I have a pretty awful and ugly family situation and I really don’t know what to do about it. I feel completely helpless and I thought maybe you and your readers may have some advice or suggestions on how to proceed. It is kind of long and involved, although I will try to make it as brief as I can.
My older sister died almost 4 years ago from cancer. She, my parents and I all live within a mile of each other. At the time, her daughter was 4 (almost 5)–now she is 8. She still lives close by with her dad.
At first it seemed we were all united as a family, together in our grief. Little by little, though, her husband withdrew from us and began to push us away. He has never been the easiest guy to get along with and the more time that passed, the less he wanted to have anything to do with us. My parents and I took turns watching my niece while he was at work until I got pregnant and then I mostly turned things over to them after my daughter was born.
It soon became apparent to me that my sister was the glue that held us all together. She must have worked really hard to keep everything going and everyone pleased. Her husband was constantly angry with my parents (who can be very overbearing and pushy, yes, but they always mean well). He was gruff and unreachable and things became very uncomfortable. He stopped calling me to babysit if he needed it and things were just very, very stilted and awkward. After a while, I ceased to speak to him at all and many, many months would go by before I’d have any contact with him. My parents still saw him daily, as they would watch my niece all day or, after she started school, put her on the bus or take her off the bus and watch her until he got home from work.
Things became even more complicated when he started dating his girlfriend. At first she seemed nice and my parents thought it would be good for my niece to have someone around the house again. About a year ago, his girlfriend moved in and ever since then, she has methodically and meticulously worked to remove every trace of my sister from that house and has made it more and more difficult for us to spend time with my niece. I have only met her once, this past December at my niece’s birthday party. She shook my hand and gave me the once over with a look of disgust on her face. Then she spent the next 2 hours trying to pretend like she wasn’t watching my every move.
I have heard over and over again from my parents how she speaks to them–rude is putting it mildly. She is apparently completely disrespectful to them and so is he. It is really hard for me to watch all of this. I am pretty sure that my parents die a little each day that they have to go through this. When my niece’s dad calls, my dad is super nice to him and I want to vomit. My dad tries to keep the peace and he rarely looses his cool although a few times recently he has said that he has never been more offended at how he is being treated. I know he tries to be even keeled so he won’t piss off my niece’s dad because we’re all afraid he won’t let us see her anymore. Someone once said, “He has the prize.” And it’s true. My niece is the prize.
A few times recently, my niece’s dad and his girlfriend have either been late or forgotten to pick up my niece at the bus stop after school and she has had to wait on her stoop for someone to come home. My parents are incensed. To make sure she wasn’t left outside again, my dad has taken to cruising by the bus stop to ensure that someone is there to meet her. Today my mom told me that my niece’s dad and his girlfriend have decided to enroll my niece in an after school program at a local Tae Kwon Do school Their van will pick her up at school, take her to the studio where she’ll do homework and take Tae Kwon Do lessons. This is actually pretty cool and my niece is excited and I am excited for her. However, the plan is for this to happen M-F. Which means that we will never see her! They do stuff on weekends so we typically get to visit with my niece after school. My mom is beside herself and my stomach aches just thinking about it. I’m so angry, so quietly angry.
I am positive that the girlfriend is quietly whispering in my niece’s dad’s ear. He may have never liked us but everything that has happened lately is so diabolical and I don’t see him doing this on his own. I want to ask her WHO THE EFF ARE YOU LADY? You’re his girlfriend, not his wife. She seems like a snake. My niece may be too young to stand up for herself and her Daddy is her man. It pains me to see how they treat her–they put her second all the time. I mean, yes, the Tae Kwon Do is neat but I also see it as now they don’t have to worry about remembering to pick her up or be home early. She’ll be out of their hair for a while, they don’t have to help her with her homework, etc. It’s all very convenient.
I love my niece, adore her and I never, ever see her. It is literally breaking my heart and it is making my parents even more wrought with grief. My niece is our link to my sister and they are essentially taking her away from us by making it virtually impossible to see her and spend time together. My daughter (who will be 3 soon) constantly asks me if we can play with my niece and I cannot take having to say “Niece is with her Daddy” again and again. These cousins should be able to build their relationship. I also have a son who is now 10 months and could potentially have no memory of ever having spent any time with her.
So tell me…what to do? Anything? Sit back and let this happen? (This is what I’ve done and it hasn’t worked.) I don’t feel like I have any leg to stand on to confront them. I just don’t know where to go or what to do or how to begin.
Let’s look at some passages from this letter for some clues to what went wrong.
It soon became apparent to me that my sister was the glue that held us all together. She must have worked really hard to keep everything going and everyone pleased.
No one person should be holding together a family that is really meant to be together. In truth, the sister started the trouble by marrying a guy who was not compatible with the rest of her family. Unless you intend to disown the rest of your family to be only with your husband, that is ALWAYS a mistake.
About a year ago, his girlfriend moved in and ever since then, she has methodically and meticulously worked to remove every trace of my sister from that house and has made it more and more difficult for us to spend time with my niece.
This is flatly dishonorable. This girlfriend is being abusive toward’s the memory of the little girl’s MOTHER. If the girl’s father tolerates this, what does that say about his true attitude towards his dead wife and his daughter? He needs to find a woman who will be a replacement for the girl’s mother, not just someone to be his new sex partner! His priorities are screwed up, to the point where he really has no business being a father. If you don’t always put your child’s needs FIRST above your own, you are not being a good parent.
My wife and I have no children, so if our marriage ended we could separate and I’d never have to bother with her relatives again. But the moment any couple has a child, that complicates things. That child will have physical and emotional links to both parents and the various relatives of those parents. No outsider should EVER be allowed to come in and interfere with those links. That father in the case above shouldn’t be raising a daughter if he treats her relatives on the mother’s side as disposable.