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Carolyn Hax: On a tightrope as daughter is separating

Dear Carolyn: My married daughter, with two young daughters of her own, has decided to file for a separation. I felt from the start that things may not work out. They were both young, my daughter just 22, and it was the pregnancy that mostly pushed them to marry six years ago. I remained optimistic and embraced my new son-in-law and his extended family. I have also tried to respect their lives and not be the pushy mother-in-law. I adore my grandchildren; they are both amazing.

Now my daughter has asked me for help with a deposit on a rental. I’m not opposed to this, but I know my husband, her father, would be livid. He thinks that she is being stupid, that her husband is a “great guy” and that we should stay out of it.

I am trying to respect my daughter’s decision, and I also see how miserable she is. How can I support my daughter without alienating my own family?

– Anonymous

A: The first thing you pay for is a trip to a reputable, mediation-minded family attorney, so her (or your) decisions don’t have unintended consequences later.

Beyond that, the lines are so fine. You don’t want to influence the outcome; this is the couple’s business. You don’t want to be so helpful that your daughter defaults to a childhood role, or so hands-off that this fragile family suffers. You don’t want your actions or inaction to hurt anyone, yet you won’t know whether any of your choices help or hurt until the results are in – assuming it’s possible to tell even then.

I’ll disclose outright that I’d help my daughter in this situation. Ultimately she’ll do what she wants, with or without me, so if I can ensure that she has a clean, safe place to think – and bring the girls – then I will. I’d explain to my son-in-law that this isn’t a vote against him; it’s just breathing room that I hope will ultimately benefit them both. He can scoff at that, but that’s not up to me.

If this aligns with your thinking, then make the case to your husband. I suggest you start by agreeing with him. Yes, her husband is a great guy. Yes, it’s possible she’s being stupid.

Then point out: Her living with him under the current conditions is what pushed her to this brink. Denying her the chance to move might do more to strain this marriage than to support it.

Then I suggest you bring your daughter into the conversation. Not only is she an adult, and the life you’re discussing wholly hers to live, but she is also in a position to address her father’s objections directly and, if needed, to offer alternative ways you can help her.

Here’s what I’d say to your husband: Don’t dig in, not here. Make your love for this family solid and everything else flexible. If your beliefs are too strong for that, then at least put yourself to this test: Am I using my views to govern only my choices, or am I expecting them to control the choices of somebody else?