My first husband and I divorced many years ago while our children were still in the home. He left our family to be with another woman. Our children did their best to maintain a relationship with him through the years, however painful and frustrating it was to them at times, until his death in the past year. I have been married to a really good man for 17 years who has been a father figure throughout their lives. He was always present at their games when their father wasn’t, provided for them, and has been a grandfather to their children.
My children are now grown and good people, but most of them make no effort to recognize my husband on Father’s Day and his birthday, which comes soon after. It hurts me and makes me angry. I have asked them about it and until this year reminded them about both days. One son said he doesn’t like me putting pressure on him to send a card. Others have said they just don’t send cards. A couple will send a Facebook message, others may call, and others say they just can’t keep up with birthdays.
I keep up with everyone’s birthdays and spouses’ birthdays with cards and gifts as well as, right now, over 20 grandchildren’s birthdays, plus Christmas presents and treats for other holidays. Am I asking too much for them to remember their stepfather twice a year? In my worst moments, I want to threaten to not send a gift to the spouses of those children who forget my husband. But we are a family who usually gets along beautifully. I just don’t understand why they won’t do this.
This year I didn’t mention Father’s Day and only one sent a card and gift, one sent a Facebook message, and one said Happy Father’s Day on Skype. Am I being unreasonable? My husband doesn’t mention being ignored, so should it bother me? Why are my otherwise good, kind children so inconsiderate? Is there anything I can do? They know how I feel and it doesn’t seem to matter.
I agree that your husband is a good man. Any man who can step in and become involved in the lives of wounded and betrayed children has a huge and unselfish heart. You can see how much he’s done for your children, especially in contrast to their own father who left them with a fragmented family. I can see how much it must hurt you to see them fail to recognize him on his special days.
What’s important to remember, however, is that the same selfless character traits that have driven your husband to be there for his stepchildren without thought of reward are the same character traits that allow him to continue to be there for them without any recognition. Even though he may notice and be bothered by their lack of thoughtfulness on Father’s Day or his birthday, he has the grace and dignity to not make a huge deal about it. This speaks volumes about his character.
I can imagine how much it hurts you to see your own children be so indifferent toward the man who was hardly indifferent to their plight when their own father abandoned them. You hold the history in your heart and you can see how much they needed their stepfather, even when they couldn’t.
You’ve said your piece to your children and they know how you feel. I encourage you to let your children grow up and gain perspective as they raise their own families. It takes time for all us to understand exactly what our parents do for us.
I think this is a great opportunity for you to take all of these feelings of gratitude and love for him and make his special days true celebrations of his life. He’ll probably play down the attention, but you can let him know (and anyone else who happens to be there) how important he is to you and your family. You don’t need your children to be in charge of this. You can celebrate him with all of your love and gratitude.
My guess is that they will eventually see what he’s done for you and them. In the meantime, continue showing him and them what he means to this family. Your energy and frustration toward your children doesn’t have to contaminate his special days. He doesn’t fret about it, and neither should you. There is plenty for you to celebrate on your own.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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AnonymousJuly 5, 2015
Except for a few details, my mother could have written this post about me and my siblings. I was sad to hear how upset she is about the situation--she has obviously spent a lot of time stewing about it, and it is truly effecting their relationships. From the perspective of the step-child, however, things look a little different. I don't spend a lot of time remembering my step-father because he did very little to build a relationship with me as a child, and as an adult is just as distant, despite the fact that I have tried to reach out occasionally. He has not shown any interest in my children or my life for decades. All of our conversations revolve around him and what he is doing. I don't hold it against him, I recognize that he is not an emotionally healthy person, and therefore my expectations need to be low. However, I figure if he wants a relationship with my family, then he will have to put forth a little bit of effort. Yes, my mother sends gifts on birthdays, etc., but otherwise ignores our family completely. Her love language is obviously "gifts." Sadly, my kids don't even really know who my parents are--I have to explain, "remember those people you saw for two hours last summer?" They are always to busy to come visit us--it's been years since they visited--and when we are near them she doesn't like us to come into her home because she has nice furniture and decorations. And yet my mother could legitimately complain that her adult children don't recognize her husband appropriately on holidays. This probably doesn't add to the discussion or help this poor lady at all, but I just wanted to point out that their might be two sides to the story. Hopefully she is not in this situation, but I wonder, if the therapist were to sit down with the adult children, what tale would they tell? Are they really all just lazy and insensitive? Or is there a problem in this relationship that she just isn't willing to face?
kateJuly 3, 2015
Good advise, and I would also advise this woman to read the Five Love Languages book. Obviously gifts & cards are how she feels loved and is offended when those things are not important to other people. Her husband, wonderful man that he is, may not care a bit about such things. I know I don't and very few members of my family do either (in fact, until I understood how important gifts & cards are to some people, I hated getting them--cards especially seem so trite and pointless). Perhaps her children prefer to show affection with service or spending time together or something else. She may not realize that her gifts and cards to everyone for every event may be driving them crazy--especially if the gifts are simply a box to check off ("I spend $10 on each grandchild--let's see, what can I buy for ten bucks?"). I know I'd FAR prefer to Skype with my kids than get a gift or card from them. Trying to force everyone else into your own personal mold is a recipe for frustration.