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“Ask a Priest: Should I Cut Ties With Toxic Relatives?”
Q: I am newly married and expecting my first child, and I realized today that there are some people in my life who I don’t want influencing my kids or being in their life. They are toxic and have hurt me a lot throughout my life, but they are my family. Do you think God would be OK with me cutting them out of my life, or do I have an obligation to keep them in my life? – S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: May the Blessed Virgin Mary watch over you as you await the birth of your baby!
You raise an interesting question. The short answer is … there is no simple answer. People can change. And people can influence others to change.
In the case of problematic family members, it might be part of your mission to help them, through your prayers and your example.
The most important relationships in your life — after God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus and Mary – are those with your husband and children. You are within your rights to protect them as best you can from noxious relatives.
But it is good to remember the words of St. Paul: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
We as Christians are called to bring the light of Christ to others. We need to shine amid the darkness of the world.
Dealing with problematic family members might be one way to do this.
This doesn’t mean you have to ignore their objectively bad behavior or open your home to bad behavior. Certainly, if any family members have abused you physically in some way, you are wise to keep them away from your family until there is rock-solid evidence of their rehabilitation.
But it might be good at least to start praying specifically for those who have hurt you. This has many advantages.
First, it gives you a way to channel your energy in a charitable way.
Second, this prayer in turn can also bring a deep peace to your own heart. If you can pray for and forgive someone who has hurt you, then it will be that much easier to foster a spirit of mercy to others around you.
Third, the prayer will expand your own heart and help make you a better wife and mom. You could turn your home into a little paradise. And that could have ripple effects in your community.
Fourth, this exercise in prayer and forgiveness would help you see everyone through the eyes of Jesus. For he suffered and died for each of your relatives. He loves each of one, without exception. Imagine a heart that could love like Christ’s.
And who knows? Your prayers could help convert souls.
Again, this doesn’t mean you have to indiscriminately open your home to every problematic person. Yet it is healthy not to try to live cut off from every difficult relative. Dealing with them, though challenging, might give your own heart a chance to grow.
It might be worth thinking of the alternative. If you cut off all contact with certain relatives, will that improve the situation? Will it help them? Will it help you? Could it, for instance, cause a hardening of hearts over the years?
Perhaps you could take all this to prayer. Talk about it with your husband, too, and see where the Spirit is leading you. Count on my prayers.
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