advice ILLUSTRATION: Tim Furey

Odd man out

If grandpa comes to the wedding, don’t leave him alone with any kids

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 07/28/2011

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­­Dear Patti,
I’m engaged to a beautiful girl, Barbara, and we’re getting married this month. Although we’ve always gotten along extremely well, we’re currently fighting over a serious issue and neither one of us have been willing to compromise.

I just learned that Barbara’s grandfather — who lives far away and is in ill health — molested her mother when she was a child. He admitted his guilt, expressed deep remorse and apologized, attended psychotherapy and also paid for my future mother-in-law’s treatment. Barbara believes he has done all he can and that if her mom has gotten past this experience, it would be unconscionable not to invite him to our wedding.

Barbara’s own memories of him are that he was always kind and loving and that it could be detrimental to his health if he were left
out. It doesn’t matter whether he has apologized or not; I don’t want a child molester at our wedding.

When I was young, my mother divorced my stepfather when she found out he was molesting my sister. We never saw him again, and that was fine with all of us.

I don’t want to hurt Barbara, but if I allow her grandfather to attend, I’ll feel like a hypocrite for not standing firm in my convictions. – Mike

Dear Mike,
While it’s regrettable you have to start out your marriage with a problem this huge, the ability to get through it could give both of you the confidence that you can handle future challenges as well. You need to listen to each other’s ethics and values in order to work together to find some kind of compromise. In this situation, Barbara’s values are forgiveness, love and familial attachment. You value morality, healthy boundaries and the idea of always protecting children and the innocent, no matter what.

Is there a way to allow Barbara’s grandfather to be at the wedding in a limited capacity, or do you need to make a stand about how you feel? It could be a chance for you to explain to Barbara — and maybe even her mother — how torn you are between not wanting to
hurt them and also staying true to your own beliefs.   

If it’s impossible to reach a compromise, one of you will need to give in to the needs of the other, and this has to be done with a loving attitude. If Barbara decides to tell her mother and grandfather that it’s against your principles to invite him, she needs to do so with love in her heart and come to terms with any resentment she has toward you. The same goes for you. If you decide, out of love toward Barbara, to agree to her grandfather attending your wedding, you need to do so with a resolved and loving attitude.

Here are a few more thoughts to consider. Why did Barbara wait until now to tell you such crucial familial information? Does she have trust issues in general, or is there something about your behavior that makes her feel she has to handle you with kid gloves? Does she typically avoid conflict with her family and always agree with them? Are you concerned about what your mother and sister might think about your decision? You must also make sure you face any unfinished feelings concerning your own stepfather that might hurt future relationships.

If you do invite him, don’t leave him alone — even for a minute — with any children. The same applies to any children that you and Barbara might have in the future. He may have truly changed, but the risk of him hurting another child would be too great.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California
Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site:


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