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Parents Cutting Us Out

Renata wrote:

I found out at the beginning of the year that I am pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were very happy as well as both of our parents.

Shortly afterward on a Sunday morning my father comes to my house to tell me that he and my mother have filed for bankruptcy. The only reason he told me is because it was published in a local newspaper. Otherwise I would have never known. This led to the next problem ... my parents had to move out of their home. My parents had known since December that they were going to have to move. However, they did not start to look until March and had to be moved out by the end of May.

My parents found a home to rent in April, but needed a cosigner. So, they called me. I told them I wasn’t sure (which was the truth) because of their financial situation and the fact that they constantly support my brother financially. They are in a financial situation because they have financed my brother and his reckless decisions for many years (since he has 15). I have had to be the one to offer financial support in the past.

Well, my parents became upset with me and my husband because we did not give them the answer they wanted when they wanted. This was in April. After that my parents did not return my phone calls, did not respond to notes I left including any correspondence about my baby. I have been very hurt by all of this. My husband has seen how upset I have been and has been very frustrated with my parents and their behavior.

Yesterday everything came to a head. My father called to tell me I had some things left in their house (they have found a house to rent, did not bother telling me) as they have been moving into a new house. So I said that I would be by to pick my things up. My husband and I arrived and began to go through my things. My mother would not even speak to me. My father was being friendly to both me and my spouse. Because I am pregnant, my husband did not want me to carry much, so I stayed in the house to sort through my things.

While my husband was loading things my father said to me, “I took your advice and decided to not support your brother any more. Because of that he tried to kill himself last night.” My brother has had marriage problems due to drinking and erratic behavior. So, of course I got upset and began to cry feeling as if it is my fault that my brother has tried to kill himself. My husband came into the room, had not heard what my father had said, and became upset and started to ask my father in a harsh tone what had happened. Then my father said, “Let’s go,” and they began to fight physically while my mother and I tried to separate them. Finally they stopped.

As my husband walked out the door, my father told him to leave and that he wasn’t welcome any more. I was extremely upset at this point and I told my parents that they would have nothing to do with their grandson anymore. At that comment both my parents said they didn’t want anything to do with it and slammed the door in my face. I don’t believe I have felt quite as hurt as I do right at this moment. I am trying to remain calm for the sake of my baby. However, I just don’t know what to do.

Was I wrong in not co-signing a lease which seems to be the root of all of this? OR are my parents being irrational? I have been upset for over a month because they will not have anything to do with me. I have come to the point that I just want nothing to do with them. It would make my life easier, and I would not have to worry about them. Until this point, my husband and I have had a very good relationship with my parents. I guess that is why this hurts so badly. If you have advice I would love to hear it. They only person I have discussed this with is my husband. I don’t want to embarrass my parents, but I need an opinion from someone else.

Dear Renata

There's nothing worse than a family row - they seem to just spiral, and, depending on your point of view, everyone's right, and everyone's wrong.

The in-law issue never helps, with both sides invariably getting the wrong end of the stick.

As you know by now, there's no easy answer, but the first step is to accept you cannot go back, only forward. Second, you need to decide what you want for the future. Yes, you were hurt, and feel punished for your prudence while your bother's ways have caused all the harm ... but that's what got us here, where do you want to go?

If you are happy to have no contact, then that's fine; no involvement in their affairs, no brother causing problems, no maternal grandparents for the child. Good and bad; some would take this option.

If you genuinely want to have your parents back in your life, and act as grandparents, then you have to decide on what level of involvement you can afford to accept, and how to achieve that without further fights, and risks.

You need to think about this; you need to be sure, and then you need to find out if your husband can live with your choice. I strongly recommend that order of action - nothing against your husband, but these are your parents, and you need to be sure of your own feelings before the next step. Which is reaching agreement with your husband. From what you say, he has been utterly supportive, and unconditionally so, but he may feel enough's enough. And no-one could blame him.

If you feel you cannot have a 'united front' with your husband, then that's ok, as even then, I'm sure he will understand that your parents are not getting any younger and you want to give them a chance. You should never have to choose between husband and parents; you can have both - but it may mean keeping them apart; and you won't be the first, believe me.

Having decided where you are, you then need to think about breaking the deadlock. And that depends on so much ...

From what you've said, my feeling would be a note, in five parts:

  • State an understanding of how hurt they are feeling and express regret at the bad relationship - but do not specifically apologize, unless there's something you genuinely wish to apologise for.
  • State a hope that things can be better in the future.
  • Promise a place in your child's life for the grandparents.
  • Offer to see them / invite them (make clear whether your husband is in / out of this), and leave them to confirm a date / place that suits them.
  • Be clear that it's up to them and you await their response (but no pressure, it's not time specific).

I've been quite specific here, and I think you need to be, too - but all the details are up for grabs; you know them, and what will work. The key is to set out, in some way, the kind of relationship you want, and can live with, after that, the ball is in their court.

It would be a mistake to try and make peace without 'rules', and a mistake not to try and make peace.

Good Luck.

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