“Will His Estranged Mother Ruin The Family Get-Together?”

From the forums:


My husband has been estranged from his mom for about three years. The reason is a really long story, but we think she has borderline personality disorder and she can’t take responsibility for her actions. He has no interest in reconciling with her at all.

We just got invited to a family Christmas get-together and she, too, has been invited. My husband doesn’t have much family so I’m sure he’d love to see them, but I know he absolutely doesn’t want to see his mom. They don’t really do get-togethers like this, so it’s not like we could just see them all another time. His mom has only seen our older son twice and has never met our younger son.

I feel like if we decide to go and she’s there, it could just be an awkward situation for everyone else. I’m honestly not sure if all of the family even knows my husband and his mom are estranged (a couple do for sure). I think she’d cry a lot and probably ask to reconcile in front of everyone.

I hate to think that we have to change our behavior and not go because of her. But going…. Oh geez, that sounds like a potential disaster.

I really like his family (not his mom) and would love to spend time with them. Many of them have not met our children yet.

Should we go? — Husband Estranged From Mom

Your reason for going is a good one: You would love to see the family you like whom you haven’t seen much of and don’t get to see very often. But your reasons for not going are legitimate: You don’t want to see your husband’s mother and you don’t want to make an awkward situation for everyone else (including, I would assume, your young children), some of whom don’t even know about the estrangement. You may not want to have to change your behavior because of the (non)relationship between your husband and his mother, but… that’s too bad. The situation sucks and part of what sucks is that you do have to change some things, including going to family get-together without the worry of dealing with an estranged relative.

You have a few options. Your husband can reach out to his mother before the get-together to diffuse any potential blow-up that might happen when they see each other. I understand he has no interest in reconciling, and, considering the underlying cause of the estrangement, reaching out to her may not do any good anyway. But it would give forewarning to both parties of what to expect (I would also alert the host about the estrangement so s/he can plan accordingly). An email to Mom would suffice: “Mom, I wanted to let you know that we will be at the Christmas get-together. I understand you’ve been invited, too, and I trust we can be adults and enjoy the company of our relatives and let the good cheer of the season and our loved ones absorb whatever tension may arise between us.”

If you didn’t have young children, I might suggest going that route, but the truth is, the relationship is no longer between just your husband and his mother. It now includes, in addition to you, two grandchildren. It’s one thing to let young kids believe Grandma is out of the picture, for whatever the reason, but once they see her in the picture — in the same room — I have to imagine it would be terribly confusing for them to then go back to never seeing her.

I believe your husband has his reasons for not speaking to his mother. If he believes he and your family are better off not having his mother in your lives, then, honestly, I’d avoid an intimate family get-together where she’ll be in attendance. If your main motivation for going is to see family you don’t get to see very often, host them all another time. Why wait until you’re invited to a party? Throw your own. Invite them over for a New Year’s brunch or to celebrate one of your kids’ birthdays. Have them over for a 4th of July BBQ in the summer and then make it an annual affair so you have at least one event each year where you know you’ll see these people, even if you decide to skip any other event where your MIL might be.


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


  1. for_cutie says:

    You are in a tough bind, that is for sure. I would err on the side of being present with family, over missing an event you want to attend because of one person. What about reach out to the mother and ask her not to go? It will give her the chance to be the bigger person and honor your wishes. If she does, this might be a small step towards reconciling if she shows you with her actions that she respects your request. Honestly, maybe she was not going to go in the first place, and it would be a shame to miss the event if she wasn’t planning to attend. I say reach out and ask her not to attend. You will know from her response whether there will be drama if you bring your family.

    Also, I love Wendy’s advice about hosting a BBQ or some type of family gathering on your own turf to maintain the positive relationships in the family.

    1. It appears that neither the LW or her husband have any interest in reconciling, so I don’t think a small step toward that would matter. I agree with Wendy that it may be better for her immediate family (her husband and kids) to not go and to host at a different time.

    2. I would absolutely NOT go if I were LW and her family. My mother also has Borderline Personality Disorder and though the disease varies widely, it’s almost a guarantee that she will create a scene. Also, I think reaching out to her beforehand and asking her not to attend could be potentially disastrous. People with BPD are the world’s biggest victims and have zero accountability for their actions. Again, BPD is different for every individual, but I’d put money on asking her not to go to the holiday get together would cause some major drama: she might say she’s not going to go, but go anyway, or refuse and then badmouth her son the whole family. BPD is beyond frustrating to deal with.
      The best route is for LW to host another event at a later date as Wendy suggested.

      1. I was thinking (and I think I said in my post below) that even if the mother says she’s not going, there’s no guarantee. I agree with you that hosting a different event is a better idea.

  2. Agree with Wendy on all counts. You should look out for the best interest if your kids and if getting into an awkward argument with grandma at Christmas is likely to occur, that doesn’t sound like its in their best interest.
    And definitely agree with inviting the family to a get together of your own. Maybe they don’t DO family get togethers because nobody wants to put forth the effort. If you invite them, surely some will show up and then you can control the guest list (i.e. no Mom).

  3. I would probably reach out to the host and see if mom is planning to be there and decide from there where you want to go. I’m all about protecting my immediate family. I have missed family gatherings in order to not be around toxic people and I think that is not only ok, but best. I’ve also missed family gatherings because there is one person in a certain part of my family that can’t keep his big dumb face shut around me and I refuse to let him disrespect me anymore, so I know being at an event with him would cause a scene (as he would get mouthy and I wouldn’t take it – ie: when his stepdaughter, my sister, got married she asked him to be polite to me and he told her straight out he’d say whatever he wants to me).

    So LW, its up to your husband and you to decide what’s best. If the host says mom isn’t coming, are you willing to risk going knowing that she might show up anyway? Are you willing to miss the get together to avoid her? And are you willing to host a family function in which you control who will be there?

  4. Depends on the personalities really. Can the mother behave? Will your hosts mind? Will any of this bother your kids? Your first call should be to the hostess/host to tell them about the estrangement. If they didn’t know and don’t want the drama then problem solved – host your own party. I wouldn’t give mom a head’s up call. If you don’t want reconciliation then don’t have contact that might support/encourage that. Either she is a grown up and will act civilly or she won’t. A call in advance won’t make her act civilly if she isn’t so inclined. If the hostess is still open to everyone being there come what may then the hostess can always pass along the message that you guys are coming (and subtly infer SHE hopes everyone will behave) if a head’s up must be given. If you have an explanation prepared for your kids as to who this woman is and why daddy doesn’t talk with her then roll the dice but if it is going to be disconcerting for them that daddy doesn’t love his mommy the way they love theirs then skip it and throw your own party.

  5. I know from my own personal experience, and from several situations I have witnessed, that most children rebound quite easily from situations like this and are accepting of them without a lot of questions. Especially when they hardly see the person. Add in that his mother has BPD that probably caused a huge issue resulting in the estrangement… no, I really dont think that the relationship between the couple and the mother has to be changed solely due to the grandchildren. Yes you want to do what is best for your children but you are not obligated in this type of situation to put your feelings to the side and possibly put your family in mental and/or physical danger just so they can know grandma. Why? So she can possibly hurt them with whatever her BPD causes her to do? So that you have to be stressed and have to revisit the memory of whatever caused the estrangement every time you drop the kids off to see grams? Probably when the reason for the estrangement resulted in the fact you cant trust the woman? No. I dont think so.

    They should act cordial at this get together and if mother cant act the same then they duck out early. And after that, they dont have to entertain mother again until the next family get-together.

    1. I don’t think the LW or her husband are suggesting that they want their kids to have a relationship with his mom. The behavior she is referring to “changing” is that if it weren’t for the mother they would be going to the event without question, but since she may be there they are considering not going.

      1. No but Wendy’s advice tended towards that and I dont agree necessarily.

      2. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Where did I suggest anything about the kids having a relationship with the grandmother? On the contrary, I think if the woman is nuts, she should be kept away from the grandkids.

  6. This is hard and I think Wendy is right. Hosting your own event at a later time would be best for everyone. My husband is estranged from his mother too. Luckily for us we’ve made it through multiple get-togethers with her now, but there are some big differences between our situations. We don’t have children to factor in, his family knows about the estrangement and also knows his mother has some issues that cause her to act erratically and they are good at diffusing situations between her and other people. We’ve basically celebrated the holidays with her present and not with her for a few years now. It’s sad, but he does what he has to do to protect himself.

  7. I’m not really hearing what your husband wants to do. You say “he absolutely doesn’t want to see his mom”, and “I’m sure he’d love to see” his family. Have you asked him flat-out whether he wants to go to this thing or not, or are you making assumptions?
    Because it seems to me that this is entirely his call. His mother, his problems with her, his family. If he has strong feelings one way or another, then the decision is made. If he absolutely doesn’t want to see her, so much so that he’s willing to forgo seeing the rest of the family, then that’s it. You don’t go. If you, personally, want to see the others, then do what Wendy suggested and plan a get-together.
    If he’s not happy with the idea of seeing her, but is willing to deal because he misses the others, then you go and support him.
    If he really wants to go, but you think that it’s likely his mother will have a major meltdown that might be very upsetting to your children, then this becomes more complicated.

  8. Monkeysmommy says:

    LW, I feel for you. I wish I had good advice, but my I laws are estranged and we are in a similar boat. I just wanted to wish you luck and hope it all works out!

  9. dinoceros says:

    I suggested this in the forums, but maybe try it out this time and if it gets bad, leave? I say that because there’s a lot of uncertainty as to whether she’ll be there, whether she’ll go bonkers, etc. Finding out now can help you make more certain choices in the future. And it would be disappointing if you didn’t go and she either didn’t show up or she happened to act OK. But you all know her better than we do, so if you think there’s no possible way she will reasonably behave herself, then just make an effort to see family members without her.

  10. I already said my piece in the forums, earlier. I agree that doing your own event at a later time would be ideal. But if you are like me it might be easier to stop in and break the ice with family you haven’t seen in awhile first. I would leave the kids at home (unless it’s actually on Christmas and then I wouldn’t go). If the mom is truly an untreated borderline, I would be very hesitant to contact her beforehand. I think it could be like handing her a grenade. But maybe you could contact the host and mention that you are estranged with your mom but would still like to come visit with everyone for a little bit. If mom does throw a big fit and starts to ruin the party, leave. It’s likely her family already knows she is difficult; many of them have probably seen mom’s antics before. Nobody will wonder why you don’t bother to include her later. Or if its the easiest option, just hold your own thing, like Wendy advised.

  11. I would let your husband decide. He’s the one who will be most affected by seeing his mom. Either it’s worth it to him or not. You shouldn’t feel bad if you decide not to go. Avoiding the drama his mom would likely cause is reason enough.

    1. Absolutely agree with letting husband take the wheel on this one.

  12. I disagree with Wendy that it would be confusing to the kids to see the grandma this one time and then go back to no contact. If the kids do not have a relationship with her the fact that she is biologically their grandma will not mean anything to them. Grandma is a title not an automatic connection. She will just be a stranger to them regardless of what her title is. What would be confusing or damaging would be seeing their father get into a fight or argument with an old woman. For that reason I say do not go.

  13. Or even make efforts to see them each individually/in small groups(go to where they live and invite them out for a meal) if that’s easier than planning a party. Know that you can see them in some way soon and don’t stress about this missed event.

  14. I have a good friend who has a very similar situation with her MIL. They have chosen to cut off contact with her for good reasons, but at the same time, they feel the loss of other family members who still gather for holidays and special occasions. For the health of their marriage and for the well-being of their kids, they aren’t going to put themselves in a situation where she can do damage. They still want that relationship with extended family, but those relationships are sacrificed in order to protect their immediate family from her MIL’s toxic behavior. It’s normal and okay to feel sad about the loss of those family times, but there is no real way to have it all here (unless you take Wendy’s suggestion to host your own gathering). Neither choice is going to feel good, but you have to make the least bad choice here, and I would err on the side of protecting your husband and kids.

  15. Howdywiley says:

    Something like this recently happened to a friend of mine. After lots of thought, she decided to hire a babysitter to watch her children. She and her husband went to the family get together. It was tense, but much less so because they didn’t have their small children involved.

  16. I think you need to stay out of the decision completely. This is for your husband to make and for you to support. People who grew up with disordered parents had a tough enough time trying to make sense of nonsense. I agree with above that you do some hosting so your family stays connected to his other relatives. There is no cure for personality disorders.

  17. Part of the problem of asking the host whether the mother is invited is that you might put them in an awkward situation and make them feel like they either have to choose sides between the mother and your family, or they have to decide whether or not to host a possible shit-show. Your husband may know the host well enough to gauge that one.
    If your husband thought that it would not be awkward to speak to the host, he could ask if the mother was invited, and you could attend if she was not. If he thought that it would be awkward to discuss, then I would decline to attend and host a get-together later.
    My priority would be to avoid potential drama with the mother. A dramatic confrontation would not be good for either your family or the rest of his family.

  18. Clementine says:

    I have a similar MIL. We manage to keep her at arm’s length and still see the extended family. Everyone knows exactly how she is, so no one bats an eye when she starts crying dramatically over the mashed potatoes or unexpectedly tucks herself into bed in the 8 year old’s room.

    So, my advice is to go. Don’t send a message anticipating drama, because that’s just going to beget drama. Don’t ask her not to go. She shouldn’t have that kind of power over you. Go, be the bigger person, keep a close eye on the kids, and politely excuse yourself to chat with someone else if she tries to corner you.

  19. wobster109 says:

    LW, maybe try getting a hotel and going just for a couple hours, maybe for dinner? Then if a blowup starts you can grab your kids and head out.

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