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Carolyn Hax: Mother finds daughter’s divorce painful

Dear Carolyn: My daughter is doing very well post-divorce. I can’t seem to shake the anger I have for her ex, though. He left the marriage for a co-worker. He never owned up to her being a part of his decision. One month after the divorce was final, out he comes dating her. One year out, engaged. Bought a house with her eight months after that, and in four months they are getting married. It’s her third or fourth marriage.

I realize these events are bound to unfold. My granddaughters, 4 and 9, are happy Daddy’s getting married. Now they’ll have a big sister. I just can’t act like we are all so happy happy.

I feel like he got a free pass because my daughter has made it all so easy for him, even though that has been hard for her. She does it for the girls. She even has to be around the other woman for the girls’ activities as if they are friends, which I know she is not comfortable doing, and watch the other woman with my granddaughters because they have split custody. The idea of her spending time with them while my daughter doesn’t makes me sick.

– Stuck in Time

A: None of them has, but your daughter herself has gone through what you saw her go through. By your calculation, shouldn’t she be angrier than you are, versus “very well”? And not only that, but your granddaughters also have come through this with their optimism intact – so important.

So I wonder. What do you want here? Have you said to yourself, openly, “When X happens, I will no longer be angry”?

I feel near-certain how you will define X: that you just want the ex-husband to apologize or admit he had your daughter’s replacement lined up before he left. You want him to pay somehow because you can say, with certainty near to mine, that he (1) hasn’t paid, and (2) should.

If I’m right about this, then welcome to the dark and angry tar pit that will hold you until archaeologists clean you off and mark you with acid-free tags.

To get out, you have to want out, so I offer these possible motivators:

• Sometimes the way to be “happy happy” is to act like it till it sticks. Exhibit A: Your daughter.

• Doesn’t your soul deserve better than this? Think about it. You resent that it was “all so easy for him” – yet the alternative is that he suffers. Is that really who you want to be: Person Who Wishes Pain on Another? You hate that your daughter and grands suffered, of course, but which makes you feel better inside: gratitude when all succeed, or delight when rivals fail? You can elevate yourself here, or diminish.

• The peaceful circumstances your daughter worked so hard for might shift. If the ex’s new home life deteriorates (multiple marriages foreshadow it) and your daughter finds herself, say, in court seeking full custody, then she won’t need to find you clutching your 10 items in the Told You So line. She’ll need reassurance that her approach has been good and brave and will serve her well again.

• The most persuasive, I hope? You can see the divorce as destroying this little family, or compromising its future, or putting it on an unexpected new path. You have enough information to justify whichever of these conclusions you want to embrace.

So, why not seize upon the information supporting “unexpected new path” and embrace that conclusion, just for its hopefulness, its humanity, its joy, its deeply practical value in helping people you love?