Q. I live in the same town as my ex-husband and his younger wife. They have much more money than I do, so they take the children and grandchildren on expensive trips. The children are spending more time with them and less time with me. What can I do?
A. Don’t attempt to compete with your ex-husband with monetary gifts. Remember that just because your children and grandchildren enjoy the perks of a wealthy father, it doesn’t mean that they love you less.
Quality time is the most long-lasting gift you can give to your family. As people grow older, they often value most the times that parents and grandparents spent playing games, watching movies, and attending local sporting events with them. One of my friends has “grandma camp” each year for each grandchild. During that time, they do the child’s favorite activities for a week. The older children report that they valued this more than family vacations. Remember 8-year-olds really don’t appreciate a 10-hour plane ride to see the Eiffel Tower and to eat a hearty helping of escargot.
If your ex-husband monopolizes your family so that it becomes increasingly difficult, have a conversation with your children. Tell them that it hurts you that they seem willing to spend time with his family, but do not see you as often. They may not even be consciously aware that they are being neglectful.
Instead of concentrating so much on being a mother and grandmother, spend more time enjoying your own friends. Being a parent and a grandparent is only a part of life. Think less about their lives and more about your own. You will be much happier.
Q. My ex-husband’s new wife told my children that I have a drug problem. I have never used any recreational drugs. The only thing I take is an anti-depressant. The new wife told my children (who are 11 and 13) that Prozac was dangerous, and they should be aware of my drug problem. Now the children are withdrawing from me. What can I do?
A. You husband either married a vindictive or extremely ill-informed woman. Before you do anything, confront your ex-husband. His wife’s behavior is destructive for you, your children, and his relationship with all of you. If he loves his children, he will not want them to be pawns in a battle that his new wife has created.
Should your ex-husband’s wife actually think that Prozac is used to get high, he needs to have a serious conversation with her. Additionally, if she thinks taking an anti-depressant means that someone is mentally unstable, he should be certain that she has a conversation with her family physician so that she can receive correct information. Sadly, there are still people who have very little understanding about medications and depression.
Your children are old enough to understand medical information. Tell them you are taking a drug called Prozac that is prescribed by your doctor because you have a low level of a certain chemical in your body. Reiterate that the medication has been proven safe and effective for over 30 years. Remind them that this is nothing like marijuana or any street drug they may have heard about from their friends. It’s much like taking a daily allergy pill or using an inhaler for asthma.
It is also time to talk to your children about trust. Tell them that because you love them, you would never do anything to harm yourself or them. If your children continue to be upset, schedule an appointment for them with a mental health professional. There could be other issues caused by the divorce that are actually the problem, and the Prozac is only a red herring.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.