I Feel Like I've Lost the Family I Grew Up With—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, My first cousin's daughter is being married this November. My adult son and I were invited a decade ago when their son was married. I am an only child and grew up with my cousin as part of their extended family.

I was told by my cousin that their wedding would be for family and close friends. I was also told that they made an exception for me, but my son wasn't invited. The wedding is in New York and my son and I live in California. To attend, we need to make reservations to fly and stay in a hotel.

I am very hurt. If my mother was alive she would be devastated. It is her sister's son. My Aunt would also be upset but she is suffering from dementia and is no longer fully aware.

I feel I lost the family I grew up with due to this wedding.

Anonymous, California

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

A middle-aged woman anxiously receiving a letter
A stock photo of a woman anxiously receiving a letter with her hand resting on her heart. A woman says she is disappointed that her son has been left out of a relative's wedding. stefanamer/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Seek Out Friends Who Feel Like Your "Family Of Choice"

Ruth E. Freeman is the founder and president at Peace at Home Parenting Solutions and the Connecticut Parenting Education Network. She is also the lead author of Building Family Futures, a University of Connecticut train-the-trainer parenting education curriculum.

Feeling left out is one of the most painful experiences we have as humans. We are built to belong, especially to our family. In this case, your mom is gone and your aunt isn't really available. So the cousins are functioning without the influence of the older generation who might have held things more together.

This event highlights those losses for you. You aren't feeling as cherished by this cousin as you'd like and the disappointment is deep. Hopefully your first instinct is to be kind to yourself and get some support from those you trust.

You are clearly someone who deeply cares about family and likely wants to carry on the values of your mom and your aunt. Your cousins don't seem to be doing the same in choosing not to invite your son. So, you are at a crossroads. Do you follow your own values? Go to the wedding without your son and bear the cost of flight and hotel in order to keep the family connections? Or do you choose not to go since you feel so hurt and risk doing harm to the relationship with your cousins?

The good news is that once you get some support about your emotions and feel more calm about this hurt, you can follow your gut. Blood ties are strong, even if complicated, and whether you choose to attend the wedding or not, you will still be cousins and there will still be opportunities to enjoy time together. The family connection will likely not be irrevocably broken. You probably aren't actually "losing your family," but you may be experiencing the loss of family as it was defined by previous generations.

Whatever choice you make, focus on what is comforting to you. Seek out friends who feel like your "family of choice." Be grateful for the previous generation who modeled close relationships and create the same around you. A close friend or two can carry us through tough times.

This Would Be an Emotionally Unhealthy Event for You to Attend

Lori Morton is a counselor and therapist at Broward College specializing in marriage and family therapy, coaching and conflict resolution.

The fact that your cousin's wedding is for close family and friends only and yet a special exception had to be made for you, is telling of how you may not be clear on the true level of closeness that you and your cousin share. This level of distress that you are experiencing over whether or not to attend this wedding may likely not be warranted at all. Your hurt does not seem to match your cousin's affinity for you. There is no acknowledgement of a close relationship with you on the part of the groom from his actions. If he has excluded your child from attending the wedding, if you were truly close to him, he would know what a hardship that the exclusion of your child would create and has now created.

The assumed closeness in relationship seems to be on your part only, and furthermore, the fact that you mention your late mother and ailing aunt and how they would be hurt knowing that this was all transpiring, seems to point to the fact that perhaps this extended family relationship was only based on your mom's connection to her sister. Many times, family connections do not continue into adulthood, when cousins and other extended members of families become adults, and the elders in the family are no longer there to facilitate the bonds of closeness.

Oftentimes, adults in your position, who have experienced a loss of a parent, try to remain connected to their late parent through their family. However, there are levels to connections in family relationships, and the levels must be mutually established, acknowledged and cultivated.

You are in a one-way level of closeness and your desire to be close to them may very well stem from your desire to remain connected to your late mother. Perhaps a work with your residual grief needs to happen so you can protect yourself from being slighted by your mom's family who are merely making room for you when you in their hearts, lives and plans. Value yourself and your child more than this. Feel free to send a gift and a note of regret, but you should not place yourself in a position of awkwardness, when you have had every indication that this a emotionally unhealthy event for you to attend.