My husband has often conveyed to me that for the first three years of our relationship he felt like he was in the middle of a Tyson and Holyfield fight. In one corner was me, his second wife, and in the other was his ex-wife. He worked hard to strike a peaceful balance between us, but unfortunately his tactics did more harm than good. Those tactics included working overtime to reassure his son that he’d always be there for him. He also worked, seemingly even harder, to reassure his ex-wife that he’d always be there for their son. I think he felt if they were reassured, then they’d be more willing to accept me. But, in the midst of all this reassuring, he forgot to reassure me that he’d always be there for me. More importantly, he took for granted that I would always be there, no matter what.
As I stated in my Second Wives article, men are often caught in the middle for three reasons; let’s go over them in detail below.
Remember that he loves his child and a good father will usually struggle with what he thinks he should be doing to make him/her happy and you happy simultaneously. For the record fellas, I completely understand your plight. However, you must understand that you need to do two things when it comes to making your child happy and healthy. I call it the two “R’s.” You must always be realistic and remain a parent. The worst thing you can do is overcompensate due to the divorce. If you didn’t give into your child’s every whim when you were married to his/her mother, don’t start now. Remember, children of divorced parents are seasoned veterans at dividing and conquering. It is imperative that you demand the same positive behavior as before the divorce. Offering limited control over the child out of guilt of hurting them already can have detrimental effects on their behavior.
To break it down even further, let me give you a couple of examples. It is a Christmas tradition for you, your child, and your ex-wife to spend Christmas Eve exchanging gifts. Or, you ex-wife and child are out having dinner and your ex-wife calls to ask you to join them, supposedly at the child’s request. Your response to both or any other similar request that involves you spending time together as a family, should be NO because you are no longer a family. Yes you will always be his father and mother, but you are no longer a famil,y and continuing family traditions is giving that child a false sense of hope. Furthermore, it makes it more difficult for him/her to accept someone new once you both remarry. The moment you divorce you must teach the child that while mom and dad love you just the same as we did before, you are going to have two separate families now. Reassure the child that you will both be there for him/her, but just not in the way you were before. Create new family traditions to reinforce this new way of thinking. Don’t continue with the old ones. If you do, when you do remarry, and the current wife has a problem with you continuing these traditions with your ex-wife (this is inevitable), then you have to change and when you do, you’ve just taught the child that things changed when she came along. This is why children feel as if it is the evil stepmother that changes everything in their lives.
Having said that, try to keep certain things the same so not turn the child’s world completely around. If it’s possible to keep the child in the same school and home as well as continue any extra curricular activities, it’s in the best interest of the child to do so. Both parents should also encourage relationships with the child’s extended family on either side, but not participate in, nor facilitate these relationships, unless they are your parents.
- You don’t have to keep the ex-wife happy
Most men are naïve and think it is their responsibility to keep the ex-wife happy in order to keep their child happy and therefore, remain in the child’s life. This is the second reason men feel as if they are caught in the middle. I have three words for you gentlemen, “forsaken all others.” Do you remember those words? This is what you vowed to do once you married your second wife. That vow includes ex-wives and even children. Your only obligation is to remain an active parent in your child’s life. You are no longer obligated to your ex-wife, no matter how she tries to convince you otherwise. A man who pays attention to his second wife is not treating his first wife and mother of his child like crap. He is divorced from his first wife, and as long as he fulfils the obligations of the divorce decree, he is not morally obligated to come to his ex-wife’s rescue whenever she calls. His only obligation is to treat his former spouse with civility.
You cannot parent your child effectively if both of the child’s homes are in turmoil. Furthermore, you cannot be the one to make sure that both homes are in order. At this point, your ex-wife is responsible for her own happiness, and if she’s too distressed or bitter to raise the child, then you need to legally request that she send him over to you. What you don’t need to do is keep her happy to remain in the child’s life. If she is making it difficult for you to remain in the child’s life because of her own issues, consult a family law attorney or mediator immediately to resolve the issue.
There should never be a battle between your current and your ex-wife because you current wife is always number one. Traditional therapists and/or psychologists will probably chop my head off for saying this, but it’s true. And, if their theory worked (always reassure the child that they are number one in your life), then we wouldn’t have as many problems with ex-wives, ex-lives and “evil stepmothers” as we do now. If you take care of your marriage first, then you will be better parents. If you are better parents, then you have a happy healthy child, no matter where your parents live. The truth of the matter is the child will not always be number one in your life, and if you are teaching your child this, you are doing more harm than good. Once you remarry and/or have other children, that number one status has to be shared with the other special people in your life. Teaching your child any differently is conveying three things:
1. The world revolves around him/her no matter what.
2. Anyone who gets in the way will ruin it for them.
3. Change is bad.
This will make the child more reluctant to accept anyone else. As I stated earlier, reassure the child that you will always be dad; you will always be there for him/her; and that he/she will always be special to you. However, you must both prepare and encourage him/her (even if you aren’t remarried yet) to make room for someone else. This will convey to the child that although things have changed, change is good as long as you are willing to embrace it.
- I don’t know what’s going on
The final reason most men are caught in the middle is because they will claim they haven’t a clue as to what is going on. For the record, I don’t buy this excuse at all. Get backbones men and take control of your family. Your vows with your second wife should be no different than the vows with your first. If you knew what to do then, then you should know what to do now. All your second wife wants is for you to respect your marriage. Below are some tips to help keep your marriage and your child healthy and happy.
- Any decision involving your family should be made with your current wife. If that decision will affect your child, then you should inform your ex-wife, but not the other way around.
- Don’t base all of your decisions around the child if he isn’t primarily in your home. For example, if you have children with your second wife or your second wife has children, don’t go to a movie or enjoy other activities with them only during visitation with your child. This sends the message that life only goes on when you’re together, and that’s the wrong message.
- Always, always, always communicate honestly with your child. Never tell the child what he/she wants to hear. Tell your child the truth so that there are no surprises in the end.
- Treat your second wife like a wife. Just because you married her second doesn’t mean she should have to come second to your ex-wife and your baggage.
- Always be sensitive to your current wife’s feelings.
- Always be sensitive to your child’s feelings, and open to communicate about them whenever necessary.
- Don’t alienate your current wife from issues with your child. It takes a whole village to raise a child. Make your current wife a part of that village.
- Demand the same positive behavior from your child just as you did prior to the divorce.
- Remain a parent and never reverse the roles out of guilt.
- Set boundaries when it comes to your ex-wife. She should never be allowed to wreak havoc on your family just because she’s bitter and unhappy.
So gentlemen, it is unfortunate that you are the “man in the middle” but please know that you put yourself there. There should be no middle, just you on one end and your current wife on the other. Your second marriage should be no different than your first. You took vows before God to honor, love, respect and protect your marriage. As long as you do that everything else will more easily follow.