The dilemma My son and his girlfriend live in New Zealand and are returning to the UK to get married (not legally binding because of residency requirements), then returning to NZ for what I assumed would be a quiet registry office affair. Having not been invited to my son’s first marriage, I’ve been very involved in planning this ceremony. They’ve asked me to be a “witness”, do a reading, etc. I am estranged from my other two sons so didn’t attend their weddings. There’s a lot of history here but my lovely husband, relatives and friends say it isn’t my fault. I’ve now learned online that the “legal” wedding is next year in NZ and his dad, who holds grudges about our divorce, is attending but I’m not invited to the “real” one. I feel foolish for getting excited about the UK wedding. When I tackled my son he blew up. So I have three sons; between them four weddings I haven’t been invited to and a granddaughter I’ve never met. Am I some kind of monster?
Mariella replies You’ve sent me a relatively short letter about what is clearly a complicated family history and it’s difficult to make a judgment about what’s occurred today without being privy to what has gone awry in the past. What I can say is, it’s not about you. I appreciate it may be hard to get your head around all this, but that could be the lesson you need to learn. If you require reassurance that you’re central to your son’s thoughts, then consider there might not have been a UK wedding had you not been a priority for them.
Divorce always has a fallout and I do sometimes wonder why, instead of being infuriated by children’s clumsy attempts to negotiate the post-split turmoil, the adults involved couldn’t shoulder a bit more of that burden. If you want a harmonious environment where both you and your ex are included in family gatherings, perhaps the first step would be to improve your relationship with him. Obviously I don’t know who’s making civilised engagement impossible but one of you making peace moves could lead to a new dawn in your dealings. Indeed it’s hard not to suspect that many of the problems you have within the family might be solvable if you started where the discord probably also began, with the parents’ separation. As I get older I find most things are forgivable with time.
Weddings are emotionally fraught occasions at the best of times and with this one the proceedings are further complicated by the rifts between you all, the location of their new life and the demands on them to try to include a very divided family. You can’t change their plans now and you’d be battling against an unyielding force were you to try to do so. So how about you surprise them all with a totally different approach? Accept with grace the honour they’ve paid you by making you so central to the UK side of events. Then, and more importantly, resist comforting yourself with the reassurance of your new spouse and assorted friends (all of whom will no doubt have been told the story from your point of view) and try tackling the past in a spirit of reconciliation. No matter how minimal your part you certainly bear some responsibility for the way things have played out, and while it’s just a hunch, the roots of many of your current woes might be found in the still-acrimonious relationship with your ex. You can’t take the sting out of long-harboured hurts overnight but if you revolutionised your own approach, you’d find it entirely in your gift to improve familial relationships.
Of course that takes a great deal of courage, the subjugation of personal pride and desire to be a catalyst for change. If you feel capable of those key components, then I suggest you lift your gaze from the emotional quagmire and set your sights on a better future, when your three sons, your ex-husband and your current spouse can sit down and raise a glass to the end of discord. This may sound naive, but forgiveness is possibly the most important human virtue and I doubt any of us, on our deathbeds, will be celebrating the ties we’ve broken instead of the connections we’ve made.
You do have one legitimate gripe which is the manner in which you found out, but with more and more of us leading our lives virtually and publicly, you’re certainly not the first person to discover unpalatable truths online. Were the situation less emotionally charged you could afford to take issue with your son but as things stand wouldn’t you reap far greater reward by swallowing your pride and resolving to make yourself the catalyst for future harmony? We all hold the power to instigate change in our lives but too often we’re so buried in the business of living that we forget that reinvention is a perpetual possibility.
Yours is certainly an unhappy state of affairs and it barely matters who’s at fault: this needs to change. So why not be the one to set about that business, for your own sake as much as anyone else’s?