My sister and her husband had two daughters and a son, all now in their early 20s.
The parents divorced while their children were in high school.
The couple tried marriage counselling. Then my brother-in-law was shocked when my sister wanted a permanent separation.
My sister says she was emotionally abused during the marriage, and I believe her.
I don't know exactly what they told their children but one daughter sided with her father and declined going to counselling with her mother.
Now, the children have graduated from post-secondary programs, and one daughter and the son have amiable relationships with their mother. The children had stayed living with their father.
But the other daughter has very little contact with her mother.
My sister’s in a new serious relationship with someone she met two years after separating.
My father, in his 80s, lives alone. He remains very sociable, loves visitors and is genuinely fond of my ex brother-in-law, who visits him, always along with his (angry) daughter.
My sister thinks her ex's visits are a way of manipulating her. She’s asked our father to not allow him to visit.
Dad has asked for my help in this, but I have problems understanding why my sister feels threatened by her ex’s visits of 30-to-45 minutes.
Dad says the ex has never spoken to him about his past or current relationship with my sister.
It’s my niece who’s pushing her mom's buttons.
Would it be appropriate for me to ask her to reconsider counselling with her mother for both their sakes?
What if she says yes and my sister says no?
She did reach out to me by text to rationalize her actions by saying her mother has hated her since she was 16, and she didn’t want her grandfather or me to think less of her for distancing from her mother.
I assured her that her mother did love her very much, even if it didn't feel that way right now.
How can I help mend fences while still minding my own business?
Your sister’s undoubtedly deeply hurt by her daughter’s rejection. If counselling were to become acceptable to your niece, her mother would more than likely agree to attend.
However, the younger woman’s pain takes precedence right now. After all, her mother knows why she divorced and is currently happy with someone else.
But her daughter bears a crushing belief from teenage years, that stifles her ability to have a relationship with her mother, and also shadows her present and future.
Early rejection and maternal distrust are the deeply believed wounds she carries with her and also fears, even if their basis is totally untrue.
It can affect all her relationships, including with friends and potential partners.
She would benefit greatly from counselling, and it’s surprising if her father hasn’t recommended it while she’s living with him. He must see the effects on her from her attitudes.
Divorce not only divides couples, it often divides the children too. Your niece needs your support, for her sake, not to satisfy your sister’s wish to end the ex’s visits to Granddad, and not for you to be a peacemaker.
For her sake.
Respond to her texts, meet her for lunch, and work for her trust. Then recommend counselling – not to fix her – but to put the turning point of family separation into a narrative about her parents, not about her.
Let her heal first, and then she may resolve her feelings about her mother.
FEEDBACK Regarding the pregnant woman whose in-laws won’t care for her two dogs, though eager to babysit their coming grandchild, October 27):
Reader – “I have a one-year-old dog.
“I never bring him with me when I visit people.
“I’d be running around making sure there are no shoes to chew, no food out to snatch, etc.
“I’d have to repeatedly check the door so he doesn't escape, but that he’s taken out hourly to pee.
“I also don't take him because he's not invited and it’d be presumptuous to assume he is.
“I’ve had guests arrive with their dog. I don't appreciate that.
“The entire visit becomes focused on the dog. One canine visitor pooped on my floor then later peed on my carpet.
“Naturally grandparents want to visit with their grandchildren. But it’s not their job.
“Neither is it their job to babysit their adult children's dogs.
“If they offer to do either, you're lucky.”
Tip of the day:
When there’s a troubled family relationship, focus first on the person who most needs support.