Dear Amy: I am an atheist. I believe in practicing kindness and respect for other people’s views.

In recent years, I have been working on becoming more honest about religious activities I would prefer not to attend. (These ceremonies make me very uncomfortable.)

I used to tell lies to preserve the feelings of people I love when I didn’t want to attend a baptism or other religious event (I’ve also attended many and have been very uncomfortable).

Now that I’m in my 50s, I want to be more honest.

A friend invited me to attend her twins’ Bar-Mitzvahs. This is a tough one.

I am not particularly close to these twins, but the mother’s friendship means a great deal to me.

I really don’t want to attend the ceremony, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings either.

Can you think of an honest but very kind way to bow out respectfully?

I’d rather send a gift and thoughtful note acknowledging the milestone.

This friend is likely to ask me why I am not going, and I am leaning toward giving her a more honest answer *because* our friendship (I hope) is strong and I think it would feel more respectful to have her know the truth if I can do it kindly. I value your input!

— Done with Religion

Dear Done: The honest and kind way to bow out respectfully would be to RSVP: “I’m so sorry I can’t attend, please pass along my congratulations to the twins. Now — they are men!”

My point is that when you are declining an invitation, you don’t need to supply a reason. It is somewhat unusual for a host to follow up to ask, “Well, why can’t you attend?”

If your friend does ask, you can say, “As you know, I’m an atheist. I don’t attend religious ceremonies. I realize this might be somewhat awkward, and I recognize this is extremely important in your family, but I need to decline. But I’m also very honored by the invitation.”

Dear Amy: My husband and I had children later in life.

We moved closer to our family to raise our children with relatives.

Around my younger girl’s first birthday my older sister started dating a man. They are a toxic brew.

I don’t like his past, which includes multiple arrests for domestic violence and robbery, and I don’t like who my sister becomes when she’s around him.

They drink and have big fights.

The holidays are coming up and I don’t want this man in my life.

However, I have a second sister who will be hosting the holiday events, and it will break her heart if I refuse to go if that man is in attendance.

Should I suck it up and go, or stick to my conviction and celebrate the holiday with my husband and daughters?

I grew up around a violent and abusive man and witnessed the repercussions of alcoholism via my grandmother.

I don’t want my girls experiencing that trauma.

What is your advice?

— Torn

Dear Torn: Only you can realistically assess your ability to handle the stress and anxiety that being in this man’s presence will engender.

But you also need to decide whether you will let him control you and keep you away from family gatherings.

If you want to be with your family but choose to stay away because he will be there — then he has bullied you into a corner.

If you truly want to stay away — definitely do that. But you could also stake a claim to go where you want to go, and if the occasion takes a turn that you don’t like — you can leave. As I often say (especially around the holidays), always keep track of your coat and keys.

Your children will not experience the trauma you were exposed to in childhood because they have you as a mother and you will protect them. Of course you will!

Dear Amy: “Can’t Handle Critiques” went into a tailspin when her boss pointed out minor errors.

Bosses need to make workers feel good about the important work they do and not get so stressed out that they make even more mistakes.

Giving praise: “I did see one very minor thing amongst all the great work you did…” will go a long way.

To err is human. I’m the head of quality assurance at a high-tech company, and make a pretty good living because of this human trait.

— Charlie from Silicon Valley

Dear Charlie: Quality wisdom! Thank you.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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