Reconnecting with family members

Reading this http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=547371 about “removing a parent from your life”, got me thinking about my own situation.

I have a 14 year old son from a previous marriage. My ex and I divorced about 8 years ago, when our son was six. About 11 years ago, when the kid was 3, (while we were married) my ex decided to cut off all ties to her mother and brother and extended family. The decision for my ex was the result of an argument that she had with her brother, and when relating it to her mother, felt that her mother inappropriately took her brother’s side. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back with regard to my wife. She wrote the entire family a letter announcing that she was cutting off all ties with them. This was something that I did not agree with and it almost resulted in the end of our marriage at that time. But I relented believing that since it was my wife’s family, I would support her in her decision. Her family tried to contact us several times over the next few years, but those contacts were rebuffed.

After we divorced, three years later, my ex and I worked out joint 50/50 custody of our son. I continued to respect her wishes about no contact with her family, as we had moved several times and her family had apparently given up trying to find us…besides it was still her family.

Fast forward seven years (about a year ago) I had friended my ex-sister in law on Facebook. Found out she had divorced my ex’s brother and caught up with what was going on with her and my two nephews, and shared information about my son and my new marriage. Also found out that my ex mother-in-law was in bad health.

My son had no memories of his grandmother or cousins. The last time he had seen them was when he was 3. He was now thirteen, and my hope was that when he reached 18, he could decide for himself if he wanted to find his extended family on his mother’s side. But with the prospect of his grandmother passing, I was concerned his opportunity to meet his grandmother would pass if I did nothing.

So…I asked him if he had any desire to see his grandmother and cousins. He was interested but was concerned that his mother would be very angry at him if she found out about his contact with them. I assured him that I would try and take the brunt of any wrath that she might dish out if she were to find out.

The grandmother and the cousins live several states away. So coincidentally, I found out when one of his and my favorite bands was touring and playing in a large city near where the grandmother and cousins live and planned a road trip for my son and I to go to the concert. Which is the reason for the trip that I explained to my ex.

I contacted the grandmother and the cousins and made arrangements for me and my son to see everyone. That was a year ago and my son writes letters and speaks to his grandmother and cousins on the phone periodically when he is with me. His grandmother (my ex-mother-in-law) has told me that reconnecting with her grandson has been one of the most fullfilling things that she has done.

As far as I know, my ex has no knowledge of the reconnection, but I’m sure at some point it will come out. I feel that I made the right decision for my son, but worry about whether I should have been more forthright with his mother. What are your thoughts?

You can’t win a hundred percent on this one. However, I had a similar scenario when my family and I broke ties in 1992. My sons grew up with no cousins, no aunts or uncles; just each other. They had minimal contact with their grandmother.

Fast forward 11 years and we took off the gloves and reconnected. I am now a part of all of the family festivities - but my sons don’t want any part of it. They are in their twenties (they were four and seven at the time of the break) and feel no closeness or comfort from their extended families. They have cousins “meh”. They have lots of family that might help them when in trouble, etc., “meh”.

I think you are only wrong in not telling your ex. It’s her child too - and yes it’s her family, but it’s also her son’s family. He has a right, and likely has a need to know them. As parents it should be our number one effort to love our children and bring as many others into their lives to love them too.

I don’t think given your son’s relationship with them that it can remain a secret because he’d feel an element of guilt or blame about it. It should now be his decision to keep up any relationship with them that is beneficial to him.

I did my children a tremendous disservice in not helping them remain neutral in the face of grown up issues. When I’m gone they’ll only have each other. (Their father died suddenly in May '09 and there are only grandparents on that side).

I think you can afford to take a stand on this with your ex because you are doing the mature and right thing . . . not for her perhaps, but for your son.

Best wishes for finding the right way to tell her - so that your son is not in the middle of that too.

I think that when your ex finds out, she is going to be rightfully pissed.

I don’t know the nature of the argument she had with her brother, but cutting them off for that long seems extreme and hurts, among others, your son. But going behind her back is really poor form.

My ex has borderline personality disorder. Having a realistic/healthy view on relationships is not a strongpoint of hers. And she has a nasty temper with a love of spite.

Hers and my relationship goes in cycles. It is my opinion that being upfront with her will be faced with months of turmoil which, I could really care less about for myself, but will create uneccessary conflict between her and my son. If and when she does find out, I will take full responsibility to ease some of the tension from my son…but I believe that’s a pill left for later.

Depending on the way you look at it, you could say either you did the right thing or you did the wrong thing.

From your post, it sounds to me like you were acting in what you felt were the best interests of your son, and I think at the age of 13, a child is old enough to decide whether they want contact with their family or not, and I applaud your actions.

To me, this trumps the “going behind her back” issue.

My only suggestion is that, if you haven’t yet, tell your son that he doesn’t have to keep the secret for your benefit. That he’s free to tell his Mom if he ever feels he wants to.

I guess I forgot to mention that I told him that if he was asked directly about our trip or contact with his grandmother, that he should not lie to her. And that if he wanted to tell her about seeing his grandmother, that it was up to him.

You are doing the right thing.

My concern here is that the ultimate reason why your ex cut ties with her family was some history of abusive behavior or other dangerous history that she doesn’t wish to talk about. You might be taking her son right into the home of someone who harmed her as a child, or someone who insulated her abuser and allowed abuse to continue. If you don’t know for certain, then you’re making a huge mistake in doing this behind her back/

Considering, 1) the grandmother, lived with us for most of the first year of our son’s life; 2) I knew her for about ten years before my ex cut ties; and 3) I would never let my son visit her without me being with him. I feel pretty safe in that regard.

Also at age 13, I believe my son has some say so on which family members he wants to have contact with, regardless of his mother’s decisions.