DEAR AMY: My husband and I separated a while back because he had an affair and left me for another woman. He hasn't seen or spoken to our sons in over a month. What should I do? Must I contact him and beg him to speak to his kids? I don't want to do that. It shouldn't have to be up to me to reach out. I feel that if he cared he would contact his children. I don't understand how a father could be that way to his own kids. What advice do you have for me?
DEAR SADDENED: I have been through this, both as a child with a father who left, and then again as a parent, with a spouse who left.
I watched my own mother behave with dignity, maturity and good humor — never bad-mouthing, and always supporting and supportive of her children. In my own adulthood, I tried to do the same. It's hard.
I'll pass along my advice from the trenches: Get great, compassionate, and family-centered legal advice. And always put your children first, even if that means surrendering a little of your own well-earned and righteous anger.
I can well imagine how disgusted you feel about your husband's behavior. He cheated on you (and the kids), and then he dumped the lot of you.
Surely you shouldn't have to bear this indignity, and then clean up after him!
And yet — you should. Because that's what good parents do. Your sons already have one crappy parent; you get to be the good one.
I'm assuming that your children either wholeheartedly want to have contact with their father, or are at the very least conflicted about him. You should encourage them to talk about how they feel, without fear that they might trigger an angry reaction from you, or feel that they, too, are betraying you.
You and your children deserve better, and yet this is what you got. They've had no part in their father's betrayal, but they are paying the price.
Yes, you should do what you can to pave the way toward contact. I'm not suggesting that you beg, but that you make sure their father understands that the kids miss him and would like to have contact with him.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I have a 50-year-old son who is married with three beautiful children. We all live in the same town. Four years ago, when I had breast cancer, my daughter-in-law became angry and would not let us see the children. We have tried everything we can think of to work this out: Letters, phone calls, and offers to seek professional help. They continue to want to blame us, but neglect to tell us what the problem is! They have verbally (and by text) said the nastiest things to us. Do you have any suggestions? Our relationship with our son was fine until this started.
DEAR SAD: Given that your narrative contains not a hint of any possible role you might have played in this estrangement, I'm going to assume that your unwillingness to even entertain the possibility of any responsibility might be part of the problem.
I am not urging you to blame yourself for the despicable behavior of others, but if you could search the history of your relationship with an open mind, you might have seen hints of trouble, and ways your actions — and reactions — might have contributed to the estrangement.
Obviously, you want to have contact with your grandchildren, but the way to them is through their parents, who want nothing to do with you.
Don't continue to contact them, until you have something new to offer. They see your efforts as pestering and pressure and easy to dismiss.
Definitely take yourselves up on your idea to pursue counseling. Understand that you cannot change the other adults. Work on your own behavior and actions, and explore ways you can come to terms with this very painful situation.
DEAR AMY: I was touched by the question from "Estranged Son," who wondered about attending his abusive parents' funerals. This line in your answer made me tear up: "But my own experience with family dysfunction, loss and grief was more like a spiral: As you make your orbit through life, you pass the same points over and over again, even as you create more distance from the events and people that caused you pain. Each orbit brings you more useful perspective."
DEAR TOUCHED: Thank you. Me too.