My husband of 9 years has 2 children from a previous marriage (ages 15 &17). They wanted us to go to his ex-wife's house on Christmas morning to watch them open their gifts from her last year, for the first time since we've been married. (they never asked when they were little). We reluctantly obliged, drove almost an hour, then sat there while she threw presents to them and they ungratefully tore into them and bickered amongst themselves. It was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. Well, even though they will be celebrating with us on Christmas Eve, they have demanded him to be there Christmas morning again this year, but I feel that this crosses too many boundaries. I just don't understand it after all this time... Why now? My therapist thinks it's absolutely ridiculous and believes it to be a control tactic by the teenagers. He's a good father, although most times he tries to be more like a friend with inappropriate comments, jokes, language, and actions. As well as letting them do and say whatever they want without any consequences, sometimes even encouraging them by laughing and joining in. I have always been good to them, without trying to over-shadow their mother, who still calls my husband (her ex) to fix problems in her home. Whenever any of them say JUMP... he almost always says HOW HIGH! Do I have the right to be pissed?... because I am.
Dear Giving In,
You absolutely, unequivocally have the right to be pissed. But being pissed doesn’t really help much right? So let’s talk about the issues at hand. First and foremost, blended families are all kinds of complicated. It sounds like your husband has trouble with boundaries and I can completely understand why you’re feeling frustrated. You’ve got a husband who’s making things up to his kids by allowing them to get away with being disrespectful and demanding. You’ve got an ex-wife in the equation who is intruding into your relationship by asking your husband to attend to her despite being divorced. And you’ve got two teenagers who are probably dealing with a whole heap of emotions that they don’t really understand how to handle. Have you guys considered family counseling?
It seems like there are a few things that need to happen. First, you and your husband need to have a talk about boundaries. He needs to understand how these things make you feel and how they affect your relationship. You need to understand how he’s feeling as well. I’m sure he’s conflicted about how to be the best father to his kids and it may simply not have occurred to him that there are any other options. The kids also need to understand the consequences of their actions and behavior. For whatever reason, they’re struggling for power over him. It could stem from any number of things including that they are both in that overwhelming, emotion-driven world of adolescence and they’re testing you. They will learn something from the results they get…whether they are able to manipulate the situation or not, so it would be a good idea for you and your husband to talk about what the implications of giving in to their demands are.
Now, I would like to say that, under the right circumstances, it’s not a horrible thing to consider spending Christmas with your hubby’s ex if it means having the family together. But the situation you described at last year’s celebration sounds less than ideal. I would say that the whole family…kids especially…need a good dose of boundaries and appropriate behavior. Have you sat down with the kids and explained why the situation makes you uncomfortable? You and your husband need to be on the same page first, but maybe this is a good time to start having some really honest family discussions. The kids are old enough to understand how their actions affect the people around them and you’ve been a part of their lives for a long time. You deserve their respect and they deserve yours. This is a good time to bring them into the conversation as valuable partners in the family dynamic.
Last point. Model the behavior you want them to learn…your husband and your kids. Be open and honest. Be kind but assertive. Be willing to hear what they have to say despite feeling frustrated with them and try to involve them in the solution as much as you can. You may need to be firm with the kids and just tell them that you will not be doing Christmas with their mom, but maybe there’s something else that will appease their need for closeness and your need for respect and boundaries.
Wishing you luck.
Don't be shy! Say what's on your mind and get a good dose of perspective in return.