Q. A few months ago my adult step-daughter was living in our home temporarily between jobs and while my husband and I were on vacation, she asked some very pointed questions about exactly when we would return home. I thought she may have planned to have a young man in our home while we were away. About the third day of our vacation, we returned home unannounced for a funeral and upon walking in, found her mother (the ex-wife) hiding in the guest closet trying desperately to call the daughter and ask what she should do. My husband was furious, threw them both out, and we returned to our vacation spot.
Here is my problem: Neither the daughter or the ex-wife have shown any remorse, nor have they apologized. Their lives just seem to go on as usual with their heads held high. My husband and I are disappointed, hurt, angry, and feel violated. We cannot not seem to get over it. Do you have any recommendations that would help us? Should we go to counseling?
A. The reason you are having trouble getting over it is because you feel wronged and they have not acknowledged their part in all this. You and your husband are probably stuck in the “I can’t believe it” phase–rehashing it over and over again to get some sense of why anyone would be so insane as to break into their ex’s home. Truth is, your story is not that uncommon. It happens more than you think–and the reason is usually because the ex is snooping about something financial. Or, it could be that the house used to be theirs and their boundaries are blurred. They don’t see it as your home–they see it as their old home and since their kids still live there, it sort of belongs to them as well. With that in mind, I’ve heard stories of moms who come in looking for toys left behind and get carried away…some steal food. One reader caught the ex red-handed in the closet with steaks from the freezer! My favorite was when the new wife realized that the ex-wife stole pictures off her wall and rehung them in her own living room.
Do you need counseling? I would never advise against counseling, but it sounds to me like your feelings are perfectly natural. Of course, you feel violated. Someone was prowling around in your home uninvited. The fact that you know who it is doesn’t really take away the sting. But, you do have to get over it, and if you feel discussing it with a therapist will help that process, then that is a great decision. BUT, the ones who really need counseling are the ex and the daughter. They are obviously in cahoots about something and have an agenda only known to them.
If it is important to know why this happened, I suggest you call a meeting in a public place and sit down over coffee, look them straight in the eye, and ask them about their motives. (Ex-Etiquette for parents rule #8, “Be honest and straightforward.”) Don’t attack them (Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule #3, “No badmouthing” if you want to find out their thoughts, just discuss what they thought they were doing in your home and then make your boundaries very clear. Explain the exact behavior you expect in the future. Period.
And, then change the locks…
There’s a fine line we walk when you want to stay cordial after divorce. They obviously crossed it.
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. She is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.