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This child’s needs outweigh yours

Fri., Sept. 14, 2012

DEAR CAROLYN: I remarried 12 years ago. We are retired and ought to be able to travel or lead a life of our choosing. My wife and I have a great relationship when we are away, but traveling is becoming less frequent due to a growing situation.

When in town, my wife, her unmarried 35-year-old stepdaughter from a previous marriage, and the stepdaughter’s 5-year-old son have a relationship that barely includes me.

The ex-stepdaughter has a good career, and enjoys leading a life that rarely includes her son. My wife enables this by caring for the child whenever asked, and often in our home.

I like the child but do not want the encumbrance at this stage of my life.

Am I wrong to want more from a relationship with my wife? – L.

Of course it’s not wrong to want more of your wife’s company.

I’m not unsympathetic; you understandably thought you were past all this, plus you got a multiyear taste of life sans dependents, only to watch that life slip away.

But as any adult knows, plans aren’t destiny – and high expectations often just amplify our eventual disappointment.

You have two reasons to adjust your expectations to account for this little boy.

The first is that you can’t make your wife change any behavior she doesn’t want to change.

The second, the big one, is that your justifications notwithstanding – your stage in life, your antipathy for the stepdaughter – the child’s needs trump yours.

I have to believe that your wife will be more open to giving you more attention if you stop resenting her compassion, and instead praise it: “You might be saving this boy. I get it, and admire you for it.” Can you come by that honestly?

Then: “I’d also like to draw some lines” – X days a week for sitting, Y weeks of the year for traveling, etc. – “so that we’re supporting Stepdaughter versus flat-out doing her job.” To get what you want, understand who you want it from.


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