Q: My husband and I have been together for two years. I love him very much, and his son is truly a very loving, caring 5-year-old. The only problem is we never get to visit with him because my husband's ex wants us to take both her children. (My husband helped care for her daughter, now 7, when they were in a relationship.)
I do not want her daughter in my home. How can I bond and spend time with my bonus son if I also have to play babysitter for the 7-year-old? I'm frustrated and I feel guilty because I know if I wasn't in the picture, my husband would gladly take both children. I don't want to give in to her, and I feel like it's going to tear my family apart.
A: Well, there are just so many red flags here I'm not sure where to start -- but since the first rule of good ex etiquette is, 'Put the children first,' why don't we start there?.
When we marry someone with children, we take on a huge responsibility. Our mere presence in those children's lives means we will be a role model and they will look to us for love, support and security. This is particularly true if a child is very young -- like your husband's ex's daughter. It doesn't matter if your husband is biologically related to her, he lived with her and took care of her and it sounds like they have a bond -- just like the one that you are looking to form with your husband's son.
But more important, something you may not realize -- this little girl is his son's sister, and she does not stop being his sister when he walks out the door. More than Mom trying to get at you by demanding her child go to your home, she may not know how to explain to her little daughter why she can't go with her brother to see his daddy -- someone who used to be like a daddy to her as well.
Bonus family life is rarely black or white. The relationships that are formed often overlap, which can make it very confusing for everyone, but especially children.
Does that mean your bonus son's sister must come to your home every time he does? Of course not, but it will help both of these children's adjustment if they know she is welcome if she wants to come. That may take some mental adjustment on your part -- but a necessary adjustment if you want to keep your marriage together. Perhaps the biggest red flag: 'I know if I wasn't in the picture, my husband would gladly take both children ' Interfering in that relationship truly could hurt your marital status. As adults, it makes it easier to make the right decision if you remove your own personal interests, hurt or anger and use the child's welfare as the criteria for your decisions.
Jann Blackstone, Ph.D., is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)