I’ve said before that, barring really serious issues (adultery, spousal battery, unaddressed alcoholism or drug addiction), it’s better not to DTMFA. Today’s Dear Prudie advice column provides a good example of why this is true.
This advice-seeker is divorced and shares custody of one daughter with her ex-husband, who married a younger woman a year after the divorce. “His new wife whelped out three babies within three years…” what a charming way to describe having children…” and likes to think she is an authority on my child, “Katy.””
It appears that the stepmother treats Katy and her mother in a truly evil fashion. She is always texting the mother to ask if Katy can stay longer to go to a birthday party, or requesting permission to buy Katy a new pair of skates, and other such heinous acts. “I really can’t compete with cute little half-sisters, a private pool, and the gift-giving. My daughter loves going over to her dad’s.”
Goodness, I can’t imagine why Katy might prefer her father’s house to her mother’s, can you? On the one hand, a happy, cheerful family that tries to do nice things for her; on the other, a cantankerous, bitter woman who’s “competing” against her co-parent for her daughter’s affection. Total mystery.
“Except now the woman is trying to replace my daughter with a dog.” Wait, what? You mean the stepmother is trying to get the dad to relinquish custody and replace her with a dog? That would indeed be pretty vile. Let’s see….
“The wife’s brother got a dog named Katie and decided he couldn’t keep it. She took all the kids over to play with the dog and then told them Katie was going to be theirs. My daughter excitedly told me all this, and all I could do was ask if they were going to rename the dog.”
Oh. Uh. So, the evil thing the stepmother did was adopt a dog that Katy loves. Yeah, a real witch on a broom, that one.
“My daughter told me Katie was her name, and I corrected her: Katy was her name.”
Way to rain on your kid’s parade!
“I called my ex to tell him they needed to rename the dog. He told me the dog was trained to respond to Katie and didn’t see what the big deal was.”
Neither, apparently, does Katy; one might think her opinion would be the most important factor here, but her owner–er, sorry, mother–thinks differently.
“I told him that his wife bringing a dog into the house with the same name as his daughter was disrespectful. He told me this wasn’t something I had a say in.”
Yeah, you don’t get to dictate behavior to a grown adult who’s not part of your household. And to return to an earlier part of the letter, note the use of “whelped” to describe her husband’s younger children. She clearly regards them as little more than dogs, herself, and I think her outrage is in part the result of some massive projection. She is unable to see these kids as lovable humans, and cannot imagine the other woman’s kindness toward her child to be genuine.
“I texted his wife, and she responded with “I respect you, but I stand with my husband here, and Katy was happy when she played with Katie.””
Remember, this woman is trying to present her ex and his wife in the worst possible light. The best she can come up with is this extremely respectful, calm, reasonable text.
“I am steaming here, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford to go to court or counseling again.”
Oh yes, please sic the family court on your husband, who’s probably suffered through an enormous load of crapola; that is such a reasoned, proportional response to your daughter acquiring a new dog. Which she loves.
Hon, you’ve dug yourself a deep, deep hole here. Your ex and his wife seem to be treating you with exceptional courtesy and respect. My best advice would be to get a time-machine, travel back to your marriage with your husband, and do not be the kind of resentful shrew that winds up bemoaning her lot in life. My second-best advice is apologize and do your best, going forward, not to be so consumed with resentment. Prudie actually had some pretty decent responses:
“Your tooth-grinding misery, resentment, and hostility toward others absolutely radiated off your letter. I’d want to take a break from living with you, too….You’re not competing with cute little kids and a swimming pool when it comes to your ex’s house. You’re competing with peace, patience, gentle speech, reasonable expectations, and a lack of tension.” Prudie was also extremely kind to the LW, trying to get her to see that her attitude is only causing misery to herself and her daughter. Some of the commenters were quite a bit more vicious.
But indeed, the LW does have good grounds for envy and resentment:
- Her ex-husband married a younger, sweet, fertile woman a year after the divorce; she herself mentions no second husband or long-term boyfriend.
- Her ex-husband has three additional cute children; she has little prospect of more, unless she secures another man.
- Her ex-husband is materially better off than she, being able to afford a pool and gifts. She cannot enjoy his assets as she would if married to him, and since she shares custody is probably not getting much child support, if any.
Now, I do not know why the letter-writer and her husband divorced. It is possible that her husband divorced her with no real cause; given the rancor in her letter, though, and her readiness to exaggerate perceived wrongs to the point of absurdity, I find it difficult to believe that her husband cheated on her or hit her. This information would surely have been included in the letter. In other words, it is extremely unlikely that she’s been “done wrong”; either she initiated the divorce because he kept leaving dirty dishes on the counter, or she was so insufferable to live with that he left her.
In either situation, she is the major engineer of her current unhappiness, and will continue to be so as long as she cannot release her own bitterness. And Katy, who has at least the refuge of a happy, peaceful household with her father and sisters, will suffer too as she’s forced to endure her mother’s emotional poison.