The Vine: March 14, 2012
I'm in the biggest fight of my life and I'm not even angry, at least not yet.
Several years ago my sister met, dated, and got engaged to a man who was arrested for having child porn on his computer. From the beginning he has sworn his innocence, blaming it on computer stuff that I don't understand, like viewing regular porn and the website was set up so the kiddie stuff would be downloaded without him knowing. Maybe it's my lack of familiarity with the way websites work or a general suspicious manner, but I never was entirely sure I believed him. He was convicted, went to jail and released after serving his time, and a few years later my sister married him. I was her maid of honor. But, for the record, I did ask her if she was sure she wanted to do it. I wasn't pushy but I brought it up.
Fast-forward to my husband and I having an awesome baby boy last year. Sister always wanted to babysit and was always offering but it was always in the context of having BIL being there too. Honestly, I don't think he'd ever do anything to my son but I feel like if anything ever happened I could never forgive myself. It was really on the off chance that maybe my sliver of doubt proved correct. And it's not like I haven't enjoyed his company or been glad about how he's been able to make my sister happy in his own limited way, but when it came to the safety of my son, I didn't want to risk it. I never told my sister this because I knew it would really hurt her and she even told me once that if I thought he'd actually done what he was convicted of she could never speak to me again. But I did confide in my mother my concerns and reservations and asked her not to say anything as it was something I wasn't sure my sister and I would be able to fix.
So last week, husband and I wanted to go out for dinner. I asked my mother — she was unavailable. My next plan was to ask a good friend with whom we swap babysitting duties since she has a couple of her own. Unfortunately my mom told my sister that she'd had to turn me down to babysit and my sister, very sweetly, immediately texted me to say she was available. So I called her up, got the feel for it and determined that she wanted to bring BIL. I said I'd check with my husband and I'd call her back. I admit I kind of lost my head. Left a message, bawling, for my mother demanding what I was supposed to tell sister. And I felt like I was in a corner and there was not other way around it, that I couldn't put her off again after a year and a half of excuses. And maybe there was a small part that was hoping she'd be upset but then be okay and be up for spending time with her nephew.
Sister lost it. We had an exchange of emails and she can't seem to understand that I don't believe wholeheartedly that he's a pedophile. That as a result of any doubt or question of his innocence, she can't talk to me. At first I was just incredibly apologetic, telling her I love her and want her to have a relationship with my son. After awhile, though, and over the past week, she won't talk to me — I've started to get angry. And my whole family is of course in on it. And while no one is accusing me of doing something wrong I'm getting a distinct lack of support…and when I have to remind them that it's the safety of my son that keeps these reservations on my mind. Bottom line.
Please tell me that I'm not crazy. I'm completely torn up to think that my sister won't speak to me again over this. Frankly, why the hell does she need my 100% approval and acceptance of her husband? And short of that, why can't she accept that I don't fully trust him — I'm not the one married to him so I don't think I have to do so. Don't adults have relationships with siblings even when there's an accepted discord between siblings and spouses?
I know I'm not completely right but am I dead wrong?
Thank you and sorry for the length!
You're not completely right; you're not completely wrong; neither is Sister, and neither is the rest of the family. It's a difficult situation that I suspect everyone has tried their collective best to ignore over the years, and now that that's no longer possible, it comes down to a matter of…a less-than-ideal handling of it on all sides, let's say, and where to go from here.
I don't want to get into BIL's guilt or innocence here, but I would probably have dealt with it the same way you did — minimized BIL's time with my child, without making it clear to Sister that that's what's going on because I didn't want to jeopardize the relationship. But I would have known also, or feared, that that could blow up in my face, that our mom could let the cat out of the bag somehow.
You got by with it for a while, but then your mom did sort of let the cat out of the bag, or at least loosen the ties on the bag, and now Sister feels betrayed. And it's likely not so much that you think BIL is a bad toucher. It's that you stood up for her at their wedding, and you've never said, in so many words, to her face, since the birth of your child, "I love you and I don't want to lose our closeness — but I don't believe BIL is completely innocent of those charges, and I do not want him around my kid if I'm not present."
Again, I get why you didn't say that…and having chosen to marry a man with this particular history, Sister should maybe get a little more used to the notion that people who know and love her will still think he's a sketcher. A scorched-earth "you're with me or you're against me" party line is going to leave her pretty isolated if she goes that route every time someone expresses doubts about the guy. But she had come to rely on you as a person who didn't think he did it, didn't judge her — maybe it was naïve of her to choose to believe that, but she obviously didn't want to think you had serious reservations about BIL, and when it became clear to her that you did have reservations, and had all along, it felt like an even bigger blow. Plus she probably feels ganged up on/whispered about by you and your mom, which can't be helping.
But it's out now, so: now what? First of all, forget the rest of the fam. Siblings' spouses don't have to get along, like you said, and by the same token, parents and cousins et al. don't have to sign off on this contretemps in either direction. Let go of that part of it; any family members who bring it up should be thanked for their concern and gently steered to another topic. Next, send Sister an email or a snail-mail letter that is about your relationship only. Explain that you think you know how she must feel. Apologize for not speaking to her more directly about the concerns you had, and for the feelings of rejection that might have caused for her, although that wasn't your intent — just the opposite. You're sad and hurt that the two of you aren't talking. You love her, you miss her, and you hope this isn't the end of things. Do not bring up BIL, do not accuse her of being a drama queen, do not make it about who is More Right — none of that will get you anywhere. This is about acknowledging her anger and trying to move on, so write the letter, send it, and give her the space she needs.
I mean, you're allowed to be pissed, both that she's refusing to speak to you and that the rest of the family is getting a vote. But if you want a relationship with her, or even the chance to express how cornered you felt by this situation for years on end, you'll have to put the anger aside, trust that you did right by your child, and show active compassion towards her. If being "right" is more important, okay, but that won't move the ball.
Tags: kids the fam