Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Of late, my mother-in-law has been trying to “be my friend,” for lack of a better phrase. We have always been civil but have never shared the easy, loving camaraderie that my husband shares with my mom.
I’m unable to reciprocate because I don’t like her that much, and I don’t like her because of an unkind comment from a while back. At my brother-in-law’s wedding a few years ago, I overheard her telling a relative she was happy that she’d finally get to be a grandmother with this one. The comment wounded me deeply because my husband and I have struggled with infertility in the 10 years we’ve been married.
This incident was immediately after a second miscarriage that happened about six months into my pregnancy.
Life is good albeit sans kids. We get to travel a lot, we volunteer with an organization that has shown us a world outside of ourselves, and I’m at peace. Except for this little piece of shrapnel that I cannot seem to take out. I want to forgive her for myself and for my husband … but every time she tries to get closer, my mind zeroes in on those words and I absolutely despise her. What dialogue can I use to replace the hate that comes seething through?
I suggest you tell her what you overheard and, if she needs reminding, what had just happened at the time you overheard it, and that it remains with you as this piece of shrapnel that prevents you from embracing her completely – even as she makes these frequent overtures.
Maybe it will always remain as an obstacle between you, but at least you will both know you both know. That in itself can be liberating.
I’m not going to defend what she said, because it’s indefensible, but you might have caught her in a raw moment that didn’t represent the true measure of her compassion.
I’m so sorry for your losses.
Re: Shrapnel: The mother-in-law didn’t know she was being overheard. Something tells me she would be appalled to find out.
Carolyn, you often say to look at the big picture … is this someone who often leaves people reeling? Or is she lovely in every other respect besides this one overheard remark?
Re: Shrapnel: Saying something out of earshot does not make it OK. Being lovely aside from this one overheard remark isn’t the point – what she was overheard saying, and the fact that she would say something like that in the first place, puts a crack in the foundation of trust one places in a person. It needs to be addressed if it’s been eating at “M.” for this long.
I actually agree with both of you – the remark was awful in its own right, and the context of the mother-in-law’s character does matter when deciding what to do next.
Re: Shrapnel: I often say things to my best friend that I would NEVER want anyone else to overhear. Maybe it was that kind of situation. On the other hand, maybe you really just don’t like her that much. And that’s OK too!
Thank you – we do tend to save our leeway for people we like.
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