Dilemmas: My partner's children refuse to meet me

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The Independent Culture
Petra's a widow with a divorced boyfriend, whose adult children refuse to meet Petra or talk to her. His parents are now having an anniversary party and have left it up to him whether he brings Petra or not. He's unsure; she feels rejected and betrayed. What should she do?


If Petra had met the children, and they'd then refused to have anything to do with her, she'd understandably feel rejected. But she must try not to take this personally. Her boyfriend's children are simply against anyone their father seems fond of. Their mother may be emotionally blackmailing them, which is quite common. It's not the children talking when they reject her; it's most likely the ex-wife, threatening to make life hell for them if they meet her ex's new woman.

I remember my mother asking about my stepmother and half-sisters and brother in a painfully masochistic way - even though it was she who had left my father. If I said anything nice about them I would cause her terrible pain. I could never admit to loving any of them. I had to dream up negative things - one cried a lot, another never slept - to make her feel reassured. I could protect her only by lying, and pretending I hadn't been round to see them for months, and then only out of duty, when in fact I often saw them, with great pleasure, every weekend.

It's possibly easier for Petra's children. Their father has died, so he's not around to make trouble. But Petra's boyfriend's children have a far harder time. If they accept Petra, they risk losing their mother's love.

Petra shouldn't make an issue of this anniversary party. She should put her boyfriend out of his misery by refusing to go, but saying that she'd like to attend any family functions in the future. And in the meantime she should try wooing his children. "Dear Henry," (or whatever) she should write. "I know you don't want to meet me and I do understand, so I'm not coming to your grandparents' party. I do hope that one day we will be friends. In the meantime, I sincerely hope you have a lovely day, and wish you and your family all the best..." I would send the grandchildren, if there are any, presents on their birthdays; I'd send his children cards on theirs, reiterating these sentiments: "I know we haven't met, but I can't help feeling affection for you, simply because you're X's daughter. I wish you all the best in the coming year..."

Constantly tactful, affectionate bludgeoning can do no harm in the months to come, particularly if there's no trade-off required. And at the next family get-together she should at least put an appearance, however short. Otherwise, she could always write and ask one of them to lunch. If she meets the children without their father present it will be easier for both of them. And if she's rejected, she mustn't blame the children; she must remember that all children, even grown-up ones, often so long for parents to be together that they just can't bear the presence of a third party.

Petra must just be patient and wait for fate to take its course. Eventually she'll meet the children, even if by accident. They'll be forced either to make an embarrassing scene, or to shake hands. I'm certain they won't keep up this rejection, which is a matter of principle rather than anything personal, for ever.


Don't try too hard

I have twice been in this situation, the first time when I married a divorced man in 1976, the second time when, as a widow, I married a widower in 1991.

The first time I was very unhappy, and tried my hardest to make his children, aged 14-24, all girls, like me. The second time I didn't bother when I had the same sort of reception from a family of three sons, all of whom were in their twenties.

Everyone hates a drastic change. It is the situation that the offspring dislike, not you. I came to the conclusion that if I were a cross between Mother Teresa and Raquel Welch, they would still have objected to me.

If you get on well with the man's parents then go to the golden wedding party by all means, but keep a low profile and be prepared for unpleasantness from the children.

If you love him it is well worth soldiering on - it was for me. But don't let them make a doormat of you, and don't be over-anxiously obliging. They will be worse, in that case. Let them make the moves to friendship, and then meet them half-way..


Kew, Surrey

Go to the golden wedding

No wonder Petra feels betrayed. She should insist on her boyfriend taking her to the golden wedding. I was in a similar situation, but the occasion was a family wedding. I dressed up to look as nice as possible to give myself confidence. I held my head high and smiled a great deal, though I was shaking inside. When I was introduced to my boyfriend's children, they were very cool but shook my hand because they didn't want a scene. Three years - and a lot of hard work - later, we are the best of friends. I even look after the grandchild once a week.


Ripon, North Yorkshire

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My wife and I are amicably divorced, but when I took my daughter to a film last week, she told me that with friends she'd seen `The Exorcist', `Scream', `Scream Two' and `I Know What You Did Last Summer', none of which is suitable for a girl her age. She made me promise not to say anything to her mother, who I'm sure would stop her seeing the friends who are showing her these videos. If I do tell her, I'm breaking a confidence; I would rather my daughter continued to talk to me. I'm not in a position to stop her seeing these films; she can't wait to see `Nightmare on Elm Street' and `Halloween'. What should I do?

Yours sincerely, Mark