I have been happily married to my husband for 2 1/2 years. We both have been previously married and each has two children with our priors. My husband made the difficult decision not to see his children anymore, due to his ex saying, "If you don’t do as I say I’m going to ruin your career and make false accusations that will have your medical license taken away." If she keeps making up these false accusations to the board he will lose his license and possibly go to jail. So after these threats have been made, my husband decided that he will not see his children so there’s not any contact with her. He sends her child support and sends the kids cards and gifts on holidays and birthdays.
When my husband told his parents why he made his decision and how it could impact his career, his parents were upset. His decision was made way before we got married. Ever since my husband made his decision, they resented me. When our daughter was born, they didn’t show any interest or affection toward this grandchild; they treat her completely different than how they treat the other grandchildren. Now they are planning a trip in March to come and visit with us. My husband and I are very hurt by their actions. He has tried to talk to them before but they are not receptive and say nothing is wrong. Can you tell me what else we can do? I told my husband, when they are visiting I don’t feel comfortable being around to watch them ignore their grandchild. — M.T., North Las Vegas
Yes, there is something else you can do. You can stop trying to convince them "something is wrong," and shift your energies to telling them their behavior is not OK and needs to change. Meaning, the issue is no longer urging them to recognize their resentment, confess it, and to process the resentment to resolution.
The issue now is your straightforward expectation that they treat their son respectfully (even if they believe he was flat wrong to protect his career by not seeing his kids). That they recognize their son’s marriage and respect it (even if they never prefer it). That they treat you with every decorum and cordiality (even if they decide in their hearts to always blame you). That they recognize and respect their granddaughter (even if seeing her always provokes their grief about two other grandchildren).
That’s what you can do.
And you can do it together, presenting to your in-laws exactly the strength of bond and commitment you insist they respect. Together, you and your husband can decide not to tolerate this ambivalent, passive disdain. When your husband talks to them about this alone, he unwittingly buttresses their behavior. They win.
Together, you and your husband can decide what respect is worth to you in these relationships vis this behavior. If it’s worth enough, then together you can tell them, in as many words, that you’re not willing to "normalize" familial relationships if they cannot come to the table with a modicum of common courtesy. Again, your protest to them is not that they like you, or ever agree with your husband’s decision. Your insistence is that they keep to themselves the passive aggressive editorials so obvious in their behavior.
But, M.T., gotta say one more thing …
If I put myself in your in-laws’ shoes, as you have told the story, I admit that I, too, would be, at minimum, dumbfounded. You insist the ex’s accusations are false. OK. But, were I your father-in-law, that would raise questions for me.
Is it really possible for any random citizen to mobilize total falsehoods, and in so doing, have the power to cause a licensed physician to lose his license and to go to jail? Of course, slander can be a damaging nuisance. I myself have been on the receiving end of such slander. But, is there not due process in your husband’s profession? I’m confessing that it’s difficult for me to believe this woman has that power, unless she does in fact have some evidence that could actually indict him.
And, even if it is true that anyone can simply imprison any doctor by making things up, I couldn’t, as a father and grandfather, ignore my next question: So, how did you arrive at the decision that preserving your job was more important than being a present father to your children?
The way they are treating you and the granddaughter isn’t fair. But I "get" their consternation with their son.
Originally published in View News, Feb. 16, 2010.