Q: My husband and I have been together for 10 years and have three kids. He cheated before we were married and got the young woman pregnant. I forgave him and accepted the situation. The child was here only on the weekends, and I could deal with that. Two years ago, her mother abandoned her, and now she's my responsibility. It's too much for me, and as a result, my kids are affected. I would have never started a family if my husband had the child full-time. It's unfair that I have to sacrifice my life. What is good Ex-Etiquette?
A: I often remind parents that life has an ebb and flow, and just because your new partner doesn't have custody of his or her child when you meet, doesn't mean they won't have custody down the road.
The most common scenario I see is an adolescent, particularly a male, who around age 13 or 14 decides he would rather live with dad. If you are dad's partner, this wouldn't necessarily be what you signed up for — but you shouldn't be surprised. People who enter bonus families with their eyes wide open know that if you marry someone with children, there is always a chance the child may end up living with you. It's part of the package. Both Ex-Etiquette rule No. 5, "Don't be spiteful" and Ex-Etiquette rule No. 6, "Don't hold grudges" apply. Time to do some soul-searching.
Here's the big red flag — believing that your husband sees your kids any differently than he sees his first child, and believing that because he had a child prior to your marriage, you wouldn't have had a family with him. That's hogwash.
First, the child was conceived while dad was dating you — I get that she might represent that betrayal — but she had nothing to do with it.
She is an innocent child who needs love and security.
Second, you said you would've never started a family with your husband if you knew he had a daughter who lived with him full-time. I don't believe that. I do believe that you resent having to take care of a child that isn't yours, and it sounds as if you may be transferring your anger at your husband's betrayal on to his daughter. Some in your position have told me, "Well, at least he could have asked!" But, the truth is, he really couldn't. There was no choice if her mother abandoned her. You helped save his child. Something tells me you might not feel so overwhelmed if he would have expressed his gratitude for your standing up to the plate — it then may have appeared to be less of a sacrifice. As a result, you might have been more inclined to welcome this child rather than resent her appearance and segregate her to "his child" status.
Of course I'm just guessing, but my suggestion at this point is to backtrack. Talk to your husband. Good Ex-Etiquette rule No. 1 is "Put the children first," but rule No. 2 is "Ask for help if you need it."
You need help. Start with an honest conversation (rule No. 8, "Be honest and straightforward.") and, if your husband doesn't hear you, don't give up. Enlist the help of a loud therapist who specializes in combining families.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and the founder ofbonusfamilies.com. Email her at drjannblackstonegmail.com.