Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Susan, the ex-stepmother writes: My blended family life was finally well adjusted and peaceful after twenty years, then my husband and I separated five years ago. We both have new partners now. His two adult children, my steps, always had Sunday dinner with us. We carried on the tradition after our separation. Life was good until the ex and I acquired partners. The new partners (who also have children) rarely join us, and are uncomfortable with the Sunday dinner tradition even though we are now on neutral ground – my stepson’s home. To make matters more uncomfortable, my steps’ biological mother has decided to invite herself to the Sunday dinners since they are now on neutral ground. Neither my ex or I like the woman.
Do you think it is possible for us to continue the Sunday dinner tradition? Will some just have to be excluded? I am loath to end family ties, but want to move on with my new relationships. Only one of my stepchildren is willing to come to my new home and have a relationship with my new partner. I am beginning to think it impossible to have my cake and eat it too – at least at the family Sunday dinner.
Writing this out highlights how complicated it all has become. I think we have reached the point where it cannot be worked out. We have to choose which relationships to continue because we cannot continue them all.
Thank you for any insights or suggestions you may have.
Chuck and Jae reply: Congratulations on having successfully navigated the sometimes rough waters of the blended family for all those years. The fact that your stepchildren have chose to continue the tradition of having Sunday dinners together with you, even after the separation, says a lot about the quality of your relationships with them.
If we understand you correctly, the current arrangement for this gathering involves just you, your ex-spouse and the mother of your stepchildren. Neither of your new partners attend, and neither of you enjoy the company of your stepchildren’s mother. To add to your discomfort, only one of your stepchildren is willing to spend time in your new home with you and your current partner.
We agree that the Sunday dinner arrangement should be discontinued. That does not mean that you have to end your long-term relationships with your stepchildren. You obviously mean very much to them. We recommend you tactfully let them know that you plan to discontinue attending the Sunday dinners, because you would like to spend that time with your new family. We think they would understand that reasoning, and it may relieve them of some of the awkwardness they themselves probably have been feeling. Also, please remember that their discomfort is not necessarily about you, but more likely their reaction to all the changes that have taken place.
We also recommend you inform them that you want to continue your relationship with them, albeit on a different basis. Perhaps you can meet with them for dinner or lunch (just the three of you) and talk about how you might do that. For example, you could arrange for a specific time and place to meet as a trio on a regular basis. At some future point, if the relationship continues, circumstances could evolve to where both of them are comfortable with your present partner. If that should occur, you could then establish newer traditions for family gatherings that would include them and your family. If not, you could continue to maintain contact with them in a variety of different scenarios.
Obviously, as you have already noted, they will each choose for themselves whether and how they wish to relate to you.