DEAR CAROLYN: My mother-in-law wants my 5-year-old to sleep over at her house. The problem is that even though she has been living with the same man for several years and my husband and I think he is very nice, we still don’t feel comfortable with our daughter sleeping over at her grandmother’s house with him there.
We have offered to let my mother-in-law spend a night at our house, but that isn’t a good enough option for her. She told her live-in that we thought he was a child molester and now we have an estranged relationship with him and her. How can we repair the relationship without giving in to her demands?
— Inadvertent Insulter
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DEAR INADVERTENT INSULTER: You can’t, and please don’t.
You’re not in this spot because you implied Grandma’s boyfriend is a child molester. You’re in this spot because Grandma wouldn’t take no for an answer. She applied enough pressure to force you either to make up flimsy excuses or admit something you’d rather have left unsaid.
Your reservations about Grandma’s boyfriend are so devastating that there was bound to be some strain whether your mother-in-law pushed or not. But even if your discomfort was entirely unfounded, refusing the overnights was your only choice.
And as someone who loves your daughter, Grandma would likely agree. Let’s say we could go back to before things unraveled, allowing you to pose this scenario to her in conversation as a hypothetical — say, in response to a news story. She’d likely be unequivocal in agreeing that these hypothetical parents should never leave a child in a situation they felt uneasy about.
Not to mention: Parents get to say no, period, even for their own stupid reasons.
Trust this, please. Trust that your mother-in-law put her feelings and ego and need(iness) above your fundamental entitlement to decide what’s best for your kid. Her error has cost you dearly, too, I get that, but better that than the much higher possible price of overruling your gut.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have a friend who has said things about my husband (I am newly remarried) that make me uncomfortable, such as, if she wasn’t married, she would be with my husband and that they have a “special bond.” She also told me when I first started seeing him that I should tell her what he’s like in bed because she has always wondered.
She started to text him also, and often made jokes that he should date both of us.
I told her I wanted her to stop because it made me uncomfortable, and she told me she has never treated him as anything but a friend.
I know I can be overly sensitive, but I find myself not liking her much anymore, even though she has done a lot for me in the past. I have trouble trusting my feelings due to growing up in an alcoholic home and don’t know if I am over-thinking or -reacting. Am I being too insecure?
DEAR S.: I think when someone’s that far over the line, the line can file a missing-person report — but that’s based on your version of events, my values and zero context, so it’s of little practical use.
Fortunately, you don’t even have to make that call. Where we don’t trust our sensitivities, we’re often solid on our likes and dislikes. “Not liking her much anymore” is game over because a friendship without fondness is a lake without water.
This one does cry out for irony punctuation, doesn’t it? This “friend”ship.
Anyway, if you still want to parse the boundaries, then I suggest a basic formula: Take the current situation, compare it with prior circumstances, see what has changed, then ask yourself whether and why those changes matter. That’s a one-size-fits-all shortcut for when you’re not sure what you’re feeling or whether you’re justified.
For example: My friend is saying suggestive things about my husband … and she has never gotten jokey-possessive of my love interests before … and this suggests there’s a genuine attraction behind her comments … which tells me she’s thinking more of herself than of my feelings or our friendship when she chooses to say them out loud.
I also suggest you at least consider ongoing support to help you navigate boundaries, be it through programs for adult children of alcoholics or Al-Anon or private counseling. Even with shortcuts, it can get complicated.
Speaking of shortcuts, here’s another: When you tell someone you’re uncomfortable with something, a real friend is willing to consider and apologize for his or her part in that, and to talk about how to fix it. Note, that doesn’t mean real friends automatically defer to you — just that they’re willing to question their own actions simply because someone they love is upset.
Instead, your friend dismissed your discomfort out of hand. Please don’t let that get lost in the clutter of doubts.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living