Ask Athena: How ‘Bout No?

Just because you’re family doesn’t mean you’re all in for everything. 


Dear Athena,

After many years as a pastry chef in several prestigious restaurants, I changed over into management but occasionally still don my toque for dear friends and family. A few years ago, I made a beautiful wedding cake for one of my Bridezilla cousins who later complained to her friends on social media that it was small and cheap-looking. No one ever said a word to me personally, though, so I let it slide. Now this cousin is pregnant with her 1st kid and my aunt wants me to bake a cake for her baby shower. I can’t say I don’t have the time – I’ve been laid off since March. Still. I have pride in my work and don’t want to open myself up to unwarranted nitpicking. What should I tell my aunt?   — Betty Crocker (Dobson Mills)


I think it is time to be blunt. You were very kind to take the hit on the first cake without responding. You should not have to take it again! But stay nice, and keep it factual.

Tell your aunt that you are not convinced that her daughter would appreciate the cake.  If possible, show her the posts your cousin made about her wedding cake on social media – or at least let her know about them. Allow that it’s likely a matter of taste: every chef has their own personal style on top of their professional skill set. It’s OK if your cousin doesn’t care for your aesthetic.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you did a bad job. Be firm if you need to stand up for yourself, but otherwise even though you have a legitimate beef with your cousin, I’m going to suggest you stop short of mentioning how rude and hurtful her public comments were. Just catch your aunt up to speed on the situation, and make it clear that you are not baking one crumb unless Bridezilla herself apologizes and promises to keep her entitlement in check.


Dear Athena,

It’s been over a month since my son graduated from college and so far none of his aunts and uncles have sent him a card or gift. Granted, there hasn’t been a ceremony or party thanks to COVID but he’s bummed nonetheless. My wife wants to post on Facebook that she’s disappointed in our friends/family and they need to step it up and send him proper congratulations. However to me this sounds greedy and selfish. Who’s right? What’s the proper way to proceed?   — B. Dooley, Blue Bell Hill


This is too easy.  You are right and she is wrong.  We have no right to demand gifts from other people — they are gifts!

There might be a way to include the friends and family so that they want to recognize and congratulate your son. Is there a way to have a virtual party for him where the friends and family are invited? Maybe create an invitation with photos of your son in his graduation gown or a collage to commemorate his high school days? Spend your energy celebrating your son, not trashing your friends and relatives.


Dear Athena,

My daughter is pregnant and planning to name the baby after my ex-husband’s mother, who was a real piece of work and probably one of the top reasons her father and I broke up. My ex and his mother both died soon after our divorce so I raised our daughter alone and never told her about the abuse I endured while under that awful woman’s roof. The idea of calling my first grandbaby by her name sends my blood pressure skyrocketing! I know my daughter would change her mind if I told her all this, but it seems mean to ruin what she intends to be a sweet gesture to her father’s side of the family. Then again, these people don’t deserve a tribute. Help! I am really torn.   –  Biting My Tongue, East Falls


You were wonderful to shield your daughter when she was young. But that time is over. You can transition your relationship from parent/protector to parent/friend.

You need to tell her the truth. What happened to you is part of your family history, tell her what her grandmother was really like. Tell her how she made you feel. Share as much as you can. If the very name of that woman stresses you out, your daughter deserves to know why.

She will probably have questions, try to keep the focus on you. This is not about punishing the father’s side of the family, or labeling them “bad” or “damaged” people. It’s about celebrating the next generation with a name that honors the best of this one.

More importantly, it’s about a mother opening up to her daughter, before she becomes a mother herself. This is a very special time, indeed! Congratulations to you both, Grandma.

Agree or Disagree? Please comment below.

Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

About Athena 44 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

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