Our daughter was in the process of divorcing her husband of ten years after discovering that he had been unfaithful. Our daughter was emotionally devastated by this, as were we.
My husband and I have always been very close to our daughter, babysitting often for her children, and being her valued confidantes over the years. When we learned that our daughter and son-in-law were separating and why, we felt free to express our outrage about his betrayal and add any misgivings we’d had about him over their years. We did this in part to support her during this painful time. Some of our fears about his honesty were being validated, and we probably went overboard in denigrating him.
Now, we have learned they are getting back together. We are horribly embarrassed by our negative remarks about our son-in-law and are acutely aware that our daughter has pulled away from us.
We don’t know how to make things better. Please help us.
— Apologetic parents
Dear Apologetic parents,
You have much work to do to repair your relationship with your daughter. She is no doubt worried that you will never accept her husband after what he has done, and she may fear that you are disappointed in her for wanting to salvage the marriage. She may feel embarrassed by giving him another chance, and she does not know how to resolve this dilemma.
You need to take the first step and ask to meet with her. There is a good chance that this will help your relationship move forward positively since you will have a chance to review what has happened, address your response to it, and apologize.
When the three of you get together, explain that you only wanted to be supportive of her, that you were angered by his infidelity, and your mentioning other faults you’d observed was a way of trying to help her deal with the end of her marriage.
Assure her you now realize that your attempt to support her could also be seen as your finding fault with her choice of a husband, making her feel even worse about her judgment, when that was never your intention. You need to apologize for your narrow-minded comments and any pain they have caused her, thus taking full responsibility for your words. Ask her what you can do to help your relationship with her move forward, and ask for forgiveness. Given your strong relationship with her in the past, your daughter is likely to hear your heartfelt attempt to resolve this and hopefully will forgive you.
Your predicament is not unusual. The bond that your daughter and her husband share is deeper than you imagined. When the marriage of a daughter or son breaks up, parents must sit back and wait to see how the situation will be resolved, instead of declaring “war” or adding unwanted and unhelpful opinions. It is always a good idea to think carefully about saying something bad about a child’s spouse even if you think it will be helpful.
Accept that your relationship with your daughter will not be the same in that she will always wonder what you are thinking about her husband and her choice to be with him. In addition, she will have her own issues of trusting him for quite a while. You can now focus on being loving and inclusive of your son-in-law. Over time, you can forge a new connection with them both.