Family faces huge and unexpected challenge
DEAR AMY: I married my husband three years ago. We’re in our early 40s. His younger sister has two children, ages 8 and 2. The children were in a very bad situation, which ultimately led to them being sent to live with my in-laws two states away. The courts are involved and the children are in counseling.
My in-laws are well into their 60s. It’s clear to everyone that my sister-in-law won’t get the children back likely ever, and my in-laws are not in a position to raise kids for another 15 years.
My husband and I are child-free by choice and have, frankly, no desire to raise a family not our own.
This is causing anxiety and stress, but we are unified in the knowledge that we might need to step in when his parents can no longer handle things. His mom has shown some serious lapses in judgment during the time she’s had the kids.
I’m struggling to reconcile my selfish feelings of not wanting a family, and taking on the family of someone who was irresponsible. Not to mention, the emotional trauma the children will continue to have. I’m so angry at my sister-in-law.
We had plans to travel far and wide. Now we’re talking about settling down somewhere where his parents could potentially live near us with the kids. None of us want this, but foster care isn’t an option. I don’t know what to do with any of this. — RELUCTANT
DEAR RELUCTANT: I applaud your realization that you will make a choice to benefit these children. Family members who pick up the pieces and raise innocent children caught in the crossfire of family dysfunction or the addiction crisis are unsung heroes to a generation of children.
You mention that you both have no desire to raise a family “not our own,” but these children are in your family, and I hope you will start the process to make them your own.
You should try to take this in stages, starting as soon as possible. Getting to know the children when they are this young will help all of you to make a transition toward living together.
You and the grandparents could start by sharing parenting duties (as many families do). Even if you are the primary parents, the grandparents could be enormously helpful, possibly giving you and your husband opportunities to travel a bit.
Yes, this is NOT what you had planned for. Yes, you are angry, and yes, you will mourn for the radical shift in your plans. But this is what life is about. Illness, job loss, random acts of violence -- or kindness -- will turn many of our lives upside down. And making ethical and compassionate choices, sometimes in opposition to your own desires, has to be its own reward.
A professional counselor could help both of you to come to terms with this, and arrive at an action plan.