Q: My wife abandoned me and our three children 15 years ago. They were 8, 7 and 5 when she left. I think she was having a problem with painkillers. There were a lot of signs. I never got a divorce because I was told that she had to be present in court for the divorce to be legal.
My two oldest are graduating from college — one with a master's degree and the other with a four-year degree in communications. Out of the blue, my wife contacted me last week and said she wants to come to their graduations. The kids have all been to therapy and have not mentioned her in years, and I don't know what to do. Should I tell them? Should I let her come? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Some would tell you to tell her no — she made her bed — and others would tell you that forgiveness is the answer and welcome her back with open arms. You've speculated why mom left, but it appears there's no clear-cut answer — and that could play a role in the decision to tell or not to tell. Thank goodness your children have gone to therapy and have worked through some of the pain, but their confronting mom could bring them full circle and help them address any issues they still might have with her leaving.
Since your children are adults, my suggestion is to let them make the decision. Give them as much information as you have and let them follow up in the way they see fit. It no longer has to be your decision to make — it's between mom and your children.
However, this suggestion is only for this particular problem and for adult children. Parents who feel they must fill their younger children in on every gory detail of their other parent's mishaps may be doing their children a disservice. It could very well contribute to emotional instability and undermine their security. This is when parents tell me, "You want me to lie to my child?" Not as a general rule, but there are ways to present information that will not traumatize your kids — and before you say anything, consider your motivation for telling them in the first place. Are you saying something because it's helpful information or are you telling them because you're so angry you want to hurt your spouse? Don't use your kids as a weapon to hurt others. (Ex-etiquette for parents rules No. 1, No. 5 and No. 6: "Put the children first," "Don't be spiteful" and "Don't hold grudges.") Revenge is not that sweet when you've wounded your children in the process.
Finally, for the record, I believe you got the wrong information about your divorce. It's my understanding that after time if you continue to go to the court proceedings alone, the court will see it as an uncontested matter and eventually grant your divorce.
Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.