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Question

My son and his wife are divorced. They have three children, one with special needs. My husband and I have helped with raising their children and offering financial help over the years. Our son’s ex-wife is an alcoholic and, while they have joint custody, she has physical custody. My son and his children were living in our house taking care of it while we were out of state taking care of my aging father. The ex-wife moved back into the house to supposedly help him out with the special needs child and now is saying she won’t leave. We filed an eviction notice on her, which caused her to be angry toward my son and toward us. We have been paying the utilities for the past two years and we told everyone they needed to move out and get their own place.

We are planning on going ahead and selling house, but now she says we do not care about her children and our grandchildren! She says they will now have to go to an inferior school and she needs time to find a comparable place for their special needs child. My husband and I are refusing to cancel the eviction notice. The eviction was for her, not the children as they have been living there long before she came back. Am I doing what Christ would do or am I wrong in not helping more? She says that we should have given her the money we spent on the eviction lawyer. And, she says she is not leaving without her children. I just feel really bad about my grandchildren. Are we doing the right thing?

Answer

Your grandchildren are in an unfortunate situation. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for you to watch them live with so much chaos and instability. You and your husband seem to be extending yourselves as much as possible to provide these children with as much normalcy and stability as possible. It’s so difficult to protect innocent grandchildren while not enabling their parents.

I don’t know the particulars around where your son would go once you sell the home, but, as you know, he and his wife get to be in charge of the stability and well-being of these children. Since he doesn’t have physical custody of the children, then he’ll have to work out some other arrangement with his ex-wife. Just because she has physical custody doesn’t mean she has to live with him. It also doesn’t mean that she gets to live in your home just because he’s living there. While there’s nothing you can do about where he and his children live, you can decide who gets to live in your home.

It goes without saying that your former daughter-in-law has a strong sense of entitlement. If your son can’t hold boundaries with his ex-wife, then you have to decide if you’re going to enforce the original agreement you established to provide the children with a stable environment. You get to choose whom you want in your home and how you’ll use your financial resources. The Savior, both in ancient and modern times, has strict guidelines around who can enter his Holy House. We have the same right and responsibility to protect our homes and loved ones from harmful influences.

If your son is unable to protect his children and ends up in an unsafe situation with their mother (or other adults, for that matter), then you might need to involve child protective services in your area so they can find a safe environment for these children. The fact that you have a special needs grandchild makes this all the more critical. Hopefully your son and his wife can find a suitable environment for their children. If the constant moving and disruption is hard on the children, then you can only pray that these parents can see this and create more positive conditions.

Your son has the primary obligation to co-parent with his ex-wife, even if she has a problem with alcohol. Obviously, there are laws in place to protect your children from an impaired parent, but he’s the one living in the situation and will have to discern if his children are in danger. If she keeps the alcohol in check, but continues to create chaos in the lives of her children and ex-husband, then he has the responsibility to get the proper support to navigate those dynamics.

Also, recognize that the limits you set with your former daughter-in-law can ultimately be an opportunity for her to embrace the truth about her situation. Limits and feedback give all of us a chance to evaluate ourselves when our behaviors are reflected back to us. Also, your limits can model healthy responses for your son and the children as they figure out how to interact with a family member with a potential addiction. Addictions need boundaries to heal and individuals who struggle with addictions often don’t know how to set limits for themselves. All you can do is protect your sanity and stability, so set limits where needed.

 

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.geoffsteurer.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. 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