In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check this out: My new advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to ask a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below.
My husband has been estranged from his family for many years. He had been physically and mentally abused and his parents were never remorseful and continued living a destructive lifestyle after my husband made the break from them. His life greatly improved after the break and he has no regrets. Recently, his father’s health declined, and 2 days prior to his passing my husband had a conversation on the phone with him. My husband felt good about how things were discussed and was at peace with his father. We debated whether or not to attend the funeral, and wound up going. At the funeral home while my husband stood by his father’s casket, his aunt (by marriage) approached him and said, “Not as easy as you thought it would be, huh?” My husband and I were shocked to hear her say such a thing and made no reply.
Later, after the burial, we were at his parent’s home with relatives. Once again this aunt went to my husband, and this time said, “I hope you’ll make peace with your mother now.” My husband said nothing. She had semi-cornered him in the kitchen. Of course the aunt doesn’t know all the details of my husband’s horrific upbringing, but she is aware of some of it. One would think she would have kept her mouth shut. This was so out of line and hurtful to my husband. He’d been through so much in his youth and implying it was up to him to make peace was just wrong and meddlesome.
We talked about this several times, and we wish we had an appropriate response instead of being dumbstruck. Should we just keep quiet? Or should we tell the aunt how hurtful her comments were? It just feels wrong somehow to let her get away with this.
Not Ready to Turn the Other Cheek
Dear Not Ready,
A wise woman once said: “There are some games where the only way to win is to not play.” I am so happy your husband got out of an abusive home, found a loving and loyal wife, and created a happy life. He made a wise choice to walk away from a game where the rules always changed and the deck was stacked against him. He has emerged clear-headed and healthy.
Which is more than can be said for the aunt. Your husband’s response was the best: to not take the bait and engage in another round of the dysfunctional family game. She may feel she was protecting or defending her sister (or sister-in-law), but all she did was treat a grown man like a vulnerable child: holding him responsible for trespasses that were not his fault, and expecting him to make nice with an abusive parent. It’s amazing the extremes to which people will go to excuse or defend a loved one’s offensive behavior. Look at it this way: Her actions are more evidence of a sick family system. They confirm your husband’s choices to protect himself from it.
As to your question about contacting the aunt: I advise against it. I don’t think it would do much good, nor bring a resolution that would be satisfying for you. She chose very public spaces, teeming with emotion, to speak to your husband. That suggests she’s not interested in reconciliation; she’s interested in drama. I am deeply impressed by your husband’s courage to talk with his father before he passed. That was an essential conversation. Talking with the aunt is not.
These scenarios, unfortunately, end up on an endless loop in our minds. We find the brilliant retort only later, when we’re driving home or drifting off to sleep. Better to disengage from this toxic person rather than allow more of that junk in your world. If you saw this woman on a regular basis, maybe it’d be worth a shot at a conversation. As it stands, I say let her have her petty victory, and you and your husband celebrate the old saying, “The best revenge is a life well-lived.”
In time, you may find it in your heart to offer some good thoughts or prayers for the woman. When you do, your resentment will subside. That’s the best outcome of all—when toxic people no longer take up our precious head space. Contemplate these lyrics:
And then dance to this version:
Special re-post for Mother’s Day (Week):
Advice from my mom, Mary Catherine Rodgers. Last year, my mother moved from her home, and while sorting out her papers, we found this gem from 1951. She was a new mom at the time. Thanks, Mom, for finding a few moments between bottles and diaper changes to pen these sage words:
My Child and the Future
The skeptic today offers, “Why children – what future do they have?”
By the very fact that there are children and that I am concerned about the future of my child, is assurance enough that life holds rich promise in the days ahead.
In the routine of performing the mechanics of living, feeding and clothing, growing little bodies I am apt to forget the inner child that daily matures at my side.
One day I as a parent will abruptly realize that this human being is a product of my very life. It is important that I take time out to decide just what my responsibility is to our child. With the weighty thought of this obligation comes to mind the familiar quotation: “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle…Rules the World.”
What do I sincerely want for my child?
How can I best prepare him for the business of living?
Riches, success, esteem in the world…are these goals the top priorities for my child?
Daily, wealthy men take their own lives, revered men lose favor with a fickle world and professional men abuse their highly specialized and costly education. These then are clearly not my answer. Who could dictate the future of a child?
Rather I would hope I could instill in my child concrete stepping stones or guideposts to direct him along any path of life he may choose. These would be fundamental concepts that would serve as a basis for wise decisions toward a happy and purposeful life.
The seriousness of living, the joy and inner satisfaction of accomplishment are fruits of knowledge that will give substance to his existence. I would hope to establish an atmosphere of good living in his own home as a standard of his comparison of people he will encounter throughout his life.
Essentially, I must teach him to be honest with himself and make his greatest judgment a strict accounting to himself. The mental, physical and the spiritual must be coordinated to form the complete man. In an ever changing, unstable world, these principles will remain constant.
Then when logic in a chaotic world has a hallow ring, when reason and counsel seem futile, I must teach him to pray.
How else could I encourage his reach…..to exceed his grasp?
With God’s help, I will instill in my child these intangible qualities found so necessary but often lacking in his all too human parents. These profound truths will be the unseen hand that will guide my child to his future….full….with his highest potential and promise.
Mary Catherine McDonough Rodgers – 1951
(My thanks to my brother, Mark Rodgers, for transcribing Mom’s essay.)
*Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.