Ask Amy: A family secret threatens to implode
Dear Amy: My wife’s brother recently died. A couple of weeks after the funeral, his daughter (our niece) received a letter from a half-brother that she was unaware of. The letter was addressed to her recently deceased father, from a man (his biological son), who was trying to find information about him after the death of his own adoptive parents.
Our niece was not sure if we knew of his existence, as neither she nor her brother knew.
They also did not know if their mother (who had been married to their dad for almost 60 years) was aware of this, as their mom had not yet met their dad when this son was born.
When my wife was 15, she knew that her brother had impregnated his high school girlfriend.
This was in the early 1960s, and the girl’s parents decided to take her out of state for the pregnancy, and then place the child up for adoption.
My wife feels she is in a “no win” situation. If she lets it slip that she knew about this, and her sister-in-law did NOT know about this other child, then her niece and nephew may be upset with her.
If she says nothing, and somehow it gets out, then her sister-in-law would be upset for not telling her earlier.
I hope you have some words of wisdom that will put my wife at ease with whatever she does. - Torn in Seattle
Dear Torn: The most obvious answer is that this tough knowledge was not your wife’s to share. She was 15 years old when her brother fathered a child. I’m assuming that her own family kept her in the dark, and that this child’s existence was treated as a family secret, discussed only among the principals.
Yes, she should be honest about this, now. She may be the only person in her brother’s generation that knows the truth. She can say that she had hoped/assumed that her brother would have disclosed this to at least his wife, and that it was absolutely his story - not hers - to tell.
That is the most reasonable - and truthful explanation. If her niece, nephew, and sister-in-law are upset with her, she should understand too that she is the only person left for them to be upset with, but that eventually they should come to understand her unique position regarding this very challenging family secret.
Dear Amy: My 38-year-old daughter won’t allow her three children to stay with me while they’re out of town for two days.
She lives out of state. I’m going to fly to her house and stay for two weeks to watch their dog and house while the five of them go on vacation.
Then, after the family returns home, my daughter and son-in-law are going to go away for two nights without the kids.
I will already be at the house, but instead of having the kids stay with me, they will all go to their other grandmother’s house to stay for those two days.
I’m really hurt.
My daughter and I have had a tough relationship, but it’s been eight years since the bad times.
So I should be happy that she’s letting me watch the dog and the house?
She says she has her reservations about me taking care of the kids.
Should I say - or do - anything? - Left Out Grandmother
Dear Left Out: You don’t mention the magnitude of your behavior during the “bad times,” but it sounds to me as if your daughter is being extra-careful and cautious. After all, that’s her job.
As you know, when you’re a parent, if you have reservations about something or someone, the smartest thing to do is to pay attention to your own instincts. Your daughter has been honest with you.
Caring for three children can be overwhelming, and if you don’t know the children very well, she may worry about how the stress of being together will affect all of you.
I hope you will spend some time with the entire family in order to continue to reintegrate into their lives. I give you credit for trying.
Dear Amy: “Upset Friends” reported that they have friends whose views align with “white supremacy.” How do they know? How do you know? - Upset
Dear Upset: Racism is like Justice Potter Stewart’s oft-quoted response to obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”
“Upset Friends” reported that their friends’ views aligned with white supremacy, so I assumed that they knew it when they saw it.