Outrageous Clan

6 Aug

Dear LetterBalm: I come from the family from hell. My parents oversee all this and fan the flames. My dad has a hairtrigger temper, and my mother keeps up a steady stream of criticism about the people her children married and their families. My parents have five children, and two have not had any contact with the rest of the family for years. Family gatherings can and do degenerate into yelling, screaming, swearing and fist fights. It’s extending to the next generation – little grandkids now fight with each other. Everybody gossips and backbites and feels good when somebody in the family is going through tough times. I was lucky to go away to college and marry a fine man who has a family I love. We have two children, and I’m adamant that I don’t want them exposed to this dysfunction. My husband says I should be more forgiving, but I can’t. Now we’re arguing, and I feel like the bad guy! How can I put a lid on this?

–The Good Child

Good Lord. Your family sounds like the 16th-century Borgias. Ms. L.B. says all that’s missing are illegitimate papal spawn, a few strangulations and a poison ring or two. You know you can’t change the status quo with your clan. So, you can change your behavior. If you ever have to be in the presence of your family (a wedding, a funeral, an exorcism), be benign, noncommittal, cheerful and unengaged. If you must leave, don’t apologize and don’t explain, other than a basic “You’re behaving badly to me and my husband. We’re leaving now.” But you might talk with your husband about compromising and having one-on-one time at your home with some of the nicer relatives. Talk to him:

Gerald, I’m still adamant that I don’t want the kids exposed to the trainwreck that is my family. You come from such good people, that you really don’t know how bad things can get. I have a suggestion. Let’s agree that we can have one or two of my relatives over to see us occasionally – Uncle Sy or Aunt Rose, maybe, and a couple of the younger cousins. We can watch the situation carefully and, if things begin to go off the tracks, end the visit. Would you consent to this compromise?


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