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How to cope with new family equations

How to cope with new family equations
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First Published: Fri, May 14 2010. 09 27 PM IST

Patience pays: Involve your ex-wife in helping your child adjust to your new family.
Patience pays: Involve your ex-wife in helping your child adjust to your new family.
Updated: Fri, May 14 2010. 09 27 PM IST
My first marriage broke up three years ago. I have visiting rights to my son, now 7, who lives in another city 3 hours away with his mother. My ex-wife and I are on very civil terms, as we had made a very conscious decision never to stress our son by being nasty to each other in any way. So we talk on the phone about my son’s schooling, upbringing, etc., once a week. When I visit my son, I have a meal with both of them, or we go out together. I remarried recently and my wife has accepted my son in a nice way. When he visits, there is no problem at all from her side. However, when I travel to his city to see him, my wife gets very upset. She has begun to accuse me of spending time with my ex-wife and having feelings for her, etc., which is not the case at all. Meanwhile, my ex-wife says that our son has told some of his friends that I just happen to live in another city on account of work—glossing over the fact that we do not live together. What do I do?
Patience pays: Involve your ex-wife in helping your child adjust to your new family.
It’s commendable that as parents of this child you are both behaving like mature adults. Now, you have to find a way to get your wife to see it in this perspective. First, she seems to have assumed that because you have no ill feelings towards your first wife, it means that you have “feelings” for her. You have to reassure her that you have no spousal feelings left for her. This assurance must come from you to your second wife—that you are divorced, and that does mean that you don’t want to be with each other in any way. However, equally, you need to emphasize that you are committed to helping your child grow with some sense of security, surrounded by decency between his parents, even if they are not together. I would also advise you not to share details of conversations and where you had lunch together as a family, etc., with your second wife. I am not suggesting you behave secretively, but perhaps till she understands the situation better, you don’t need to provide too many details about your visits to your son. Perhaps she and you can meet a counsellor to help you both handle this better and permanently. If your wife gets the feeling that you have an entire other family in another city, and are dividing time between her and them, then that’s not fair to her. You have to make it clear—to yourself as well as to your wife—that your emphasis is on spending time with your child and not with mother-child.
As for your son, if he is in some kind of denial and is building a fantasy about the situation, you need to find subtle ways to bring your second wife into the conversation, especially when your ex-wife or his friends are around. Mention your second wife and make casual references to your new life in front of both of them and even his friends, so that your son can be encouraged to make the divorce and your newly married status more real in his mind. You will need to do this sensitively and gradually, in different ways. Your ex-wife, too, needs to talk to him about your other life, in ways that don’t make him anxious and left out, but help him to accept the new equations and yet feel secure about your presence in his life.
My daughter, 14, wants to get her teeth straightened. I feel she looks fine. But other family members and friends keep telling us that we should get it done. I don’t believe in perfect 10s and size zero and all that. I believe in the old adage “beauty is as beauty does”, in actions and achievements speaking louder than looks. At last we went to a dentist, and she said that it may need surgical correction as she has a lower jaw that protrudes. I am absolutely set against this. After all, a dentist is doing business and will say anything. It is not a question of affordability —we can afford it. But next she will ask for a nose job or some fancy body sculpting...things meant for people going into modelling and acting. I think it’s better to spend that money and energy on achieving something. How do I convince my daughter that this is not for her? She is a bright child and will surely enter medicine or some such field.
You seem so completely convinced of your position on this matter! I have not seen your daughter, so I cannot really comment on the need for intervention, but I would first like to make one point: Most dentists, particularly pedodontists, have plenty of work, and do not really need to invent a surgery and push you into something when there is no need for it. So I would, in your place, keep an open mind, and also take a second opinion. Already, you say, your daughter and many others have been saying that it needs to be done. Can I venture to say that you are overly attached to your “convictions” and seem to be almost frightened of seeing it any other way.
Broadly, I agree that one should not function in a purely looks-driven way. And yes, the old adage “beauty is as beauty does” holds true—in an ideal world, though. However, things have changed, and the reality is that today achievements as well as presentation matter. So if your daughter is bright and achieving, but is self-conscious about a feature that can be reasonably rectified, I think you shouldn’t be so stubborn about it.
From your mail, it seems that you are equating this kind of attention to one’s face or body with an obsession with looks. It is not always so. Moreover, it’s not like she’s talking about going into a modelling or acting career, so your fear about her pushing for other such treatments, etc., seems a little unfounded.
Again, yes, one has to keep a balanced perspective with young people about how much weightage to give one’s appearance, and to what extent the treatments and therapies available should be used. However, closing off any access to any of this seems unreasonable.
Whether she enters medicine or chooses any allied or other field, she has the right to look her best and not be socially awkward because of the state of her teeth. Your insistence and emphasis on achieving, to the exclusion of everything else, is, frankly, a little draconian and unrealistic. Do go out and get an opinion from a dentist that you trust, and keep an open mind about what he or she may say needs to be done.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, May 14 2010. 09 27 PM IST