Dear Annie: I'm engaged to an amazing man, and we spend our days in a cute little house with our wonderful daughter. I sincerely have few complaints about my life. Alas, there is one dark cloud that I can't seem to shake.
My husband has a complicated relationship with his parents, and it stems from the horrific physical, mental and verbal abuse his dad inflicted on him throughout his childhood — not to mention the lack of action his mother took to protect him.
They're all in a different place now, both literally and psychologically, and my fiance is on relatively good terms with them. But I can't help but stiffen every time I'm around them, because all I can do is remember the pain they've inflicted on my fiance. Now that we have a daughter, I've even been questioning their role as grandparents.
I don't want to hold resentment against them or ruin their newfound relationship with my soon-to-be husband, but I can't help but find what they did unforgivable. My fiance says that they would never hurt our daughter, that circumstances are different now. But if they wouldn't protect their son from their own angry whims, why wouldn't they snap and not protect their granddaughter? They are loving people as it stands, but history can't be erased.
I live in a small town, so I have no counseling groups to turn to. I hesitate to talk to people close to me, because it's such a sensitive subject for my partner. I trust my own instincts as a mother, but I also know I'm fast to cut people off. Should I be nervous about their being around my daughter? How do I resist resenting them? I hate pretending I like people, Annie. It's dishonest and exhausting. — Mother Bear
Dear Mother Bear: First, I certainly understand your not wanting to take any risks with your little cub. No one with a history of abusing children should be entrusted with their care. You and your husband should come up with plans and backup plans so that you never are in a pinch and have to ask his parents to baby-sit. You can implement such boundaries without cutting them out of your lives.
As for your protective feelings toward your husband, some caution is warranted and wise, given his parents' history. But if the three of them have genuinely healed this rift, your continuing to focus so much on the past would do more harm than good. At the end of the day, they are still his parents, and if he loves them and wants a relationship with them, any swipes you take at them will feel personal to him. So make a sincere effort to give them a chance. Being an ally to your husband and a protector of your daughter doesn't have to mean being an adversary to your in-laws.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]