Sometimes dads (and moms) are very stupid. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
Q: Dear Meredith,
My dad recently took me out to dinner to tell me that after 20 years of marriage, he has decided to leave my mom next weekend -- when I am away visiting friends. He doesn't plan on telling her until after a family wedding this weekend because he doesn't want to upset the rest of the family.
I knew my parents didn't have the most perfect relationship as they come from two completely different worlds (to put it simply: she is from the city and he is from the country), but I never thought in a million years that they would get a divorce, or that my dad would tell me before my mom.
How am I supposed to go to this wedding, knowing that I am expected to put on a happy face and be in like a million happy family photos knowing what I know, and how do I act with my mom? We are very close and she will know that something is up.
Angry and Sad, Boston
A&S, I am also A&S -- on your behalf.
The good thing about being older when your parents get divorced is that you’re mature enough to get your head around what’s happening. The bad thing about being older when your parents get divorced is that they can forget you’re their kid. Sometimes, if you’re over 20, parents want you to be their pal. That can be cool, but not in this case.
Obviously, Dad was in the wrong. He told you because he wanted early validation for his decision -- and because he's afraid of losing you when he tells Mom.
Tell Dad you are not his pal. You’re his kid, and he should treat you accordingly. Tell him that from now on, you can’t be involved in his decisions as they happen. Your parents can report to you when they have news to share.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to get through the weekend with a smile. You can’t do Dad’s dirty work for him -- I’m sure there’s some subconscious part of him that hopes you’ll tell Mom so he doesn’t have to. If Mom asks you what’s up during the wedding (moms are perceptive like that), tell her you’re OK, but that you’ll talk more soon. When Mom eventually hears the news, tell her you love her and that you’ll be there for her -- but give her the same warning. You can love her as her kid, but you can’t be her best friend. Both of your parents have to find peers to lean on during this process so you don’t shoulder the burden.
Set those boundaries now -- and seek out some friends of your own to talk to. It’s going to be a rough few weeks. No matter your age, you’re still a child coping with a family split. You’re allowed to care for yourself right now.
Readers? What was Dad’s motivation to tell this reader before Mom? If you’re older when your parents get divorced, do you become too involved? Should A&S tell Mom what she knows? Share here. Submit letter to the right. Twitter, etc.
Speaking of Love
"I always pass on good advice, it is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself."
— Oscar Wilde, "An Ideal Husband"
CAN’T HELP MYSELF is Meredith’s memoir about giving advice, learning from readers, working with an ex, and moms and daughters. It’s also a story about how an online community can become another kind of family.