DEAR NATALIE: My wonderful (and much older) husband of over 20 years has two grown children who are so ungrateful and stingy with him that neither of them sent him a card, gift, or even called him on Christmas this year. He has been exceptionally generous with them over the years and they owe their wealth to him. Their "love" for him boils down to money and if they don't think he gave them enough of it, they let him know. His eldest has even threatened to sue him, sending several demand letters from their attorney, because they felt that they were due more from the sale of a house that my husband owned. I know it hurts him to realize that they are consumed with concern over his money and are probably just waiting for him to pass away. He has set up insurance policies and irrevocable trusts for them so they know that their bad behavior will not affect their inheritance because it is ground in stone. I have never heard him raise his voice or express anger towards them, but I think it is time for him to do so. I have never said anything to them as my hands are tied because they are technically not my kids. They have never recognized me as a stepmother. Do you think that he should call them out on this, maybe raise his voice, or stop communicating with them until they discontinue the poor behavior and drop lawsuits? – GRINCHES WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS
DEAR GRINCHES WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS: I appreciate how protective you are for your husband. But this is his battle. If he doesn’t want to yell – and at his age that may be for the best – you may just have to let this go. His kids sound horrible. There is no debating that! But his reaction to them may be layered. Perhaps he wasn’t as present as he wanted to be when they were younger. He may feel guilt. He may feel sad that he didn’t have a connection with them. This, in turn, may be why he stays silent even though his heart breaks. At this point in their relationship, I doubt anything will change. The best thing that you can do is to remind him of how loved he is, how much you care about him and shield him from his kids’ venom whenever possible. If having less contact with them is appropriate, then do that. He’s not under any obligation to give them lavish gifts while he is alive – especially since they have been written into the will. But it is his choice. It can be difficult to see someone you love being treated poorly but starting a fight with him over this will only alienate him further. I would just avoid talking about them and keep the focus on positive things. The rest is up to them.
DEAR NATALIE: Our son recently asked an older twice-divorced woman with three small children to go “steady.” My husband and I raised our son to be caring and thoughtful. He is a great person but has not had luck in past relationships. We are not happy with his decision to be with this woman and have expressed our thoughts to him. He has respectfully apologized but says that it's his choice. We would be more accepting if she had less children, and our son has always said he didn’t want children. We are sad that his dreams and goals have changed since his last break up. He did not finish college as planned and is just satisfied working in the same place that this new woman works. We are cautious in not pushing our disagreement with his situation, because his last broken relationships left him depressed. But we feel he has not made a good choice in dating this woman and could end up emotionally scarred. He is living on his own and visits us once a week without her for he knows we do not want to have a relationship with her. Are we wrong in our thoughts and actions? What would be the correct reaction from us? — AT A LOSS
DEAR AT A LOSS: I don’t think parents can ever stop being parents. They always want what is best for their kids, no matter the age. In this case, protecting him may actually just drive him further into her arms. You should meet her. He may feel as though he has to hide big parts of his life from you right now, creating distance between you that doesn’t need to be there. You don’t have to like who he is with, but you need to respect his autonomy. He is going to work where he wants, date who he wants and live how he chooses. As parents, all you can do is provide him support, love and understanding. If things don’t work out, he is lucky to have you both to be there for him. But don’t use his past relationships to judge the present one. If she makes him happy and treats him with respect and with love, what else really matters?
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