Family

Carolyn Hax: Husband wants to shun his family; spouse disagrees

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Q: My husband does not want to invite his brother and family to our son’s upcoming bar mitzvah. He thinks they are bad people, in part stemming from stuff that went down with their sick mother.

I feel uncomfortable with this. I think you don’t do something divisive like that and, moreover, I don’t want to introduce that kind of family divisiveness to our son. I don’t want to teach him that cutting off family is an option, particularly since my younger son has special needs and I don’t want dropping family to be an option to be considered.

Thoughts? The idea of inviting his brother and family is making my husband angry.

F.

A: Then you don’t invite them. It is with his family and his feelings and at his expense that you’d be teaching your lesson about family – and what would that be teaching the kids about valuing, respecting and supporting a spouse?

You have a valid concern about dropping family. But even if we set aside the husband issue – say, we pretend this is your brother we’re talking about – you’re still trying to use apples to teach a lesson about oranges.

Your younger son’s needs are a fact of who he is; of course you don’t drop family members, or otherwise punish anyone, for circumstances they can’t control. We all have our own version of these. These are the oranges.

The way people choose to behave is a different matter – the apples. Being human comes with a full set of frailties and so loving people requires forgiveness, period. But while you obviously don’t want to teach your kids it’s OK to drop people for minor infractions or because things aren’t easy, I imagine you haven’t, for example, hired a lot of violent felons to baby-sit your kids. We all draw lines on behavior we accept from others.

And so that’s an area of teaching that’s also important: when, where and how to draw lines when you object to someone’s actions. You and your husband have an opportunity here to show your kids not just how loving partners reconcile their conflicted feelings and purposes, but also how some behavior causes long-term, even permanent damage to your relationships with others. You can show them that when someone is harmful or exploitive, it is sometimes necessary to step away – even from someone you love. And you can show that a family’s love isn’t a be-cruel-with-impunity card.

How to be compassionate and how not to be a victim are lessons aptly taught in tandem; they’re also fitting ones, even in this unfortunate circumstance, for a boy’s coming of age.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon each Friday at Washingtonpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

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