Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Heartbroken grandmother: My son married a lovely young lady, “Sandra,” about 10 years ago. They have two elementary-aged children whom I adore. Sandra has always been insistent that her children never be around her father, “Bernie,” alone. Bernie was a dear and charming man, and I had no idea why she would be so cruel. Sandra’s explanation was that her father had a terrible temper, which did not seem like a good reason to deny him a relationship with his grandchildren. I watched the children after school, and I began inviting Bernie over to spend time with them. A few weeks ago, I had to run to the grocery store. I left the children alone with Bernie for a few minutes. When I came back, both children were sobbing, my cabinet door was smashed (it’s too high for children to break it), and Bernie had forced the older child into a corner and was yanking on his arms and screaming curses so loudly my neighbors could hear him. I immediately asked him to leave, of course, and tried to comfort the children, who were shaken. Sandra found out and is now intensely angry at me. She refuses to speak to me at all and has put the kids in day care. We usually do Christmas together, but Sandra has rescinded my invitation. Prudie, I am heartbroken. I feel so guilty for what happened, but can’t Sandra see that I had truly no idea, and I am a victim, too? How can I convince her to let me back in the children’s lives?
A: You’re not a victim. You’re an adult who made a terrible decision that endangered small children who were in your care, and your daughter-in-law is right to keep those children away from you. You were warned that this man was dangerous, you decided to invite him over, you decided to leave him alone with the children. At no point were you coerced or deceived. You should take this time alone as an opportunity to reflect seriously on how much more damage this man could have done, and how you can treat people better in the future. I hope you have a sincere change of heart, but failing that, I hope that you are kept away from these children so you cannot put them in harm’s way again.