Q: There is a long weekend coming up and my wife of three months and I are throwing a family barbecue. It's the first one we have thrown and the guest list has become somewhat awkward. I have remained quite good friends with my deceased first wife's family and would like to invite her parents (she was an only child). My wife says I must cut off all relations with them and refuses to let them in our home. My children are furious. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Well, considering your deceased wife's parents are your children's grandparents, I can understand why they are upset. Your wife needs a wake-up call - she can't ban your children's grandparents from your home based on the mere fact that they are your deceased wife's parents. Truth is, that should make them honored guests, unless, of course, they have done something, but that's not what you're telling me. The impression I'm getting is your wife wants you to put your past relationship in the past, and with the background you've mentioned, that would be very difficult.
One, your deceased wife was an only child and you and your children are the last direct connection they have to her.
Two, as mentioned before, they are your children's grandparents and that relationship should be nurtured, not abandoned.
At times people who have not had children approach break-ups differently than those who have had children in a previous relationship. Since they don't understand the ongoing responsibility to co-parent, they believe all interaction should end once the relationship ends. These are also the people who think their children with their new partner are the "real" children and any children produced prior to the marriage are second class citizens. This is extremely bad ex-etiquette. Parents don't love the children from their present relationship more than the kids of their past relationships. As a matter of fact, it would not be uncommon for parents of children from past relationships to feel as if they must over compensate for the break-up. Guilt can be quite the motivator.
Once you have children, those children are the bond between past and present, and since they deserve ongoing contact with those who love them, relationships you have mentioned must continue. The new partner just has to get over their insecurity or jealousy or not be involved with someone who has had children. There's no halfway mark on this one. A child's psyche depends on it.
That's why when entering a new relationship, its important for those who have children to make sure their boundaries are crystal clear. Your wife should have known going in that the request to ban your children's grandparents from your home was ridiculous and wasn't going to happen. Truth be told, you should have discussed everything first hand - and if your wife wanted to make this work, she should be looking for ways to build a relationship with your children's grandparents, not reject them.
Your family has faced enough pain. It's your job, as well as your wife's, to look for ways to unify, not segregate. That's the essence of good ex-etiquette.