By Esther Mann

 

Dear Esther,

After being a single mother for seven years, I finally remarried a nice man. I’m grateful that I found someone wonderful. For a long while, I thought it might never happen. After what I went through with my first marriage, I wasn’t going to settle. Everything had to be right.

During my divorce and single years, my parents were supportive and there for my kids and me always. I have a daughter who is 14 years old and a son who is 10. They are good kids and my parents are close to them.

When I started getting serious with Avi, my present husband, people I knew who had remarried warned me that the biggest problem they encountered revolved around blending their families. They found it stressful and, in some cases, virtually impossible to navigate. And so, in order to preempt potential problems, Avi and I talked a great deal about possible glitches that may come up. Avi has only one child, a 9-year-old son. He is different than my two children, shy and quiet, unlike my kids, who are outgoing and personable. But the kids get along and our parenting styles are similar enough that we felt we would be OK blending the three children. In that regard, things are good.

But we wound up having a problem I could never have even anticipated. It seems my father can’t seem to warm up to Avi’s son, Moshe, and, more than that, I feel as though my father does not even like him. It is just so obvious to Moshe, Avi, my two children, and me.

We used to spend a great deal of time with my parents, and I will always be grateful for all of their help during the years I was alone with my kids. Now, when we get together with my parents, the tension is so high that I want to bolt. My father, in his usual manner, will hug my children and lavish them with praise and interest, but he barely looks at Moshe, and it’s obvious. It’s almost like he sees Moshe as an intruder within his family. It’s clear he doesn’t relate to him and doesn’t want to get to know him. I admit it takes work to get to know Moshe, as he is so shy. But my father doesn’t even try, and after we’ve all been together, Moshe comes home feeling sad. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that there’s a lot going on with his two sets of grandparents, and there isn’t anything great going on there for Moshe.

Avi is starting to insist that he doesn’t want to spend significant time with my parents because it’s too painful for him to watch his son being treated like a second-class citizen by my father. I’m feeling torn. I understand where Avi is coming from and feel tremendous compassion for Moshe, but I also have so much gratitude toward my parents and can’t see myself pulling away from them now.

I have said something to my father, but he doesn’t seem to care all that much about how his behavior is affecting Moshe and Avi. My father says that though he likes Avi, there is something about Moshe that turns him off, and he has no desire to forge any sort of relationship with him — end of story! For a reasonable man, he is not being reasonable in this area. I know Moshe has been through a tremendous amount of hardship in his life already and I don’t want to add any more pain to it. What should I do?

Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

Mazal tov on your successful marriage to Avi! That’s often hard to pull off and it sounds as though the two of you are doing a fine job. Somehow, though, things are never really that simple or perfect. It was almost too good to be true that your children and Avi’s son connected so nicely. Apparently something was too good to be true, since your father has chosen to behave inappropriately, with apparently no regard toward how his insensitive behavior is impacting you, Avi, and Moshe (and possibly even your two children).

Your father is having a weird reaction to Moshe, and it would be impossible for me to know the basis of it, but it’s evident and troublesome. The clue to fixing this mess is obviously encouraging your father to figure out what it is about Moshe that is triggering something negative in him. Maybe Moshe reminds him of someone from his childhood he had problems with. Maybe Moshe serves as a symbol of your first disastrous marriage and the collateral damage that came along with it. Maybe your father doesn’t know how to relate to shy people and it makes your father feel uncomfortable and ineffective. We could come up with all sorts of theories, but only your father can do the necessary soul-searching to figure out why he is not capable of at least faking it with Moshe, and is instead making him feel rejected and alone.

I understand your conundrum. Your parents are good people, and you feel you owe them a great deal and wouldn’t ever consider hurting them. On the other hand, your stepson, a quiet, possibly hurt boy deserves all the love and kindness he can find. Both sides of this equation have merit.

I wish I knew something about Moshe’s mother and if he spends significant time with her, if she has remarried, and if she has something solid to offer Moshe. I understand that her parents aren’t important players in Moshe’s life, but does his mother provide some sort of “normal?” If so, then maybe for now, until your father hopefully gets a handle on his emotions and behavior, you can spend time with your parents only when Moshe is spending time with his own mother. If that means that you’re unable to spend certain meaningful moments with your parents, you will have to explain to your father that it’s up to him to create a balanced, loving environment for everyone. You can’t be complicit in adding any additional negativity to Moshe’s life. For Moshe to feel like the odd man out while your father is fussing over your own children may be more than Moshe can bear.

The ball is in your father’s court. If he wants to be with your whole family on a more regular basis, he’s got work to do! He doesn’t have to love Moshe in the way that he loves your children, but he does have to act as if he does. Children of divorced couples have enough to contend with. Unnecessary rejection shouldn’t be a part of it.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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