DEAR CAROLYN: After 36 years and four sons together, my ex sent an email to my work informing me he had filed for divorce, totally blindsiding me. He had always been a totally involved father and very close to all our boys, but in a very short period of time became and did everything he had always taught them was wrong. The divorce was not easy because he, in essence, threw me under every bus he could find. All four sons turned their backs on him and stood by me. It has now been over a decade, but none of them is willing to have any kind of relationship with him. In spite of how he ended things, he was a very good father, and I worry how it will affect them if they never make any peace with him. They were all adults at the time of the divorce, and definitely not my little boys, but I am afraid there might be major consequences if they don't at least try to reconnect on some level. I need some suggestions on how to go about this.
Mom of Four Men
MOM OF FOUR MEN: Severing a relationship is one way of making peace.
It's not a way anyone hopes for, plans for, raises children for, but it can bring peace nonetheless.
So please don't assume there are "major consequences" awaiting any of your sons. The falling-out itself may have been the (significant) consequence in its entirety.
There's also the problem of, let's call it "emotional jurisdiction." Let's assume you're right that all four of them are in for a hard reckoning due to their decisions to cut ties with their dad. That still doesn't mean it's your reckoning to prevent.
They are grown men, as you acknowledge, and were at the time they "turned their backs." You may be their mother always, but your job has long since been to support them in the lives they choose to lead, not fix those lives for them. Your proactive days are long behind you.
One thing you can do, always, which might be helpful here, is to let them know how you feel and leave it to them to respond as they see fit. In this case, that would mean telling them that you understand they're grown men and can manage their own relationships with their father, but that it's been on your mind lately that you don't want them holding on to any resentments on your account.
Make it clear to them that you: understand people are complicated; can be both dismayed at how he left and still grateful for what a good father he was before that; upon reflection, hope his good contributions aren't lost to time and justified anger; and give, if it needs giving, your blessing for them to have whatever relationship — or non-relationship — with their father they want.
No doubt it was healing at the time that all your children "stood by me." No doubt they needed that as much as you did, to find a sense of purpose to ground them during such a disorienting change, even as adults. Saying that to them out loud, and thanking them, would be a fitting end bracket to this period — and a start to your seeing their choices hereafter as standing up for themselves.