Advice from Denver Life

How to handle perpetually late guests. (And other advice.)

Illustration by Ingo Fast

With the holidays upon us, I can already feel my annoyance building over my sister’s chronic lateness. We have lots of family events planned, and her tardiness tends to throw a wrench into everything. What should I do?Damien, Englewood

How old is your sister? If she’s 20, your parents ought to put their feet down firmly in proper parental form and tell her how rude and insulting it is for her to expect everyone and everything to wait for her. If she’s 40, she’s probably already heard and ignored that because her behavior has been enabled over the years. So rather than raise a fuss and amplify bad feelings, accept that she will be late and plan events so that the rest of the family isn’t standing on a LoDo corner waiting for Sis as the snow falls on them. Maybe if you’re all enjoying coffee, drinks, or a hot game of Uno together and hardly notice when she arrives, she’ll start feeling like she’s missing out on the fun and will get with the program. If all else fails, there’s the trick of giving Sis an arrival time an hour earlier than the rest of the guests. When she shows up a half-hour late and no one’s there, a bulb may light.

My niece and her husband live in another city. Every year, we exchange nice Christmas presents, and I always thank them for the ones I got. But I have yet to get even an acknowledgment, let alone a thank you, for any gift I send them. It makes me feel rotten. Aunt Suzy, Evergreen

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Are they sending you diamond bracelets while you are sending them cans of peas? That would explain why you would want to continue to engage in this exchange without any words of thanks. Otherwise, if your niece is old enough to marry, she and her husband are old enough to write, text, or telephone to tell you your gift was received and appreciated. So please stop sending gifts. They may be hoping you’ll do just that so they, in turn, can shorten their shopping list. To keep the relationship friendly, be sure to send a card every year with your best wishes and a personal note.

My husband and his 80-year-old father do not get along, and often when we get together, one of them walks out in a huff, completely ruining the occasion. Yet every Christmas they insist on a holiday gathering to exchange gifts, when we invariably receive a lot of silly things we do not need and end up donating. What can I do to change this dynamic? Kirsten, Wheat Ridge

It’s very kind of you to ask. But the short and sad answer is: nothing. They alone are in charge of their long-established dynamic. You and your husband are in charge of your dynamic, and you and your father-in- law are free to choose how the two of you relate. Empathize with your husband and encourage him to heal the old wounds with Dad, but if their dysfunction upsets you, detach from the conflict: Suggest that you make a group donation to charity in lieu of holiday gifts, and let the two of them get together without you.

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