Question 

My first husband and I divorced many years ago while our children were still in the home. He left our family to be with another woman. Our children did their best to maintain a relationship with him through the years, however painful and frustrating it was to them at times, until his death in the past year. I have been married to a really good man for 17 years who has been a father figure throughout their lives. He was always present at their games when their father wasn’t, provided for them, and has been a grandfather to their children.

My children are now grown and good people, but most of them make no effort to recognize my husband on Father’s Day and his birthday, which comes soon after. It hurts me and makes me angry. I have asked them about it and until this year reminded them about both days. One son said he doesn’t like me putting pressure on him to send a card. Others have said they just don’t send cards. A couple will send a Facebook message, others may call, and others say they just can’t keep up with birthdays.

I keep up with everyone’s birthdays and spouses’ birthdays with cards and gifts as well as, right now, over 20 grandchildren’s birthdays, plus Christmas presents and treats for other holidays. Am I asking too much for them to remember their stepfather twice a year? In my worst moments, I want to threaten to not send a gift to the spouses of those children who forget my husband. But we are a family who usually gets along beautifully. I just don’t understand why they won’t do this.

This year I didn’t mention Father’s Day and only one sent a card and gift, one sent a Facebook message, and one said Happy Father’s Day on Skype. Am I being unreasonable? My husband doesn’t mention being ignored, so should it bother me? Why are my otherwise good, kind children so inconsiderate? Is there anything I can do? They know how I feel and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Answer 

I agree that your husband is a good man. Any man who can step in and become involved in the lives of wounded and betrayed children has a huge and unselfish heart. You can see how much he’s done for your children, especially in contrast to their own father who left them with a fragmented family. I can see how much it must hurt you to see them fail to recognize him on his special days.

What’s important to remember, however, is that the same selfless character traits that have driven your husband to be there for his stepchildren without thought of reward are the same character traits that allow him to continue to be there for them without any recognition. Even though he may notice and be bothered by their lack of thoughtfulness on Father’s Day or his birthday, he has the grace and dignity to not make a huge deal about it. This speaks volumes about his character.

I can imagine how much it hurts you to see your own children be so indifferent toward the man who was hardly indifferent to their plight when their own father abandoned them. You hold the history in your heart and you can see how much they needed their stepfather, even when they couldn’t.

You’ve said your piece to your children and they know how you feel. I encourage you to let your children grow up and gain perspective as they raise their own families. It takes time for all us to understand exactly what our parents do for us.

I think this is a great opportunity for you to take all of these feelings of gratitude and love for him and make his special days true celebrations of his life. He’ll probably play down the attention, but you can let him know (and anyone else who happens to be there) how important he is to you and your family. You don’t need your children to be in charge of this. You can celebrate him with all of your love and gratitude.

My guess is that they will eventually see what he’s done for you and them. In the meantime, continue showing him and them what he means to this family. Your energy and frustration toward your children doesn’t have to contaminate his special days. He doesn’t fret about it, and neither should you. There is plenty for you to celebrate on your own.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT