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. 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?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: 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?
DEAR TIRED: 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.
IExhaustion in this case is actually a luxury, one neither you nor Chuck can afford.
Email Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.