Q: My son and his wife of 10 years divorced two years ago. His ex-wife had three sons from a previous relationship, now well into adulthood and going to college. When they were married we considered her sons to be our grandsons. We celebrated Christmas and birthdays together and have always offered them the same presents as our biological grandchildren. On a regular basis, I send them presents, even checks for tuition, but I haven’t heard from any of them in over a year. They cash the checks, but no thank you, no phone calls, nothing. It’s hurtful because we were quite sincere in our affection for them. Do we continue to treat them as grandchildren? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Up to now, exactly what you have done. It sounds as if you had a genuine affection for these kids, treated them as your own, and are trying to continue to do that even though your son is no longer married to their mother. Can’t ask for anything more, but there’s a caveat. Relationships are a two-way street.
I say this taking into consideration that the “children” of whom you speak are adults. If they were children and living in their parents’ home, the parent who is divorced from your relative might be interceding. Although a parent is well within their right to terminate any relationship they think is not good for their child, let’s hope it would not be done out of revenge or spite. (Ex-etiquette rules No. 5 and No. 6, “Don’t be spiteful and don’t hold grudges.”) That sets a very poor example for a child.
Sometimes terminating a relationship with a child is done because it’s just too painful for the parent to continue seeing someone who is related to the ex. Understandable, but that is not putting the child first. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1). Bonus grandparents may be the only grandparents a child has. A child could very easily question their self-worth if they assumed the only reason grandma cared was because mom and stepdad were married. No contact after divorce equals “She didn’t really love me anyway.”
In your case, these “kids” are adults. They are not 10-year-olds you must prompt to say “thank you.” They have ideally been taught that when you receive a present you thank the person who gave it to you. Thank-you letters are somewhat passe, but thank you emails are certainly in order — even a quick phone call to say, “Hello. How are you?” and “Thank you.”
The red flag here is all three are not responding. That implies there has been a conversation between them and a decision has been made — and they should not be cashing your checks if they have no intent to continue a relationship with you. Very tacky. Good ex-etiquette rule No. 8 is, “Be honest and straightforward.” That is their responsibility, too.
Try initiating contact one more time with positive intent. If you are met with resistance or no response, you have your answer. As sad as this situation is, there’s no rule of good ex-etiquette that requires you to maintain a relationship when the effort is not reciprocated.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.