I have an aunt who never attended family functions, whether it was Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas or children's birthday parties. She married my uncle about 15 years ago and it seems like she pulled him away from our close-knit family. But last year she got pregnant and started inviting our family to events. My wife received an invitation to her baby shower. We decided to pass, but we did send a gift. Fast-forward a year, and we're invited to her child's first birthday party. I just don't want to attend. I feel that she has not had anything to do with my children the last 10 years and I really don't have the energy to try to rebuild this relationship. When we declined the birthday invitation, she got aggressive and threw personal insults and jabs our way. I guess we made the right decision?
It's funny, isn't it, how passive-aggressive, hypocritical and even incensed some people who previously exhibited no interest in anyone else's offspring can get when they have kids of their own and the world does not genuflect before their newborn?
Maybe there's a term for it. Baby rage? Postpartum aggression? Stroller-pocrisy? Infantamnesia?
I have a friend who popped off on me recently because I "didn't seem very interested" in her newborn – even though she never showed much interest in any of my three.
It's the way of the world, I guess. Some people have, at best, a theoretical interest in kids until they have one or more of their own.
I remember when I was a bachelor, bon vivant and man about town, and a friend might push a fresh-born blob in a stroller in front of me: "Look, Dave, check it out, me and [name of spouse]just had a baby. His name is [insert carefully thought-out name here]"
And the baby would wiggle its arms and legs and stare up at me, cooing and drooling.
"Uh, yeah, that's – cool," I'd say, taking a drag of my cigarette and putting my shades on top of my head to eyeball the whelp. "Congrats! Your kid is, uh – cute."
I mean, I'd be happy for them and everything. But babies all basically looked, smelled and sounded alike to me. And it might be that the only reason I was out on the street was to get a couple of takeout cappuccinos for me and the buxom waitress who was just starting to stir back in my apartment. I had to get going!
But, of course, all that changed when I had kids of my own.
Maybe your angry auntie is undergoing a similar metamorphosis. Perhaps before having a baby of her own, she had little interest in family in general – and kids parties in particular.
And who can blame her? Sometimes they don't even serve proper drinks at these things. You're standing there with a soda in a plastic cup, kids crawling around, urping up on their onesies, filling their diapers, a far-off look on their tomato-red faces. Then some dude comes up with his kid in a BabyBjörn wanting to talk about real estate or whatever, and you're like: "Buddy, I am way too sober to have this conversation. Run, run like the wind, scour this house for anything with alcohol in it. Then we can talk."
(And you always come home sick. Babies are like plague rats, that way.)
But now, perhaps in a bout of "infantamnesia," she has had a change of heart, she wants to gather family around her – and you want to encourage that, right?
Of course, she owes you an apology, and I don't see any reason why you couldn't have a frank conversation with her with an eye toward extracting one. As always, be gentle yet firm. Something along the lines of: "Listen, you're being a little harsh considering all the invitations you've turned down from us over the years."
And then attempt to negotiate a rapprochement wherein you go and check out her kid.
I'm not saying you have to expend a lot of energy to "rebuild the relationship" – at least not at first. You could start by making your visits largely symbolic, and somewhat surgical.
You and your wife agree beforehand on a code word, e.g. "Pocahontas." Then at the first appropriate moment your wife might say: "That dinner was a feast worthy of Pocahontas." Then – poof! – gather your belongings and exit, leaving maybe a few puzzled looks in your wake. But, hey, at least you made an appearance.
Who knows? Maybe these visits will eventually segue from symbolic to fun, and you'll find neither of you saying "Pocahontas" until the wee hours.
You have every right to feel stung for the years of rejection. But when it comes to family, one must learn to forgive and forget – often with the emphasis on forgetting, am I right?
The bottom line: Life is both too short and too long to carry a grudge and maintain a "froideur" vis-à-vis your aunt (and her offspring, who in the fullness of time will be, uh, your cousin or something), who appears to be reaching out to you, however clumsily.
David Eddie is the author of Damage Control, the book.
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