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Carolyn Hax: Husband died; she'd like to cut off in-laws

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • December 6, 2012 - 2:43 PM

Dear Carolyn: Do I owe it to my kids to keep in touch with their grandparents (my in-laws) after the death of my husband?

My husband died in a car accident last year and we have still not recovered from the shock, although we are doing much better. We have a lot of support from our family, community and friends. We are fortunate also to be financially secure.

My husband's parents, who live a half-hour away, wish to continue keeping in touch with me and the kids. I have never really liked them and only dealt with them out of respect to my husband. Now that he is no longer with us, I would like to cut off the relationship.

They are nice, loving people. I just don't see eye-to-eye with their values and judgments. To pretend to be nice to them is too much for me at this time. My kids are 10 and 12 and like them enough but don't seem to ask to see them, either.

Carolyn says: You make no mention of what you owe your in-laws, but, wow: They lost their child just as shockingly as you lost your husband.

You also imply you have sufficient support not to need them, double wow. While I sympathize with all you have faced, it doesn't justify denying "nice, loving people" their grandchildren. Please imagine yourself in their position to see you through this emotional errand, even if it's only to drop your kids off for lunch with your in-laws once in a while. Decency doesn't just demand it; it absolutely insists.

E-mail attack

Dear Carolyn: Is it ever OK to respond to an e-mail that was sent to your spouse, not you? If the e-mail attacks you, for instance? Does it make a difference if you read your spouse's e-mail, or if they forward the e-mail to you? Or if you know the person? What if you don't?

I know this is all rather vague, but I think details muddy the waters. Friends seem torn; some think replying is a serious boundary violation, and that it's up to the recipient to reply or not, while others believe that once you are married you are "one," and they would be determined to "get the last word" in defense of themselves and their union, regardless if that seems petty. Thoughts?

Carolyn says: Even if it's "OK," is it ever a good idea to do something non-essential that you're so unsure about doing that you ask 20 different people for permission to do it?

I like to decide for myself whether details muddy or matter, but the sparse information you've given me points to dealing with this through your spouse. Or, of course, not at all; there's a lot to be said for starving such hostility of attention, besides an "I don't appreciate those remarks" reply from Spouse.

Angling to "get the last word" is petty stuff in just about any context -- living honorably is the only winning move -- but if Spouse isn't on your side in this, then any "last word" will be a hollow victory indeed.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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