Carolyn Hax: With first baby on the way, old wounds reopen
Dear Carolyn • My husband's mother passed away 10 years ago, before we got married. They were very close; his father was always a little disengaged, unsure of how to relate to children. After she died, my husband spent years in a pretty dark place. With therapy and time, he has worked through the worst of it, but still struggles with his grief on occasion. My father-in-law remarried shortly after my mother-in-law's death. His new wife is much younger, has children of her own at home, and has made an effort to include us in the new family. My husband mildly dislikes her, ostensibly due to her overpowering religious beliefs, but also because he feels she treads too far over the line sometimes trying to fill his mother's shoes. We are expecting our first child, and my husband is thrilled, but the new arrival is shining an extra bright spotlight on how much he misses his mother. His stepmother is beside herself with excitement, and is increasingly setting herself up as a prime target for my husband's frustration. For example, she talks about how excited she is to be a grandmother. My husband finds her "grandmother" comments disrespectful to the memory of his mother, but doesn't know how to bring it up (or if he should at all). I pointed out that our children will inevitably see her as a grandmother-type figure, but that we can also honor the memory of his mother as part of their lives, yet he still bristles when Stepmother does so much as ask how we're doing. How can we best approach this delicate situation?
Dear A. • Isn't it time you and your husband he in particular stopped treating this as delicate? You won't find many people who can be as sympathetic to his loss, and the "extra bright spotlight" that having children can shine on it, as I can. I lived these myself, and feel the weight still. But that sadness is my responsibility, and your husband's is his; the greatest dishonor to his mother's memory is the way your husband punishes his stepmother. It's self-indulgent cruelty to regard her love as coming at his mother's expense, when they're two separate things. The stepmother fell in love with a widower. Period. She's dancing on nobody's grave.
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