Every week, Emily Yoffe answers questions from readers in a live chat. Now she’ll be answering a few additional questions for Slate Plus members only. Want to read previous Slate Plus only questions? Click here.
Q. Mother With Jealousy Issues: My husband and I have consistently made choices to live away from family, not to avoid them but because opportunities for school and work have taken us away. When we first moved seven years ago for grad school my parents were appalled and stated, “It’s like you are dying to us.” Four years later and they still say that “we choose to live far away because we don’t like them.” I love my family, but due to the military and a great graduate school offer, we simply felt it was a fun adventure. Now that we have two kids this hurtful dialogue still continues where my parents want us to feel guilty for living far away even though it is out of our control at this point. And truthfully, their lack of support has not made us desire to live closer anyway. We visit as often as funds allow and stay in contact via FaceTime, email, and phone calls regularly. I’ve told her how hurtful her words are, and my mother won’t apologize; she still thinks we don’t like them and are already “dead” to her. She’s also very jealous of my in-laws who are retired and can visit us more often, adding to her resentment of me and my husband. Sometimes I think I love my in-laws more than my own parents due to their staunch support of our choices. How do I respond next time my mother guilt trips me from living in another state than her?
A: There’s no point in being “dead” to someone if you’re required to show up constantly and even live next to her. You’re right that your parents, instead of accepting reality and embracing technology to keep you all in touch, have decided that they will make themselves as noxious to you as possible by way of making you want to spend more time with them. No wonder you enjoy your in-laws, who happily support your burgeoning family and careers. What you do is refuse to engage. You tell your mother you want her and you father in your life and the lives of your family, but they make that very difficult when the conversation revolves around not what everyone is doing but what everyone is not doing in proximity to them. You tell her that if conversations degenerate into guilt fests, they will end abruptly. Then, if that happens, follow through and say, “Mom, I’ll talk to you next week. I don’t want to continue this call. Goodbye.” Either she will adjust her behavior, or you will be in increasingly diminishing touch. But if contact with your family means being bashed about, diminishing it is necessary.
Q. FIL Made a Pass: My husband and I have been married almost a year, and everything is great between us. His biological father re-entered his life when he was about 20 years old. He left his family high and dry, never even giving a dime of child support. It seems that my husband has gotten very little comfort out of this strange relationship with his father, but I have tried to be supportive. He was not invited to the wedding and lives across the country. Even if invited, I doubt he would have shown up. My husband said for years that he did not want me to meet him. Since the wedding, my husband requested that we invite his father for a weekend visit, which happened months later (after many no shows). The problem is that he blatantly hit on me several times. I am physically much smaller than him and felt unsafe after being cornered in the kitchen. I made up an excuse to leave (a friend lives close by) and stayed with her until he left. Should I tell my husband what happened? While he doesn’t respect his biological father, I know that he is looking for some good in him and a whole lot of closure. Despite knowing what my MIL went through, I gave him a chance, and I don’t want to share my home with him again.
A: It’s sad to say that the disappearance of a father from one’s life could be a blessing, but in this case that appears to be true. Your father-in-law cornered and sexually threatened you. He sounds disturbed, possibly deranged, and I don’t see anything positive coming out of your husband establishing a more sturdy connection with him. There likely will be no sturdy connection, just more broken ones, and then strange and alarming behavior from this man if he does show up. You must tell your husband what happened. Explain to him that you didn’t want to ruin the visit, but you were frightened and that’s why you went off to stay with a friend. Say that it is up to your husband to figure out whether he will have any kind of relationship with his biological father, but you will not. Nor, if you have children, would you let them be in the room with him. Sometimes severing a connection is the healthiest thing to do.