[Two Pronged] My kids don't like my second wife
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I need some advice: What is the proper way to look at parenting and being a spouse?
I am 55, divorced from my first wife, “Lucy" whom I was married to for 21 years. Three years after we separated, I married “Anna", with whom I have been friends at work for 15 years.
We are very happy with our lives except for one thing: my children. They do not accept Anna as my wife. Every time they come to visit me, there is tension at home. They are rude to her when they think I am not there to witness it. I pity my poor wife.
What can we do about this situation? How can we convince them that my wife is not the gold digger their mother portrays her to be? What can we say to them so they realize that we, too, deserve a chance at happiness?
Thank you for your email.
Many forests have been and will continue to be felled addressing the tricky issues arising around divorce and there is therefore no shortage of material available for those anxious to research the findings. Reducing this veritable cornucopia into a single column is clearly impossible so I will just concentrate on a couple of points in respect of each of the actors in your story.
When a couple divorce, everybody involved – the original spouses, children, family, friends, new spouses – will have their view on what happened, who was responsible for what, how it could or could not have been avoided, etc. There will be no single true version since we are all unique beings experiencing events through the prism of our own minds.
However, in the aftermath of a couple splitting up, the immediate family has to adapt to the new reality of the spouses living apart and all the various relationships will be re-aligned to one extent or another.
In the majority of cases, the prime impetus behind this re-alignment will be the relationship between the divorced spouses. If the divorce was amicable, or at least not hostile, there will be few, if any, major issues between them and both can work together to ensure that the transition to a two household family is as smooth as possible. If however the situation is rancorous, then life can become more complicated, particularly if there are children.
Turning to your case, we do not know why you got divorced but we do know your ex-wife's view is that her replacement, Anna, is a gold digger – and that your children, who are presumably teenagers, do not view her favorably either. Faced with this hostility, you ask two questions:
How can we convince them that my wife is not the gold digger their mother portrays her to be? What can we say to them so they realize that we, too, deserve a chance at happiness?
Valid as these questions may be in theory, their timing is unfortunately wrong because these issues should have been addressed before you married Anna, not after.
When you and Lucy parted, rightly or not she probably felt wronged and spurned. We can presume that she communicated her feelings to the children and they were therefore influenced to think the same way (depending on their maturity at the time, they may or may not have been in a position to form independent opinions of their own). The most important outcome was that Anna was targeted as the fall guy, the subtext being that if it were not for her, you would all still be together playing happy families. In this scenario, you are being portrayed as less guilty, leaving the door open to your rehabilitation if only you will come to your senses.
Of course, it implicitly suggests that you are an idiot, unable to see Anna for what she is, perhaps dazzled by her youth/beauty, though lust often features in these fevered storylines too. It also suggests that Lucy bore no responsibility for the divorce.
Aware of which way the wind was blowing before you married Anna, you will hopefully have discussed with Anna how the two of you were going to deal with your future relationships with both Lucy and your children. However difficult it might have been to foresee the future amidst all the rancor and confusion in the immediate aftermath of an unhappy divorce, there were some fundamentals to be addressed: 1.) the priorities between Anna and Lucy; 2.) the priorities between Anna and your children.
There is obviously no 'one size fits all' answer here. For example, some couples are delighted to go on vacation with their exes, others refuse all contact, and there are innumerable options in between. As for the children, some spouses in second marriages will accept financial and/or emotional hardship to enable their partner to meet his or her perceived obligations towards their offspring while others are less flexible. Ultimately, it is a matter for the couple to discuss and agree upon.
So what you do in your case? It seems extremely unlikely that appeals to reason will have any effect on your children. They are of an age to form their own considered views and if that means that they see Anna as a gold digger and do not consider that your happiness should be anything more than secondary to theirs, you will have to accept that that is not going to change in the immediate future. There is however hope because as they begin to have adult relationships themselves so they may come to understand that the world is not the black and white of their childhood but more finely nuanced. They may also begin to understand that no one is completely innocent in a divorce.
In the meantime, while waiting perhaps not for a Damascene conversion but at least a degree of enlightenment, there is the urgent task of alleviating the pain of the current situation. I would suggest that your current response – "I pity my poor wife" – is totally inadequate. If as discussed an appeal to reason will have no effect, then a more robust approach is required.
Anna has shown herself to be quite long suffering, far more so than some wives would be, and many might suggest that you have been far too accepting of that suffering. Bad behavior by children has to be dealt with, however old they are, and children of the age of yours have to take full responsibility for their actions.
In the final analysis you have to establish your priority: your wife or your children? If as you imply Anna is your priority, then you have to get this message over to your children (you and Anna need to work out what changes you require) but remember that for this to be effective you need to be willing to deliver on the ultimate threat: treat Anna right or you will have no place in our lives. Best of luck!
Thank you very much for your letter, which in my clinical experience, is a problem many Filipinos who have second marriages/partnerships encounter. I think part of the reason is that divorce is still illegal in this country, and I will discuss this in a future CN column.
Mr Baer is right, both in saying it would have been better if you had discussed this possible scenario earlier so you could have supported, rather than merely pitied, your wife.
An addendum to Mr Baer’s more than adequate answers to your questions:
How can we convince them that my wife is not the gold digger their mother portrays her to be? “Convincing” requires an open mind, something your children seem not to possess at the moment. Thus, it is useless to try and convince them. Just do as you would ordinarily do. If in time they realize their mistake, well and good. If they don’t, it is time you realized (in case you haven’t by now) that you cannot force people to behave in a certain way. You can, however, decide whether you want such a disturbing atmosphere in your house.
What can we say to them so they realize that we, too, deserve a chance at happiness?
If your children love you, they do not need convincing. If they don’t, nothing you say will get them to agree.
It is terrible that one has to choose between one’s children and one’s significant other and I am so, so sorry that you are in this position right now. The way to get out of it is to decide once and all who you would choose to live with and support, if forced to make a choice. After that, everything else is just a matter of logistics.
All the very best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED.Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.