thought-out menu, not “potluck.” He told me to speak directly to his wife next time. I refused. What should I do this year?

M.M. / Quincy

It will be “next Thanksgiving” in less than six weeks, and I’ll bet you’re already planning. We used to get most of the Christmas shopping done before school started. I get it.

I can’t say what I think of your brother’s behavior, though, because in your original 850-word letter, the one detail you forgot to include was whether he brought any food at all!


If he didn’t bring any food, that was rude. Almost as rude as trashing his wife to you. Almost as rude as dragging the poor woman to “celebrate” holidays at a house where she’s treated like a barbarian at the gates.

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What should you do this year? Something else. You’ve lost the point in fairly dramatic fashion. You’re not celebrating Thanksgiving with your family. You’re casting them in “Perfect Thanksgiving,” produced and directed by you. And no one’s enjoying the show.

So change it up. Maybe change the cast — do you have to celebrate every year with your brother? Or change the venue — eat in a restaurant, volunteer at a soup kitchen, rent a cabin in Maine and shoot your own dinner. Most important: Change the script. Embrace the process. Embrace inevitable mistakes. Do you want your children to remember your good taste or your good nature?

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.