DEAR NATALIE: My daughter was involved with a cult for a few years during the pandemic. It was a lonely time and this group gave her a lot of support – but also took so much from her. She didn’t speak to our family for almost two years. Now, she is slowly pulling away from this situation and realizing how much damage it has done to her relationships. I want to invite her over for the holiday, but my husband and son are both really upset with her. They feel like she abandoned them and they aren’t ready to just act like nothing has happened. My daughter is incredibly remorseful and has called me crying several times, begging for forgiveness for how she shut us all out. I immediately forgave her. She’s my daughter! I never wanted her to go down that path and just feel relieved she got out before it became worse. My son and husband don’t want anything to do with her right now. They just “aren’t ready” to forgive her. I am torn. I don’t want to make this worse with her or with them. Should I just invite her and let the chips fall where they may? I want my family back and I’ll do anything to make that happen. – GRIEVING MOTHER
DEAR GRIEVING MOTHER: From what I have read, participation in cults exponentially increased during the pandemic. People were isolated and lonely which made them easy targets to be manipulated. The internet has made it easier to find these groups and to access them. If your daughter is starting to recognize and wake up, I would embrace her, too. But not everyone is easy to forgive. She is going to have to make amends with her father and brother on her own. It may take them longer to not only forgive her, but trust her. You can’t force this and you can’t expect everyone to come back together so easily. Give it space and time. You can invite her over for the holidays, but recognize that your son may not be comfortable being with her. If he chooses not to come, you can spend time with him on another day. If your husband doesn’t want her over for Thanksgiving, you may have to explain that to her. Plan on seeing her at her home later that weekend if this becomes too difficult. The reality is, while you may want everyone together, this may not be the year. Baby steps towards togetherness could be a better path forward. First, they need to be willing to speak with her. So perhaps she starts with a text message or a phone call apologizing. A handwritten letter may also be a good approach depending on the style of communication your husband or son are comfortable with. I feel for your whole family as you work to bring the pieces of the puzzle together. If everyone is open to it, sessions with a therapist who focuses on these issues. I hope your family finds peace.
DEAR NATALIE: My sister-in-law and my brother are in the process of a messy divorce. She has nowhere to go for the holidays and I have always gotten along with her. I invited her to the house for Thanksgiving and now my brother is mad at me. He is threatening to stay home, saying that I “have to pick sides” and I should not have her over. But they’ve been together for 11 years and I feel weird just ignoring her when we’ve always gotten along. My parents think my brother is right. I can’t just un-invite her. They are still living together, too, as they figure out how to navigate forward. It’s weird to have my brother and my nephews over but exclude her. I don’t think it sets a good example for the boys. What should I do? I’m hosting – don’t I get a say? – IS IT A HAPPY THANKSGIVING?
DEAR IS IT A HAPPY THANKSGIVING: Divorce doesn’t just impact the couple but the entire family and can be such a difficult process for everyone involved. I understand why you would want to include her and I also understand why that hurts your brother’s feelings. Since you already invited her, I say let the chips fall where they may this year. If your brother doesn’t want to engage with her, he doesn’t have to. If he doesn’t want to come, then have him over later in the weekend by himself. Remind him that you love him and that you also care about her. This is hard on everyone and is going to take time to process how to move forward in a way that feels comfortable for everyone. He also needs to understand that you can’t just “turn off” your relationship with your sister-in-law and he shouldn’t expect that to happen. It makes sense to want to have the family together for the holidays and if you are hosting, then it’s your decision. Hopefully everyone can come to the table and get through the meal without indigestion. And if not… there’s always next year.
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