My wife has been divorced from her children’s father for almost 20 years. He has never remarried.
We have been married for 10. They have three children together, all adults with children of their own. Although I am a proponent of us all spending the holidays together for the sake of the grandkids, we do not socialize on a regular basis.
Fast forward to now. The children’s father is terminal and wants my wife to visit him without my being present. He feels since he has not met anyone else my wife needs to be there for him as the mother of his children. The “children,” ages 25 and 29, agree with their father and say I should put them first and not cause any problems.
I have quite a few objections with this. I feel this goes beyond being cordial for the children’s sake and the emotional responsibilities end when divorced. What’s good ex-etiquette?
I see lots of red flags here, starting with how you have told me about everyone’s opinion on what is proper behavior for mom, but not how mom feels. This often happens when family members are under stress: Emotions take over and understanding goes right out the window. Put yourself in her shoes. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 7). Has anyone checked in with mom?
Next, if you have been reading this column over the years, you know the primary rule of good ex-etiquette for parents is, “Put the children first.” But this rule is in place for minor children who live in the home and are dealing with their parents’ craziness while co-parenting. It is in these situations that the parents, all wrapped up in their own breakup drama, often lose sight of the children’s perception and need a reminder to keep the kids’ welfare in the forefront.
This is not what you are facing. Your wife’s children are adults. The baton has been passed and now their primary concern is to put their own children first. If dad is so ill he needs a caregiver, it need not be his ex-wife from whom he has been divorced for 20 years, mother of his children or not. Perhaps his adult children can chip in, either taking turns or hiring a professional. But mom’s presence is not required if she does not feel comfortable being there.
Let me just say, however, it would not be the first time old hurts are put to the side in the name of making peace before someone’s passing. I don’t know what dad’s prognosis is, but arguing about this may be time squandered when family members need each other for support.
It sounds like you and your wife will be together for many years to come. As her partner, support her wishes. That’s good ex-etiquette.