Should she include her ex-husband in holidays?



Dear Carolyn:

I left my husband of 25-plus years, and it’s only been a few months. A year ago, he told me he didn’t love me and there was no chance he would change his mind.

My adult daughter and I were very close, but since the split she’s been distant to me, closer to her dad. Understandable, I’m the dumper and this rocked her world. Recently, she asked me (“Do this for me”) to include her dad in holidays with my family of origin. But this was one of the problems in our marriage! He didn’t want to be with my family and I don’t want to have to include him anymore. Part of the reason I’m gone is to enjoy my wonderful siblings and those holidays without him.

I’m fine with creating a new holiday tradition for our kids with my ex, but that won’t satisfy my daughter.

How do I navigate this? My husband would likely go if I invited him now to please our daughter and “get” me.

— G.

Oh my goodness, no, don’t agree to that.

You don’t say which holidays, but if you mean “the holidays,” then you have time. The fracture in your family is still new enough for your daughter’s request to be an emotional reaction, versus a measured response to this change.

She is also an adult and no kid of any age, but especially not one old enough to be emotionally self-contained, gets to dictate how you manage your relationships. You take children’s needs and feelings and safety and health into account as appropriate, of course, but that’s not the same thing as giving a child the last word.

To allow anyone such outsize influence on your plans is a boundary lapse anyway, and therefore, ultimately, less healthy than saying no.

Which, I know, looks great on paper and feels wretched when your once-close daughter thinks you rocked her world and wants to make you pay.

But you know, and your ex presumably knows, and now we know, that at best you merely finished off the world-rocking your then-husband touched off a year ago. And even he might not have wanted it so much as he merely responded to the seismic effect of a profound change in his feelings for you. Sure, sometimes spouses alienate each other, and sometimes there’s ill intent, but alienation that no one wants can also find its way in.

At some point, it will be time for you to have this conversation with your daughter. Not to serve your own interests, ultimately, but to protect hers. Only an understanding of the complexity of marriage, yours and all others, at any phase, can inoculate her against unmeetable expectations of coupled life. Which, of course, are the seeds from which so many preventable heartbreaks are raised.

Until you and she are both ready for this talk, kindly hold your ground. “The holidays are important to you, I can see that. Your father and my family haven’t mixed well in the past and I don’t see that getting better now. I am open to other ideas, though. Let’s talk about it when things feel less raw.” Then don’t, until they do.

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Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.