Dear Carolyn: Three years ago, our then-2-year-old daughter was in an accident while visiting my family for the first time without us, which resulted in her losing two fingers. Her father and I went through a very rough patch as a couple, because he was against her going in the first place – but we got through it.
Fast forward to now. My mom asked if our daughter could visit, and due to a scheduling conflict neither of us would be able to go with her.
My mom has invited our daughter to visit several times since the accident but I’ve always gently shut her down out of respect for my partner, because he feels the same as he did three years ago. I feel terrible, but she hasn’t really gotten the hint that it’s a contentious issue, and she just keeps asking.
I am now reasonably comfortable with our daughter visiting without us being there, but he is not, and it is causing conflict. What should I do? My stress level is really high because I want to please both of them but I don’t think I can. – Anxious and Conflicted
Stop hinting, please, oh please.
“Mom, I am sorry to disappoint you. [Daughter] won’t be visiting anyone unaccompanied by us for the indefinite future. The accident left a lasting impression on [Partner] and I respect that enough not to force the issue.”
That’s it. There’s an argument to be made for not naming your partner as the one standing in the way, because you don’t want to make it easy for people to single him out. However, you are apparently close enough to your mother – and your partner’s reservations are reasonable enough – that, on balance, it’s worth just putting things to rest with the truth.
In return for your taking advantage of this transparency, though, you need to make sure you brook no challenges from your mother or anyone else on this decision, whether they’re directed at you or your partner.
There may be reasonable arguments against this protective stance – maybe not while your daughter is still so young, but soon enough as she becomes more independent. Eventually you both will have to rebuild your trust- and risk-assessment muscles.
But these issues are for you and your partner to discuss, period, as equals in decision-making about your daughter’s needs; they are not topics for a family roundtable.
This also isn’t a matter of your “pleasing” anybody. That’s not your job. Your primary job, as long as your child is a minor, is to be a responsible parent. Your secondary responsibility is to be a respectful partner. These top your list because they’re roles you knowingly assumed, and so you must fulfill them in as healthy a way as possible. Whether your choices ultimately please anyone is simply a collateral benefit.
It’s never any fun to upset people with your choices, of course. But the sooner you internalize the importance of doing the right thing versus the popular thing, the sooner that “really high” stress will abate.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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