Q. I have been blessed with two very loving families. I had two children in my first family, received primary custody of them after my divorce and when I remarried, combined her children with mine for my second family. We all got along so well and for years celebrated life together.
Then my second wife got sick. I took care of her for years and now that she has passed, I’m ready to resume my life. I am 64. My children, all adults now, want me to meet someone; my bonuskids are upset. I can’t make everyone happy and it is upsetting. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I suspect the reason it is more difficult for your bonuskids is because it is their biological mother who has passed. It’s not uncommon for relatives to take it personally when a loved one moves on after a death, feeling it is a direct betrayal of the relative who has passed.
In truth, it is just the opposite. Studies show it is more likely someone who experienced a loving relationship is more inclined to recouple after the death of a loved one because the stage has been set for love and companionship. They know what can be. It is actually a tribute to the deceased loved one. It may be difficult, however, for extended family to see it that way.
I have also observed that many people who have nursed a sick spouse do their mourning while their loved one is ill. They realize he or she is in pain and how much their life will change because their partner will no longer be by their side. The memories are always there, but their grief starts to lift when the loved one finally passes.
Their children approach it quite differently. They perceive your moving on as pushing their mother’s memory aside, like she no longer matters and you simply like the new person you date more. Of course, that’s not true, but try to tell someone who is so protective of their loved one’s memory. They get very defensive, and that’s what you are seeing in your bonuschildren. They also may be a little afraid that your connection to them may weaken now that their mother has died. It’s all fear-based: Will he treat us the same? Will he love someone more than our mother?
The answer is in helping them to understand you cannot compare their mother to anyone else. Actually, they shouldn’t, either. She was unique in both your life and theirs, and they must know that she will never feel less to you, no matter who you are involved with. The heart stretches to let more love in.
More than that, anyone you get involved with also must understand your connection to your deceased wife’s children. You didn’t tell me how long you were married, but I am anticipating that it was long enough for your bonuschildren to grow from children to adults. The only family dynamic that will comfortably work for your family is when all the players — from kids to new partners — have an all-inclusive point of reference.
Anyone any family member loves just enhances the family connection, not instead of members who have passed, but in conjunction to those who are no longer with us. Always lead with love. That’s good ex-etiquette.