My sister-in-law has shunned my parents, keeping my niece and nephew (their only grandchildren) away from our entire side of the family, including me. My parents have only seen their granddaughter once, in a very tense visit after which my sister-in-law asked them to leave the house. Should I confront my brother? He has glossed over and tried to joke his way through these barriers. He doesn’t call or send pictures to my grieving parents, and we only speak every two or three months now. My mother has even asked if I can stake out their house or church and take pictures of them so she can see her grandchildren growing up! It kills me that he could allow her to estrange him from us. Advice would be most welcome.
Anonymous / Boston
Drop it. Drop. It.
If you want to salvage any relationship whatsoever with your brother, and bring the cool, clear light of a sane day into your relationship with your parents, you need to get out of the middle of this situation — yesterday. You do not talk to him about them. You do not talk to them about him. PERIOD.
At present, you are entirely enmeshed in your parents’ self-serving perspective. You don’t mention why your brother and his wife asked your parents to leave their house. You don’t mention any reasons at all for the overall estrangement, other than “She did it.” This is frankly suspicious as all get-out. People don’t shun family, or expel houseguests, for no reason. They just don’t. People may cut family ties for bad reasons, but the reasons are known. Your presentation of wholly innocent, grieving grandparents bewildered by their cruel, pointless exile is simply not credible. There are too many “missing missing reasons” (a phrase coined by blogger Issendai to describe a frequent feature of estranged-parent narratives).
I mean, your parents are trying to persuade you to track down and surreptitiously photograph children against the will of their parents — and they’ve got you so turned around you’re presenting this as evidence of their victimization! Do stalking and filming children without permission seem like good ideas to you? Because they really, really aren’t, and the fact that “it’s their grandchildren” doesn’t give them the right. Your brother and his wife have the right to set and enforce boundaries, whether you agree with their decisions or not.
It sounds as if your brother is making a real effort to stay in touch with you despite your attempts to force him back into contact with his parents. Apologize and tell him you won’t get in the middle or try to manage his relationships with other people again, then stick to it. Ask him to let you know if you slip up and fall into old habits.
Consider getting some help to set boundaries with your parents and understand some of your family dynamics. It’s probably going to take a while, and will make you really angry sometimes. But it’s the only path to freedom.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.