Living Columns & Blogs

Carolyn Hax: A breakup seems imminent – how to act best for her daughter and grandchildren?

DEAR CAROLYN: My married daughter, with two young daughters of her own, has decided to file for a separation. I felt from the beginning that things may not work out. I remained optimistic and embraced my new son-in-law and his extended family. I have also tried to respect their lives and not be the pushy mother-in-law. I adore my grandchildren; they are both amazing.

Now my daughter has asked me for help with a deposit on a rental. I’m not opposed to this, but I KNOW my husband, her father, would be livid. He thinks she is being stupid and that her husband is a “great guy” and that we should stay out of it.

I am trying to respect my daughter’s decision, and I also see how miserable she is. How can I support my daughter without alienating my own family?


DEAR ANONYMOUS: The first thing you pay for is a trip to a reputable, mediation-minded family attorney, so her (or your) decisions don’t have unintended consequences later.

Beyond that, the lines are so fine. You don’t want to influence the outcome; this is the couple’s business. You don’t want to be so helpful that your daughter defaults to a childhood role, or so hands-off that this fragile family suffers.

The fact that she needs and asked for money has interesting implications on your husband’s hands-off stance, because if you give money, then you affect the outcome … but if you withhold money, then you also affect the outcome, no?

I’ll disclose outright, I’d help my daughter in this situation. Ultimately she’ll do what she wants, with or without me, so if I can ensure that she has a clean, safe place to think – and bring the girls – then I will. I’d explain to my son-in-law that this isn’t a vote against him, it’s just breathing room.

If this aligns with your thinking, then make the case to your husband. I suggest you start by agreeing with him. Yes, her husband is a great guy. Yes, it’s possible she’s being stupid.

Then point out: Her living with him under the current conditions is what pushed her to this brink. Denying her the opportunity to move might do more to strain this marriage than to support it as he intends.

Then I suggest you bring your daughter into the conversation. Not only is she an adult and the life you’re discussing wholly hers to live, but she is also in a position both to address her father’s objections directly and, if needed, to offer alternative ways you can help her.

I can’t talk to your husband directly, but here’s what I’d say to him: Don’t dig in, not here. Make your love for this family solid and everything else flexible.

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