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Ask Ellie: Adopted foster kids need modelling of family resilience, love

For the children’s sake, try healing in-law divide
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Advice columnist Ellie Tesher.

Dear Ellie: I’m seeking a spin on your advice given to the woman whose husband’s family ignored her when she needed them most (Nov. 5):

That advice was also very helpful to me. I’d like to take it for my own, too, but relevant to the situation facing my husband and me, regarding our children.

He and I grew our blended family through our adoption of three siblings from foster care. We were the true “Instant Family” and were immediately plunged into a world of trauma, regression, loss, and everything that accompanies it.

The only way we can describe it is that we had 180 pounds of “newborn” (“new” to us) triplets with all the stress and sleepless nights. In the midst of it, my sister-in-law was planning a big family event.

We were extremely nervous about this event where we’d be expected to attend with our children. But they were nowhere near ready to attend, nor could we leave them with a sitter at that time.

They were fully triggered for reactions and the spectrum of behaviours would’ve been too much for anybody else to handle. Plus, they panicked when we went out.

Then an issue at the end of a long day: One of our children had a huge meltdown at school. Then, my SIL started texting me like crazy.

I mentioned that I was very tired and wouldn’t handle the conversation well. Her texting continued, and I blew up. My husband called his sister, the past was brought up, and he blew up.

Next, e-mails started from my mother-in-law and again, I blew up. We refused to attend the event. It resulted in our being ostracized from all family events for the next nine months or so.

I’ve been working through this – but I feel guilty because I no longer want a relationship with them. I don’t care to call, don’t care if I see them, our children don’t know who they are.

I let my husband manage his relationship with his parents.

We were scapegoated by them at the most challenging juncture of our life and I’m having much trouble getting over the hurt caused by people who so believe they’re in the right and we’re wrong. What should I do?”

Still Hurting

I’m betting that the part of my Aug. 5 advice you liked, to the rude family who ignored an overwhelmed new mother’s needs, was to make just “one effort of outreach” to her in-laws, and if they don’t respond, “forget it.”

But their situation and yours are different. You and your husband have taken on the demanding task of reassuring three traumatized siblings from foster care, that they’re now part of a loving family.

A huge effort of teaching and modelling family resilience and love, is now a crucial need.

While it’s harder to demonstrate when your extended family includes in-laws who don’t empathize with you, many families who, say, gather at Christmas, include some difficult members.

Still, we make a fuss about family togetherness and hope for its benefits.

So, for the children’s sake, I suggest you try healing this in-law divide. Slowly introduce the children to the idea of extended family.

Meanwhile, apologize for blowing up at the SIL and MIL, just to move forward. Then slowly, and only when they’re ready, introduce the children, perhaps even one at a time.

If it doesn’t go well, withdraw immediately. They need the truth about who they can and cannot trust.

Feedback regarding the man who never accepted his wife’s having lied that she was a virgin when they married 48 years ago (October 23):

Reader: “He should be told that his misogynistic belief that he held the rights to his wife’s virginity needs to be left in the past.

“Instead of feeling duped and cheated (which never happened as it was pre-marriage) he got a wife who knew what she likes and brought it to the bedroom.

“If his regrets were to be anything it’s in shutting down the intimacy between them and wasting a whole lot of time that could have been spent having a lot more fun. Shame on him for making his wife feel so less than, and unworthy, that she had an emotional breakdown. What a narcissistic “gas-lighter.”

“There’s absolutely nothing to forgive. She didn’t tell him because he created an environment where she couldn’t share that side of herself without shame.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

If family tensions are affecting those fragile or overwhelmed, withdraw.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

Follow @ellieadvice.