Dear Carolyn: My in-laws, sister-in-law included, made it crystal clear they only invited me to things because they “had to” – their words – once my husband and I were married. I was even told point-blank that I ruined Christmas by being present.
Well, now everyone wants to be around all the time, to see our kids. If we were still childless, I know I would still be unwelcome, but they now realize they need to have some sort of relationship with me.
What can I do to get over the anger I feel every time they come to see my family, when they so clearly didn’t want to see me before? – Grandchild Vessel
Why were they ever in your lives again after saying such things to you?
That’s not just on your in-laws; that’s on you and your husband, too. They gave him ample opportunity, it seems, through their ongoing wretchedness, to stand up for you. And to stand up for himself, since these were his decisions they were denigrating – to date you, marry you, and have children with you.
For example: “Treat my girlfriend/wife like that and you will never see me again.”
Naked threats have their place.
Especially when followed up with the setting of calm and clear terms. “I love her, she’s my family now, I expect civility toward her at a minimum, and appreciate efforts at warmth. I’d do the same for you.”
And you had ample opportunity to stand up for yourself by shoving these “had to” invitations – proverbially, at least – where they belonged. I’m sorrier than they are that you ever showed up for that bygone ruined Christmas, because it gave them an unearned chance to think it was worth it to you to be there.
So of course you’re angry now, as these helicopters circle your kids. It’s the bottled fury of civilians in occupied territory.
And the way to get over any kind of anger is to identify its origins with unflinching honesty and address them vs. trying to smile it away.
If I thought your husband were even close to ready for this, I’d urge you to urge him to have that overdue blunt conversation, updated to reflect current realities: He tells the offending family members privately that he struggles with their doting on his kids amid fresh memories of the abuse they heaped on you.
And he explains their accepting responsibility for this is the only way forward. Should they refuse, he then calmly declines their visits.
But their past hostility was such that he would have drawn these lines already if he were emotionally equipped to.
Assuming he’s not capable of standing up to them, then I’d venture you’re carrying two layers of anger, one at your in-laws and a deeper one at your husband for aiding and abetting this doting-grandparents farce.
That makes a good family therapist your best option, one who can help unknot his family’s anger and yours, string by string by string.
And/or: just stand up for yourself. Warn your husband beforehand as a courtesy, then be kind, calm, civil to them. “I’ve tried getting past it, but I am not comfortable with everyone here as if your shunning me all those years never happened.” Status quo worse than the fallout? That’s when to rise up.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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