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Husband keeps his parents at arm's length from daughter and wife

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 1:33 a.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion

Hi, Carolyn:

What are my obligations to help cultivate a good relationship between my daughter and her paternal grandparents? My husband is not close to his parents. There has been no abuse or fight over a major issue. My husband and I are just really different from his parents. We live in an urban area, they live in a rural area; we have white-collar jobs, they have blue-collar jobs; we’re liberal, they’re conservative, etc.

So far, my husband is only willing to accommodate his family visiting for one weekend a year if they stay in a hotel. We do not visit them. Each visit causes my husband a fair amount of anxiety, so I have not pushed for more time. His parents are unwilling to try video chatting, and my daughter has no interest in talking on the phone.

The grandparents periodically express some frustration over not having a better relationship with her, but I’m not sure what I can do. Sending her to visit on her own is not an option — they’re a plane ride away and their area isn’t the sort of place I would leave a multiracial child without parental supervision.

— Just Really Different

Maybe I’m being obtuse, but, urban/rural, white collar/blue collar, liberal/conservative and not being close are emotional apples and oranges. At least they used to be.

Maybe there’s more to it that you didn’t include, but if not, if it’s just city versus country mice, then seeing that as extra work versus unworkable could encourage rapprochement.

And also in that case, the strict one-visit-per-year limit seems more cruel and unusual than healthy and warranted.

And cheez, “no interest in talking on the phone” is not an excuse. Please teach your child that remaining connected on a grandparent’s terms is an act of love — and barely registers on the effort scale. Seriously.

Now, if we’re to extrapolate from “multiracial child” that your husband’s position is a boundary he enforces against racial prejudice, then some of this makes sense — except, if this were about race, why wouldn’t that be in your first line?

So here’s what I’ve got: If your husband’s anxiety is about the place and circumstances versus the people, then ask him whether you and he have built the guardrails too high.

If his anxiety is about his parents themselves, then your obligation is to check in occasionally — “Are we handling this right?” — but otherwise be supportive of what he needs.

I hope in that case, though, he made it clear to them the reason(s) he keeps them at bay. Assuming they should know by now is not a substitute for specifics, and it’s torture not to know why.

Re: Different:

There may have been issues with the parents prior to the marriage. I am assuming “Different” is a different race and perhaps the parents expressed concerns to him prior to the marriage. This happened to my brother, and his wife (also a different race) never knew. Once they married, my parents came around and built a strong relationship with her. My brother never forgot the initial reaction, and maybe that’s what’s going on here as well.

— Anonymous

So, a “major issue” the writer isn’t privy to — plausible explanation, thanks.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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