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Annie Lane: Tension with father’s family

Dear Annie: My older brother and I have been dealing with a touchy situation for years. We are both adopted; our parents divorced when we were very young, and they both remarried.

Our adoptive father was abusive, and our mother had her own share of issues stemming from major depression. We were primarily raised by our mother and stepfather, with occasional visits up north when my mother was going through her “episodes.”

After the divorce, we lost touch with our adoptive father’s family until around 1995. My adoptive father remained overseas with his new wife for most of our lives and only paid child support until our 18th birthdays. When he did return stateside, he told me he didn’t want anything to do with me or my brother.

Needless to say, I was very hurt by this, given that our previous conversations — only two — had been civil. He died in 2007 with these final words to me. My brother and I have an issue with our father’s sister and her husband (my aunt and uncle), who are in denial about his poor treatment of us.

She constantly wants to send us pictures and other items of his, such as the American flag he received after his death. When we try to tell her we don’t want these mementos, she becomes defensive, even asking why. It’s hard to put into words why my brother and I don’t want these painful reminders of a man who didn’t care about us and was abusive. Add to that, when we get together (not often, as they live out of state), our aunt and grandmother (who died recently) constantly bad-mouthed our mother about her issues and how she raised us. This took place at least once in front of my brother and my nephew, which was truly heartbreaking.

I sincerely believe my mother did the best she could, and we turned out OK. How do I confront my father’s family about this? I’ve tried telling my aunt straight out, but she gets defensive. Do I just grin and bear it in order to keep the peace?

— Struggling

Dear Struggling: Not wanting mementos of an abusive and absent father is very understandable. Your aunt’s defensiveness has nothing to do with you and your brother and everything to do with her lack of compassion and empathy for the trauma that you endured as a result of your father’s abuse.

Under no circumstances should you grin and bear it. Your aunt’s behavior is bullying — just like your father’s was. You can politely decline and ask her not to bring it up again. If she gets defensive, just ignore it and walk away. If they put down your mother again, stick up for her and kindly ask them to stop saying negative things about your mom.

You sound like you have a lot of wisdom and know that your mother did the best she could but suffered from a disease. No more tolerating this treatment from your father’s family. You suffered enough as a child, and it’s time to live a free, open and joyful life.

“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.