10/30/2014 01:06 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

'Do I Have to Invite My SIL to My Daughter's First Birthday Party?'

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Dear Wendy,

My sister-in-law has never really liked me. I have been married to her brother for three years and together with him for eight, so you would think she would get over herself by now. She is divorced with two children. She has been very hot and cold with us over the last eight years, and for the last two years she has pretty much shut us out. Whenever we are at a family event, she blatantly ignores us, and there is always a negative vibe in the room. She is a very bitter person.
We had her and her boyfriend over one weekend a few years back; she came, but ignored us most of the time (in our own home). The following weekend we saw her in the store -- we said "hi," but she just turned her back and walked away. My husband has tried to find out what's wrong, but she keeps bringing up silly things like he didn't call her enough. We think she is purely jealous of us. We are both very hard working individuals who have been able to buy a nice house and we are happy together and this is what angers her.

My husband and I have a baby, and my SIL has brought her a gift or two, but has never ever touched her, held her, or paid any attention to her. Her mother has frequently asked if she would like to hold her niece, and she has just said in a stern voice "I. Don't. Want. To." So, essentially she has no relationship with our daughter.

I am having a small family get together for my baby's first birthday and I don't want to invite my SIL. I feel I am justified in not inviting her as she seems to not want anything to do with our baby (or us). Plus, why would she actually want to come anyway when she'd probably just ignore the birthday girl? I think I'm just worried what my MIL will think as she normally sticks up for her daughter and I don't want to cause any more issues. But I really feel I want to have a stress-free party for my baby that we can enjoy without a negative vibe. What are your thoughts? -- Not Close with SIL

Invite your SIL. Invite her and adjust your expectations. You know she will probably ignore you and your baby, so don't pay any attention to her. Let her stew in her own negativity while you focus on the positives, like your daughter and the other family and friends present to celebrate the special occasion. If you're worried that it will be impossible to ignore her passive negativity, give her a task that will force her to be active, even if it's not something she necessarily wants to do. Who cares? If she's going to be negative and unhappy anyway, at least give her some busy work so she LOOKS like an active participant and not just a sour puss sitting in the corner stewing. Give her a camera and ask her to take photos. Or ask if she wouldn't mind slicing the bagels or keeping the chip bowl full.

You may think that not having your SIL present will decrease your stress and anxiety, but the truth is you won't really be able to relax knowing that your MIL will be wondering why her daughter wasn't invited to the party. And you KNOW your MIL is always going to stick by her daughter. You'd stick by your daughter, too. It's what moms do. Even if they know their daughters are pains in the asses, they stick by their side. Don't mess with the mother-daughter bond. Don't force your MIL to take sides. Include your SIL, keep on your MIL's good side, and enjoy your other guests while ignoring your husband's bratty sister. This is the path of least resistance and the one you will have to get used to traveling along because this woman is part of your family and part of your life, whether you like it or not.

One more thing: you say that your SIL is jealous of you because you and your husband have worked hard and can afford a nice lifestyle. It's great that you two are doing so well, but extending some compassion to your SIL who is a single mom of two kids would probably go a long way. I bet she works every bit as hard as you do -- maybe even more since she has double the amount of kids and half the amount of parental help at home -- and perhaps doesn't have the material rewards OR the loving relationship you enjoy. Maybe that's her own doing. Maybe not. Regardless, maybe the reason she's shut you out in the last couple of years is because life got particularly challenging for her and she didn't get the kind of support and compassion from her brother and his family as she may have wanted. Maybe it was doubly hard to hit a rough patch at exactly the same time her brother's life was taking off. Maybe going to your home and seeing how well you guys are doing, at least outwardly, is too stark a contrast to her own life for her comfort.

Invite your SIL to your daughter's party. Practice compassion. Be grateful for all the good in your life, and try not to dwell so much on the small shadow your SIL's unhappiness is casting in your world. Counter the shadow with light, and you both may benefit.

Wendy Atterberry writes the relationship advice blog, Dear Wendy. You can follow her on Facebook.