Ex-etiquette: Not feeling at home in his late wife's house
While it may be difficult, try to openly respect their mother’s memory.
Q. My husband’s first wife died four years ago. I moved into his home with his two young children. Nothing has changed since the moment she passed. I’m trying to make a life for my husband and me and it’s virtually impossible here. My husband says we can’t afford to move, and he wants to stay here for his children, but I feel so uncomfortable. I keep telling him that the kids will grow up and move away, and this is the parents’ home. He doesn’t agree. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I rarely give “should have” advice, but I’m telling you this for the others in this position who are reading this column. This conversation should have happened when you decided to marry, and then you could have slowly made changes prior to moving in so that when you finally did become part of the family no one was shell shocked by your presence.
As it is, making changes now may be perceived as you trying to take over and attempting to wipe out Mom’s memory. Since that’s a recipe for disaster, the best thing you can do at this point is to reach out to dad and the boys, discuss what changes, if any, they feel are appropriate, and follow their lead.
Don’t be afraid to make suggestions but be gentle. There’s a lot at stake. It could sabotage your relationship with the boys, which in turn will affect your relationship with your husband.
Yes, it’s your life, too, but you knew your husband’s history before you married. Because he married you doesn’t change that. Your presence hopefully softens the blow and breathes life back to his world, but you walked into their space, so you must be careful how you go about it.
Dad’s part is that he must openly support your efforts and set an example for the children. Be patient. Never badmouth or compare yourself in any way to their mother. At the right time you may want to present yourself as a helper, never a replacement, and while it may be difficult, try to openly respect their mother’s memory. The children will be drawn to you and respect you, as well.
Good Ex-etiquette for Parents is based on “Putting the children first” (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 1) — but it sounds like you may be having some trouble with this concept if you are telling your husband that the home belongs to “the parents” and the kids will eventually be gone. Although that is certainly true, few parents want to hear that when their children are young, especially when there was such a loss already experienced.
You may not see it, but you are treading on very thin ice. Before you start labeling yourself a parent, make sure you are accepted as a parent by both dad and the kids.
Finally, in a perfect world, it would be best if you could start in a new home so that all could start on equal footing, but if your family can’t afford to move, you must do your best to remove the emotion from the house and create the home you want. I know it’s uncomfortable. I’ve lived this situation myself. I decided spending so much time feeling like an outsider was unproductive and I began to concentrate on becoming a positive influence in the home. Although it took time, it worked … for me and my family. 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, bonusfamilies.com . ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.