Recently, I posted an article written by author and stepmom, Wednesday Martin, entitled; Ex-Wives, What Your Child’s Stepmother Wants You to Know. Jennifer Newcomb Marine, co-author of No One’s The Bitch, wrote this, What The Divorced Mom Has to Say, in response to Martin and other stepmothers. After thoroughly reading, dissecting and digesting both of these articles and their subsequent comments, I discovered what I and most of us already know. Both the stepmother and divorced mom, along with everyone else in the modern family, is trying to adjust to this new type of family. Both want to be respected and not demonized for their respective roles, and both want a little understanding along the way. That much is clear and has been for awhile now.
Ex-wives and wives have spent so much time focusing on the obvious. We both know that adjusting to divorce, remarriage and the modern family is difficult, especially if we live through it each day. We can even empathize and relate to what each other is going through, but focusing on this issue clearly doesn’t lead to solutions.
There have been plenty of books, articles, blog posts, and discussions on understanding each others’ pain, but continually focusing on the obvious only makes each side feel more angry and entitled. As a matter of fact, while reading many of the comments from both articles, women admitted or it was implied in the tone of their comment, that they were angry about what each other had to say. The divorced moms were shouting that it wasn’t easy sharing their children with the stepmom, and they wanted to be cut some slack. The stepmoms were saying that it wasn’t easy for them either and they would like a little understanding as well. If you’re a divorced mom and /or a stepmom, then you’ve probably heard this or something similar before. My question is; now that we’ve heard both sides of the story, over and over again, what do we do with this information?
Anytime I sit down with an ex-wife and wife, who are clearly both committed to making it work, because they both have approached me for help, they both want to vent their sides of the story. And often times, it sounds just like the articles mentioned above and their subsequent comments. “I feel this way and you need to understand, cut me slack and empathize with me.” My question to them is always, what does that mean? What does it look like? When you say you want me to cut you some slack and understand where you’re coming from, what is it that you want me to do?
When you say you want me to cut you some slack and empathize with you, does that mean you want stepmom to allow you to be intrusive? Does that mean she should be okay with you encouraging, no matter how discretely, your children to dislike her because you feel threatened? Does that mean that she should invite you to holiday dinners or to go on vacation with her because that’s what YOU, not necessarily your children, want? Does empathizing with you mean that you can continue to act out because the divorce isn’t easy for you?
What does this understanding look like for you? Does it mean that you get to treat the divorced mom’s children/ your husband’s children, like they are sloppy seconds because you don’t love them like your own? Does it mean that you get to refuse to even slightly communicate with the divorced mom because you feel as if you shouldn’t have to co-parent with her to a certain extent?
When asked those set of questions, the conversation begins to get more productive because it talks about what both parties expect instead of solely focusing on how they feel. One way (let’s just talk about how we feel) allows us to continually beat a dead horse and spin our wheels, and the other way (what do we expect from each other), allows us to focus on solutions to a problem that largely contributes to the modern family’s inability to peacefully coexist.
After expectations comes acceptance. Both parties must accept the fact that things are going to be a certain way. The divorced mom must respect and accept that she cannot come to holiday dinners or expect her ex-husband to fix her kitchen sink, if it’s not okay with the stepmother. Why? Because she is married to your ex-husband now and that marriage must be respected. She is not the second wife that your husband took on in his concubine, and therefore she must share him with you. He has one wife and she would like to create special holiday traditions and memories with her new family that are separate from you. Just like you wouldn’t have welcomed an ex-girlfriend or another woman into your marriage when you were married to him. The stepmother understands that you will share some level of interaction concerning the kids. She knows that you will be at extra curricular activities, school plays and attend parent teacher conferences, but everything she does with her husband and your children is not up for debate.
Stepmothers you must accept that the ex-wife needs to communicate with your husband. Yes, she is going to need to call him on a regular basis. They may need to discuss child support, modified visitation arrangements, school issues and other issues pertaining to the kids. Additionally, you must accept that you will even have to communicate with her from time to time. Whether it’s during drop off and pick up, or phone call that you happen to pick up when she calls. You must also accept that your presence isn’t required at every single thing either, just because you are his wife. For example, it might be best to allow the biological parents to attend the parent teacher conferences and allow your husband to inform you of anything that you need to be made aware of.
Overall, both parties must realize that while they are entitled to certain feelings, the actions that follow aren’t always appropriate, acceptable or helpful to anyone in the modern family, including the children. We must learn to be in charge of our own feelings, form realistic expectations of each other, respect each others’ respective positions in the modern family and accept our reality. Our reality is that neither of us are going anywhere anytime soon. Divorced mom, you have to accept and respect that stepmom is the wife now and lady of her house. And stepmom, you have to accept and respect that divorced mom is the mother of your husband’s children…period. Just remember that “acceptance of what has happened is the first, most profound step of overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”
BFSO readers, we want to hear your opinions on the matter. Stepmothers and divorced mothers, what are your expectations of each other? Have you clearly thought about them? Are they realistic? Are they what’s best for your children and not just YOU? Let us know by chiming in on the discussion.