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Ask Amy: Private disclosure puts in-law in the middle

Dear Amy: My sister-in-law told me that she was molested as a teenager. She told her mother after the abuse happened, to which her mother replied: "Everyone loses their virginity somehow."

Not surprisingly, my sister-in-law has a difficult relationship with her mother, and my mother-in-law is not happy about it.

My husband does not have any idea that this occurred and blames his sister for the poor relationship with their mother.

His mother often questions me, asking if l know anything about why my sister-in-law is distant from her.

Should l tell my husband or mother-in-law the truth or just take this information to my grave?

I know my sister-in-law holds all her emotions in and will not talk to her mom about it. I feel caught in the middle.

— Very Concerned

Very Concerned: You should encourage your sister-in-law to seek professional help in order to continue to process what happened to her, as well as her mother’s (heartless) response.

Why did she disclose this to you? Is she hoping that you will mediate? Has she asked you to?

This trauma — and the pressure of holding her emotions in — continues to affect her and her relationships. She has been violated and then betrayed — her trust in you is something you should treasure and protect.

I don’t think it would be fruitful for you to attempt to mediate with her mother, but because you are married to her brother, and he blames his sister for her relationship problems, you should encourage her to disclose this to him.

You could also ask her if she would like your help in talking to him. Perhaps with you there, she would feel safer and supported.

When your mother-in-law queries you about why her daughter is so distant, you should respond: “You are really asking the wrong person. I hope you two can work things out.”

Dear Amy: My son will turn 35 this summer. We have been estranged for three years.

He is an only child who had a nice, safe, happy childhood with no abuse. We were always very close. He got married and moved away 10 years ago. After he moved, I became aware of some mental health issues and substance abuse.

He was unemployed and spiraling.

Over the years I loaned him a lot of money that he never paid back, so when he asked for a very large sum three years ago and I said no, he called me every foul word under the sun and cut me out of his life.

I've struggled to move on without him and am managing, at least until people who know I have a son but don't know about the estrangement, press me for updates on how he is, where he lives, what he does, etc.

I find myself lying to give them a "normal" story.

Can you advise me on an answer for these people that ends the conversation, but isn't rude? I don't want to tell them the truth because this is a very personal story.

— Used to be Mom

Used to be Mom: You are still a mom, but unfortunately you are currently estranged from your son.

Estrangement is not uncommon, although it often goes unacknowledged — for the very reasons you don’t want to discuss it: estrangements are often complex and confusing. They are also a source of shame or embarrassment for both parties.

Anyone could understand why you might not want to discuss at length the estrangement between you and your son, but spinning a complete fiction about his life isn’t healthy for you.

I hope you will find a version of the truth which you won’t find too painful to deliver. For instance, you might say, “My son has had a tough time lately. Unfortunately, we aren’t in touch.”

Most people will accept this, but if someone presses you, practice saying, “I don’t really want to discuss it. Thank you for understanding.”

Dear Amy: After 50 years of genealogy research, I did a DNA test and found out that neither of my male grandparents were my biological grandfathers.

Like the first cousin in the question from "DNA Dispute," I found it totally disorienting.

What helped me was reading several books about others' experiences.

Many of the stories describe the emotions that we all feel, and some even have situations where family members did know (or always suspected) the truth.

— D

D: These DNA discoveries are indeed disorienting. Your choice to learn from others’ experiences is a very healthy one.

2021 by Amy Dickinson distributed by Tribune Content Agency