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Dear Care and Feeding,
Three years ago, our then–2-year-old daughter was in an accident that resulted in her losing two fingers while visiting my family for the first time without us. Her father and I went through a very rough patch as a couple due to the fact that he was against her going in the first place, but we got through it. Now, my mom, who moved out of state recently, is coming to visit relatives back home and asked if our daughter could visit and stay while she is here. Due to a scheduling conflict, neither of us would be able to go with our daughter, so we would be sending her by herself.
My mom has asked several times since the accident, but I’ve always gently shut her down out of respect for my partner because he still feels the same as he did three years ago. I feel terrible, but she hasn’t really gotten the hint that it’s a contentious issue, and she just keeps asking. I am now at a place where I am reasonably comfortable with our daughter visiting without us being there, but he is not, and it is causing conflict. What should I do? My stress level is really high because I want to please both of them, but I don’t think I can.
—Caught in the Middle
You are right—you cannot please both of them. Which is a tremendous gift because it gives you the freedom to worry only about pleasing yourself. I can see how that might feel difficult under the circumstances, but I can assure you it’s entirely appropriate.
What happened to your daughter is not your fault. You may know that, but it needs to be said again and again, because shame and regret like this reaches so deeply inside of who we are that it needs to be weeded out regularly. Left unattended, it grows back and strangles us from the inside. What happened to your daughter is not your fault. I know this because every day, all around the planet, millions of parenting couples send their kids on adventures that one of them is less certain about than the other. And most of those kids come back unharmed. What happened to your daughter has nothing to do with the fact that you sent her to stay with her relatives when your partner didn’t want to. It has nothing to do with anything other than terrible luck. So keeping your daughter from staying with your mom does not guarantee her safety any more than never using a gas stove guarantees the safety of someone who was once burned in a fire.
If you are ready for your mother to see your daughter, then you are ready. It is my guess that your mother is not as oblivious as you think. She knows what happened, and I can guess that she has a pretty good idea of how you guys feel about it. But she wants to have a relationship with her granddaughter, and she is just gently working the edge until you relent. Your partner is understandably having a difficult time, but his way of dealing with this—punishing your family by making sure they never get to see your daughter alone—strikes me as misguided.
He has a lot to work through to come to terms with this horrible event. It sounds to me as though you both do. Here is a place where, if it is available to you, therapy may help. When we are traumatized by an event we play it over and over and see its possibility everywhere we look. There are methods for processing and dealing with these things so that we stop reliving them, allow them to metabolize and move on, and as a result reform a working and healthy relationship with reality. I think this would be helpful to both of you.
What you should do is seek therapy for the both of you to address this lingering trauma, and if you feel ready to send her, then tell your partner that you’re ready for your daughter to spend a night with your mom and that it’s going to happen. Good luck.