Thanks for that, bigred.
Unfortunately, the girls do not speak to my husband and haven't since that Christmas back in 2004. The last time he received any communication from them was in July 2006, when they sent him letters demanding that he allow their current stepfather to adopt them. The letters he received were photocopies accompanied by adoption paperwork and a hateful letter from Ex. She also sent a bunch of boxes of my husband's stuff that she had, for some reason, held onto for years. And she sent a children's book that he used to read to the girls. It was about forgiveness. Ex wrote in the letter that my husband could "learn" from this book. He sent it back to her without comment just before he was deployed to Iraq.http://www.amazon.com/Little-Soul-Sun-Childrens-Conversations/dp/1571740872/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1310574743&sr=8-1
I believe I did do the right thing in not attending that Christmas gathering, but I can understand why you and other people think I was wrong. My own mother chastised me for skipping the gathering, thinking that I should do all I could to cooperate for the sake of the kids. And my first instinct was to cooperate. My parents are still married after 53 years of marriage, so divorce and all the nasty stuff that comes of it was foreign to me when I first got married.
I finally came to the decision to skip the gathering for the following reasons:
1. We honestly could not afford the trip. In 2004, we were still recovering from the financial problems my husband and Ex had from their marriage. I was unsuccessfully looking for work. We had two dogs that would need to be boarded. At the time, we lived in the DC area and boarding was expensive; so was airfare. My husband couldn't take the time off work to drive to Memphis, so my attendance would have meant an extra plane ticket. Incidentally, that's also a big reason why we didn't go to AZ for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is also my favorite holiday, but if I had thought the ex was sincere in wanting to get to know me, I might have considered going. However, at that point, I had seen no indication that Ex wanted to do anything but cause problems.
2. I was feeling very hostile toward the Ex because of the games she kept playing with my husband regarding visitation. When the ex told my husband the kids could visit in summer 2003, he was very excited. She and her husband had business in the DC area, so they drove all the way from AZ. She told us when she'd be in town, so my husband took time off work. The big day came and went and we never heard a word from Ex. We finally tracked her down through my husband's dad, with whom she still had a relationship. When we finally got her on the phone to ask where the kids were, she claimed that none of the phone numbers we had given her worked. Then she claimed that her eldest child, a son from her first marriage that my husband had treated as his own, was very angry at us and didn't want to visit.
When the kids finally visited, she tried to dictate to us how our time would be spent. She told us they had plans for the time they would be in DC. We still managed to get the kids for two nights-- less than 48 hours. Since they were all sharing a single hotel room with Ex, her husband, and their newborn, I'm sure they relished the two nights of quiet. As far as I can tell, the kids had a good time, save for the slapping incident when the youngest found two beers in our fridge. My in-laws later told me that they talked about me a lot and their initial impressions were favorable. I'm sure that upset Ex.
3. After the visit, Ex began making noise about wanting more money and more life insurance coverage. She demanded that my husband buy another life insurance policy worth $500,000, even though he had already covered his life for that much. She wanted $1 million in life insurance and insinuated that I was going to convince my husband to stop supporting his kids. She somehow made this determination, even though my husband had never missed a child support payment and I had never interfered with "her money" (still haven't). So, for that reason, I didn't want to spend the holidays with her.
4. I realized that my in laws just wanted to have a peaceful Christmas with the grandkids. I knew that it would be awkward enough with Ex and her husband there. My presence would have made the situation much worse because I was so angry about the situation and my anger was obvious. I think I was very justified in being angry. The in laws had already had their home used as a base for other dramas perpetrated by Ex, including the Easter when Ex served my husband with divorce papers. I didn't want to give her more ammunition to create drama involving me in their home.
5. I realized my husband needed to have some time with his kids without my interference. Having met the kids once, I knew that they weren't attached to me, but they did love their dad. Ex probably told them that my absence meant I didn't like them. That wasn't true back then. At that time, I did like the kids and I realized that they just wanted a nice Christmas. But I knew if I were there, my husband would be worried about me because it would have been a very awkward situation. So I opted out so he could focus on his kids. As it turned out, Ex's husband made it virtually impossible for my husband to spend any time with his girls.
6. I realized the situation was a no-win. If I had gone to Christmas and managed to keep quiet and pleasant, it would have given Ex an excuse to plan future Christmases. If I had gone and lost my temper, it would have given Ex the excuse to keep the kids away from my husband. At that point in time, Ex still thought she had a claim to my husband's family. In the letter she sent with the kids' letters about adoption, she admitted to him that she had never wanted the divorce and was hoping to "force him to rock bottom" and get him to do what she wanted him to do. In fact, my father in law had told me that Ex confessed to still not being over my husband, even though she had remarried and was pregnant with her third husband's child.
7. The last reason has to do with Christmas 2003, which my husband and I spent with my family. I had a big fight with two of my sisters. It was one in a long string of fights I've had at Christmas with family members. I don't want to get into the details of the fight, except to say that we left early and one sister who had gotten a ride with us ended up taking a bus home. I have dealt with enough family dysfunction at Christmas time to last the rest of my life. I did not want the same kind of fighting to ruin Christmas 2004.
There are other less important reasons why I skipped Christmas. It was a very difficult decision for me to make. I didn't want to alienate my new in-laws or my husband's kids, but I felt this was the only way that Christmas gathering could happen without someone's blood being spilled.
As for the divorce agreement, I used to regret it, but I don't anymore. Because Ex drew it up herself instead of getting a lawyer to do it, she left a lot of loopholes that have ultimately worked in our favor. And I have a feeling that even if the divorce agreement had been more equitable, Ex still would have done whatever she could to destroy my husband's relationship with his daughters.
Until recently, my husband did have a relationship with his former stepson; but a couple of years ago, it became clear that the young man was just using him for money. When my husband dared to call him on some very sketchy actions he had taken, the kid got angry and refuses to speak to him anymore. He has, however, gotten in touch with his bio dad who never paid child support and was out of his life for over 15 years. My husband, on the other hand, gave the young man a car and paid him generous child support until he was 21 years old. When the older daughter turned 18, my husband tried to send her information so she could continue to get child support (he had agreed to pay until each kid was 22). The letter was returned marked "moved, left no forwarding address". The youngest turns 18 this year. We did learn through research that they moved to New Hampshire, but we don't know exactly where. She was the more alienated, though, so I don't think he's going to try to contact her.
All of this stuff makes me sad. It was never my intention to be a wicked stepmom. I am not the reason my husband's first marriage broke up. I met my husband a year after his divorce was final. I love my husband and I wanted to love his kids. But relationships are a two way street and it takes mutual cooperation for them to work.
Ultimately, I am very grateful to my husband's ex wife. She gave me a gift. My husband is wonderful. We get along beautifully and we've had almost nine years of a very good marriage. When Ex and my husband were at year nine, their marriage was in a death spiral. By contrast, I'm already planning what we're going to do for our tenth anniversary next year. I realize that had Ex not married my husband, some other woman would have and he'd probably still be married to her. He really is a peach and it's a tragedy that his daughters don't know him the way they should. I wish we could have had kids... or that he'd met me first, but he's eight years older than I am.
Anyway... that's a large part of the story. Thanks for reconsidering your position.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 07/13/2011 02:37PM by knotheadusc.