Q. My wife of 38 years died five years ago after a very long bout with cancer. I have three married children. It was a happy marriage, and the kids miss their mother very much. I do, too, but after living with her cancer for five years, once she passed, I was ready to just have some fun. Two years ago, I finally met someone. I feel very fortunate to have had two great loves in my life and we are talking marriage. My kids are very upset. They are concerned I will forget their mother and they are worried about their inheritance. It’s causing me a lot of stress and I find myself avoiding them. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. So many think, “Since my children are now adults, of course, they will understand.” It is true for some things; maybe once they have children, they can finally understand why you said things like, “Don’t make me pull this car over!” or “Because I said so!” But when it comes to moving on after a breakup or death of their other parent, adult children have an equally difficult time adjusting to someone new as a young child does. It may be even more difficult.
If you appear happier than you have been in a long time, your children probably are afraid you are forgetting their mother. And if you are avoiding them, it may look to them like you are forgetting about them, too. To them, it may look like you are avoiding them because of this new person. Check the message you are sending.
It’s quite common when you realize a beloved partner is terminal to begin the mourning process while they are still with us, especially if they are bedridden or incapacitated in some way. I have been told that it is almost a relief when a partner no longer suffers, and wanting to make new friends and just get out there is understandable.
Children, particularly adult children, may not see it that way. They often begin their mourning once their parent passes. If you think about it like that, you are in two different time zones.
When you want to talk to someone in a different time zone, you have to compensate in some way. You have to wake up earlier or stay up later, but my point is, both have to make concessions to make it happen.
That means, make sure both of you are listening to each other and are truly sharing with each other how you feel. And make sure that your kids know no one can ever replace their mother, but you are very grateful that you will not have to spend the rest of your life alone.
I’ve often told stories of people going too fast, but there are also parents who hear that message and overcompensate, not introducing the new person until they are talking marriage. Then the kids freak out. “We don’t even know this person!” So, take a look at how you have integrated your new love. You may need to change your approach and let them get to know each other a little more before you talk marriage.
Finally, children, of any age, may have a voice — that’s respect — but a voice is not a choice. That is up to you.
Considering the inheritance question: If there is enough to be concerned about, there is a lot to consider. You need an estate planner who specializes in bonusfamily inheritance issues to help you. 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.