Not Invited to the Family Thanksgiving Dinner

Next week is Thanksgiving in the United States. We celebrate with a big feast of turkey and mashed potatoes, various sides, and lots of pie. But this year I was not invited to the family dinner. It’s not the first time. When my parents moved to my state two years ago, I knew things would change. I just thought it would mean that I was expected to show up to huge extended family holiday celebrations. I had mixed feelings about that. For most of my married life I have lived far from most of my family. But I have hosted many holiday meals over the years. I think I cooked the whole Thanksgiving meal for 15 out of 20 years of my married life. We’ve had college aged siblings at school in town for many years. This year my family was fishing for a host and I figured they expected me to volunteer. I didn’t want to. I already invited everyone over once this month for my daughter’s birthday, and my house is the smallest. And I’m just tired. So I didn’t volunteer.

So I didn’t get invited. Everyone else is having Thanksgiving without me and my family. Three sisters, but not this sister. We are allowed to come for dessert. Not sure if I want to because I am feeling really injured.

The reason they give is that there are too many people and not enough chairs. Since when do people need chairs to eat? Or couldn’t we eat in shifts, feeding the younger kids first, or some other solution?  That is kind of funny, when I think of church rhetoric talking about “no empty chairs” ingrained in cultural dialogue. I have heard it many times, though I am not sure where it originated. The imagery is powerful, a great heavenly feast with a chair for everyone. The chairs representing the unique position of each person in the family that can’t be filled by anyone else, and that they are all part of a forever family. The empty chair is the one left empty by someone rejecting, not qualifying, or for some other reason absent from the celebration in the celestial abode. Also funny, because at my house we don’t actually have enough kitchen chairs for my whole family to sit, but we cobble things together and still eat together most days of the week.

This isn’t the first time. In fact, since moving here, my parents haven’t invited my family and my sister’s family over at the same time. I have 8 children and she has 7, so that is a lot of children. But no more than my mom had. I would hope she would be sensitive to the feeling of being left out because you have too many children. Except I don’t remember my family ever being left out growing up. My grandparents had us over anyway, even when their house was small and another large family of cousins was coming too. I have shared with my mom how this has happened to me in other contexts. There are lots of extended family events my family and I don’t get invited to. Maybe people think we’re too busy. Maybe they think our family is too big. I don’t know. Ironically, I felt a huge amount of pressure from my extended family to have all these kids. This is the type of family I grew up in. Large families were very much a part of our responsibility in our brand of Mormonism. I never would have suspected that would lead to exclusion.

Soon after they moved here, there was the Easter dinner where my brother and his family were in town visiting my parents. My local sister’s family was invited to join, but mine was not. I had been told Grandma was going to hold an Easter egg hunt, but then we weren’t even invited to that. I saw a handful of pictures on social media and realized we had been excluded. The next year we did get invited for Easter, but there were no cousins there, so really not as fun for my kids.

Perhaps the reason given – that there aren’t “enough chairs” — is really the reason they didn’t invite us. But it still hurts. I can’t help thinking my family is excluded because we no longer subscribe to Mormonism. We never talk about our change of beliefs with extended family, because that seems to be what they are comfortable with. Are they scared of me and my kids? They just want to play with their cousins like any kids. I feel like I have been respectful, keeping my unorthodox opinions to myself, but the distance is vaster and wider than ever. I don’t feel comfortable sharing with them about my troubles and worries. No one calls to chat. And I am supposed to take it in stride when I am not invited and everyone else is.

I wonder what they think about eternal family now. Are they worried about empty chairs at their heavenly feast while using the excuse of ‘not enough chairs’ to exclude some from the feast here and now? An empty chair at a family dinner, empty chair at a wedding celebration, an empty chair at a funeral. They are felt deeply. If empty chairs represent a failure of one kind or another, what does “not enough chairs” represent? When I picture a heaven,  I can only imagine it as heaven if it is more loving and more inclusive than anything experienced here. In reaching for heavenly ideals, I think there will always be a place for everyone. Chair or no chair.


Chiaroscuro is a play of light and shadow. Finding noisy messy lovely life in all the shades between.

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10 Responses

  1. anitawells says:

    I am so sorry. That is really painful.
    Not for the holiday, but one thing we’ve tried to do because there are so many grandchildren is gather for just an adult meal (to have a real conversation instead of managing dozens of toddlers), or a girls lunch. Could you invite your mom and sister to lunch sometime to talk about these concerns?

  2. Jessica says:

    Chiaroscuro, your posts here have often been the ones I relate to the most – I feel like you are a sister of my heart. And this is simply heartbreaking. My soul hurts that you have to go through this. 🙁

  3. Mormonish says:

    This post really hit home. My family has done (and still does) the same thing. Those who are still devoted to the church purposely exclude those who are not. Since I have been on both sides (TBM for many years, now not) I believe they are afraid to affiliate with non-believers. Who can blame them, really? They hear that message all the time: outsiders are scary and dangerous; those who leave have given themselves over to the devil; stay in the boat; doubt your doubts; if you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s hard to accept that so many in your family would choose exclusion over love. You don’t have to make that choice. You chose love. Have your own Thanksgiving dinner for yourself and your kids. Invite whomever you wish to spend the holiday with, or invite no one. Rejoice in your independence and be grateful that you’re free from the shackles of misplaced loyalty. Over time, other people in your DNA-clan will find themselves on the outside, and they’ll be grateful to know you’re there with them. Wishing you peace.

  4. Ziff says:

    Wow, Chiaroscuro, this sounds so painful. I love how you relate your experience to the “no empty chairs” rhetoric. It certainly does seem like people feel like it’s more important in the end to make sure that nobody occupying a chair is outside the authorized mold. I’m sorry that you and your family have been so consistently excluded.

  5. spunky says:

    I am so sorry, Chiaroscuro. I know that pain. I was never invited to Thanksgiving. The family once even changed dinner time because my flight got in at 2PM, so they had 12:00 thanksgiving. And I was single. No one ever said why. I just was never wanted. It’s not a good feeling. And mostly– it isn’t Christian.

  6. Risa says:

    Being excluded is so incredibly painful. I’m sorry that this is happening to you.

  7. This is incredibly sad, and so unlike the spirit of Christ who included everyone. I’m very sorry, and I hope that over time you can find fellowship and family of your choosing. Much love.

  8. MDearest says:

    I know that pain too. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to grow myself into a safer place, where I am content with the distance. When my kids grew older, they would make jokes about not being part of the “incasts.” I remember one bad time when several siblings and their families were visiting my city and everyone went to a favorite family restaurant without inviting me, but they called me in the middle of the meal and then invited me. So I went. (I was a little dense in those days.) I arrived in time for dessert. My niece had the decency to be embarrassed, but the rest of us pretended that was perfectly acceptable.

    We learn that bs at home but it is fostered at church in all the shame culture taught, both overtly and covertly.

  9. Maureen Haehnel says:

    I am so sorry. You will find many of us who are excluded from our families here, probably because of Mofem or post mo beliefs. I am so sorry your family can’t see beyond that.

  10. Jill says:

    I’m so sorry this is happening, sorry they can’t see it

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