Last year, we began a family tradition to rent a condo in Florida for a week for our family (i.e. adult children plus the two grandchildren). We are all set to fly there again on April 9th for this annual trip. While we love and respect our son-in-law dearly, Marie and I agree we should dis-invite him. Family vacations can be tense enough, deciding what to do, where to go, etc., etc. With a couple who have only recently separated with no hope of reconciliation and two grandchildren who are confused enough, is it worth experiencing the tension for a whole week of precious vacation time?
My husband, however, thinks we should encourage our soon-to-be ex-son-in-law to join us on vacation as we need to be in his good graces since he is now the primary caregiver and we need to ensure we have access to the grandchildren. My husband may also be unsympathetic to his daughter’s situation since he is very angry with her because it reminds him so much of how his ex-wife (Marie’s mother) ended their marriage (for another man). I see, though, how she has struggled for some time with the decision to separate (even prior to the appearance of her new guy) and how she has found motherhood difficult and not really her thing. I think she is being honest and strong by saying the boys’ father is the better parent while most everyone else is lambasting her for leaving her children. (Men have left their wives/children for centuries, so why is it such a horrible thing for her to leave after so much deliberation?).
How do I un-invite my son-in-law, who is really a great guy, because I want a relaxing family vacation and a chance to reconnect with my adult children and grandchildren and especially with Marie who is going through a difficult time in spite of putting on this front that she has it all together? — Trying to Keep the Family Harmony
Well, obviously, you can’t invite your soon-to-be ex-son-in-law on your family vacation if your stepdaughter doesn’t want him there (and she doesn’t, if she’s telling you and your husband she thinks he should be disinvited). I appreciate your and your husband’s desire to maintain a good relationship with your son-in-law, the father of your grandchildren, but maintaining a good relationship with Marie is equally, if not more, important, and inviting her estranged husband to spend a week with all of you on vacation is a good way to alienate her. And whether she’s given custodial rights to her estranged husband or not, she is still her children’s mother and, if what your husband fears is losing access to them, then I would think alienating his daughter would hinder that more than anything else.
You say Marie left her husband last week, so this is all very new, even if you’ve seen signs for a while that Marie wasn’t happy in her marriage. It’s understandable that all of you are upset and just beginning to process what this means for your extended family and for your grandchildren, whom you obviously love and care about. It’s also understandable that your husband feels deeply disappointed in his daughter whom he feels is repeating her mother’s behavior — behavior which, of course, directly betrayed and hurt him. But punishing Marie, alienating her, or in any way making her pay for what is a very personal decision isn’t going to erase the past or heal any of your husband’s old wounds that may feel newly re-opened. Withholding compassion for Marie at this point is only going to create distance when what is needed for family harmony is the opposite.
Of course, at the same time you don’t want to risk alienating your son-in-law. While I wouldn’t think that a “fabulous father” and all-around “lovely man” is going to keep his kids from seeing their grandparents, you don’t want to give him any reason to doubt your sincerity or commitment to their well-being. And, of course, you care about him, too! There’s a way to let him know you can’t welcome him on your family vacation this year while still extending compassion. I’d send a letter/email or call him and roughly follow this script:
“We are devastated to hear the news of your split with Marie. We have loved you like a son and will continue to love you as an extended family member and father of our dear grandchildren. We have always known how lucky the boys are to have you as their father and now, as they face what will be a confusing time in their lives, we are grateful they have you and your love and caring wisdom to guide them through it. Please know we are here to help in any way we can, too. We love our grandchildren so much and look forward to many years of nurturing our bond with them and watching them grow up. And while we are deeply sad about what is happening, we know that you, like [your husband’s name] did, will get through this challenge and continue to be an amazing father.
Last year, we started what we hoped would be a fun family tradition of vacationing in Florida every spring. We will continue that tradition this year, but it will be bittersweet. We will miss your company and will be thinking of you and sending love and strength your way. We hope, as we navigate these new family ties, that you can appreciate that, while our loyalty must first go to Marie, our love doesn’t have sides, and you will always be family to us.”
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.