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Wife needs to make her case

Dear Carolyn: So, X and Y meet and marry midlife. X has one child who lives with his ex-wife who is, if not independently wealthy, at least very comfortable (trust fund, etc.). X's child spends every other weekend and holidays with him. X has no debt and plenty of assets.

Y has three children whom she supported with no help from their father. One is a college student, one is grown and married, one lives at home. Y has some debt, no assets. Both X and Y work full time. X makes three times what Y does. All is well, until the first Christmas.

Y thinks the couple should spend roughly equal amounts on each of the four children. X thinks that whatever amount Y spends on all three of her children is what he should spend on his child. X says he would feel as if he were shorting his child if he followed Y's plan. Y can see the logic of this, but it strikes her as unfair. Especially on Christmas when, under X's plan, Kid X would get the DVD player and Kid Y would get the DVD. What do you think?

-- Bah-humbug

A: I think X is being obtuse, and Y is doing little to sharpen his comprehension.

To be fair, the DVD example is about as sharp as an illustration gets of the unfairness of X's "logic." (Which, for the record, I absolutely do not "see.")

However, the part that X appears to be missing is that Y (presumably) comes at this highly sensitized to inequity -- specifically, financial inequity that stands as a symbol of emotional injustice. Her kids got a raw deal from their dad, so she mortgaged her future to support them solo.

For her current husband to insist on shorting her kids now is a stunning display of insensitivity. X not only fails to appreciate the message her kids were forced to receive in their father's (at least economic) neglect, but also reiterates the message Y had to live with all those years -- that she's second-tier.

Certainly there are family configurations where it makes sense that each remarried parent is free to decide unilaterally how much to spend on his or her own kids from a prior marriage. When the pair remains financially independent, when kids are grown and gone, and when history and baggage permit.

But the X and Y configuration involves kids still under one roof, financial strain and a bad case of ghosts. So for X to think the unequal-gift idea is even viable, either (1) Y hasn't articulated her emotional case -- and should, now; or (2) X hasn't heard it (repeat Step 1); or (3) X doesn't care.

If it's Door No. 3, then X isn't obtuse, but instead has a raincheck pad on the shelf where his heart should be. So for everyone's sake, but particularly the children of both X and Y, I'm pulling for Door No. 1.

Make your case, Y, clearly this time, and find out now whether you chose an X who thinks just like your ex.

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