Hi, Carolyn! My husband and I (and as a result, our two young children) are currently estranged from his parents after years of hostility came to a head this fall. My mother-in-law’s behavior was the crux of the issue, and my husband attempted to work through it until giving up.
Our children are still very young, with one of them old enough to understand that her grandparents used to be present, but now they’re not. How do I explain why they’re not seeing their grandparents without unfairly biasing the children against them?
If they’re being hostile, then the bias wouldn’t be unfair.
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But I take your point — you want to prop your kids’ minds open to accepting their grandparents back into their lives should the adults reconcile.
Your children’s ages are to everyone’s advantage in that respect, because you don’t have to explain much — or anything, to start. Just respond when you’re asked: “Gram and Gramps won’t be here this time, I’m sorry.” That might be all there is to it, even — kids let you know when they’re ready for more by asking you for more.
If one of your children does ask why, then you can say: “The adults have some things to work out before we all get together again.”
Even if your mother-in-law’s hostility extended to or was focused on your children, take care not to say anything a little person might interpret as “It’s our fault Grams can’t come.” Even words carefully chosen by adults to prevent this can sound very different when filtered through a child’s mind and worldview; instead of, “Grams was unkind to you,” stick with, “Grams was unkind.”
Again — this is only if your child’s curiosity warrants taking your explanation that far. A guide for talking to young kids is: don’t lie, don’t ignore, don’t dump everything in their laps. Stay within those three walls by heeding their curiosity and releasing small pieces of truth, followed by a pause to allow your child to respond. When the questions stop, that’s your signal that you’ve said enough.
Dear Carolyn: I’ve developed feelings for a guy friend who says he isn’t in the right place in life to be in a romantic relationship. Aside from the romantic feelings, I have a lot of fun hanging out with him. Do you think it’s wrong to keep doing so?
Wrong, no. There are just some obvious risks to being with someone who wants less of you than you want of him.
If the fun outweighs the risk of nurturing false hopes, then keep hanging out with him. If you come to a point where the fun of it isn’t enough to justify the bruised feelings, then you just change your “yes” to “no, thanks.”
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.