Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Morning Quickies: “My Husband’s Family Avoids Me At All Costs”

My husband’s adult kids and grandkids have ignored me, excluded me, and avoided me at all costs, and I don’t know why. The last straw was when I wasn’t invited to his oldest granddaughter’s baby shower. I asked my husband why and he said because I gave their dog, who was tied up in the back yard in 100-degree heat, some water to drink because he didn’t have any. For twenty years, we have traveled thousands of miles to see his family but have never had anything reciprocated. We have never been invited to their homes for dinner, and only one time did they offer us a bottle of water. I told my husband no more for me, but I am really sad today because the second oldest grandchild graduated and I wasn’t invited; my husband went, though, while I sat in the hotel with the dog. Why is his family so mean? My husband said, “Don’t feel bad. My kids never liked anybody I brought home after their mother died.” — Avoided at All Costs

It sounds like your husband could have done a lot more in the past twenty years to facilitate a better relationship between you and his kids, especially knowing how resistant his kids had always been to anyone in their dad’s life after their mother died. There were probably a lot of missed opportunities over the years to create a warmer environment to foster these relationships, and now that so much time has passed and you have drawn a line in the sand, saying, “no more for me,” I’m not sure what you expect? Your husband is not going to stop visiting his kids and grandkids. He isn’t going to – and shouldn’t! — cut them all out of his life. But if YOU don’t want to be in their lives, maybe don’t accompany him on the visits anymore. Sulking in a hotel room isn’t healthy. Stay home and make plans with friends or your own family. You obviously resent that you’ve traveled thousands of miles to visit family who don’t reciprocate, so stop. Accept that you aren’t going to have a relationship with these people (whom it seems you’ve never cared for or enjoyed anyway); quit trying to figure out why they’re mean and move on with your life. If your husband isn’t all broken up about the status of your relationship with his kids, you shouldn’t be either. This will simply have to be one part of your life together that you don’t actively participate in. Hopefully, in a relationship that has spanned twenty years, you’ve developed plenty of other mutual friendships, interests, and hobbies to make up for it.

I’m thirteen weeks pregnant with my first baby. Before we get to my question, note that my sister and I don’t have a good relationship. We were great when we were young, and then, when we got older, she began being rude to me if I asked her to do small things for our mum and dad like washing dishes and laundry – the stuff I was doing to help them out; she became upset and would swear and scream saying, “Why are you acting like a bitch?! Fuck off and stop making me the bad guy!!” After years of this, I tried to fix our relationship by wiping the slate clean and apologizing for things I didn’t do to make her happy, but this did nothing. She would always bring up fights we have had through the years and would blame me for her attitude.

Flash forward to now and everyone is excited about my pregnancy, including her. The conversation came of godparents and she asked me who is going to be godmother. I said I’m still deciding. She got upset, saying it’s the sister’s job to be godmother, and I told her I’m not thinking that just yet as I’m looking for a house first. She got upset and told me I’m acting bitchy, and now she’s saying she doesn’t care what the baby calls her or if she even sees the baby.

I spoke to my partner and I explained that my sister as the aunty will have the same privileges as godmother, but because of the way she treats me and especially my dad and mum like shit, swearing at us and playing victim, I don’t want her to be a role model for my child. I want someone to look up to for a godparent who shows the right behavior to family and friends. Do you think I’m overreacting and should I give her the godmother title or should I stick with my decision to have her as Aunty and pick someone else as godmother? — Godmother Decision Dilemma

 
Of course you don’t have to name your sister as your child’s godmother. It’s kind of redundant to name a sibling as a godparent anyway, isn’t it? Aren’t the roles of aunty and godmother kind of identical? And even if they aren’t, you clearly have valid and justified reasons for NOT wanting your unstable, rude sister to serve as a role model and spiritual mentor to your child. You have zero obligation to extend this invitation to your sister, and I wouldn’t if I were you. There’s no guarantee that doing so would cement a good relationship between the two of you or that she would magically become a positive light in your child’s life. There’s a good chance that, godmother title or no, your sister will probably waver in and out of your child’s life, model poor behavior, and disappoint you. Better to extend the honor of godmother to someone you love and are close to and trust to be a positive influence in your child’s life, who can be an additional source of love, stability, and guidance.

If you’re worried about how to tell your sister you’re choosing someone else for godmother, accept that there’s probably nothing you can say that won’t offend her. I’d keep it simple and spin it positively: “I’m really flattered you feel strongly about being my child’s godmother, and while I hope you will relish your special role as aunty and that you and my child will develop a strong bond and close relationship, I’ve decided to name someone else as godmother. It’s my hope that by extending the circle of influential adults in his or her life, my child will feel that much more loved and secure. I know as an aunt you have even more potential to make that happen than anyone, and I hope you will embrace that role.”

(She will probably yell and swear at you and tell you she wants nothing to do with your baby, but that should only serve as validation for you that you’re making the right choice.)

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

25 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Northern Star December 17, 2018, 10:39 am

    LW 2: “now she’s saying she doesn’t care what the baby calls her or if she even sees the baby.”

    Tell your sister her wish is granted, and she doesn’t need to see the baby. What an a-hole.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom December 17, 2018, 10:58 am

    LW1 I think I’d try couples counseling and see if they can give the two of you suggestions for a better relationship with his family. You can’t force his family to like you but he should at least expect them to be polite and the counselor should be able to give him strategies to do that.

    I’m guessing his kids feel like they would be disloyal to their mom if they accepted any other woman into their lives. I think your husband could have done much better than he has.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie December 17, 2018, 11:01 am

    LW #1 – your husband could have made this issue go away years ago. He didn’t. There is no incentive for them to change their behavior, so they won’t. Stop paying the game.

    LW #2 – your sister sounds like a piece of work. You don’t have to make your sister a god parent. Also be sure to pick the right people to take care of your child if the worst of the worst happens. Your sister is not that person. She’s insane. If she’s going to threaten distance because she doesn’t like your decision – sounds like it solves two problems with one tantrum-throwing stone.

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    • avatar

      LisforLeslie December 17, 2018, 11:02 am

      Playing the game – not paying. But that could be a nice Freudian slip.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster December 17, 2018, 11:12 am

    Completely agree with Wendy for LW2.

    I’m godmother to my best friend’s little girl, not her sister, who coincidentally has a lot of mental health issues- tho to my knowledge her sister didn’t take offense (nor should she). My own godparents are my maternal aunt and paternal uncle. I’ve found this to be pretty common among Catholic families that I know. However, my ex, who was brought up Evangelical, always found it weird that so many of my friends and family choose aunts and uncles to also fulfill godparent roles. At least in the community where he grew up, godparents are usually a married couple. There are so many different traditions, LW, you don’t have to be bullied into this just because your sister is having (another) tantrum.

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  • avatar

    Poppy December 17, 2018, 11:34 am

    LW1 I am having a hard time believing that these adult children solely treat you this way because they arent ready to accept their dad with a partner. There has to be something else. The example of giving one of his adult childrens dog some water and them no longer inviting you due to it tells me that this disliking of you is personal. You have rubbed them the wrong way by who you are as a person. Maybe you have some character flaws that are unwelcoming to them. Were they really not giving their dog water or were you being dramatic and made a scene about it? How was your approach? I think thats great you gave the dog water if the dog was in need but did you ask permission first or did you personally attack them over it? I agree your husband should have dealt with this issue years ago if it has to do with the fact that just dont like dads partners due to wife’s/moms death but this seems to be more of a they dont like YOU personally and so therefor no, the husband cant do anything about that. I dont know how you come across to them. You could have a big heart and they are threatened by you or you could be an ass. Like others have said stay back and enjoy your time around people who want to be around you. If you go on these trips then go enjoy a day out pampering yourself and explore.

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    • avatar

      LisforLeslie December 17, 2018, 12:07 pm

      Poppy – I get where you’re coming from but in my experience this is one of those situations where the initial hatred is understandable but unjustified. From that point on, the more alpha of the siblings will create a “us or her” situation that perpetuates the behavior, followed by simple patterns “This is always how it’s been and we’re not changing now because we don’t need to or because I don’t feel like dealing with alpha”.

      As sad as it is, some people live in an angry or unhealthy mental space because it’s familiar, not because it’s pleasant.

      It sounds like they’re not geographically close that would lend itself to opportunities like helping out with the kiddos or having casual dinners on occasion to move the needle a bit.

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    • Lucidity

      Lucidity December 17, 2018, 1:31 pm

      It could be either way. In my own experience, my siblings and I hate my dad’s wife because she’s an awful, racist person. It would have been hard to adjust to anyone at first, but I could see myself growing to love the kind, down-to-earth woman he dated before this one. However, we’re always polite and civil, even when calling out her racism. But when my dad passes, we are all out of her life – because she’s awful, not because she’s someone other than my mom and we’ve grown accustomed to our hatred.

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      • avatar

        LisforLeslie December 17, 2018, 1:43 pm

        Fair point. The last time I spoke to my step siblings was when my stepmother died over 10 years ago (three years after my dad). We have nothing in common and they’re both pretty awful people in different ways.

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      • Lucidity

        Lucidity December 17, 2018, 1:58 pm

        I do suspect it’s the distance that’s the main problem here. I wouldn’t put someone who lives thousands of miles away on a baby shower guestlist, especially if I’m not close with them – feels like a gift grab. But we’re only getting one side of the story here and I agree that the water for the dog story sounds strange. I also wondered how that was handled. Had the dog only just finished a bowl? Did LW make a scene? Is giving the dog water a red herring? Maybe LW is a perfectly lovely person who doesn’t deserve to be treated this way, or maybe there’s something going on. My dad’s racist wife doesn’t realize (or refuses to admit) that she’s racist and would write in to DW complaining that her husband’s horrid kids don’t have a sense of humor and are always giving her a hard time because we’re such uptight PC snowflakes. There are always sides to every story.

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      • avatar

        Poppy December 18, 2018, 12:10 am

        The dog comment was off to me. That’s why I am looking at it from a possible different perspective. It also sounds like the family might not be close with husband. I can also say that my dad has been married multiple times and I never got close to his other wives except for 2. My dad makes poor decision when it comes to love “lust”. His current wife of 5 yrs we have become close with but at first we werent real welcoming to her and not happy with dad. Married her a month after knowing. I thought they both were crazy but they seem very happy together. That’s what matters.

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    • avatar

      Anonymous December 30, 2018, 1:27 am

      “Thank you for your response. I do agree with you to move on without participation with his two sons and their wives but I have always tried to be part of their lives. I was always cheerful, happy, bought presents, cooked, cards and money for all occasions, listened while they talked, was gracious as a host while they visited our home, always tried to be optimistic, I was never rude or mean to them, never lashed back even when they ignored me at numerous gatherings, rented B&B for them because they preferred that rather than to be in our home, asked to keep the grand-children all the time, traveled thousands of miles to see them because my husband always wanted me to go with them (we were in the military)…I did care for them and did want a good relationship with them. I stayed in the hotel because I wasn’t invited to the graduation and we were there the next day to see his Mother, who has Alzheimers in an extended care facility and his brother in another facility who has Parkinsons. The day after that we were invited to his first son’s house for dinner, who are very nice people (my husband just told me about 6 months ago he had this son with another woman and now they are trying to have a relationship because the son just found out my husband was his father (the son is 46yrs old). This is the strangest situation I have ever heard of, it is hurtful to me but so more hurtful to my husband. It does seem that if he is invited and I am not and he attends these events that he agrees with their not inviting me, is that right?”

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  • avatar

    Poppy December 17, 2018, 11:38 am

    LW2 your sister sounds like she has some issues. Its pretty damn evil to threaten you no longer care about a family baby over something as petty as being called a godmother. Your sister probably uses that tactic because its worked making people feel guilty but its actually disgusting behavior. I would do as Wendy advised but would set boundaries with this sister. This wont be the first time she threatens to not be in babies life.

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  • avatar

    Rebecca December 17, 2018, 11:41 am

    LW1, if what you say is accurate, your husband condones dog-abuse. Get out of there!

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  • avatar

    ron December 17, 2018, 11:52 am

    LW#1 — this is never going to change, in large measure because your husband has never cared about it or made an effort to bring about change. I don’t know why you would be surprised not to be included at significant events of grandchildren — from what you say, it sounds like you have never had an opportunity to spend time with them, so you mean absolutely nothing to them. I don’t understand why you travel with husband to these events and then stay alone in hotel with the dog. Wouldn’t you be a lot more comfortable simply staying home at your house. If your husband attends these events alone, let him go alone — only fair.

    LW #2 — The one thing you did wrong here is appointing yourself your sister’s boss and the one to hector her to do things for your parents. If you’re having your first child, neither you nor your sister, and likely not your parents, are all that old. If the want/need help from their daughter, it is their place to speak to her, not yours. For now it sounds like you should expect little from your sister and talk to her less. Whatever happened over the years to change the good relationship you once had, it’s clearly that she doesn’t like you today.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros December 17, 2018, 12:22 pm

    LW1: I empathize with you, but if this was something that you weren’t cool with, then you shouldn’t have stayed with him for 20 years. He’s shown that he doesn’t have any interest in changing their behavior and he doesn’t seem to care that much. It seems like you’ve basically witnessed this, but still chose to just accept it. At this point, I think your options are just to live your life without having a relationship with his family (meaning: don’t go to visit them) or to get a divorce.

    LW2: At a certain point, you just have to accept the fact that your sister is sort of unhinged. It’s a waste of energy for you to consider her demands seriously as though she were a reasonable person. If it weren’t this, she’d probably find some other reason to yell at you.

    That being said, calling someone a godparent isn’t a legally binding agreement. Most people I know haven’t spoken to their godparents in decades. I think that all the fuss over the title (versus what’s actually in your will) is a little silly. I’m not a godparent to my BFF’s son, but I still treat him the same way as I would have otherwise.

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  • avatar

    Bunny December 17, 2018, 12:24 pm

    LW1 – This might sound melodramatic, but I hope you both have updated documentation in place such as living wills, power of attorney, and last will and testaments. If the relationship between you and your husband’s children is as estranged as you allude to, these sound like just the sort of people who would push in and try to take everything out from under you should an unfortunate circumstance befall your husband. And if your husband is as passive about putting his affairs in order as he is about fostering a relationship between you and his kids, he’s probably got a really old will lying around. So just make sure protections are in place for your relationship. And that goes for having your own paperwork sorted out as well. Otherwise leave those terrible people to their own misery. And also is your husband this passive about everything else? Because ugh.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy December 17, 2018, 12:52 pm

      Good points.

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    • avatar

      Anonymous December 30, 2018, 1:32 am

      I thought of what you wrote a couple of weeks before I read it. I told my husband, we need to do this, and we did. I feel a lot better about the fact they won’t be able to pull something sneaky like this. My husband, on the other hand refused to believe they would do this. I’ve worked hard for the last 43yrs, 20 of the that in the military and I couldn’t imagine these mean people taking my home.

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  • avatar

    keyblade December 17, 2018, 12:46 pm

    LW1: “For twenty years, we have traveled thousands of miles to see his family but have never had anything reciprocated. We have never been invited to their homes for dinner, and only one time did they offer us a bottle of water. ”

    I don’t think the children sound particularly close with your father if they have never had so much as a meal at their own house with you guys in the last twenty years.

    “The last straw was when I wasn’t invited to his oldest granddaughter’s baby shower. I asked my husband why and he said because I gave their dog, who was tied up in the back yard in 100-degree heat, some water to drink because he didn’t have any. ”

    I wonder if is husband actually confirmed that was why she wasn’t invited to the baby shower? Was the letter writer’s husband even invited? Was the mother of the granddaughter the one who was hosting the shower? Is it possible she wasn’t actually involved into deciding the guests? Not every shower is like a wedding.

    “I told my husband no more for me, but I am really sad today because the second oldest grandchild graduated and I wasn’t invited; my husband went, though, while I sat in the hotel with the dog.”

    Again, this really sounds like your husband’s fault because he doesn’t seem to mind if you are there or not. I think if you traveled all the way out there though, it was extremely inconsiderate of them not to include, you. I agree with others that after twenty years of not having much or any relationship with you, not a lot is going to change at this point. I understand why you feel sad and resentful but you’ll be happier and better off if you try not to focus on something you are unlikely to be able to amend or change. Unless there are other glaring gaps of consideration from your husband, you’re best off trying to let this one go.

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  • avatar

    keyblade December 17, 2018, 12:47 pm

    correction- I don’t think the children sound particularly close with *their father

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  • avatar

    keyblade December 17, 2018, 1:25 pm

    Letter writer 2: Your sister does sound unhinged and a little like she strongly associates you with your parents. This isn’t your fault or your problem. She is wrong to emotionally blackmail you into giving her a title she thinks she is owed because she is your sister. If I were in your shoes, I would I would tell her you love her (assuming that is the case) and you hope she’ll change her mind. When she starts to bring up the past with you, I would explain that I would rather not revisit the memories and consistently change the subject or cut the visit short. When she sees her ultimatums don’t have the desired impact maybe she will stop trying to use you to feel better about her own past.

    To be honest, I can empathize with being in the position where it was harder for me to move past certain things in my family than it was for other people to move on. Your sister isn’t behaving well and that is not your fault or challenge to fix. But you also seem to be a bit defensive about your parents, presumtious about assigning chores in the past, and truly unable to understand the source of her frustrations. Again, it isn’t your fault or responsibility to help your sister find peace in herself. You should build strong connections with people who’s company adds rather than subtracts to you and your children’s well-being.

    If you ever are inclined to want a relationship with her, bear in mind that sometimes recipents can pick up on feelings of contempt and judgment whether such feelings are directly stated or not.

    To be clear though, You should put up with being screamed and cussed out by your little sister.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph December 17, 2018, 1:26 pm

    Godparent does have a very specific role in certain religions, as the person who is responsible for the religious upbringing of the child if the parents are unable to do so. But generally its an honorary title with no official duties. It is, as others mentioned, not a legally binding thing for custody if the parents die.

    My daughter and I are Jewish and its not in our tradition to nominate godparents (although some Jews do) so she has no godparents. My husband is Catholic godfather for one of our twin nephews but not the other twin, and I am not the godmother since I’m not of the same religion… but either way, its not like the twins would be split up and sent off to their respective godparents if their parents died.

    Regardless, this woman seems like she’s far more obsessed with the honorific than with being part of the child’s life which you can do as godmother, aunt, or just as a good friend and “auntie.”

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  • Lucidity

    Lucidity December 17, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Wendy is very gracious with her script for how to turn down LW 2’s sister. I’d be tempted to use that as an opportunity to call out her bad behaviour in the hopes she’d reflect on how she’s treating others, especially since she’s going to flip out regardless: “I want baby’s godmother to be a good role model in their life, so I can’t choose anyone who calls me a bitch/bitchy, yells at people, or casually threatens to walk out of baby’s life.” Suck on that, sis.

    Except don’t. Wendy’s script is the high road and that’s always the way to go.

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  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy December 18, 2018, 1:08 pm

    From the LW:

    “Thank you for your response. I do agree with you to move on without participation with his two sons and their wives but I have always tried to be part of their lives. I was always cheerful, happy, bought presents, cooked, cards and money for all occasions, listened while they talked, was gracious as a host while they visited our home, always tried to be optimistic, I was never rude or mean to them, never lashed back even when they ignored me at numerous gatherings, rented B&B for them because they preferred that rather than to be in our home, asked to keep the grand-children all the time, traveled thousands of miles to see them because my husband always wanted me to go with them (we were in the military)…I did care for them and did want a good relationship with them. I stayed in the hotel because I wasn’t invited to the graduation and we were there the next day to see his Mother, who has Alzheimers in an extended care facility and his brother in another facility who has Parkinsons. The day after that we were invited to his first son’s house for dinner, who are very nice people (my husband just told me about 6 months ago he had this son with another woman and now they are trying to have a relationship because the son just found out my husband was his father (the son is 46yrs old). This is the strangest situation I have ever heard of, it is hurtful to me but so more hurtful to my husband. It does seem that if he is invited and I am not and he attends these events that he agrees with their not inviting me, is that right?”

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