Care and Feeding

People Won’t Stop Prying Into Our Family’s Tragic, Violent History

We want our daughter to have a normal life, but the questions keep coming.

A mother and daughter embrace.
Photo illustration by Slate Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are estranged from both sets of parents. It’s a long story, but it happened when our daughter was a baby and she’s never known them, though we’ve been honest with her about why they aren’t in our lives. My husband, whose family was wealthy, was brutalized, starved, and beaten, and no one ever tried to help him. My situation was somewhat better, but my mother’s behavior was cruel and bizarre, and my father enabled it. For both of us, no extended family ever came to our rescue (and to this day, they take our parents’ sides).
We do everything we can to protect each other and our daughter, but we’re still trying, almost 10 years after our last, horrifying trauma, to live something like an ordinary life, to make friends and so on.

Our daughter is very sociable and well-adjusted—fearless and funny and strong. But as she makes friends, and we meet those friends’ parents, we find ourselves in a conundrum. How much should we tell those parents about what we’ve been through? Understandably, my husband hates talking about it. We’re asked questions—why doesn’t our kid have grandparents (or cousins, aunts, and uncles)? Why have we moved so many times? Our parents stopped contacting us years ago, so they aren’t an immediate danger, and we live far away from them now. But they’re all very dangerous people who have threatened us before. There is an extremely small chance they will find us, and hurt us. What if they did so while our daughter has a friend over? Are we obliged to warn others about this? What would you, as a parent, want us to say to you? We don’t want to do anything to hurt our kid’s chances to have a happy life—we’re afraid others will shun her if they know about our history. And we don’t want to be the drama queens or the pitiable sad sacks in our community, either.

— Familyless Family

Dear Familyless,

I am so deeply sorry about everything that has happened to you and your husband. You are entitled to your privacy as you do everything you can to heal and get on with your lives. I am disheartened (but not terribly surprised) that people you meet are thoughtless and graceless enough to demand to know “why” your child doesn’t have grandparents and cousins—I hope very much that you are exaggerating (without meaning to!) the extent of their intrusiveness, that because you are extremely sensitive to such questions, any casual question about family will be painful. But whether your daughter’s new friends’ parents are bombarding you with prying questions or “just” being insensitive, you are under no obligation to reveal anything about your past that you don’t want to. In response to any questions about your families, it is perfectly appropriate to say, “I’m sorry, we prefer not to talk about them.” If pressed, I myself would offer the death stare. But if you don’t have the stomach for that, “We are estranged from our families” is about as specific as I would get.

I don’t know enough to speculate about how likely it is that your parents or your husband’s will seek you out and try to do you harm at this point, but I sincerely do not believe that you need to warn people about this, eight years and several moves later. Life is full of risks for all of us. I hope you will be able to put your own fears, horror, and trauma behind you—it sounds like you already have, to some extent, by raising a happy, healthy child. I send you all my very best wishes.

—Michelle