Care and Feeding

I Blamed My Daughter’s Ex-Husband for Their Divorce

Boy, was I wrong.

A woman puts her hand on her head and looks distraught.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter “Sue” was married to “Dan” for 6 years before divorcing 1.5 years ago. Sue had been complaining to us about Dan increasingly in the months before the divorce, and perhaps naïvely, we believed her. She said Dan was lazy, inattentive, and spent most nights out drinking with friends. As a result, my husband and I treated him quite coldly and haven’t spoken to him since the divorce occurred. Recently, we’ve learned from a trustworthy source (and confirmed with others) that the reason for Sue and Dan’s divorce was actually Sue’s years-long affair with another man—the very man she “started dating” 4 months after the divorce. We are shocked and disgusted by Sue’s behavior, and given this information are now seriously doubting many of the things she told us about Dan (who is by all accounts except Sue’s a great guy). We both feel awful about how we treated Dan. We made many passive-aggressive and even outright rude comments to him. Looking back, I’m amazed that Dan had the self-control not to blurt out the truth to us! I want to apologize to him, perhaps by sending a letter (we know where he lives in the same town as us). My husband thinks it won’t accomplish anything other than reopening old wounds for Dan. I obviously don’t want to cause him any more pain, so I came here for advice. Should we apologize to Dan for how we treated him, or leave him be?

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—Ashamed Ex-MIL

Dear Ashamed,

I tend to agree with your husband because issuing an apology is more about how it would make you feel instead of him. I know I’m running the risk of sounding like a complete hippie by saying this, but you can send a quiet vibration to the universe that you’re sorry for any pain that you’ve caused him and know that he will feel it in due time.

However, in the event that you organically happen to cross paths with Dan in person, I wouldn’t fault you for succumbing to the urge to apologize for your behavior. In that case, you don’t have to get into why you’re saying sorry—but instead say, “I know that I wasn’t very pleasant to be around, but I’m sorry for how I treated you, and I hope you’re doing well.” I just think sending a letter or forcing an apology by some other means may not be the best move.

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You didn’t ask me about this, but the much larger issue here is about your daughter’s behavior. I think you have every right to confront her about her deceitfulness and how this incident will impact your relationship going forward. How you choose to deal with that is up to you, but I absolutely wouldn’t let it go without a discussion.

Hopefully Dan is in a much better place now, and if so, there’s no better revenge than a life well-lived.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Should I hide my sex toys? My partner and I have a very active and happy sex life (humblebrag, I know). We don’t have a huge collection of toys, but we do have some, and predictably they live in my bedside table. I definitely remember looking through my parents’ nightstands a bunch of times when I was a kid, and I assume this has/will happen with mine. We’re comfortable talking about sex with our kids in a sex positive way, but have not broached sex toys. My younger kid is 7, and every time we have a conversation with her about sex she immediately mentions it to everyone we meet. I’m honestly fine with that when it’s the basics of biology/sex/pleasure, but would prefer she not go around telling her teachers, doctors, and kids in the playground that we use sex toys. So should I hide the sex toys? Or just assume the kids will find them, and either they’ll ask me about them or not?

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—Flustered In Philadelphia

Dear Flustered,

I definitely give you props for engaging your children in healthy talks about sex. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t own any sex toys—but if I did, I sure wouldn’t want my kids to locate them. However, since you and your husband seem to be very open and free regarding your sex life, perhaps there is a scenario where you feel like letting things be, and then if your kids stumble upon your toys, you answer their questions in an age-appropriate way.

That said, your daughter’s lack of filter about your life at home might be a reason to err on the side of being private about your personal life. Remember, too, that being honest with one’s children, and being open about sex, intimacy, and what it can bring to a relationship, doesn’t mean you need to open your bedroom door to your kids. You and your husband are entitled to your privacy.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 13-year-old daughter recently approached me to say that her uncle (my husband’s brother) made her feel really uncomfortable due to the way he looked at her while she was swimming at our lake house during Fourth of July weekend. We don’t see him very often since he lives a few states over, but I’ve never felt a creepy vibe from him. But my daughter isn’t the type of kid to make up wild stories to get attention, so if she feels this way, there’s probably something to it. Here’s the problem. We’re supposed to stay at his house during Labor Day weekend, but my daughter is adamant about not wanting to be around him. My husband thinks it’s ridiculous because his brother is a “highly successful married man” who would never be a creep. Also, he believes my daughter is overreacting. I don’t know how to handle this. Help!

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—Is He a Creepy Uncle?

Dear Creepy Uncle,

I believe our intuition serves as our internal alarm system, and if your daughter is feeling uncomfortable around her uncle, it probably means that alarm is blaring. It can be tricky because there’s no “smoking gun” or indisputable evidence that he’s behaving in a creepy manner, so it really comes down to how much you trust your daughter.

Also, your husband’s logic about why his brother is not a creep is comically absurd. So, successful married men can’t be sexual predators? What planet does your husband live on? I could rattle off the names of at least fifteen “successful married men” who preyed on children without even blinking.

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With feelings as serious as this, I always believe you should take the child’s word seriously. Are there kids out there who make false accusations against adults? Of course there are, but I think those instances are the exception and not the rule. You said she doesn’t fabricate stories, and if her intuition told her that something wasn’t right, then you should do whatever it takes to make her feel safe.

It’s obvious to me that your family should not go to this man’s house on Labor Day weekend, but what’s troubling to me is how your husband is invalidating your daughter’s feelings. It can be extremely damaging when parents don’t have their kids’ backs, and you need to firmly remind your husband of that. My brother is my best friend, but if my daughters said he was glaring at them in a way that made them uncomfortable, I would instantly confront him about it. That’s because as parents, our primary role is to protect our children from harm — even if that means having uncomfortable conversations with people we love. Your husband should take the same approach with his brother instead of making excuses for him.

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Use this as an opportunity to empower your daughter to set boundaries and to show her that you’re on her side by staying home. If she feels this strongly about her uncle, it’s definitely for a good reason.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My best friend from college takes a summer vacation to visit me in San Diego each year. Previously she would visit by herself and leave her kids at home with her husband, but for the past two years she brought her two sons with her. Overall they’re good kids, but they are absolute terrors when they’re out in public. Last year her two boys ages 7 and 5 ran down the aisles of a restaurant while screaming. My friend sat back and did nothing, and when I called her on it, she said, “That’s just what kids do. You wouldn’t get it.” I may not be a parent, but I know this isn’t normal behavior. I cannot deal with a repeat performance this year. Should I say something before they arrive or should I wait until something actually happens while she’s here? She loves eating out at restaurants, so I don’t think I can avoid that experience. Help!

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—Terrible Two Terrors

Dear Terrible Two Terrors,

I don’t understand people like your friend. I’ve never piloted a commercial airplane before, but if I was a passenger on one, and the plane took a nose dive at 30,000 feet, I would know without question that something wasn’t right. I would also not be OK with the pilot telling me, “This is what airplanes do. You wouldn’t get it.”

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As I always say around here, the direct approach is the best approach—especially since we’re talking about one of your best friends. If you can’t keep it real with her, then who can you keep it real with? I think you need to be proactive and tell her, “I know we’re probably going to eat at a restaurant while you’re here, but I don’t feel comfortable with your kids running up and down the aisles. I know it doesn’t bother you, but I can tell it annoys the other patrons and it makes me really uneasy in the process.” She may try to pull rank on you since you’re not a parent, or gaslight you into believing the incident isn’t a big deal, but that’s when you can use one of my favorite lines: “I was there last year, and my feelings about it are not up for debate.”

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From here, she could get offended—but you can diffuse it by reminding her that you love her and the kids, but that everyone should be mindful of how their behavior impacts others. Also, one compromise you could make is to go to a fast food spot, where running up and down the aisles is more common.

Just remember that you’re not wrong for feeling this way. Many parents wouldn’t stand for that kind of behavior.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I’m a single mom of an amazing 6-year-old boy. I asked my best friend if she would be his guardian if anything happened to me, and she said no. She’s always said she didn’t want children, but she’s so great with my son that it really shocked me when she turned me down. What should I do?

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