Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: After 15 years in a psychologically and physically abusive marriage, I managed to get out and took my three children with me. Two of my children carry on a relationship with their father, and I have stayed completely out of that since they became adults. I’ve done pretty well in dealing with him at family occasions, and have even had him in my home for a couple of celebrations, though it has been difficult for me.
One daughter is getting married and asked me to walk her down the aisle with her father. I really don’t think I can handle that or a “parents’ dance.” The thought of him touching me in any way makes me feel ill. I’m fine with him walking her down the aisle, or I would be proud to do it by myself.
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How can I handle this without upsetting my daughter or spending the entire reception shaking and crying in the ladies’ room? Am I being terribly selfish for wanting to say no?
— Mother of the Bride
DEAR MOTHER OF THE BRIDE: “How can I handle this without upsetting my daughter” — so much in this one phrase. Your job on this earth is not to get through your days without upsetting people, as abuse often conditions people to believe.
Your job is to figure out who you are and what being that person requires of you. Then your job is to stay true to that as kindly as possible without compromising any of your core; how your efforts are received is beyond your control. Good people consider and care about others’ feelings, yes — but please don’t confuse that with being beholden to them.
Tell your daughter you love her and support her and can’t wait to celebrate with her, but you will not dance or share the aisle with your ex. Do mention that you’re OK with his escorting her alone.
If you haven’t had counseling to help you with the aftermath of 15 years of abuse, I hope you’ll consider it. It’s a natural forum for questions like this.
I get that she doesn’t want to dance with her ex, but surely the two of them can escort the bride down the aisle, one on either side? This does not involve “touching” the ex, but acknowledging joint parenthood.
My ex and I entered the church together at our son’s wedding; as our son pointed out, “I’m half his, too.”
DEAR ANONYMOUS: “Surely”? No such thing here.
Your son is right, but that doesn’t trump the needs of a victim of longstanding abuse.
If she wants no part of the aisle scene, then she gets to draw that line, and I hope the witnesses to her abuse have the decency to back her. If not, that’s no reason for her to cave; it just means she needs to look elsewhere for support.
I too did not want to walk our daughter jointly down the aisle, nor did I feel my ex deserved that right on his own (for good reasons). I was honest with my daughter and she opted to walk alone — which, for a 31-year-old woman who had been on her own for 10 years, certainly seemed appropriate.
— Anonymous 2
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: Good for both of you.