Should a gay dad’s former wife still attend family events?

Q:

I’m a gay father of a six-year-old son. I came out four years ago, and his mother and I remain best friends. My parents wish to keep my ex-wife involved in family gatherings, even when my partner is there. I am caught in the middle, trying to ensure my partner is okay with my ex-wife being there, and making sure that my ex-wife doesn’t feel excluded from my family for my son’s sake. I’m generally okay with both of them being included, but I don’t know if it should continue forever. Should we lessen the occasions to ease confusion with others?

A:

Ease confusion for whom? Your son? Your parents? Your wife?

It sounds to me like the person who is most concerned about any confusion is you — torn between your partner and “best friend.” You make no mention of how your son reacts in these situations, and really, that is the person whose feelings must be top priority in making this decision.

If your parents are including your former wife because she is the mother of their grandchild and they still consider her part of the family, that’s great. Grandchildren everywhere should be so lucky to have grandparents who don’t expect kids to choose loyalties after a divorce. However, if your parents include her as a cover-up or to maintain their denial, then it needs to stop. Do your parents recognize your partner at these gatherings as your “partner”? If not, and they are in denial, making sure your former wife is present is a reminder of your “heterosexual” past that they pretend hasn’t changed — and they are trying to convince themselves that your partner is “just a friend.”

Sound extreme? Do not underestimate family denial.

What is the general tone at these gatherings? If these are fake nicey-nice events that everyone attends out of obligation “for his sake,” you are not doing your child any favors. He is seeing right through the facade and internalizing the tension and resentment.

However, if everyone is genuinely enjoying themselves, let your son enjoy being part of a post-divorce family that actually gets along. You can relax about being a peacekeeper and let all the grown-ups extend and accept invitations as they wish.

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More about dealing with extended family in LGBT families is included in “Family-Defining Moments,” a chapter in Abigail Garner’s book, Families Like Mine.

2 thoughts on “Should a gay dad’s former wife still attend family events?”

  1. I am the “former wife” of a gay man who continues to have a relationship with his family — and yes, all three of us (he, his partner and myself) are invited to family events. Together we have three children and we have tried hard to maintain a true friendship; not just being friendly to each other. His parents and I have maintained a good relationship over the years and I am grateful that we can continue to be a family — when they are in town all are invited to be apart of the family, in every sense of the word. The last time his parents were in town, they came to my house and their son had to come there to see them (okay, it was too funny!)

    I believe the extended family has followed our lead: we have had to show them what we are comfortable with. I invite both my ex and his partner to family holidays, birthdays, children’s events, etc. and as a result they are aware that we have made the children and their relationship with both parents a top priority. I guess I am fortunate that his partner feels very comfortable with me, we get along well, and we make it a point to focus our best efforts toward the children.

    No one can change the outcome of these marriages; however, we can change the future for our children. Our divorce was an ordeal — it would take a lot to top the past 10 years, however it has never escaped either of us that we have a responsibility to three children who did not ask for this situation in their lives.

    If the adults have a problem with the relationship then the children will have a problem as well. They are taught through modeling behaviors — all behaviors not just toddler ones.

    I am still their mother — my children should not have to feel guilty because I am home alone on their birthday so they can spend it with their dad. They should never have worry that they are having fun or making memories and you are being left out by the other adults in their life. If you choose not to participate that is appropriate, but we should not be putting children in a position where they have to choose who they get to have at their “family gatherings”.

  2. I think that it is probably a case of the grandparents keeping her involved for the child’s sake. I have been divorced from my husband of 10 years for 1 yr now and we are the best of friends. I live with my girlfriend and my 3 young daughters live with us. The fact that my husband knew her and what kind of person she was has made it easier for us to agree on custody and to maintain our friendship so that our children did not have to choosee. He joined us at my family’s house for thanksgiving and christmas and everyone got along great. It is always best for a child to have both parents in their lives as much as possible even when they divorce. Divorce does not always have to be a battle if you truly put the child’s best interest first.

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