Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn • After 15 years in a psychologically and physically abusive marriage, I managed to get out and took my three children with me. Two of my children carry on a relationship with their father, and I have stayed completely out of that since they became adults. I’ve done pretty well with dealing with him at family occasions, and have even had him in my home for a couple of celebrations, though it has been difficult for me.
One daughter is getting married and asked me to walk her down the aisle with her father. I really don’t think I can handle that or a "parents’ dance." The thought of him touching me in any way makes me feel ill. I’m fine with him walking her down the aisle, or I would be proud to do it by myself.
How can I handle this without upsetting my daughter, or spending the entire reception shaking and crying in the ladies’ room? Am I being terribly selfish for wanting to say no?
Mother of the Bride
Dear Mother of the Bride • "How can I handle this without upsetting my daughter" — so much in this one phrase. Your job on this earth is not to get through your days without upsetting people, as abuse often conditions people to believe.
Your job is to figure out who you are, and what being that person requires of you. Then your job is to stay true to that as kindly as possible without compromising any of your core; how your efforts are received is beyond your control. Good people consider and care about others’ feelings, yes — but please don’t confuse that with being beholden to them.
Tell your daughter you love her and support her and can’t wait to celebrate with her, but you will not dance or share the aisle with your ex. Do mention that you’re OK with his escorting her alone.
If you haven’t had counseling to help you with the aftermath of 15 years of abuse, I hope you’ll consider it. It’s a natural forum for questions like this.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.