There seems to be very little information available about how to handle issues related to divorce and having adult children, and how difficult and almost impossible choices can result. The main difference, of course, is that adult children are free to do what they want after a divorce. If, as in my case, there was a long history of family activities and special moments and memories, the adult children will naturally want to hold on to that and keep the family together, even if that family does not include the parents. The situation is further complicated when the adult children scatter and getting everybody together only happens a few times a year, and one of those times is often around the holidays. To add yet another layer of complication, my ex-wife is still with the man she had an affair with, and he had supposedly been a family friend for 10 years before the divorce, so the children feel as deceived as me and nobody wants him around. We actually didn’t think too much of him as a family friend even before all this happened.
So if you throw all this in a pot and stir it around a bit you can imagine the net result. Probably good fodder for an interesting movie.
An interesting thing in all this is that I am fairly certain that her boyfriend, and now fiance, has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The woman I had the longest relationship with was the same. So there has never much empathy from either side. Each of them mainly want to make sure their needs are met.
Relationship counselors and most of the articles and books I have read all carry the same message. You are supposed to put the new relationship first. What happens in that situation is a complete disintegration of the family. The children will, over time, probably go to visit their parent and accept whoever they are with, but that original family dynamic will be gone. I was part of it myself as a child when my Mother married my Father. Her children from her first marriage would visit some, but there was no sense of family with them. I have also had other adult children of divorce tell me the same thing.
Now you might argue that life is about change, and all of this is just one more example of a change that needs to be accommodated by all. Well my counter to that is to say is that really good for society? I think not. If a parent devotes a large portion of their life to creating a family I don’t think it should be thrown away just because people get divorced. Sure, it can never be completely the same, but there is still an opportunity to retain a sense of family. That thing I call a “sense of famiy” is interesting in itself. I can’t really define it, but I have been able to tell when it is slipping away.
The reason that I mentioned that some of the choices can become impossible is that you end up in the center of what are reasonable options. Let me give you an example. One year at Thanksgiving my girlfriend wanted me to spend that day with her. Well, that seems reasonable. My ex-wife’s boyfriend wanted her to spend Thanksgiving with him. I suppose that is reasonable also. My daughter saw it as her duty to have a place for her brother’s to come to, so she had them come to her place and cancelled a trip that was planned. That also was a reasonable approach on her part but it also required her and her husband to change their plans. So all of this was reasonable, but I can guarantee you that nothing about it felt right.
The funny thing about that is that I didn’t get any credit for being at my girlfriend’s. She could tell I was conflicted, and for her it was important that I would rather be with her than anywhere else. It took a long time for it to sink in, but it was the feeling of being the highest priority in my life that was critical to her, not how I might balance out my time. It is a subject I want to get into in later posts, because it seems to be a fairly common need that I don’t quite understand. But, of course, I am a guy.