I have been divorced for five years. We had one daughter together, she is now 12 years old. My husband has remarried but I have not met anyone special yet. My husband’s wife has two kids of her own, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from crossing boundaries with my daughter (“Zoe”). Sometimes I feel as if she is trying to replace me.
For example, my daughter attended her first bat mitzvah a few months ago, and before I even had a chance to discuss her dress, stepmom went out and bought her one. And it was very expensive – something I could not justify spending that much on with my budget, especially now.
I say “especially now” because I have just been diagnosed with Stage 3A breast cancer. While my pathology report is promising and my doctor is optimistic about my chances of recovery, I have begun making plans just in case I do not survive. My mother and grandmother both passed away from breast cancer before the age of 60 (I am 46).
I live in Washington. What is your opinion on whether I can prevent my husband’s wife from adopting my daughter after my death? I have read your blog and I know you won’t give me legal advice but I am curious if you have any idea if this has been done before.
Sign me, Worried
I received your email late last night and we talked on the phone early this morning. First, let me say I am so sorry about your diagnosis.
Obviously I am not a doctor so I can’t really speculate on your diagnosis, but I am encouraged that your doctor is optimistic about your chances for recovery.
I could give you a big rah rah speech right now about how you are a strong woman and can fight this shit, that you will beat cancer and live to watch your daughter grow into a young woman and that many people have become cancer-free after a diagnosis as bad or worse than yours.
I’m not going to, as you already have plenty of friends and family doing just that. Being superfluous is not my thing.
As so often happens in this blog, I am asked a question that demands an answer to a question that wasn’t asked. Confused? So am I.
Your question was: can you prevent your child’s adoption in Washington after your death? My answer is: I don’t know. I could find out, but I’m not going to – I will leave it to you to hire a lawyer and figure this one out if you still want the answer by the time you are done reading this.
Common sense tells me no: that your parental rights probably end when rigor mortis sets in, but “common sense” and “family law” are not exactly related so your guess is as good as mine.
I’m not going to look it up because I urge you to reconsider your philosophy on this matter and put your own feelings aside to play the long game. Unfortunately for you, your long game may be shorter than you had planned. But your daughter (assuming she is healthy and not overly-clumsy or prone to getting into cars with strangers) has a long game and as her mom, it is your job to help her navigate it – even after you are gone.
First let’s explore your feelings and then I’ll tell you why they don’t matter. Ready?
1. You have long held a resentment towards this woman because you feel she tends to overreach as a stepparent.
2. Now that you are facing a medical crisis, this resentment has compounded and festered into a fear of being forgotten and replaced once you are gone.
3. You are terrified of what you are facing in this cancer battle. You told me you have a terrible fear of medical procedures and even just having blood drawn, so besides the existential worry you are dealing with you are also just plain scared of how much it’s all going to hurt.
I hear ya, sister. I get weak in the knees at the thought of anything being poked into me unless it’s my husband.
This is all very tough stuff, and I hope you take your doctor’s advice and seek some support through a cancer group or therapist. You need some professional help to guide you from the place where you are (obsessing over the possible adoption when you die) to where you need to be: optimistic, positive and in your toughest fighting stance. The very fact you wrote me this question makes me feel like you’ve already given up.
I understand how hard it can be to share your child with another woman. There are mornings when I drop my son off at school knowing I won’t see him again for a few days, and I cry. Even after all these years, I still cry sometimes when I have to let him go, usually every 4 or 5 weeks. Huh.
So I get it, but Worried, I’m alive! And so are you (for now, anyway) so stop thinking about the worst that could happen and how you can get even with this woman for things she has done over the years to annoy you by thwarting an adoption. Revenge is nice, but you have to be around to enjoy it, dummy.
When I wrote earlier that your feelings don’t matter, I was being a bit provocative. It’s a new look I’m trying on; I hope you like it.
What I want you to understand is that even if it irks you, it is in your daughter’s best interests (and therefore, yours) that she have loving people around her, supporting and caring for her in her adolescence and beyond, especially if something happens to you.
When we spoke you told me about several things that had happened over the years that made you uncomfortable, and while I can see your perspective on these situations, I also noticed a very definite pattern: your daughter’s stepmom tends to get overly-involved when it comes to things like clothing, hair, and other girly-type matters.
Then you told me her two children are boys. Well, duh. You need to relax a little bit. I hear stress causes cancer.
(The only reason I went there is because I need some new hate mail. Cancer jokes seem to do the trick.)
Worried, you need to get your game face on so you can kick cancer’s ass. That way you won’t have to worry about this woman adopting your daughter and your problem is solved. But if you die, wouldn’t you prefer that she be embraced by another mom as her own, even if that woman annoys you?
Do your best to be strong, spend as much quality time with your daughter as you can, and know this: if you die, you will not be forgotten.
You will always be the mom who gave birth to her daughter at home in bed (she was in such a damn hurry!), who nursed her when she was sick with the bird flu a few years ago, who threw her phone off the deck when you discovered some racy texts last summer, and who held her in your arms as you both cried over your cancer diagnosis.
Nothing can change that. Not even your death.
If your time left on earth is indeed short, you should be spending it making new memories for your daughter to treasure and getting your personal affairs in order to ensure your estate passes to her with as little hassle and taxes as possible.
Please, PLEASE keep in touch with me and tell me how you and your daughter are doing.