“My Sisters Haven’t Supported My Son Since His Partner Died”

My two older half-sisters did nothing when my son’s fiancée recently committed suicide and left him with a 6-month old baby, rent obligations, a car with blown head gasket and no job since he had left his job a month before because his fiancée was suffering from postpartum depression. I have attended every family holiday, birthday, and shower, bringing gifts for their eight grandchildren. My son has not attended any family events for years because he said he felt like an outsider, but with the birth of his first child he had wanted to reunite and try again. My coworkers, his fiancée’s coworkers, my distant second cousin, and two of his cousins contributed diapers, gift cards, formula, and cash to help. Even some of his fiancée’s ex-husband’s family, who don’t even know my son, helped.

My sisters are both comfortably retired and spend money freely, eating out and buying things for their houses, and one even just bought a $200K villa. When my mom (not their natural mom) passed away last year, all the money was split three ways. My mom never treated them any differently than me. I am incredibly hurt, and my son wants nothing to do with family. I can’t make excuses for their behavior and want to know how to confront them.

I feel I am living a false life when I go shopping or out to eat with them. Even when my best friend’s daughter overdosed, they made a beautiful floral wreath arrangement for her. For my son, not even a card or a baked lasagna.

What is up?? I really want to know. Now I’m invited to a housewarming party for my sister’s new villa and am expected to bring HER a gift? She has babysat for my son’s baby twice for a couple hours so he can go on job interviews, but it still seems like they could have done more. — Disappointed in Sisters

I’m very sorry for the tragic loss of your son’s fiancée and the mother of your grandbaby. I can imagine it’s a shock and that you must feel overwhelmed with concern for your son over how he will emotionally, physically, and financially navigate this new landscape as a suddenly-single parent of a baby with, what sounds like, very limited resources. Your feelings of frustration and anger are normal parts of the grieving process, and while I understand the temptation to direct those feelings at your sisters, whom you feel haven’t stepped up enough to help, I hope you resist such temptation.

The truth is, your sisters may be struggling with their own limitations, especially in making sense of the way your son’s fiancée died; suicide is one of those tragedies that can especially trigger people’s limitations of empathy. If your sisters didn’t have a relationship with your son because he’d been avoiding them for years, that may further exacerbate the lack of empathy. It doesn’t make their seeming lack of concern less hurtful, but this may be more a case of their just not having the emotional tools to lend the support you think they should.

Rather than calculate all the ways your sisters owe you/your son, including an inheritance from your mom – the woman who raised them as their own for most of their lives, I encourage you to use your words and communicate with them about your hurt feelings. Remember, this isn’t about your sister’s villa, or the gifts you’ve given their grandchildren; this is about your feeling that they haven’t adequately recognized a time in your life when you need them to show up. Here’s a sample script:

“This has been such a tragic time for my son, and as his mom, I am so worried and sad for him. Any support he gets from my friends and family is, by extension, support for me as I share in his burden of grief, caring for his baby, and picking up the pieces after losing his fiancée so unexpectedly. He is heartbroken and I am heartbroken for him. Because the heartbreak is eased by acts of love and support from others, I wish we were getting more of that from you. While I appreciate the babysitting you’ve done, I’ve felt you could have offered more support, considering your relationship with me. Maybe you aren’t sure what is needed, in which case I wish you’d ask. Or maybe there’s another reason you have withheld the kind of support we’re getting from others in the community, in which case, I wish you’d explain. I’m feeling hurt, in addition to the pain I’m feeling for my son, and I need my sisters’ support.”

If, after sharing your feelings with them, you continue to feel unsatisfied with the level of their support, take a break from them. You absolutely do not need to go to a housewarming party or any other family event where you’d be expected to celebrate when you’re feeling so emotionally-strained. It would be better to create distance between you and those who are disappointing you than to have heated confrontations you might later regret.

My boyfriend of three years has an 11-year-old son whose mother is not in the picture. I have always accepted his son. In the beginning of our relationship, I was happy to go out in the yard and play tag or nerd guns with his son. I enjoyed it. I would help him with his homework, teach him things, drive him to and from school, ask him about his day, and so on. Well, one day my boyfriend, his son, and I were grocery shopping when we grabbed a jar of relish and the son said “gross.” I explained to him that relish is just pickles cut up differently. He did not believe me, so my boyfriend told him that, yes, relish is just pickles cut differently. He believed his dad, so when I pointed out that I’d just said the exact same thing as his dad, my boyfriend’s son looked me in my face and said he did not have to listen to me because I am just a somebody; his dad looked at us and walked away.It upset me that my boyfriend did not correct his son or at least tell him not to call me that. Ever since that day, his son treats me like I am a nobody. So eventually I stopped trying with him.

Now my boyfriend gets upset with me because I don’t try hard enough with his son. I have tried to explain to him that my problem is not with his son; it is with him for allowing his son to say what he did to me and to treat me the way he does. My boyfriend and I never get alone time, ever. All I have asked for is an hour or two a month. I do not believe I am being unreasonable about that, but my boyfriend says I am wrong to ask for that because his son has no one but him. Yet his son has a grandmother, uncles, cousins, friends from school — enough that he can be with one of them for an hour or two a month.

I recently bought a sign that is the word “Love.” I asked my boyfriend to put our names on it and hang it above the bed. He put our names plus his son’s name on it. Am I wrong to feel like he should not have put his son’s name on it? It feels weird to have his name on a sign that says love. If it said “Family,” then put his name right in the middle, but not a love sign. He says I just have a problem with his son and I should get over it, but I don’t feel like that’s true. My problem is with his not understanding that WE are in a relationship and what I’m asking for is very minimal. Am I wrong or being selfish? — Not Relishing This

Let me ask you something: Do you love your boyfriend’s son? You’ve been with your boyfriend for three years. It sounds like you live together, so you live with his son, too. You say you “accept” the son… but do you love him? If not, I think it’s time for you to move on. You need to do more than merely accept your partner’s child – a person you live with and have made a home and, essentially, a family with. If you don’t by now, I don’t think you ever will and it’s not fair to any of you for you to continue the charade of being a family.

If you DO love your boyfriend’s son, for God’s sake, quit being so petty!! I mean, you’re a grown woman and you’re complaining about relish? About a “Love” sign over your bed? This is all so petty and juvenile and not even the 11-year-old’s fault, and yet, in your own words, you have “quit trying with him.” You’ve quit making any effort with a child because you don’t like the way he treats you? Has it occurred to you that he doesn’t like the way you treat him? Maybe he treats you like you’re “a nobody” because you treat him like someone you merely accept but don’t actually love. When you love a child, you don’t quit making an effort with him when he acts like an asshole. All kids act like assholes sometimes. It’s one way they get the attention of the adults they’re desperate for attention from.

Again, I think if you don’t love him, it’s time to be honest with yourself about that and move on. He and your boyfriend are a packaged deal and you can’t make a family with them without love for both. If you do love him, grow up, quit being petty about stupid shit, and hire a damn babysitter one evening every month so you and your boyfriend can go out on a date and get some much-needed alone time together. If your boyfriend refuses to go out with you, take that as a sign he’s avoiding being alone with you for a reason, and move on already.

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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.


  1. LW1: my advice: be much more proactive. Ask your sisters directly for help. For example, you can say that your son needs X and Y and Z, and that you are collecting money for a family gift. You ask your sisters to give each XXX $. and to sign the family card that you have prepared. Just ask, if it doesn’t come spontaneously. You can also ask for their time: can you babysit this day?
    I would also collect money and help from your son’s cousins, as they have 8 children altogether. They could offer baby clothes, toys that their children don’t need anymore, and they could also offer to babysit and organise playdates with your grandchild.
    Just ask, please, don’t complain waiting for things to happen. It would be also a good thing for you to organise a collective gift and a family support round your son.
    I guess they are petrified by the suicide, and don’t know how to approach the situation. Lame, I know, but common. Do give them clear directions and see the result. I don’t think I would ask now why they didn’t give anything, or that you are hurt. You might simply suffer more and increase this isolation. Start first by asking them. Then, if they reject your offer, you can say that you are hurt and ask questions. Give them first the chance and opportunity to do the right thing. I am pretty sure they will comply with some clear propositions.
    BUt remember too that they are not responsible for this tragedy and your son estranged himself from the family. This is no excuse, not at all, but please keep some perspective and don’t direct your grief against your sisters.
    I am sorry about this terrible loss and hope your son and his baby will recover and have a beautiful life.

  2. LW1, did your family members go to the baby shower? Did they give a gift at the time of birth? Were they oppose of the couple not being married?

  3. LW2: you are conflating two problems, your BF’s son, who is a typical pre-teenager, and your romantic relationship, which seems much more complicated and, frankly, fragile. When the son made this bad remark, why didn’t you open the discussion later: “why did you tell me that, that I am a nobody? It hurts, you know. I don’t accept to be told such things. What is going on? Do you hurt about something? What can I do so that we are a happy family?” Then listen. Perhaps he will ask unrealistic things. Perhaps he holds a grudge. You get the chance to deflate the tension and start again by a good communication. Caring for children supposes unconditional love. You have to admit that sometimes, they will act badly, but you must react, listen, reconnect with them, set boundary and not let yourself be spoken to impolitely. He must be upset about something.
    About your boyfriend, it is more difficult. Indeed, he should ask your son not to speak to you like this on the spot. I guess that his boy can feel a tension between you two, hence your loss of authority. Your BF must feel some kind of guilt regarding your son, or be simply a weak father. Again, communicate with him. But don’t act like a child yourself. Caring for a child goes beyond that. It is being a rock, in all senses of the term: support and resistance to provocation.
    You have to up your game here with this motherless child. But I am afraid that the real problem is with his father. He is half out of the relationship, me thinks.

  4. LW2: PS. Perhaps the boy is upset about something else, and snaps at you because you are there. Classic with kids. Find out what is wrong.
    With your partner, stop the war about his son, and see wether the relationship recovers. If you have zero couple’s date, move on.

  5. Mystery lady says:

    LW 2 Listen to Wendy.

  6. LW2:

    “I have always accepted his son.”

    That makes me so sad. Wendy’s right. If you don’t love this kid after 3 years, you need to pack up and get out of their lives. Not to even mention the stupid, childish pettiness over an 11-year-old’s random comment and a sign.

    Please, for their sake. Just move on, and only date men without children from now on.

  7. dinoceros says:

    LW1: If you truly want to know why, then ask. Maybe you’ll get an answer that will open up a better relationship. Or you’ll get an answer that will give you a chance to express how disappointed you are, and you can re-evaluate your relationship with them.

    LW2: Here’s the thing. If one argument with a preteen (who are known for being obnoxious) makes you stop trying with him, then you clearly are not really accepting him. Do you have any friends with kids you could talk to so you can learn more about what parenting a kid is actually like? Because you seem to have unreasonable expectations. A preteen or teen is going to sometimes be a jerk. If you destroy your relationship with them after that, then you are showing them that yes, you are just “somebody,” because if you were a parental figure, you’d still love them and care about them and you’d know what kids are like.

    The real issue is your relationship with your partner. Don’t take it out on a kid just because you’ve been unwilling to address your romantic issues.

    1. dinoceros says:

      Also, it’s OK to determine that you’re not cut out to date someone with kids.

  8. anonymousse says:

    LW2- This is a child who doesn’t have his own mother in his life. And he has said some slightly childish (very appropriate for a child!) comments.

    Now you don’t even want to TRY with him?
    He’s a young boy! You are being so immature and cruel.

    Yes, CRUEL.

    If you don’t love him, if you cannot find it inside yourself to show him love- even to fake it- you should leave. It’s not fair to this boy. You need to probably not date men with kids if you expect them to behave more maturely than you do. The painted sign. It’s disturbing and disgusting that you didn’t want to put his name on their, too. WTF is wrong with you? You don’t want to include him. You’re jealous of him. I don’t have any idea why his father subjects his son to you.

    JFC….Relish? I’m actually surprised you’d include something so ridiculously petty as an example of his disrespect. It’s laughable.

  9. LW2, I think the son, the sign, and the relish comment is a red herring. You don’t feel appreciated and valued in your relationship. What you wanted was your boyfriend to say that you are someone important to him, and he didn’t. That’s why the sign bothers you, too. You feel undervalued.

    I hesitate to give advice because I’m a little out of my depth here: this is why I never had any desire to date a man with kids. I knew the kids would always come first, as they should, and I didn’t want to have to step into a premade family and figure out my place. So I don’t know if you should MOA right this second, but you definitely have some work to do in your relationship, as does your boyfriend.

    I kind of feel like you buried the lede: that you don’t get any time alone with you boyfriend at all and he won’t make it a priority. That’s a big problem. I mean, why not? For the love of Pete, I casually dated a guy with full custody of his daughter, and he had a neighbor watch her while we went out. Surely the son didn’t come with you on your early dates? It’s time to rejuvenate this relationship or yes, MOA, because you’re not being valued. I won’t come down hard on you on what you said about the son because I think the problem lies deeper than that – with your boyfriend – and I don’t fault you for being hurt at his lack of prioritizing you at all.

    1. Eleanor Anagonye says:

      All of this. The problem is that the LW doesn’t feel valued in this relationship. Kids definitely always come first, but it seems like the LW’s boyfriend won’t even put her second (or third or even fourth). He didn’t talk to the kid about calling the LW a nobody and, more importantly, won’t even give her one hour PER MONTH alone even though there are plenty of people with whom the kid could happily spend time. It’s time for a serious discussion to see if there’s any chance of this relationship lasting.

  10. From LW2:

    “Hello. I read your reply and after rereading what I wrote I realized that I never said that I DO love his son. I have told his sons few times that I love him. I also did not just suddenly stop trying. What I mean by I stopped trying, is that I stopped taking 20 extra steps and instead I only take 10 steps. I still ask him how was school? Do you need anything? I reiterated to him that I am here for him if he needs me. I dont just ignore him. What my boyfriend is mad about me not trying hard enough, I use to run into the sons room and play with him, now he ignores me so I dont do that. My boyfriend is mad I dont do stuff like that anymore. I tried explaining to him that his son ignores me so that why I stopped doing those things. I only brought up the relish thing because that was the first time he said that and my boyfriend allowed it. That was the first time I they both truly made me feel like I was just a somebody. The more his son said and did stuff like that, and his dad never said anything to him about it, even though I asked him please tell his son not to say that. I even tried talking to his son about why he called me that and he ignored me. The Love sign, that was the only thing that I asked my boyfriend if it could be just me and him. That was the ONLY thing I wanted. That is why the sign upset me because that was the only thing I asked for. When i brought up about only wanted 1 hour alone a month, but my boyfriend wont do it. We tried 1 time but his son got upset and started crying because he did not want to leave home because he did not want to stop playing his playstation, my boyfriend said ok and never tried again. I know I did not explain myself well enough the other day, that is my fault. I know it probably does not change much but I felt like I needed to explain better when you asked if i love his son. I DO love, I would do anything for him, just to make him smile. I understand that he is a preteen and I do not blame him at all, for any of it. He is just being a preteen. I’m upset with my boyfriend for allowing it, even when I have asked him to please not let him treat me that way. You may be right though, I may need to move on. I love them both with all my heart, but neither one of them even wants me around for important things, like his sons birthday ( my boyfriend gave him his presents withput me, even after I said I couldn’t wait to see his sons face when he got them ). Thank you “

    1. anonymousse says:

      I’m glad you updated your POV, but I think you DO have a problem with your BF, and you also DO have issues with his son. Own up to it. Stop pretending there is not a problem when it’s very clear there are problems.

      There are so many reasons he may not have corrected his son in the moment, or chose to include his son on the “Love” sign. I think you are still very insensitive to the multitude of emotions and layers of feelings that his son likely has about his mother, his father, you- and where he fits in to all of this.

      You have unrealistic expectations for how an 11 year old boy should behave. You expect him to empathize with you and apologize for calling you “just somebody,” but you don’t seem to empathize with his situation at all. If he ignores you, keep trying. If he’s rude, keep trying. You are the adult! You’re supposed to be able to put aside your temporarily hurt feelings when he rebuffs you and show him love and acceptance anyway. He’s learning from you. Are you trying to teach him that love is transactional? Love is conditional? He’s 11 and kids are literally supposed to push your buttons and test your boundaries. They do that to be sure that they will still be loved, no matter what.

      Have you ever read any books about child development? “How to listen so kids will talk and talk so kids will listen,” would be a good place for you to start. If you haven’t read about normal child development and behavior, you should. Janet Lansbury wrote a really great book, “No Bad Kids,” and she has a great website and is even active on her Facebook page. She’s a great resource.

      You’re putting yourself in a position where you’re expecting his father to put you first, and he’s not going to do that. He’s not supposed to do that! He could have talked to his son. Sometimes, children want to keep some things private. Like my son gets annoyed if we’ve talked about something in confidence and I bring it up to anyone. And he’s 5. But honestly, even if his dad said nothing, he’s gotten the message through your changed behavior that being mean to you made you treat him differently.

      As for you getting time alone, YOU plan it. Make it easy for your bf to go on a date with you. Hire a babysitter. Ask one of his friend’s parents to take turns watching the kids/play date so you can go out every two weeks. And tell him the truth. You do find yourself having insecure, jealous feelings about how his son is treated and you’re trying to do better.

      If he won’t go on a date that you plan for, you have bigger issues. But they are with the grown adult man you’re in a relationship win, not his son. Stop bringing his son into it. Stop pointing fingers at the child.

      Lastly, I would suggest that you all go to counseling. You, maybe you both together if you think your relationship is worth fighting for, and I hope your son has a counselor at school or out of school that has talked with him about his mother, you, his feelings. Because those are just as important as your feelings.

  11. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    If your boyfriend won’t let you be there for important things and refuses to even go on a date you are better off moving on. He doesn’t have room in his life for a full partner.

    As for his son, it’s normal at his age to pull back from the adults in his life. Both of my kids pulled back at that age. They started spending more time in their rooms with their doors shut. He’s at the age where kids quit playing with toys and shift to spending their time playing electronic games with their friends.

    Kids will try things and if something works they will repeat. Being rude to you worked so it will repeat. That decision was made by his dad. His dad doesn’t care if you are hurt. That’s the take away message here. Your boyfriend doesn’t care about you enough to enforce a rule about being polite. Your boyfriend isn’t interested in getting even one hour alone per month. I think your relationship is over.

  12. dirtorsoil says:

    A few things: the kid is 11 and his mother abandoned him…. You don’t think that makes the already hellish condition of being a pre-teen even worse? Is the kid in counseling? He needs to be b/c he is going to be wrestling with his own self-worth for the rest of his life b/c of his mothers actions. He’s a powerless and confused kid and I feel for him. You really do need to MOA. If you don’t understand: kids say shitty things b/c they are children (and need to be corrected and not iced out) and that any good parent will always put their kid first then you are likely at the same emotional level as the 11 year old. Get out before your reactive behavior further impacts the kid and his Dad.

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