One of Those Family Problems

Last Easter, some words were spoken at our family gathering that, while true, were perhaps regrettably delivered, and there has been a chill in the relationship with a portion of my former husband’s family ever since. The person who was unhappy about the tone and perhaps the content of my remarks did not make the problem clear that day, and has never spoken to me directly about the situation. There has, however been a lot of triangulating ever since, with the result that I heard from my ex that I was no longer welcome in his brother’s home.

This was very disappointing, given that we have worked hard to establish and continue family traditions that can, at as many events as possible, include both of us and our children in the same place at the same time. While that was excruciating for me in the early years, it has become our "normal," and I am amused rather than concerned when I end up sitting between my two husbands, as I did last week in a concert hall when Snowman played with the City By the Sea Youth Ensembles.

But the suggestion had been there in the holidays of last winter that perhaps this particular member of the ex-law clan didn’t feel all this good will herself. In her suggestion that I might be upset if she hosted Christmas dinner, and in her question on that day about the reality of our situation, I did not pick up the correct subtext.

Since the realization came last spring that I was being, in effect, shunned, I ceased to put myself in a position where I could be rejected or excluded. I simply made other plans. But here we are at the Holiday Trifecta of Thanksgiving, "The Production" and Christmas Day, and the matter is still unsettled, and the triangulating continues. My former husband and his sister have both been the third point on the triangle, and as much as I have tried to avoid participating, it is sometimes seemingly irresistible.

My strategy has been this. For Thanksgiving, we have made other plans. But "The Production" is the joy of the only grandparent my children have living, and they will be there. I considered not going until my former father-in-law turned to Pure Luck at the concert last week and said, "You’ll be doing the Grinch, right? Back by popular demand?"

So, we will all meet on December 20th, whether we like it or not.

I suppose it’s possible I was riding for a fall, as my mother would have put it, when I spoke so confidently last winter about how we were doing as a post-divorce extended family. I suppose I never should have said anything about whether my daughter and her cousin would be in the same group at middle school and should simply have asked the school for what I wanted and kept quiet. I suppose I could have called up the offended party as soon as I heard there was a problem and taken the verbal beating she thought I deserved and made peace that way. But this opened old wounds. There were times in the past when as two wives of brothers we lost our tempers with one another, and things were said, and each time her answer was to deny me the family. Long ago, my mother-in-law stood up to her and said, "I will not be there if Songbird is not included." God bless her. She would have missed her own birthday party to show her solidarity with me. Since her death in 1998, there has been, I guess, an unconscious battle for the position of matriarch. I believe this is what my former sister-in-law may want, to be the center of power for the family.

And I probably need to admit that I enjoy feeling like the one who is most interesting, most central, most fun, most shiny, most powerful, just the way my mother-in-law used to be.

We took ourselves out of the Thanksgiving equation with my ex-laws. The Father of My Children has a significant other and has gone away with her, and we’re going to Pure Luck’s people today. His family is happy to welcome his wife and his stepchildren, even though the little house is always crowded. With Snowman’s help, I’m preparing our contributions to the meal. I’m sure we will be well-fed, and we will certainly enjoy the company as well as the trip together to one of Pure Luck’s old home places.

But I must admit to a feeling of loss this morning and a lot of questions about how I created the situation and did not attempt to resolve it.

15 thoughts on “One of Those Family Problems”

  1. I’m sorry you feel the loss, but I hope you will put away the feelings of blame or complicity–you did not cause, nor did you perpetuate.
    And have a wonderful time with Pure Luck’s people. They are lucky to have you!

  2. Post-divorce family relationships are tough. (I deal with them too.) It sounds as if you’re doing your best, though, Songbird. And that is all anyone can ask.

  3. Triangulations and shunning are the worst. And they can happen in families without the post-divorce situation. Sorry about all this and hope you find a way to cut through the mess.

  4. Sometimes being a grown-up is such a let down. It was so much easier to be a kid and think every holiday was without tension and disagreement. I’m sorry, Songbird. I hope it works it self out, and maybe it will with time.

  5. How difficult and sad it is when this happens. Prayers for you andyour family during this season.
    My ex-brother-in-law, has seen to it that holidays are a living hell for my sister. I have yet to see my niece and nephew at holidays.

  6. I think all families have their jealousies. Growing up I had what I thought was a happy family, but two of my sisters, as adults, cannot stand one another. My wife’s family is a blended family and she is a child of her father’s first family. There are his children, her children and their children. And a lot of triangulation. Isn’t it amazing how we adults can really screw up a happy holiday?
    Blessings to you and yours on this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you have a great time at your IN-laws.

  7. (((hugs)))
    I know it’s not easy.
    enjoy PL’s family – which is also YOUR family. Enjoy today – worry about the other high holidays later.
    And yeah pick up the phone and say what needs to be said – if that’s why God shows you.
    You shine. You are funny. You are gifted. And you will always be mother of your children. Remember that – and walk with your head held high sister.
    Nothing separates us from the love of God. Nothing!

  8. I am sorry to hear of the stress and sorrow of loss over the holiday. I, too, have had those feelings in the past. Not good feelings at all. I hope you can find some joy during the day with the family who you will be with today!

  9. I’m happy to say we had a wonderful time and marvelled at how non-competitive the whole day felt.
    I was asked to pray before the meal, and the warmth in the room was palpable.
    Lorna, you’re quite right, they are my family, too. Thank you for pointing that out to me.

  10. ((((( songbird ))))) glad you had a good thanksgiving!
    your former FIL has solved the problem of christmas, because at the least, all of you will be welcomed at the production — what a lovely thing! and he is, as my dad would have said, a helluva guy.
    i am very sorry about your former SIL. you have worked hard for years to make things good, and it has worked. whatever her problems are — they are her problems. you can do your best, and then no more. the triangulating is awful, but that is not of your doing. thinking good thoughts, because excess family drama like that is very hard!

  11. Extended families, ex-laws or in-laws or halves or steps or whatever, can be minefields.
    I’ve half a hint from my half-sister’s blog that she tried to complicate my dad and stepmom’s visit up here at the next-to-last moment, and was told no. Now there’s a blog post about how she has a hard time asking for help, and she was really careful in the way she did, she thinks that she didn’t emphasize how much she needed help, and how crushed she is that she didn’t get it. She tried to come up with a plan so that everyone was only inconvinienced a little bit, but she got a complete lack of understanding and flexibility from one person and so the other was inable to do anything about it.
    Translation: She tried to get my dad and stepmom to cut short their Thanksgiving trip from Alabama to Missouri (a 12 hour drive one way) and drive down to NOLA (12 hours from here to there, too) to help with the rehabbing that my sister and her other half want to get done before they flit off to Paris in a couple of weeks. My dad has steel pins in his back and my stepmom has Lupus, and they haven’t seen any of us in a year, but they should spend an extra very long day on the road and help with home repair. Sigh.

  12. Songbird, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, and I’m even more sorry that your former SIL doesn’t realize (or care?) that she may be causing pain for your children. It’s not easy blending families, but it sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job despite her obstruction.
    I’m glad you had a good Thanksgiving!

  13. Oh, I’m so sorry about this. I was so happy last year when I read how well things had gone. and then to know that they hadn’t…don’t you hate being blindsighted!?
    What everyone else has already said…and of course they are damn lucky to have you in their family. They / she may not realize it right now but it is so.
    love you

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