I have just found out that my ex and the father of my child did something twenty-odd years ago that has had permanent ramifications for both our child and his daughter with his former wife (the daughter is 9 years older than our son). I was unaware of this until Sunday, when I visited the former wife (who lives in another city) and we had a long and intense conversation under the shadow of the terminal diagnosis she received earlier this year. What do I do now?
posted by jokeefe to human relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Background: My ex, K., and his former wife, S., split up when their daughter was about two years old. He remained an engaged and loving father. Cue our meeting seven years later, and an accidental pregnancy within a couple of months. During the time just after our son was born I was living with the baby, and K. was living part time with us and part time at his studio (he's an artist). He remained an engaged and loving father to his daughter J., and I saw her fairly often, though there was no formal arrangement for visitation. She never stayed overnight or visited for very long. I was coping with what felt largely like single parenthood, and taking his lead on this; I didn't want to interfere in his relationship with J., or intrude on his relationship with his former wife (they remained good friends; she soon remarried, there was no continued romantic relationship). They were both quite a bit older than I, and I felt like an interloper in some ways, so I accepted the arrangements without second guessing them.
After three years K. and I found a place and moved in together. He arranged a once a week afternoon/evening with J., at her home, and this continued as she grew older. I was the breadwinner and working full time to support the household (see: artist, above); we eventually split up around five years later, largely over money and general unhappiness. Our son has always looked up to his older half-sister, and I'd always wished they were closer (she moved to the East Coast a number of years ago). She was a wonderful child-- intelligent, grounded, thoughtful, successful socially and academically-- and has blossomed as an adult.
During my Sunday visit with S., we talked about many things; I hadn't seen her for a few years, since J.'s wedding. And then she asked me the question which knocked me sideways (and I'm still knocked, really): Why, she said, did you refuse to have J. over at your house? I was surprised and said, But I would have loved to have her over more, and then S. said that K. had told her, years ago, that I had said that the daughter was not welcome. This was never, ever true, and we both looked at each other and said Why didn't we have this conversation years ago, and Why didn't we talk to each other instead of relying on K.'s version of events?
Where to go from here? The thought of what might have been-- that our son could have had a closer relationship with his half-sister, that I could have had a closer relationship with her-- is devastating enough. On top of that, his former wife has, for the last 25 or so years, believed that I rejected her daughter. And, of course, there's the betrayal by my ex, who encouraged S. to believe this. Here's where I am at the moment:
1. I wrote a long letter to S. today, trying to further explain why I passively let K. set the terms for J.'s visits, and how I was afraid of intruding on their relationship and struggling with work, our unhappy relationship, etc. I haven't sent it, as S. has other things on her mind, I'm guessing, like dying. I still feel like I should try and send a shorter version; we also agreed that I should visit her again soon. It was a meaningful afternoon for me, and I think for her as well. I don't want to let go of this newfound closeness; at the same time, it's not about me. She has bigger things to deal with.
2. Talking to my son and stepdaughter about this. I'm not sure how to approach it, or if it's even wise to mention it. We're not talking about children any longer; they are grown adults, 35 and 26 years old. But if S. conveyed to my stepdaughter that I had intentionally limited her presence in my son's life, I would like to try and address that if possible, and tell her it's not true. But then what will she do with this information about her father?
3. Talking to my ex, which I haven't done yet, because I needed to step back and try to deal with this a bit first. I am, as the British say, gutted. I'm grieving what might have been, and I've been desperately trying to understand what happened-- is it possible that I said something which was misconstrued? I know that we never discussed his visitations, and he never talked about her spending time at the apartment we shared. I was overwhelmed with working at a job I disliked, being responsible for the finances of the entire household, and mothering a young child who was often a challenging personality. Also, I'm afraid I'd be so angry at him, though we are talking about something that happened a long time ago.
Can I do something to heal this? If so, what? And I'm keeping in mind that I have to keep a sense of proportion: the daughter is soon to lose her mother. My ex is soon to lose one of his oldest friends. My son has a relationship with J. and I hope they become closer, but that's really out of my purview (or is it)? I hate the idea that S. might have died thinking that I disliked her daughter and pushed her away; I hate the idea of what has been lost. Where can I go from here?