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Ex-etiquette: Not letting it be only her kids, not his

Q: I recently got divorced, and my ex-wife has custody of our three children. I remarried a woman who has custody of her three children. Living with the three stepchildren has been a difficult transition. It has been difficult for me to deal with fathering my biological children at a distance. They do come over every other weekend, and my wife has her children on the same schedule so we can blend the children together. My wife wants to go on a vacation with me and her children. We have scheduled a blended-family vacation this coming summer. I’m having a hard time going on a vacation and not inviting my biological kids. It feels as if I’m choosing her kids over mine. My wife tells me that there are differences between the kids at our house and my kids at my ex-wife’s house. I agree with what she’s saying, but I’m having a difficult time. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: You may not see that you’re setting yourself up for failure, so let me explain to both you and your wife why taking only her children on a vacation may be a mistake:

First, there’s a fine art to combining families. The fact that your wife thinks that “there are differences between the kids at our house and my kids at my ex-wife’s house” is concerning. It sounds as if she’s basing things on where the kids live most of the time – and that is a dangerous mistake to make. This implies that she perceives your kids as merely visiting but that their “real” home is with their mother – just as she perceives that her kids’ “real” home is with her. That kind of attitude promotes favoritism, resentment and jealousy – and there you are, in the middle, wondering why your kids reject you.

I rarely use the word “blended.” Reason being, when you blend something you lose the individual components, and an important part of making a stepfamily a “bonusfamily” is to acknowledge each member’s individuality and history. Something else – you’re not only a bonusfamily when the kids are around. “Bonus” is a state of mind. It’s up to you and your wife to make those kids feel welcome and included 365 days a year, not just the four days a month when they reside with you. Bottom line: You’re planning a family vacation with only half the family, and your kids could very easily perceive that as favoritism. They may see all this as your wife’s doing and resent her and her kids for taking away their father. Plus, you don’t want your memories of your kids growing up to stop with your divorce.

I can offer a story from my own life: We had tickets to go to an Oakland A’s game, and my daughter, my husband and I were on our way when we ran into my “bonusdaughter” on her bike on her way to visit us. She asked where we were going and we said, “An A’s game.” You should have seen her face. We explained we didn’t ask her because she was at her mom’s that week. It made no difference to her where she was sleeping. She was hurt that she wasn’t included.

So create the family you want – it doesn’t just happen.

Finally, taking only your wife’s kids may be cheaper now, but it could be an expensive decision down the road.