Ask Ellie: In-laws who shun kids unlikely to change

Advice columnist EllieDear Ellie: Eighteen months ago, my in-laws stopped talking to us.

My husband’s large family all live nearby, which includes his parents, two brothers, their wives, and a sister.

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My children are now ages 12 and 10. Until five years ago, my in-laws were involved grandparents offering the children weekly sleepovers, stopping by unannounced, and spoiling the kids.

My husband’s siblings often took our children for some fun or just visited. They now have families of their own. Admittedly, we were slowly backing off from my in-laws (mostly my mother-in-law), feeling that toxic attitudes around politics/race/human decency were becoming too much for our kids to witness. My MIL and sister-in-law would gang up on me with rude comments. I’ve been in this family for 22 years; my SIL was six when I, at 16, started dating my husband.

I’ve learned to cope without conflict. But at Christmas my SIL crossed the line telling my ten-year-old: “your Mom’s a loser.”

These past couple of years, they’ve stopped greeting us, they ignore us when we speak, and exclude us from family functions.

Eighteen months ago, my SIL started asking for all the money from an education fund we’d started for her son, now seven (which we also set up for all our nieces and nephews).

The bank told me we would lose all the interest and government bonuses if we withdrew it. So, I left it.

When my husband tried to explain this, she had a temper tantrum about her deep hate for me since she was 12, despite the fact that I paid for her college admission fees when her parents wouldn’t (she didn’t go) and spoiled her when she was a teenager with shopping and road trips.

Ever since this rift, the family has shunned us. Recently, a big family baby shower was held for my brother-in-law and his expectant wife, but we weren’t invited.

My MIL only came over once last Christmas, refused to speak to us and never again spoke to my kids, who ask: “why don’t they want to know us anymore?”

What do I tell my kids? My husband’s good at distancing himself from this, but I know he’s really angry, too.

Family In Turmoil

This is a family tragedy, dividing siblings and young cousins with the astonishing support of complicit, negative grandparents who should be trying to bind their offspring together for everyone’s benefit.

That’s not going to happen, due to the weakness at both ends — your husband’s mother and sister (fortunately he sees the harm they’re doing to you and the children.) But his sister has taken nasty behaviour to an extreme. It begs the question whether she’s resented you for taking away her big brother years ago and has remained angry/jealous since.

Unfortunately, she appears the least likely person to seek counselling about any of this. But I sincerely hope that you, your husband and kids, will have counselling to help yourselves come to terms with this pain. For those who regularly read my columns, it’s well-known that I believe that whenever it’s possible, we should reach across the divide and try to mend family feuds.

We do this for the sake of the children attaining an understanding of how to solve problems and for the comfort of having the backup of extended family support.

However, this is one time where I don’t believe the mother-in-law and sister-in-law will change. I hope I’m proven wrong.

Feedback regarding the young woman who fears introducing her “serious boyfriend” to her parents due to his negative opinions about U.S. President Donald Trump compared to her parents’ supportive view (Aug 25):

Reader: “She should first tell her parents her negative viewpoints on Trump and say that she doesn’t want to discuss him with them again.

“She should say she wants to introduce to them the most important relationship in her life — her boyfriend.

“She should then tell her parents and her boyfriend never to discuss Trump in each other’s presence.

“My own opinion, Ellie, is very anti-Trump. I feel that he’s a danger to democracy, and that should’ve formed the premise of your advice.”

Ellie: While I care deeply about democracy, the letter writer, who also agrees with that political goal, was seeking an answer to her personal dilemma, since she feared a verbal explosion between her parents and her boyfriend.

Ellie’s tip of the day

When a family rift extends even to ignoring young children, the bitterness will stain all members except those who recognize they must walk away.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca. Follow @ellieadvice.

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