Dear Captain Awkward,
I don’t want to get too into backstory here, but my mother was a Darth Vader parent. The abuse was never physical, but emotional/verbal abuse and gaslighting were common. Darth Mom died last year. My sister and brother-in-law—let’s call them Leia and Han—are now expecting a baby girl. I don’t think anyone has said anything to *them* yet, but multiple people have told *me* that they’re disappointed that the baby won’t be named after Darth Mom or that they’re “so very sad” that the baby will never get the chance to meet her “wonderful grandmother.” And I just. No. A world of no. All of the NO.
Han is taking most of the blame for the name thing because he was named after a deceased family member and he wants the baby to have a name of her own. So that’s a script I’ve been using when people bring up the idea of naming the baby for Darth Mom. But I have no idea what to do when people tell me how sad it is that the baby will never meet Darth Mom. I understand that they mean well and they don’t know that Darth Mom was secretly a Sith Lord, but I am so relieved that the baby will never have to meet her grandmother that I kind of want to throttle these people. I have no idea what to say here and I’m afraid I’m going to snap and start airing dirty laundry, and nobody wants that.
Any kind of script or even a mantra for this situation would be much appreciated.
That sounds annoying and exhausting. As tempting as it is to say “Wow, well, I wish I had the good impression of her that you do and that I could say the same, but, nope,” or “Palpatine Voldemort Sauron is also a cool baby name,” I think it would be equally exhausting for you to take on the burden of correcting people’s impression of your mom. So why don’t we try for a response that is true but doesn’t invest you emotionally?
Bland agreement: “Mom would have been excited to meet the baby.””Mom would have had a lot to say about that I am sure.””Mom would have had many opinions about that.”
Vague honesty: “That’s a very sad subject.” “That’s a bit painful for me to discuss, sorry.” “It’s very hard for me to talk about Mom still.”
A reminder that certain things are none-of-anyone-else’s-business: “I have no idea what they are naming the baby. It would take a braver person than me to ask an expectant parent about something that personal, but, go nuts I guess.” “You never know with baby names until the kid is born, do you? Plenty of my friends thought they were having an Anestes or a Theo but when the baby came out it was obviously a Christos.” “I don’t know what’s on their name list, it’s top-secret.”
What you’re already doing: “There sure are lots of great old family names they could pass down.” “_____ is a great name, but I think Han & Leia want to start fresh with this generation.”
Key to all of these is a subject change. “How are things with you?” “Wherever did you get that nifty ______ you are wearing?” “What was that book you were reading earlier?” “How did your parents choose your name?” “If you could go back in time and be named after someone in your family, who would it be?”
And if people won’t accept the subject change and insist on harping on the name thing, try, “Well, it’s obvious you have a lot of opinions about that.” “You sure seem very concerned about this.” “I’m sure my sister will pick a great name.” “I can’t wait to meet her, whatever her name is.” “Mom’s death is still fresh, I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I can’t talk about it today.”
Also key: Being really nice to yourself if these questions are making you tired and stressed. These people aren’t trying to open old wounds, but you are smart to recognize that’s what is actually happening, so take care of yourself around this. It’s almost harder to grieve for an awful person, because you’ve been grieving so long for the relationship you should have had and because the cultural scripts are all assuming that you miss her.