Dear Care and Feeding,
Five years ago my wife’s brother got married. The invitation clearly specified that the wedding was child-free. Since we had three young children including an infant, and I was traveling for work, and our normal childcare providers were going to be at the wedding, my wife had to decline the invitation.
My brother-in-law got super upset and yelled at my wife and called her, me, and the kids all sorts of derogatory names, and has not talked to her at all since. My mother-in-law tends to take my wife’s side in this argument but has tried to get both my wife and my brother-in-law to make amends to no avail.
My brother-in-law and his wife are now expecting twins and recently moved to a small town half an hour away from us. He reached out to my wife to ask to make amends and apologized for what he said. As part of making amends, he said he wants our youngest daughter, who was a baby at the time of the wedding and a principal reason we couldn’t attend, to help pick out middle names. My wife wants to reconnect with her brother, which I can understand and sympathize with, but at the same time he said some really nasty things about her, me, and our kids, and then somehow lacked the maturity to realize what he said was wrong until he started having kids. He was 30 when he got married, and should have known better.
He’s her brother, not mine, but at the same time bringing him back into our lives in this way affects our kids, not just my wife. I’ve tried to bring up the idea that she should talk to him first by herself over glasses of wine or something, and then invite him to meet the kids and take things slowly that way, but she is so excited at getting her brother back that she won’t listen at all and wants to jump in all at once. How can I support my wife without endangering our kids?
—Worried in Wisconsin
Dear Worried in Wisconsin,
Ah yes, we all know the type of person who refuses to understand or empathize with another point of view until they have personally experienced it. (See also: “girl dads” who suddenly realize sexism is…bad.)
That said, kids have a way of helping usher water under the bridge. If your wife’s brother realized that he wants to move on for the sake of the kids and having his family in their lives, and your wife wants the same thing, then I think this is a good development for everyone.
I have much respect for a partner who is protective of their wife and kids. And I do agree that your wife should meet and speak with her brother solo initially, but it doesn’t seem like having supervised interactions with their formerly estranged uncle is likely to put your kids in undue danger. The picking of the middle name may be something to work up to though, as it seems like a lot for a kid who is just meeting a family member for the first time. And if the kids have questions about your newfound family members, answer them, but don’t get too deep into the specific details or provide more information than they’re asking for.
This may be a stretch, but the specific language of “making amends” also makes me wonder if your wife’s brother is now in recovery for an issue that might have contributed to his volatile reaction at the time. Either way, I would give him a chance to prove he has really changed his ways.
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