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David Eddie's Damage Control

We gave my mother-in-law the boot Add to ...

damage@globeandmail.com

THE QUESTION

Our daughters are 11 and 12 years old, one adopted, one biological. Their grandmother has a habit of favouring the biological child and ignoring the adopted child. During the most recent incident, Grandma arrived with an emotionally charged gift item, related to a close family member who has died.

Grandma took the favoured child into the kitchen, where she quietly presented her with the gift.

When my husband found out, he made an on-the-spot decision that it was not possible for us to sit down to the Sunday dinner. He asked his mother to leave, and she did.

This is the first time anyone has ever been told to leave our home. We are calm people who live everyday lives.

We would like to re-introduce grandma to our Sunday dinners at some point in the near future, without the grandchild-favouritism, but have no idea how to go about it.

THE ANSWER

I always try to provide non-judgmental, non-pooh-poohing, non-finger-wagging ad-vice to those who are kind enough to write in and entrust me with their problems and screw-ups.

After all, the column is called "Damage Control," and the concept (as I'm always trying to remind the holier-than-thou, nattering nerdy nabobs of the Internet) is: "I know I screwed up. What do I do now?"

But I'm going to depart from my normal policy for a second, here, and indulge in a soupçon of pooh-poohing and finger-wagging.

Because nailing that first step is important: "I know I screwed up."

And it's not clear to me, madam, from the tone and wording of your letter, that you're aware you erred.

So let me clear that up for you immediately. Both you and your husband, I believe, have erred most egregiously in this circumstance.

I mean, of course, I understand the grandparent-parent relationship can be an annoying one, fraught with criticism and unsolicited advice.

And in fact I have even quasi-humorously booted my own mother and mother-in-law out of the kitchen, when their barrage of unsolicited comments vis-a-vis my preparation of a pork roast became insufferable.

(That generation simply refuses to accept that the deal with pork has changed, and it is now possible to cook it medium or even medium- rare without everyone falling all about the place, dead.)

Nor do I believe your mother-in-law is entirely infraction-free in the scenario you've described. Obviously if you're trying to make your adopted child feel as much a part of the family as the biological one, and she's running interference, action had to be taken.

But unceremoniously tossing one's poor, old, and (I'm assuming) white-haired mother into the night, pointing your finger towards the door and declaring in thunderous tones that she must leave, for no greater crime on her part than giving a present to one child and not another - well, it's a bit strong, isn't it?

My mother annoys me at times, too. But she'd have to be attempting to remove one of my children's kidneys with a butter knife, for sale on the black market, before I'd actually throw her out of my house.

And even then I'd probably say: "Hey, mom, put down the butter knife and let's talk about this. If you need money that badly I'll lend it to you."

Because she conceived and carried me in her womb for nine months; bore me in pain; fed and clothed and protected me; lent me money; watched over me in playgrounds; made me oatmeal in the mornings; and so forth.

This has earned her, in my books, the right to be cut a fair amount of slack.

And what sort of message are you sending your children? Think about that, and think about the future consequences for you, if they begin to think a parent should be banished from the home for the slightest of infractions.

For these reasons and more, I think both your husband, and you (for standing aside in quisling fashion and allowing the events to unfold), should begin by delivering your mother-in-law a big, fat apology, of the full-on, without-reservations, mea-culpa, self-excoriating variety; followed by a moving soliloquy begging her to bestow upon you the honour of continuing to be a most highly valued and respected member of your household.

Then, and only then, in a separate (and not as a self-justifying component of the apology) conversation, should your husband have the discussion with his mother he should have had all along: "Listen, we're trying to help our adopted child be as much a part of the family as the biological one, it would be vastly helpful to us if you could pitch in and not work against us," and la la la.

And henceforward treat her with extra-special honour and deference, as the matriarch di familia deserves anyway, but particularly in the aftermath of her abrupt defenestration.

So. You said in your question you have "no idea" how to go about re-introducing granny into Sunday dinners without the bio-favouritism.

This is it. It may involve swallowing your pride, a bit, along with the roast chicken.

But I hope you will see, in the fullness of time, it's the only way to go.

David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.

I've made a huge mistake

Have you created any damage that needs controlling? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com, and include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

 

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