Q: My husband has two children with his ex. My mother-in-law remains good friends with their mother even though she has been divorced from my husband for five years. They evidently got very close both during the marriage — my mother-in-law had only boys and both her parents have passed away. Now the ex is getting remarried and she has asked my mother-in-law to give her away. I thought giving someone away was a man’s job. She is very excited and continually talks about the plans. My feelings are so hurt. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: The only relationship that’s guaranteed to end by divorce is the relationship between the husband and wife. Other relationships often continue, and it sounds like mom and grandma have cultivated a separate relationship that was not dependent on a marriage to your husband. So, when there was a divorce, although it probably stretched the bond a little bit, it didn’t break it, and the relationship survived. You enter and wonder where you fit in.
You fit in as your husband’s wife and you cultivate a separate relationship with his mother all your own. It’s not either/or. It’s also.
But, there’s something unique here — the ex has been the daughter your mother-in-law never had and the ex’s parents are gone. As a result, it sounds like you might be a little afraid your mother-in-law will always like his first wife best. Common fear — I hear it all the time. But, don’t compare. You’ll never win. Comparing is based on what you think and feel about you, compared to what you think and feel someone else feels about you. Basically, comparing is all in YOUR head. You are your biggest enemy.
In regards to your mother-in-law giving away the ex at her wedding — this opens another can of ex-etiquette worms. It’s not the act that is unconventional — my own sister walked all three of her daughters down the aisle because their father had passed — it’s who is doing the walking. Because it’s your mother-in-law doesn’t necessarily imply that you and your husband will be invited to the wedding, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Plus, your husband’s children will certainly attend, even be in the wedding, as well, so this could turn into a bonus family affair, for sure.
In that case, sit down with your husband and weigh the positives and negatives. Will it affect your relationship with all concerned if you are invited and don’t attend?
Or, my favorite, having clear boundaries and using Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8, “Be honest and straight forward,” if you are invited and you choose not to attend, your husband might say something like, “I love that you and mom are so close and I understand why that is, but you are getting married to someone else now and our lives need not be that intertwined. Marie and I would feel more comfortable allowing you all to have your day. If you need my help getting the kids to and from your wedding, just let me know, but I don’t think we will attend. Best wishes for a happy life.” That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.