Q. I am getting married in a year and we are struggling with the guest list. My parents are divorced, and that makes the guest list complicated. My dad, who is paying for the wedding, gets along fine with my mom, but hates her sister, her husband, and my grandma and grandpa. Something happened during their divorce, and he never forgave them. He said if they are invited, he’s not paying. How can I not invite my aunt, uncle and grandparents to my wedding? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Oh my. Yours is a tough one.
Breakups bring out the worst in people. Those who are normally loving and kind suddenly become spiteful, hold a grudge, and are just downright mean when in the presence of an ex. Problem is, that ex is often in the same vicinity as their children, so all that spite and anger is openly visible to their kids.
Co-parents often forget that a stressful situation is an opportunity to demonstrate firsthand how to navigate unpleasant, unpredictable events. They let their emotions get the better of them and end up giving ultimatums like “If you invite your grandmother, I’m not paying.” Of course, that creates an impossible situation — and asks a child to choose between the people they love the most.
Unfortunately, this is something that children of divorce face every day. Something as simple as having a later bedtime or fewer chores at the other home puts a child in the middle. I can’t tell you how many times a child has told me that they prefer one house over the other simply because, “My bed is more comfortable.” No matter how fair a parent feels they are being, when a child lives in two homes, there will be a time that the child is put in the position to choose.
So it appears this is one of those times.
Unfortunately, this dilemma is based on a loved one’s spiteful behavior. (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #5 and 6, “Don’t be spiteful” and “Don’t hold grudges.”) Spite is usually rooted in hurt or betrayal, and reading between the lines, your dad may feel both.
A few tips to help defuse spiteful behavior?
Reacting by coming back with, “Oh yeah, well don’t come then!” is understandable, but it won’t really solve the problem. It will just add to it. And it is being spiteful in return.
Empathy can be a great equalizer (Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule #7) … You don’t have to know exactly what happened to be empathetic, “I know if you are feeling this strongly, you must have been hurt very badly.”
Defenses start to come down. “You understand how I feel.”
You have now set the stage for a compassionate exchange that will lead to problem-solving rather than building on hurt and anger.
Next, express how his actions affect you personally. Not blame or fault. How YOU feel. “But that was a long time ago, and holding on to it is hurting me now.”
Hopefully at this point he is realizing he has lost sight of what is important: putting the children first.
Finally, ask him for help in solving the problem.
“You know how happy it would make me if we could finally put this all behind us. Do you see any other solution at all?”
Keep your fingers crossed.
That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.