Should I continue to push for a relationship between my husband and his son?
October 21, 2012 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Should I continue to try to have a relationship with my husband's son from his ex-wife?

This is long, so, sorry in advance. My husband of 20+ years & I have known each other since junior high. We dated during our senior year of high school, went to our senior prom and everything. I broke up with him because I was going away to college and didn't want to have a long distance relationship. He told me he'd wait for me. Fast forward to a couple of weeks after we graduated from h.s. and I find out he enlisted in the military. He didn't tell me, I found out after speaking to his mom. I was upset that after professing his undying love for me he didn't even call to say goodbye. Several months later he wrote me telling me he missed me and how he'd like to have someone to write home to while he was away. I was still upset with him and ignored his letter. Some months later I find out from a mutual friend that he and a girl that was now a senior at the h.s. we'd just graduated from, were getting married. I was really shocked and hurt because of his "I'll wait for you" comment.

Anyway, I wrote him wishing him well and good luck in his new life. He and the girl got married, had a child, and had filed for divorce before I ran into him at a random, crowded place 2 years later. I had ZERO contact with him before running into him. We rekindled our relationship. However, now he had an infant son and was a single dad. His ex had abandoned their child while he was on military assignment. Her family was caring for the baby until he returned and took over. He lived with his soon to be ex in-laws while he worked a crappy job trying to make ends meet. One day he got a call from his ex wife's mother saying to come get the baby or he'd be sold on the black market. They also asked him to move out. He had nowhere to go. He and his ex wife decided to put the baby up for adoption. A family that cared for the baby during the day adopted him.

My now husband and I were married a couple of years after he was divorced and have been together ever since. I should say that his ex wife was intimidated by me and the torch she thought my h carried for me. He told me they fought about it while they were married. Anyway, after the adoption was finalized we moved on with our lives, we had children of our own, moved away, we did not keep track of the son they put up for adoption. My husband felt it would be too painful for him and the child and he wanted the child to look for him when he was ready to have an adult relationship. My husband's ex wife tracked me down several years ago asking if my husband wanted to have a relationship with their son. She told me she reconnected with him when he turned 18 and they were very close. She claimed to have told the son that everything that had happened was her fault. She also said their son was upset that his father never tried to contact him through the years.

I immediately told my husband and he reached out to their son. Initially the son never responded. A couple more years past and a couple more ignored e-mails from my husband, before I contacted his ex via e-mail to ask what was up. She wrote me back and flip flopped saying the son never asked about his father and if my husband "tried" their son would respond. My husband e-mailed again and now there was a response. A couple of years have passed and my husband and our children see the son whenever we go back to visit our home town, which happens at least 3-4 times a years. However, when we aren't there I feel like we don't exist to him. I recently friended him on facebook, he accepted my request. I was surprised when he actually wished me happy birthday recently. I thanked him and told him I hoped he was ok, he said he was. I have commented on a couple of his statuses and he's liked my comments. He just posted that he got accepted into a tough college program that his biological mom (my husband's ex) had really been pushing for him to get in. I commented wishing him congratulations, from all of us (his bio dad and half sibs.) About 15 minutes after that his bio mom (my husband's ex) commented about how proud she is of him and reminding him of what they spoke about the other day and how she loved him. Her comment was right under mine. I took that as a warning to me that she is "here".

Later on in the day, I noticed he'd deleted my comment and liked hers! I was shocked. The times I've spent with him have been pleasant. I feel like I am wasting mine, my husband's and our children's time hoping that we will ever have a real family relationship with him. I feel like his bio mom thinks I stop my husband from talking to her. When I e-mailed her trying to figure things out a couple of years ago she said she wanted to talk to my husband about "their son". I told my husband, he said they had nothing to talk about since their son was 21 at the time and had been raised by someone else, what was there to talk about.

How should we proceed? I really had to restrain myself from saying something I'd regret when I saw he went to the trouble to delete my comment. Am I naive to think that since he never tries to reach out to my husband he is just checking a box when he spends time with us? Any suggestions about how to handle this is appreciated.
posted by getyourlife to Human Relations (28 answers total)
I would just be pleasant, be positive, and put yourself out there in whatever capacity you feel comfortable with no expectation of reciprocation and no score keeping. It's possible there's baby mama drama here, but it also just doesn't matter. Just don't participate--it's her bag and her issues and has nothing to do with you.

Overall, though, the best thing to do is let the son (a kid still, really!) set the level of contact with no expectations. It's worth it to reach out to him because it's a good thing to do and likely good for your husband and kids. There's no waste of time in being kind.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

The son is still a young adult dealing with an incredibly complicated family situation. That he deleted a comment on facebook may be nothing more than his way of trying to accommodate everyone's feelings in the most diplomatic way he can manage. His in-person actions (spending time with you when you come to town) are more important here than his social media activity, I think. I would ignore the facebook action (do not bring it up with him or his biological mother) and wait to see if his behavior is different the next time you hang out in person.
posted by sallybrown at 7:20 PM on October 21, 2012 [22 favorites]

I never met my biological father until I was 15 and it has always been a sort of awkward relationship trying to figure out where he and his family figures into my life, of how much emotional attachment they expect of me, that I expect of them - how much is too much and what is too little. It's hard to be a kid in that position. I do care for my biofather, my stepmother, and my half-siblings but since I did not grow up with them it is not easy to discern how close to be to them, what can I assume in the relationships I have with them and, especially when I was younger, sort out where my loyalties lie between them and the family I grew up in (particularly my mother).

Please do not overthink or overreact to this. I understand you are hurt and I would be too in your position, but it is a minefield of a situation for your husband's son and he is still young. You can't lay on his shoulders all the weight of the years and the history that he wasn't really a part of (even though he was born from it) because he only knows how it affects him and how he feels about all these people who expect this or that of him emotionally. He was the product of a drama-filled situation, of young parents who didn't quite know what they wanted, and he has to deal with having been given up for adoption, growing up and meeting these people and trying to get to know them and think about where he fits in with them and all the conflicting feelings or loyalties they might be demanding of him.

I would advise you let him know you are there, casually, every so often as you are doing now; that you accept whatever he does or doesn't give back with relative equanimity; and that you be there for him if and when he eventually reaches out to you, your husband, or his half-siblings.
posted by flex at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think you should not take it personally that a young man is not navigating a complicated relationship with his biological parents the way that you would like him to. If you "really had to restrain yourself from saying something you'd regret" then you are taking this all way too seriously. And it sounds like this might be less about the child himself, than about the competition that has existed for a long time between you and your husband's ex. Even your tag for your question is "exes" and not about the son.

This really isn't about you. The most vulnerable person in the mix is the son, not any of the adults. He ought to be able to figure out what he needs from the adults in his family without risk of having them shut him down because he's not grateful enough that they reached out to him.
posted by headnsouth at 7:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [31 favorites]

1. He is a 21 year old dude, don't take it personally. They are not always the most sensitive, emotionally demonstrative, rational, or mature beings. I would say, keep trying if you want to because this may be one of those situations where you start really reaping the rewards 5 or 10 years from now. But don't feel the need to do so much to try to have a relationship that you feel like you are getting your feelings hurt.

2. I wouldn't be surprised if the bio mom has access to his FB account somehow and deleted your comment, or if she somehow guilt tripped him into it. Don't take his FB actions personally. Remember if things appear to be coming from him, but they are weird or hurtful, double check who they are really coming from if you can, if they really upset you.
posted by cairdeas at 7:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and why not block the bio mom on FB entirely? Why email her? Honestly, it doesn't sound worth it to contact her in any way at all.
posted by cairdeas at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think you should "push" for a relationship so much as you should be available to him. I realize that there's a lot of painful personal history in your story, but... you don't seem to have much empathy for this young man.

He grew up with another family--and the biological parent he reunited with first is his bio-mom, who seems to have her own agenda and manipulative habits. But he's willing to have and interested in having some type of connection with you and your husband--he spends time with you when you're in town, he accepted your friend request, and he wished you a happy birthday. He just doesn't seem to want more than that.

(If he's very close to your husband's ex, I would guess that the deleted comment came about because he saw that your comment rankled her and he didn't want to deal with the drama.)

So, I'd recommend you leave facebook primarily to his bio-mom unless he initiates a comment. Just don't engage in the drama with your husband's ex. Instead, consider sending him a private message or email every once in a while--on occasions like birthdays or other big milestones. Continue to invite him to spend time with your family. In other words, be engaged enough to give him opportunities to connect, but leave it to him to expand the relationship.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:26 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for the responses! Every one is RIGHT! I know this is not about me or my feelings. I realize how difficult this has to be for my husband's son. I had an emotional response that came out of no where. I will continue to reach out casually, without expectation. As for the ex wife, I won't engage with her. You guys are Awesome!!
posted by getyourlife at 7:32 PM on October 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

He's just a kid in a situation where he has to handle his mom and you. Don't get hurt by this or read into it.
posted by discopolo at 7:35 PM on October 21, 2012

Eeesh, yes. Give it time and continue to be as supportive as you can. He's at an age where he's still somewhat dependent on his mother financially and emotionally, and that means being subjected to all her hangups and issues. I can just imagine the conversation that led to his deleting your comment, and it makes me cringe. When he gets past that stage, be there to show love and acceptance. You won't regret it.
posted by tully_monster at 7:45 PM on October 21, 2012

I realize how difficult this has to be for my husband's son. I had an emotional response that came out of no where.

Well, if anyone should be able to understand having an emotional response be touched off by getting an online comment deleted, it should be us...
posted by cairdeas at 8:49 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree that with social media stuff, it's best to reach out to him privately. Sometimes there does seem to be one-upping that happens in that public space so just don't engage in it.

For both your sakes, don't think of his seeing you as "checking a box." That's a really uncharitable read on a situation that had murky waters. And he's stuck in a world that other people created for him. I think he's doing the best he can. Ease up but don't disappear.

It seems like your husband isn't that engaged, though. He will regret that. He'll regret it even more than his serious screwup that created this situation in the first place. If he can't seem to get over his guilt and engage with his son, he should seek therapy or look into some self-help reading. I may be seeing something in this situation that isn't there but it just sounds like he's holding back a bit more than he should.

But you should only try to manage your own relationship with him. Don't try to BE your husband. Don't try to work things through with his ex. Be the supportive, neutral, positive influence here and you will feel good about it forever.
posted by amanda at 8:52 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I feel like I am wasting mine, my husband's and our children's time hoping that we will ever have a real family relationship with him.

this isn't about you. yes, you are your husband's family now and your kids are biological half siblings to this guy, but you're sort of on the outside. i know it feels like you're doing all the work for everyone. i would step back and let your husband and his son manage their relationship. i would make your kids available and have them write him for his birthday and christmas. i would keep in mind that he probably has a lot of really complicated feelings about all of this and he doesn't really owe your husband anything. seeing you all when you're in town and facebook happy birthdays are standard procedure for 21 year olds who weren't given up for adoption, so this guy is really ahead of the curve.

if your husband takes an active role, if you keep being open and available, if your kids treat him as family (even if it works out more like extended cousins than siblings), then i think it'll all work out. stay out of the mom's drama, don't fall into thought patterns like this - I took that as a warning to me that she is "here". even if that's true, it does you no good to play that game.
posted by nadawi at 9:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

One thing to bear in mind: you guys are the adults and he is the child and you should be acting in his best interest, not yours. This means you should be giving him extremely wide berth on things like deleting Facebook comments for whatever reason. It sucks and it hurts, but you, being older, should try to be strong, wise, patient, and, most importantly, non-judgmental about minor slights like that.

The fact that he's 21 does not mean he's instantly become an adult with all of his painful childhood memories erased. He has to carry those issues around with him every single day for the rest of his life. On top of that, he has to negotiate the minefield of juggling potentially complicated rivalries for his affection with his biological mom, his adopted parents, and his biological dad (and you). He really should not have to bear the added burden of worrying whether he might possibly offend anyone.

Be there when he needs you, but give him space, too.
posted by MegoSteve at 9:52 PM on October 21, 2012

Given the history of how he's acted towards you on Facebook before, I'd say there's also a fairly high chance that he also meant to like your comment and accidentally deleted it.

Give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by kjs4 at 9:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Send him a message or email him directly--no need to post on his page. But do stay in contact, in the most upbeat, supportive way possible. No one can get enough of those messages.
posted by she's not there at 10:02 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Facebook is a vast and sinister engine whose sole purpose is the creation and monetization of human misery. Reacting to anything on Facebook as if it has anything to do with your actual life is always an error.

Don't do that.
posted by flabdablet at 1:53 AM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

A couple more years past and a couple more ignored e-mails from my husband, before I contacted his ex via e-mail to ask what was up. ... I commented wishing him congratulations, from all of us (his bio dad and half sibs.)

I'm not sure it's a good idea to do this. His father needs to develop his relationship with his son, however that looks. If you're speaking for your husband, even with the kindest of intentions, you're getting in between a father and son who really need to navigate their own relationship. His dad needs to say "congratulations," you can't say it for him. If you learn something on facebook from the son, by all means tell your husband and encourage him to reach out to the son in response, but don't speak for him. And he ought to develop civil communications with his son's mother, without you running interference there, so that they are jointly supporting the son and the son doesn't need to navigate among the adults.
posted by headnsouth at 3:29 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm so glad you posted the update you did. Please also know that adoptees, especially adoptees who are in contact with multiple people in varying parental roles past/present/would-be, sometimes have a lifetime of learning how to navigate the emotions that come along with these complex relationships. As time goes on, you are all learning how to have relationships with each other. You with him, him with your husband, him with his biological mother, him with your children, and him with his adoptive family with whom he's most familiar. Hopefully it'll get easier, but it might have starts and stops for a long time.

And kudos to you for being so into having a relationship with him. Not all adoptees are so lucky to know or have relationships with their extended biological families.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:52 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please also know that adoptees, especially adoptees who are in contact with multiple people in varying parental roles past/present/would-be, sometimes have a lifetime of learning how to navigate the emotions that come along with these complex relationships. As time goes on, you are all learning how to have relationships with each other.

Truer words could not be spoken. There is no template to guide relationships among people who are related by blood but who are socially little more than strangers. I'm a reunited adoptee and what worked for me with my birth families was a combination of openness and distance. Be interested, be available, and don't push the "family" aspect on him too hard. Treat him as you might treat someone who's married into your family: with love and respect but without the expectations you'd have of the children you raised.

You don't mention the young man's adoptive parents in your post and whether his relationship with them is positive or strained. Either way, he may be experiencing enormous tension in negotiating what it means to have other families. As others have pointed out, young adult males aren't always socialized to recognize and respond to their emotions, and while he may be physically and socially an adult, he likely has quite a bit of growing to do before becoming a mature adult emotionally.
posted by GreenEyed at 5:39 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here is a question for you: why do you want to have this relationship? Presumably your husband was happy before this 21 year old bundle of joy reentered your lives, and the child hasn't made any special effort to contact you both (quite the contrary, in fact) so it looks like he doesn't need you guys too much either. So why is it critical for them to be in touch now? Why not simply leave a situation that works well enough alone?

I feel like either you are subconsciously trying to make drama, or that you have some sort of hidden agenda that you're not really admitting to yourself. Are you worried that the ex-wife is trying to use the son to grow closer to your husband? Do you wish you had kids and so finding a way to bond with your husband's child would fill that need for you?

Think about what your goal is here. What do you envision happening as a result of your staying in touch with the kid? How does this scenario make you and your husband happier? Once you've figured out what emotional benefits you gain from this, start thinking about whether there are any alternative ways to get that feeling.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:44 AM on October 22, 2012

It seems like you've had a change of heart, but I'd like to point this out:

However, when we aren't there I feel like we don't exist to him.

When compared to this:

Anyway, after the adoption was finalized we moved on with our lives, we had children of our own, moved away, we did not keep track of the son they put up for adoption.

How are you all holding him, the child in this relationship, to a higher standard than you held yourselves for all those years? And you are adults, and he was a child. Think it through before you blame the current lack of a close relationship on someone who had absolutely no choice in the matter for more than a decade.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:05 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


To answer your questions. I was contacted, initially, by my husband's ex saying their son asked about him, etc. I got to bear witness to my husband struggling to do the best he could to parent an infant as a single dad. I was ready to take on the role as step mom, if needed. I was there when he and his ex decided to put him up for adoption. I saw the devastation my husband went through when that decision was made. He felt tremendous guilt and shame over the years for having done it.

I have children with my husband, so that need is fulfilled. I never thought of "my goal" per se. I guess I would like to see my husband have some type of relationship with his son. He never knew his dad and I know that has affected him, including in his handling of this current situation.

I came from a loving, supportive, in tact family. I believe you can never have enough of that in this life. I guess I want that for my husband AND his son.
posted by getyourlife at 7:13 AM on October 22, 2012

Getyourlife, I think you're awesome. I think you're pursuing this with the best intentions. Please know, though, you can't give this gift to your husband. The absolute best you can do is continue being a loving support to this kid. Because that's the only thing you can control and it's true to yourself. Sometimes, though, I think even saying, "Your Dad loves you" can impede a relationship between the two of them. Dad feeling like its been said (by you) and the son feeling like that sentiment is kind of bunk. Which it is! Totally! It's bunk. If Dad can't say it himself, it doesn't really exist to this kid. I say this as an adoptee, but this is how things are with strained family. If the son asks you then you can answer but don't get between them. At all. If I were you, I'd encourage my husband to get over himself and make the effort. He's missing the opportunity. He's missing it right now.
posted by amanda at 7:53 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with amanda. Even though your husband's biological son is chronologically an adult, he's 1) still so young, and 2) has little in the way of guidance for how to "reach out" to his biological father to initiate a closer relationship. It's your husband who should be initiating more often, not the other way round. He is the one who chose to father a child; the child did not ask to have all these complex extended familial relationships.

Look at it from the son's (potential) point of view: "He gave me up all those years ago. Why should I keep pushing for a relationship with little or no reciprocation?"

And I do not believe you need to justify why you want this relationship. Why does anyone choose any relationship ever--whether it's parental, friendship, or romance? To love and to receive love in return. To nurture a child. To try to mend old hurts. To see some reflection of the self in the other. Hundreds of valid reasons.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a little surprised that nobody else has mentioned this yet, but your question has a lot of information that has nothing to do with your husband's son. Your whole first paragraph is about a bunch of problems and resentments that you and your husband had when you were younger. Why does this matter? Because it suggests to me that you're loading your relationship with your husband's son up with a lot of baggage that doesn't belong there. I know it's hard to keep all these other things separate from your interactions with him, but you owe it to him, and to yourself, to try. Any time you catch yourself looking at him as a minor player in your interactions with either your husband or his ex, you're going down the wrong road.

Finally, any time you find yourself hurt and angry about something that happens on Facebook, the solution is to spend much less time on Facebook.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:19 AM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Considering your follow-up, I think that a lot of this has to do with you feeling defensive of your husband, which is understandable but in this case not helpful. You know your husband tried his best in the situation and has felt awful about it. That's not his son's fault, even if his son's behavior reminds you that they have a distant relationship.

Also, frankly, hearing about his half-siblings is probably going to be a sore spot for him because they get to live with you and your husband. Your husband didn't have the capacity to take care of him but then went on to have more children and took care of them (and continues to take care of them) financially and with his time and effort. That probably feels like a rejection of your husband's son personally and it probably really stings. I'm not saying this is the only side to the story, but it is a reasonable interpretation of events from your husband's son's perspective.

There is also the fact that your husband is possibly not paying or supporting his child's college education. That is something else that could cause him to feel resentment towards your husband--he could be thinking "they want me to treat them like "family" but they're not willing to put money towards me having a good education like my friends' families (or possibly like his biomother might be doing)".

I'm not trying to read his mind or put words in his mouth or whatever, he might not feel any of this, but this is just so you can be aware that there is a lot of potential for hurt in a comment like the one you left, hurt that has nothing to do with your husband's son's willingness to have a genuine relationship with you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:15 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, it is important for me to note that I'm not writing the above to nitpick your comment or say you did something wrong. It was a kind and awesome impulse that you had to congratulate him, and it's great that you want to keep in touch. It's just that when a child has a parent who is not in their life for whatever reason, it hurts, it hurts in a lot of difficult and unpredictable ways. It's not fair to expect him to always have a 100% happy and polite reaction, even when your intentions are good.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:18 AM on October 22, 2012

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