Be mad, work past be­trayal

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - CAROLYN HAX Chat on­line with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Fri­day at wash­ing­ton­post.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Wash­ing­ton Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071; or email tellme@wash­post.com

DEAR CAROLYN: My hus­band re­cently dropped a bomb on our lives. He was con­tacted by some­one claim­ing to be his child.

It turns out many years ago, when we were mar­ried a few years, he had a one-night stand. He never saw this per­son again and now, bingo!

I am dev­as­tated and an­gry. Our chil­dren are 37 and 35. This sur­prise per­son is 33. So I was home with two small kids when he acted like an id­iot one night.

We do not want our kids and fam­ily to know this sit­u­a­tion. But he has been con­tact­ing this per­son back and forth for weeks af­ter I thought we agreed on no con­tact. I am hurt and be­trayed.

This per­son seems to think we should have a re­la­tion­ship and be one big happy fam­ily. I think not. What do you say?

— Anony­mous

DEAR READER: I say you’re en­ti­tled to your fury.

I say it’s your pre­rog­a­tive not to ac­knowl­edge “this sur­prise per­son” or tell your chil­dren.

I say “acted like an id­iot” is a fair assess­ment.

I say your hus­band’s furtively break­ing a “no con­tact” agree­ment is a fresh be­trayal right when he needs to re-earn your trust.

And I say that dig­ging in to th­ese wholly jus­ti­fi­able po­si­tions will hurt you more than any­one else in this mess.

Why? Be­cause it hap­pened, all of it. The af­fair isn’t go­ing away, the child isn’t go­ing away, the pain isn’t go­ing away, no mat­ter how hard you shove them out of your field of vi­sion. Not telling your kids won’t re­move any of the weight of know­ing.

It will, how­ever, in­tro­duce the weight of a se­cret, which is con­sid­er­able.

So my ad­vice is to take the time you need to be an­gry and to keep this per­son as far from your per­sonal sphere as you want to and can.

Then, when the anger starts to dis­si­pate — coun­sel­ing might be help­ful here, just for you — con­sider do­ing the ex­act op­po­site of what your ini­tial make-this-go-away im­pulse said to do.

Con­sider: Giv­ing your bless­ing for fa­ther and child to be in touch. Meet­ing this per­son your­self. Shar­ing the news with your chil­dren, and, if and when they’re ready, en­cour­ag­ing them to get to know their sib­ling.

Con­sider that “one big happy fam­ily” can still be the ef­fect when the cause is any­thing but. If you feel em­bar­rassed, then please note: Ev­ery­one screws up, but not ev­ery­one is brave.

You have the power to bring grace not only to your hus­band and a now- grown child who had no say in ex­ist­ing, but also to your­self, through one trans­for­ma­tive act of for­give­ness and in­clu­sion. Lemon­ade, in life­time sup­ply.

DEAR CAROLYN: My hus­band, “Chuck,” is very ill, and has been for some time. I try to do most of the work around the home, plus driv­ing him to numer­ous doc­tor ap­point­ments. I also care for him, which is not easy and in­cludes manag­ing his med­i­ca­tions and strict di­etary needs.

Since he has be­come more ill lately, our chil­dren want to visit. Three of our four kids plan to visit with only one or two of their chil­dren, leav­ing the re­main­der at home with their fa­thers/moth­ers to ease the bur­den not only on Grandpa, but on me as well.

Our old­est son is mar­ried to a much younger lady with four chil­dren from her pre­vi­ous mar­riage. This son has three chil­dren of his own and plans to leave the two youngest with his ex-wife. His cur­rent wife in­sists that he bring all her chil­dren so they don’t feel left out.

Is this fair, when many “true” grand­chil­dren are stay­ing home be­cause of Grandpa’s weak con­di­tion and my ex­tra work?

— Tired Grand­mother

DEAR READER: They’re all “true” grand­chil­dren. Kids are kids and fam­ily is fam­ily and love is love.

Your use of quo­ta­tion marks says I could prob­a­bly as­sume you know this, but it’s too im­por­tant a point to as­sume away.

It’s also still a quib­ble com­pared with the main point: that bring­ing five grand­kids — to pro­tect their feel­ings?! — is a prob­lem of se­ri­ously mis­placed pri­or­i­ties.

You cite fair­ness, but that has noth­ing to do with it. It’s about re­spect.

That’s be­cause the vis­its aren’t pri­mar­ily about your grand­chil­dren, but in­stead about Chuck and the adult chil­dren. When Chuck’s health — and yours, as his life­line — stands to suf­fer from the stress of too many vis­i­tors, the grand­kids sim­ply have to stay home.

So you have to draw and en­force a line. De­cide what your grand­child limit is — one or two at a time, pre­sum­ably, and maybe no one un­der X years of age — then an­nounce and ap­ply it to the whole fam­ily. Ex­plain that your grand­chil­dren are a joy, but you and your hus­band are sim­ply not fit to host more than two? three? peo­ple in your home at any given time.

If that. If ever there were a time for ho­tels, this is it.

Do not back down. Ex­haus­tion in this case is ac­tu­ally a lux­ury, one nei­ther you nor Chuck can af­ford.

Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group/NICK GAL­I­FI­ANAKIS

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