DEAR AMY: My husband had a rough childhood. His mother was with a man who physically abused him and sexually abused his sister. His mother knew what was going on, but didn’t take any steps to protect her children. She cut off ties to extended family and isolated her kids. I presume she was abused as well. My husband left home when he was 16. He moved halfway across the country, managed to finish high school and put himself through college, all while living in homeless shelters or on street corners. My husband still has contact with his mother, and his mom and her new husband (whom we have met on a few occasions) have decided to come out to our house for Christmas. They didn’t ask; they just invited themselves. My children have met their grandma. They’re not old enough to know anything about my husband’s childhood. My husband maintains that his mother is a changed person, but I have no evidence of that. Every fiber of my being screams that she shouldn’t be trusted and her interaction with my kids should be closely supervised. My husband thinks I’m being illogical and way too overprotective. He says his mother would never allow our kids to be harmed. Am I crazy for feeling this way? It’s been almost 20 years since my husband left. Can a person really change in that time?
Overprotective Mama Bear
DEAR MAMA BEAR: Your mother-in-law might have changed, but one sign that she has further to go is her choice to violate a very basic boundary and invite herself to your home over the holiday. Why hasn’t anyone asked if this is OK with you?
Perhaps your husband hasn’t given you the full story regarding who issued the invitation, but regardless — you and your husband equally share the home and you should also share major decisions regarding guests.
The short answer is that it is possible your mother-in-law has changed, but you don’t know your mother-in-law’s new husband (nor does your husband), and so — you should absolutely keep a very close eye on the children.
Bringing a new male family member into the household places your children at risk.
Never leave your children alone with the older couple, for any length of time. Do not bow to pressure from your mother-in-law (or your husband) to let them babysit or take the kids alone on outings. If they challenge your judgment, explain yourself — frankly, firmly and clearly.
I hope you will support your husband’s effort to make peace with his mother. This could be a very important step in his personal development. But your job as parents is to use an abundance of caution regarding your own children. Do not create or permit any situations that might carry this terrible pattern of neglect and abuse into the next generation.
DEAR AMY: My close friend’s mother died on my birthday five days ago. She was in the advanced stages of dementia and was living in a nursing home, but her death came as a shock to my friend, who was very involved in her care. My friend barely spoke to me about it. I tried calling her. She texted very brief statements in reply. I said, “I am here for you.” I asked how she was feeling. I said, “I imagine there is both sadness and relief.” Nothing. I told her I was surprised and didn’t understand why she hadn’t spoken to me more about what was going on with her. We are close. She spills her guts regularly to me about every other little and big thing in her life. And I do the same with her. I realize that people grieve in their own way, and I want to honor whatever she needs to do. I feel guilty for making this about me, but I feel shut out and I’m wondering if our friendship is in trouble. What’s your take?
DEAR UNSURE: My take is that your friend is grieving, and that she does not feel “relieved” by her mother’s death. She also may wonder why you — her very intimate friend — keep bugging her about your friendship when her mother just died.
I suggest that you send her a handwritten note, remembering her mother and expressing your condolences. Attend any funeral or memorial service. Drop off a plate of her favorite food, a book of Mary Oliver poetry, or flowers. Invite her to go for a walk, but don’t worry about it if she doesn’t get back to you. Stop poking her to see if she is done yet.
The grieving process changes people. Let her change, and stand with her while she does.
DEAR AMY: “Younger Sis” was bellyaching about her older sister, who believed in spanking children when they are out of control. What is wrong with people? A good old-fashioned smack is more effective than talking nonsense to a little brat. I’m so sick of the way children behave and of the way their parents tolerate it.
DEAR DISGUSTED: Hitting children is wrong. It is harder to disciple children appropriately, and this is why some people shouldn’t be parents.