Dear Carolyn: I very recently had a baby with my boyfriend of several years. We were both married when we met, but after developing feelings for each other we divorced our spouses and committed to each other. Neither marriage was fulfilling, but I’m on very good terms with my ex as we co-parent our children as a united team.
My boyfriend’s ex-wife, however, has continued a pattern of manipulative and controlling behavior. For example, she told my boyfriend that the pastor at their church expects him to apologize to the church leaders for having divorced his wife. When my boyfriend sought to clarify this with the pastor, the pastor was stunned and assured him she never had a conversation like that with the ex-wife.
His 16-year-old, “Sam,” also refuses to meet the baby without his mother present. And JUST his mother present. My boyfriend is desperate to reconnect with his son (whose estrangement is enabled by the ex) and thinks meeting the baby will soften his son’s heart. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the conditions. For context: I’ve learned his ex-wife has on multiple occasions made fun of the name we chose for our daughter. She also demanded to know all sorts of intimate details about me, such as my plans for breastfeeding.
His ex-wife has been pushing hard to meet the baby. My boyfriend says she and Sam are a package deal. But my mama instincts are screaming that my baby is not safe around this woman. She recently made it clear she expects to meet the baby soon, whether Sam does or not.
I am obviously sleep-deprived and hormones are crashing, but am I being unreasonable? I know she will someday meet her, but I don’t see why it’s necessary for her to have this experience with my newborn.
— Mama Bear
Mama Bear: There isn’t enough hell for this no. Oh my goodness.
I wouldn’t agree to discuss agreeing to that plan. No way. The only discussion on the pull-down menu right now is the one with your husband about why he’s willing to even consider giving in to this demand — which is technically his son’s but to some degree also his ex’s, since she could have easily told Sam (hell) no.
Wrenching and terrible as it is, your boyfriend’s estrangement from Sam still can’t make, “Here, take our baby,” sound sane. You don’t trade one child for another in a hostage situation. Not even if it would work, which it won’t; your husband’s journey with Sam is more akin to bomb disposal, requiring years of steady, patient good faith.
(It’s also wise policy not to create hostage situations in the first place, no matter how mad the divorce makes you — which, if his ex ever writes to me about this, I will be sure to include in my answer.)
Do I really think the ex would hurt your baby? I don’t know … it seems far-fetched. But her insistence plus the utterly whacked leave-us-alone-with-your-baby suggestion equal something so unhinged that the possibility must be taken seriously — along with your discomfort and screaming maternal instincts. Overruling those just to appease your clearly befogged co-parent is a bad habit to get into right as you’re starting this journey.
The best reason to say no, though, is right on the surface and much less dramatic: His ex is demanding something she has zero standing even to ask. Her demand could be for a bite of your cookie and the answer would have to be no, just to keep the lines of rational authority clear.
There is clearly a lot of pain in your family’s origin story. To your ex’s credit in particular, you and he have managed it productively.
Your boyfriend and his ex haven’t, for whatever reasons — and the pain left unresolved is a threat to both families he helped create. If you haven’t gotten counseling already, then start looking for a therapist who works with families, even if it means multiple calls and time on a provider’s waiting list. Saying “no” to the ex, besides being imperative, is an extinguishing of exactly one brush fire. Please prepare now for the rest.
Dear Carolyn: My cousin, “Lauren,” is a beautiful, highly intelligent, sophisticated, professional woman in her 30s who is called “Lala” — a childhood nickname — by everyone, including all our family members. She also uses it on social media.
It’s cringeworthy, seems like an insult, and sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, so I call her nothing, which is awkward, to say the least. If I call her Lauren, the judgment by my family will commence, if not to my face, definitely behind my back.
So, tell Lauren how I feel? Ask her whether I can call her Lauren? Keep calling her nothing? Accept there is no good reason not to call her Lala?
Anonymous: That’s it — the last one.
She is Lala. Getting all superior will neither change that nor draw you closer to her.
More from Carolyn Hax
From the archive:
Delete a friend’s confession about having an affair
A husband’s put off by his wife’s procrastination
A widower’s request to his child is a lot to unpack
Saying ‘I do’ for all the wrong reasons
Mother-in-law wants you to apologize for something your husband did. Heck no!
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