Annie's Mailbox: Mother-in-law is cold and narcissistic

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Dear Annie: My husband and I have been married 14 years and have four children. My mother-in-law always pitted his two sisters against each other to try to make them jealous and garner more attention for herself.

My husband wasn’t part of that, but there was always tension. Our son was born with multiple disabilities and passed away last year at age 10. My husband’s parents were not caring, loving or supportive. His mother refused to ride in the family car at the funeral because we didn’t also have space for her daughters. She said they needed her.

She has been so cold over the years and narcissistic as a parent that it has been heartbreaking. My father-in-law just stands by. Due to her actions at our son’s funeral, my husband decided to cut off all contact. I wrote her a letter regarding our feelings and how hurt we were. We said they could have a relationship with our other children, but they have chosen not to. They are, however, quite close to their daughters’ children.

Our adopted daughter is now 4 and has never met her paternal grandparents. My mother, the only grandparent she knew, passed away eight months ago. When my daughter is older, how do I tell her about my husband’s parents? I grew up without an involved father and felt abandoned and unloved. I don’t want her to feel the same way.

— Hurt and Ashamed in Indiana

Dear Indiana: Many children grow up perfectly fine without grandparents, and some, like yours, might even be better off. If your daughter asks, tell her you aren’t in touch with Daddy’s parents. When she is older, she may want more detail, and you can say that some grandparents aren’t able to be as close as you might like and it’s simply the way they are. If you don’t turn it into a tragedy, neither will she. Meanwhile, we hope you will find some grandparent substitutes for your children — perhaps a great-aunt or uncle, a neighbor or a friend’s parents.

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