Fast-forward 25 years and the grown children with teenage kids of their own are asking why we separated. I always believed that was their mother’s story to tell. As the years go by, my kids all watch their spouses’ parents’ relationships mature with all of the usual conflicts, baggage, joy and sharing that goes with getting old together, and their questions to me get more pointed. As we gather to discuss end-of-life issues like inheritance, possessions and real estate, the drumbeat gets stronger. Any guidance would be appreciated.
Anonymous: I agree that was their mother’s story to tell.
I also think 25 years of this courtesy to their mother (take a bow) satisfies your obligation to give her room to tell them herself. Plus, it's not an exotic thing to have gone wrong, and it's not necessary to provide “a series of men”-type detail, and it's not information you're dropping without emotional context for them, and it's not a young and impressionable audience receiving this information at a developmentally critical time.
So if you would like to say, finally, “Your mother was unfaithful to me,” then you'll have no beef here. If their mother is still in their lives, then give her a heads-up first.
You could also say, too cutely but within the bounds of a vow of silence, “I decided 25 years ago this was your mother's story to tell, because our separation arose from some choices she made. Please respect my choice not to share.” Because dropping 2 + 2 on the table is not sharing, and getting to 4 is up to them.
Dear Carolyn: I’m a 40-something single woman about to realize my dream — building my own small farmstead. I plan to throw a “barn-warming” party/open house in a few months for all my family and friends — both local and not-so-close.
Several friends (and family members) are RSVP'ing their regrets, which is fine. People are busy, I get it. What makes me upset (and angry? and jealous?) is the reason: that an open house isn't a “life event” worth traveling for. These are people whose graduations, weddings, showers, you-name-it I attended. I bought plane tickets and booked hotel rooms. I gave lovely gifts. I celebrated them because I wanted to be there.
I’m crushed. One friend suggested that if I told people how important this was to me, then maybe they would show up. That seems … desperate, somehow. Even my parents, who went all-out for my sibling’s weddings (yes, plural), have stated that maybe if I was getting married or something, people would be willing to show up.
Crushed: Wait — who told you they weren’t going because your event didn’t matter enough or you weren’t getting married enough?
If that's just what one friend and your parents said — if no one was actually that rude to you in responding — then maybe they're guessing wrong. This might be more pandemic than personal, for example.
That wouldn't change the fact of people not reciprocating for you, after you traveled and bought gifts and showed up to celebrate their milestones with them, of course. But at least it leaves room for a thoughtful, responsible reason instead of a socially myopic one.
Anyway. I'm sorry. I am also happy to publish this to help plant the idea in people's minds that the few generally couple-centric milestones we're accustomed to celebrating aren't the only ones worth rallying for. And that “mainstream” as a concept grows more tired and ill-fitting with each passing societal year.
But maybe there’s something else you can do. This latest covid surge suggests it’ll be more than “a few months” before it’s advisable to have a big party. That means you can postpone, and rebrand your party with the next round of invitations as a “lieu-au” — in lieu of an engagement, wedding, shower, graduation. If that pun gives you a rash, then at a minimum you can inject notice into your friend and family networks, before the re-invitations arrive, that this party represents the biggest life milestone you intend to have. Ahem. And so you really hope to share it with them.
Come to think of it, that would do nicely for a not-at-all-desperate, save-the-date-this-time-please card: “for the biggest life milestone I intend to have.” If I saw that, then I’d have a laugh that was with you, not at, and move at least a hill or two to show up.