Life Hax: Angry ex won’t help with suicidal son

by DGO Web Administrator

My ex-wife and I divorced 21 years ago. I had a one-night stand and she told me to hit the road. I married the one-night stand and that marriage did not work.During my dad’s recent funeral, which she attended, she came up to me and said she “still could not forgive” me.We had one son together, and over the years we have been together for milestones in his life. He has been highly successful in his career, but his current job is stressful. He confided both to his mom and me that he has had some very dark thoughts, including of suicide. He is getting professional help.I called the ex and suggested the three of us sit down to do whatever we can to help him. She responded that she could not do that due to her hatred of me.I think we need to be a united front for his wellbeing. What can I do?R.I am so sorry to hear your son is in crisis. No doubt you are terrified – and the impulse to work together as a family to help him was a good one. Unfortunately, to the question of creating a united front, you already have your answer: No with a capital No.

Few looking at this objectively would agree that a decades-old grudge takes precedence over the needs of your imperiled son. But this story isn’t being written by objective bystanders. It’s in the hands of the real and the flawed, and the flawed reality is that your ex-wife wants no part of any page you’re on. OK then. And the last thing your son needs is for you to highlight the family’s fractures by forcing the issue of unity.

So, it’ll have to be Plan B. Which is: Be present, be loving, be respectful of your son’s needs and boundaries, and, just as important right now, BE INFORMED. #BeThe1To has good, accessible information on “5 steps” to get you started, at Also: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

I am pregnant with a child conceived with a donor egg and my husband’s sperm. I also have a young son. It has been a long, complicated and painful process of secondary infertility.Now that I am finally pregnant, I am trying to figure out how, when and whether to disclose. I believe the child has the right to know his or her genetic heritage. On the other hand, we have close family members who will treat this child differently than his or her brother and other relatives, who have a proven record of unequal and inequitable treatment that is very hurtful. This is not your garden-variety, slightly-different-treatment-of-kids-despite-the-best-intentions scenario, but something deep and toxic. It’s a problem on both sides of the family. I do not want to provide any more ammunition to this dysfunctional dynamic.I’ve waited so long for this child, and want him or her to be loved unconditionally. I also want to protect my son from witnessing this behavior – and participating involuntarily, by being the favored child.My husband and I have established firm boundaries around this family dynamic and I’m proud of that, because it wasn’t easy. This pregnancy adds a new layer of complexity, though, and I’m not sure what to do.Do I tell the child, but ask him or her not to discuss with anyone? Do I wait until the grandparents all die? That could take another decade or more.To Tell or Not to Tell

Saying that never crossed my mind. Anyone who “will treat this child differently” strikes me as a lost cause for ever growing a heart. Or morals. Or decency. Not that it can’t happen; a child’s emotional health just can’t depend on it.

Anyway. This could solve itself thanks to fortuitous timing. A young child will have no use for this information; an older child can receive it when she or he is ready to decide independently what to do with it, which presumably will be many years from now, when you have (I hope) very different standing with the offending relatives.

One criterion for “ready” can be enough maturity for your child to decide him- or herself whether and when to tell other relatives. This isn’t happening in a vacuum.

I don’t get accused of optimism often, so here’s another scenario, just in case. Tell your child early. As in, when old enough to converse but too young to remember the conversation. Incorporate it as a fact of life.

No “don’t tell” admonitions, because those are awful and, yes, shamey. Then see whether the news ever wafts your families’ way. Then see whether any of them acts on it through unequal treatment. If they do, then stop granting them access to your family. Completely. Say why. And, hey – congratulations!

I’ve just changed my family name from my father’s to my maternal grandmother’s. My father is (and always has been) a horrible, abusive person, and I’ve wanted to make the name change for years.A few people know the reason, but what do I say to everyone else? “Why did you change your name?” is a perfectly reasonable question in this situation, so “Wow” or “Seriously?” aren’t appropriate responses. But, “The man is a monster, and using his name makes me want to cry or vomit or both,” while true and accurate, doesn’t work, either. Can you come up with a gentle answer that’s bland and polite and that closes the discussion?New Name“I’m honoring my grandmother.” Or just, “I like this one better.” I take your point that it’s a more reasonable nosy question than other nosy questions but, really, no one needs to know the why, just the what. So it’s still a nosy question.It would be lovely if, in response to hearing someone’s news — meaning, not in the course of real, intimate conversation — people would ask themselves before they put any inquiries into words: “Do I really need to know this?” The answer in sooo many cases is no.Congrats on taking this step – must feel liberating. Don’t let bystanders take that away from you.Re: Changing your name:No matter what the actual reason, everyone has come up with some bland and mostly believable answer to the inevitable questions by saying how much easier the new name is. If the old name was hard to spell, it’s “easier” to have a common one. If the old name was common, it’s easier to have a unique one. One friend did it “for professional reasons.” Several have said, “There’s someone else with the same name in my field and this avoids confusion.” Another to “claim my heritage.” People don’t really care why. They just want a plausible excuse to settle their mind so they can move on to another topic. Any bland – but not personal – reason will work.Been ThereAgreed, thanks. In fact, “Anything bland – but not personal,” is an excellent counter to prying in general.

Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected].


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