Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Ex-Husband Brought His New Girlfriend To Meet My Family”

I’ve been divorced for five years. My ex-husband took our three girls to visit my parents/family for a few hours, which I’m fine with. What I didn’t like is that he took the girlfriend he’s been dating since our divorce. They live together now. I’m not sure what the purpose was. My sister said it felt awkward, but, of course, no one said anything. My family likes my ex-husband, but they don’t keep in touch and it’s not a super-close relationship. Is that appropriate divorce etiquette? I visit his family once a year or so, but I have no desire, or feel the need, to bring along my boyfriend. — Annoyed Ex-Wife

I guess I’m confused about why either of you visits your ex’s families at all, particularly since you say your ex doesn’t keep in touch with your family and isn’t close to them. I mean, it’s nice that everyone is cordial and that your ex wants to take his kids to see their grandparents, but he can take them to see his parents, and you can take them to see yours, right? While it’s certainly not unheard of for spouses to remain close and in touch with their former in-laws following a divorce, it’s entirely appropriate to re-establish new boundaries if and when anyone in the situation feels uncomfortable with the level of interaction among the parties. It seems that after five years after your divorce, it’s time to re-visit some boundaries in your situation to avoid the awkwardness that your sister has expressed and the discomfort you say you feel. (And while it isn’t your concern, one would imagine that your ex’s girlfriend might also feel awkward visiting her boyfriend’s former in-laws.)

Here’s what I would suggest: Stop visiting your ex’s family, and, the next time your ex wants to make plans to visit your family, tell him that you no longer think it’s appropriate to make visits to one another’s families. If he asks why, you should be honest and tell him you felt uncomfortable when he brought his girlfriend on the last visit and that it also made members of your family feel awkward. If you want, you can tell him that you’d be happy to let him know when your family comes to your area if he’d like to stop by to say “hi,” but that you wouldn’t feel comfortable including new partners in such an interaction. This is your boundary – it may not be what other divorced couples need, and it may not even be what works for you a few years from now, but this is where you are currently, and so the boundary is appropriate and you need to employ it going forward to limit feelings of discomfort, awkwardness, and resentment.

My husband is from a split family and has half-sisters on both sides who are roughly ten years younger than he is. Both families — his mom’s and his dad’s — are well-off and paid for degrees, $30,000 weddings, and living assistance for their girls. My husband had a partial wrestling scholarship, but the two parents would not send him to school in fear of his failing. They offered nothing to us for our wedding, or help when my husband started a business (which failed), or in buying our home, etc. He did not ask for money, but it affects him that his sisters get so much. On his mom’s side, it’s a little worse: They do big birthdays, vacations together, and NFL games that have included the girls’ friends but not him. If we are ever included in such things, they expect us to pick up the bill. Both sides of the family pay for the girls’ bills and cars, etc.

Is it right of his parents to spoil the daughters and offer him nothing? How can he separate the money and not feel of less value?

Recently, the two maternal parents got together and started attacking us for more time alone with the grandkids. I received a nasty email from my father-in-law and my mother-in-law and both attacked my husband on several occasions for more time with our kids. They made the point that the girls will be having babies soon and they will be close to them.

It’s hurtful and seems unfair. My husband is distant because he doesn’t feel loved or taken care of like the girls are. He just doesn’t feel a part of either family. Do you have any advice on how to deal with the in-laws who feel entitled to the grandchildren but do nothing for my husband? — Attacked Daughter-In-Law

 
Yikes, time with grandchildren shouldn’t be dependent on financial assistance from the grandparents! I hope you are not purposefully denying or limiting time between them as retaliation for the lack of assistance from your in-laws. That said, I can appreciate why your husband’s feelings are hurt. It does seem unfair the the same parents who refused to pay for one kid’s college tuition have paid for so much for their younger kids. But a lot can change in ten years, and it’s possible that all the parents are in much different financial positions than they were when your husband was younger. It’s also possible that they see him, ten years older than their daughters, as much more financially stable than their daughters are and not needing as much from them. Also, it’s old-school thinking but still pretty typical that a bride’s parents will contribute more towards weddings than a groom’s parents will, which would explain why his parents paid for their daughters’ weddings but not their son’s. And, finally: Your husband has never asked for money! Isn’t it possible that his sisters HAVE asked for money and that, maybe, had your husband ever asked, the answer would have been “yes”?

It seems that a lot of assumptions have been made on the part of you and your husband and that very little, if any, communication has been had. Your husband clearly resents the difference in treatment from his parents compared to how they treat his sister, and rather than equating that difference with a difference in love and care, he should, you know, TALK to his parents about his feelings. It doesn’t have to be some big thing, and it absolutely should NOT be tied to time spent with the grandkids. Those are separate conversations.

For the first conversation — the one regarding your husband’s feelings of not being loved as much because his parents don’t financially assist your husband like they do his sisters — he could reach out to both sets of parents and say, “I need to express to you something I’ve been feeling for a while. It hurts me that you help my sisters so much and have never offered any assistance to me.” That’s a good way to start the conversation that simply expresses his feelings and doesn’t attach blame or assumptions. It invites an open response that doesn’t immediately put the recipient – his parents – on the defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if the responses are along the lines of: “You never asked.” Or: “We didn’t know you needed help!” Or: “We have more money now than we did when your sisters were your age, and it didn’t occur to us that we should retroactively assist you to be fair.” From there, he can explain his position, whatever the details of it are. It may not change behavior – his parents may still not offer any financial assistance (and, frankly, I don’t think he’s automatically entitled to it just because his parents are financially comfortable), but at least your husband will have expressed himself and will be in a better position to decide what kind of relationship he wants with his family going forward.

As for a conversation about time with the grandkids, the grandparents are not entitled to time alone with them, and it’s grossly inappropriate for them to attack you and your husband about not giving that to them. You guys need to nip that in the bud, pronto, telling them exactly what you are comfortable with – whatever that is — and that this is not up for negotiation and you will not tolerate being attacked. But, again, if you are withholding your kids as some kind of retaliation for financial assistance not being offered to you, I urge you to drop that shit immediately. That would be really juvenile and unfair to your kids who don’t deserve to be pawns in a game you and your husband are too old to be playing.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

13 comments… add one
  • avatar

    LisforLeslie January 3, 2020, 9:27 am

    I rarely disagree with Wendy but with LW 2 – I am absolutely not aligned with Wendy’s response. Having a younger sibling who is technically “half” – my mom and stepdad always treated us equally. It wasn’t necessarily financially equal because I didn’t get married and stuff like that. But if invited to visit, my parents always either bought the tickets or slipped me a check (which I argue I don’t need but I know their intentions are good).

    Laying into you and attacking you is not going to bring you closer and when/if you have kids, you will entirely control their relationship. So if you feel that you aren’t being supported emotionally that’s enough of a reason to avoid them.

    Do they ever tell your husband they are proud of him, that they admire what he’s accomplished or do they only see him as the likely bearer of the first grandchild?

    I expect that if you had the first grandchild, you would see a change in attentiveness, but I suspect that as soon as the daughters had grandchildren, those kids would be spoiled even more and your kids would be treated like second class citizens as your husband is.

    Try the conversation, but protect yourselves.

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    • avatar

      helen January 3, 2020, 9:36 am

      I am in TOTAL agreement with YOU & NOT wendy. LW wrote that they have to pay their expenses when present at an activity while the girls do not. Quite unfair, and if both sets of parents do NOT acknowledge the error of their ways, please keep your distance from them. I do also agree with you that once the ‘girls’ start having grandkids, these bores would just continue showing their continued bias unless positive changes are made. LW: do what is best for your husband, you, and your children.

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  • avatar

    Jennifer January 3, 2020, 9:55 am

    I think it would have been very helpful to know the ages of the LW’s husband and the “girls” for some context. When I was still in school, my parents would typically cover me for things, but when I was out on my own and working, I became responsible for myself. So, if they are like 20 and he is 30, I could see why they would be covering them for things and not him.

    I also have to wonder how much of this is LW feeling it is unfair versus her husband. She’s the one getting the “nasty emails” so I’m wondering if it is her idea to hold the grandkids hostage for money she admits her husband never asked for.

    There was another response that the parents could give that Wendy didn’t come up with, “It’s not my money.” I’ve been through the carousel of step parents more times than most, and one of my dad’s wives (#3) had much more money than he did. She had younger kids, and I was in college. They got more than I did, but I never felt entitled to more. It wasn’t his money, it was hers.

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    • avatar

      Ange January 3, 2020, 3:42 pm

      We had that too, my mum’s partner has a bit of money and my brother asked for a chunk of it for a house deposit. Thankfully my mother reminded him that it wasn’t her money and it was hugely presumptuous to ask.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse January 3, 2020, 11:02 am

    LW1-He brought his girlfriend, and it was mildly awkward for everyone involved very briefly. This is not a big deal. It’s a shrug and move on moment.

    LW2- Does your husband know about the email? I would forward it to him, ask him if he wants to talk about it and let him lead the relationship with his parents. Don’t respond to their angry ranting email. He needs to decide whether he wants to address the inequality or have more of a relationship with them. If he’s struggling with his feelings, you could help him schedule an appointment with a therapist. Truly, he doesn’t have to invest more time into a relationship that makes him feel bad about himself. You and he have to do what’s right for your family, not what his parents want.

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  • avatar

    csp January 3, 2020, 11:33 am

    LW1 – I do think this is odd but it might be an indication that he plans to marry the girlfriend and wanted to introduce her to the family. I just wouldn’t be surprised

    LW2- This is something your husband needs to address. So I think this happens more when you have split families. Like with the half sisters, the parents are a team so they make the decisions on money as a team. When you have split families, then there are four people that need to be in agreement for spending. So it sucks but I don’t know if it is malicious. It also seems like the wedding stuff is part of sexist family of the bride stuff. He needs to talk to his family. Ask what he wants and figure out how to build bridges with them for the grandparents. I would have a plan for what the two of you want before going to talk to them.

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  • avatar

    Amanda January 3, 2020, 12:58 pm

    LW2 writer- Communication is a major issue. We went to a therapist once but I can’t get my husband back. Nor will her ex have these hard conversations. He will just keep people pleasing and try to get any love he can.

    Most importantly, time with the Grandkids is not dependent on financial assistance. They have never asked for one on one time with the kids from me. They do ask to be invited to the sports etc which I invite them to where appropriate. Even if they did ask, the kids are not old enough for sleep overs with people I do not trust or have relationships with. Our door is always open. We would never turn them away. If they built the relationship instead of just trying to control us and tell us how to parent, doors would open. But another reason I would say no to sleep overs is because they are alcoholics and their house is like a frat party. Cocktail hour followed by 6-8 shots during Easter dinner kind of thing. The other side, she always has beer in her car to include empty open cans.

    I’m 38 and my husband is in his 40’s and we are full time working parents and appreciate our weekends with the kids. We are not dropping the kids off to go party or go to school like the in laws did.

    What probably triggered the father in laws letter probably came from love but he hasn’t spoke more than a few words to me at each family gathering over the 19 years I’ve been around.

    All the pressure started during our hardest life choice to file bankruptcy. My father in law got it out of my husband by bullying him and acted like he was going to beat him up. He said he was messing everything up. I think he meant the family trust but who knows. And our finances do not effect his trust. My husband thinks his dad runs background checks on him. Or maybe he notices signs and my husband slipped up while drinking. He never asked for help here either. He says if he accepted something the relationship would change but still feels hurt and like he’s not apart of the family. It’s not just the weddings degrees and cars. He wants to be accepted. My husband is a people pleaser and will always try to be accepted by them. A lot can change in 10 years and there are several years of issues and conditioning at havoc but maybe a key player is the step parents. Is he not equal to the daughters? I agree the parents are old school providing for their daughters but into their 30’s and once they have babies how to I protect my kids from feel like less when they have the same behavior of caring for their kids and not ours. The vacations cars etc.

    His family is treating him unfairly and I completely agree that it’s their money and they can do what they want with it but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. My personality is to distance myself and kids but that isn’t possible. So how can I look the other way as the daughters throw stuff in our faces.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse January 3, 2020, 2:48 pm

      Why is distance not possible?
      If your husband won’t go to therapy, you should. How can you look the other way? You can’t, right? Isn’t that the whole point of your letter?

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    • avatar

      csp January 3, 2020, 3:52 pm

      I would say that the best thing I did with my inlaws was start inviting them over or to events on my terms. I also schedule days that they pick up the kids from daycare on certain days and drop them off in the evening. That way the kids get one on one grandparent time and it doesn’t blow up our weekends. Bankruptcy is incredibly hard and it sounds like your husband has a tough relationship with his parents. Try to figure out how to grow as a couple together through this. It is so stressful and seeing people around you get handed what you weren’t handed is like salt in a wound.

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  • avatar

    Amanda January 3, 2020, 1:28 pm

    First paragraph typo: Nor will he have the hard conversations.

    And, I wanted to add, Why don’t they want to take us on vacation. Why do they want one on one time with the kids but not to include us. Is it my place to try to have these conversations?

    We are getting by. It’s hard and I’m proud of my husband for trying to start his own business. It failed but we have not. I just wish his family could praise and love him like they do the girls.

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  • avatar

    Bittergaymark January 3, 2020, 1:33 pm

    LW1). Seriously? Grow the fuck up. The great irony of life — so many clueless dolts create children while remaining childish brats themself. So is all just much needless and vapid self created drama by yet another maddening dim LW. Yawn…

    LW2). Eh. See above. More of the same dreariness. Self created drama. Talk about petty and tedious.

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  • avatar

    Skyblossom January 4, 2020, 2:49 pm

    LW2 I’m sorry your husband is treated this way. It isn’t fair and so it isn’t right. Favoritism destroys relationships among siblings.

    One thing I’ve seen among divorcing parents is that neither wants to pay more than their share. They want the other parent to be forced to pay just as much. What happens is that when the court ordered payments end the parents consider themselves done and don’t do anything more to financially support their own kid. The kid gets lucky when at least one of the parents is willing to be there for them.

    When a parent remarries and has more children the younger children are part of that second marriage while the older kids are always part of the first marriage. The new family doesn’t mind spending it’s money on it’s kids but the older kids are easy to see as other. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this has happened to your husband and it has happened to him through both his mom and his dad. He’s like the orphan of the original family. No one wants to invest in that original family now that they have their own second families. Some parent’s are fiercely loyal to the older kids and some want no reminders of the failed marriage.

    As far as visits between grandparents and grandkids go you need to feel comfortable before the grandparents get access. If they drive drunk and are drunk in their home they shouldn’t have unsupervised access. If they are bad enough you might not even want supervised access. Your obligation to your children outweighs any annoyance the grandparents might experience. The fact that the grandparents want to bully their way to access is a bad sign about their suitability.

    I think you should feel free to tell either set of parents that you expect everyone to be treated the same. If they are paying for adult daughters then they should pay for their adult son.

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  • avatar

    kbean January 4, 2020, 4:32 pm

    LW1, It should not be a big deal. I can understand it being a little awkward, seems like something that you take a deep breath and move on from. It probably means he is getting serious with her.

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