Hi, Carolyn: So, X and Y meet and marry mid-life. X has one child who lives with his ex-wife who is, if not independently wealthy, at least very comfortable (trust fund, etc.). X’s child spends every other weekend and holidays with him. X has no debt and plenty of assets.
Y has three children whom she supported with no help from their father. One is a college student, one is grown and married, one lives at home. Y has some debt, no assets. Both X and Y work full time, and X makes three times what Y does. All is well, until the first Christmas.
Y thinks the couple should spend roughly equal amounts on each of the four children. X thinks that whatever amount Y spends on all three of her children is what he should spend on his child. He applies the same formula to birthdays. X says he would feel as if he were shorting his child if he followed Y’s plan. Y can see the logic of this, but it strikes her as unfair. Especially on Christmas morning when, under X’s plan Kid X would get the DVD player and Kid Y would get the DVD. What do you think? – Bah-humbug
I think X is being obtuse, and Y is doing little to sharpen his comprehension.
To be fair, the DVD example is about as sharp as an illustration gets of the unfairness of X’s “logic.” (Which, for the record, I absolutely do not “see.”)
However, the part that X appears to be missing is that Y (presumably) comes at this highly sensitized to inequity – specifically, financial inequity that stands as a symbol of emotional injustice. Her kids got a raw deal from their dad, so she mortgaged her future to support them solo.
For her current husband to insist on shorting her kids now, when his own child would be indulged, is a stunning display of insensitivity. X not only fails to appreciate the message her kids were forced to receive in their father’s (at least economic) neglect, but also reiterates the message Y had to live with all those years – that she’s second-tier.
Certainly there are family configurations where it makes sense that each remarried parent is free to decide unilaterally how much to spend on his or her own kids from a prior marriage. When the pair remains financially independent, when there’s enough money for the discretionary spending of one spouse not to affect the other, when kids are grown and gone, and when history and baggage permit.
But the X and Y configuration involves kids still under one roof, financial strain and a bad case of ghosts. So for X to think the unequal-gift idea is even viable, either (1) Y hasn’t articulated her emotional case – and should, now; or (2) X hasn’t heard it (repeat Step 1); or (3) X doesn’t care.
If it’s Door No. 3, then X isn’t obtuse, but instead has a raincheck pad on the shelf where his heart should be. So for everyone’s sake, but particularly the children of both X and Y, I’m pulling for Door No. 1.
Make your case, Y, clearly this time, and find out now whether you chose an X who thinks just like your ex.