Dear Carolyn: My mom is big on having holiday dinner gatherings. I have food allergies that can make eating out or eating food made by others a very stressful endeavor. Added to that, there are a couple of traditional holiday foods that were forced on me as a kid and still make me gag at the smell.
Some years have been better than others, but a recent holiday gathering included my off-limits ingredients in every dish save the bagged bread rolls, plus a surprise appearance of a traditional dish at the last minute with the usual family joke about how it is ridiculous for me to be sensitive about it.
Between the stress of sitting at a table with an empty plate, not wanting to interrogate people about ingredients, and the traditional dish after Mom said she wanted me to be comfortable and wouldn’t serve it … I just don’t want to do it anymore.
I felt stupid and juvenile basically saying that.
My sister-in-law, who also has food allergies, did a pre-holiday gathering that was fine.
Is it ridiculous for me to avoid the parental holiday dinners and encourage adding other types of non-food-centric gatherings to the calendar?
I don’t know exactly what you said, to whom, using which exact words, at what decibel level, in what context or to what intended effect, and since each of these can turn a valid objection into a childish one, I’ll refrain from making a blind ruling on the way you handled this dinner.
But if what you describe of others’ behavior is true — that your own family prepared an entire meal using ingredients to which they knew you were allergic — then we’re talking about conscious choices so stunningly hostile that I’m surprised you didn’t walk out on the lot of them.
In fact, I wish you had calmly gone home instead of choosing to sit with an empty plate, but I also understand why you probably didn’t; the force of habit can be strong, as can the deterrent effect of knowing you’ll be julienned by those “joke”-ey relatives the moment you walk out the door.
So please, yes, take the next best step of saying a kind no-thank-you to these dinners from now on.
You’ve had license to do so all along, not (just) in protest but for any reason whatsoever; it’s one of the finer perks of adulthood. That means you also don’t have to explain yourself and thereby mislead your family into believing your reasons are up for a roundtable discussion. They’re not, you’re not, your allergies aren’t, your gagging isn’t. “I’ll be doing (alternate plan) this year.” If they try to argue, then do not partake in that, either: “Your opinion is noted” will suffice.
Your idea of encouraging and showing up at other, not-as-stressful events is an excellent way to remain connected to your family on your terms, and therefore adds a note of good faith to your decision to opt out of Mom’s dinners. I hope for your sake that their actions show they deserve it.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.