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Stepson’s expectations are tearing the family apart

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My stepson is divorcing my daughter-in-law for another woman, whom he is marrying 5 days after his divorce is final. My daughter-in-law lives in SC and wants to move back to MI, so is moving in with us as she cannot financially afford to live on her own with all the debt they have and they haven’t sold their house. Our stepson had no problem with this in the beginning, and our granddaughters are coming to live with us also. Now, he has decided that he wants to come and visit us 5 days after we get her moved into our house. He told us to just kick her out. He wants us to meet his new wife.

I told my husband, no way. First I am not ready to meet the new wife who broke up the marriage and second, he has no right to ask her to move out of this house, as this is her home now. My husband does not agree, as this is his son (my stepson). We are fighting over this one. My husband agreed to let my daughter-in-law move in and was in full support. I told him his son has no right to even ask to come here to visit while she is staying here.

Am I wrong on this issue? I feel like his son is doing this to pour salt in the wound. He would be sleeping in the bed with his new wife, in the room that his ex-wife would be sleeping in while in our home. So inappropriate. What do you think, I feel he can come to town and stay in a hotel. My husband says he can’t afford that and it is not an option. Please help — I feel this is going to break our marriage.

This kind of situation with conflicting loyalties and needs can tear a family apart. I’m glad you wrote to us.

From where I sit, your stepson has multiple problems. He is marrying so quickly after a divorce that he isn’t giving himself time to learn from the experience of a failed marriage. He doesn’t seem to understand that whatever his feelings for his former wife, she is still the mother of his children, your grandchildren, and is deserving of some respect, if only for that. He seems to be asking you and your husband to take sides in a no-win contest of love and loyalties. He doesn’t seem to be considering how his kids will feel about meeting this woman who has taken their mother’s place in his life and his bed.

Meanwhile, your husband is torn. He doesn’t want to lose his son over all this but he has made a commitment to the mother of his grandchildren and to you. He may have the idea that blood relationship comes first. But he isn’t considering that his grandchildren are also of his blood and deserve his consideration – even over his son. They are the most vulnerable people in this situation.

For the kids’ sake, my opinion is that if your stepson wants to integrate his new wife into the family, he needs to take it much more slowly. It’s unfair to displace his children’s mother from her home. It would be hard on the kids to have to have his new wife, their new stepmother, move right into their mom’s place.

One option would be for your stepson and his new wife to stay in a hotel or with a friend and to arrange daily visits with you and his children. If he really can’t afford a hotel room for a few nights, perhaps your husband could help him by financing part of it. This would not only solve the sleeping arrangements but would let your husband demonstrate to his son that he isn’t taking sides. Your daughter-in-law could cooperate by agreeing to go out while he visits with you and the kids. Alternatively, he could arrange to take the children out to some local attraction or event to give the kids a way to get to know their new stepmom without intruding on his former wife’s life.

Although I can certainly understand the intense feelings that go with this situation, I hope you and your husband will take a step back and rethink your positions. To me, the focus shouldn’t be on who has the “right” to be in your home (stepson or daughter-in-law). The conversation should instead be about how to support your granddaughters and how to integrate this new reality into everyone’s lives. Your stepson will leave after a few days. You, your husband, your daughter-in-law and the grandchildren will be left to deal with the emotional consequences of his visit. You want to make sure that whatever happens leaves everyone able to comfortably live together.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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