Q: I have been divorced for 17 years. His mother was the driving force behind our divorce. She hurt me in so many ways, it’s hard to list.
A problem recently came up with my son, who is 25 and has made some terrible choices. My former in-laws normally dote on our son, but they have now turned their backs on him. Because of this, and all that my former mother-in-law has done to me, I have written her a letter. I poured out all the hurt that I have carried over the years — but now, I am actually afraid to send the letter. She will share it with her children, maybe even my children. My daughter and I are also very close and my former mother-in-law would like nothing more than to alienate her from me. I do not want my daughter to know about the letter. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Oh, my. You have so much blame, anger, and revenge pent up in that body of yours, I don’t see how you can move a muscle.
Of course, we all get it — you’ve carried this pain for years and now the person who has hurt you is trying to hurt your son. You’re thinking, “Enough is enough, and I’m finally going to put her in her place.”
But before you have any sort of confrontation, whether it’s in a letter or in person, you must ask yourself what’s your ultimate goal and what is the most productive way to achieve that goal? You’ve chosen to write a letter. That’s a great way to get all that frustration out — but leave it on the page and then throw it away. Why? Will it help your son if you mail it? Will it improve your relationship with any of the players you’ve mentioned? Will it bring you satisfaction in any way? Maybe while you were writing, you felt that adrenaline pumping, but you can see that satisfaction wanes. You’re second-guessing your actions, you’re second-guessing your former mother-in-law — all because what is at the core of your behavior is hurt and revenge.
I actually developed the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette for situations just like this. They were designed to help people deal with feeling out of control, angry and vengeful when dealing with an ex. When you feel like that, it’s difficult to make good choices for your children. There’s a specific reason why I included, “Don’t hold grudges” and “Don’t be spiteful” as rules No. 5 and 6. Grudges eat you alive. They fester from the inside out. They make you feel and think thoughts that are unproductive and keep you stuck in the past. Holding grudges and spiteful actions will not allow you to put your children first (Ex-etiquette for Parents, rule No. 1) or allow you to negotiate in good faith in the best interest of your children.
Ironically, your children are all adults, yet you continue to carry this grudge. It’s time (actually it’s way overdue) to get some counseling with the goal of working on forgiveness and exploring ways to feel less like a victim. That’s good ex-etiquette.