You’ve finally found the One. He’s kind, loving and comes with some delightful freckle-faced baggage: a darling little boy whom you adore. So what’s the problem? The other woman:your man’s ex:the mother of that speckled moppet. Forging a cordial relationship with your husband’s ex is crucial, not only for the child’s sake, but for the health of your marriage as well. Fear not! It can be done, and here’s how:
You Are Switzerland
I know, I know. You’ve heard the whole sordid story from her non-stop nagging to her spendthrift ways, or worse. You can listen sympathetically all day long to the man you love and nod soberly at still another example of outrageous behavior from the shrew that is the mother of his children. But then you must step back, take a deep breath and push it deep down into the recesses of your mind. Compartmentalize, lady! You have to come from a place of neutrality because if you really do begin to dislike, okay hate, your man’s ex – make no mistake, she will know it. You don’t have to love her, or even like her, but you can’t hate her. People can easily see, hear and physically feel hate. Do you remember that girl in high school? The one you stole that cute bass player from? She despied you – and you knew it.
She is Insane
Maybe not technically, but when it comes to her ex, your stepkid’s biological mom (or, the BM) is certifiably bonkers. You must remember that her mind is and always will be clouded with deranged feelings about him. Does it matter if they divorced amicably? Nope. What if she’s happily married again? Sorry, no dice. She will never exhibit good judgment or rational behavior when in the presence of her former hubby. Not now and not ever. Get used to it and treat her gingerly, as you would any person who’s wacko. No sharp implements or matches for starters. The rest you can make up as you go along.
You Are Not the Mom
Sounds pretty Stepmom 101, but you have to make sure to acknowledge that she is the mom and let her do her parenting thing. It’s easy to feel maternal when you live with someone else’s child. You may wipe noses, brush unruly hair and chase away scary monsters, but when it comes right down to it, you’re not the mom. The BM gets first dibs at school plays and junior proms; you get to hear about the fun stuff secondhand from your man the next day. The good news? You won’t be the one Brittany will be battling to raise the hemline of her skirt or lower the neckline on her blouse – that’s the BM’s job. Remember to tread lightly. If his ex gets even an inkling that you want to usurp her maternal throne, she will feel threatened and trot out the palace guards.
Keep your nose out of any discussion, argument, negotiation or disciplinary action. Especially any disciplinary action. “What else is left?” you ask. Nothing. Keep your opinion to yourself. On everything. No matter how wrong the BM is. Even if the discussion is something so black and white that you can’t possibly see how she can disagree with you. She can and she will. Never feel that you can help her by pointing out certain behaviors that are destructive to her kid. You can’t and she won’t. Topics that are acceptable: food (but not her cooking), fashion (but not her clothing) and . . . that’s it.
Throw Her a Complimentary Bone
Say nice things about the BM to her children in her presence. Remark upon how much her progeny adores her. This may seem like flattery overkill, but it’s a tried and true detour on the road to stepfamily harmony. Disarming the enemy has always been and will always be an effective strategy in social and psychological warfare. (And really, if this isn’t war, what is it?) These verbal bouquets serve a dual purpose: the BM feels less threatened by you, while little Stewart is happy that his two mommies get along so famously.
Remember That it’s Her, Not You
It’s hard to keep your self-esteem intact when someone is trying to rip it to shreds. The BM will never believe that you are a good stand-in when she’s not around and if you’re lucky, she won’t tell you so. The cruel reality is your man’s ex is telling her friends that you are fat, a lousy cook, and sprouting gray hairs like a geriatric Chia Pet. Her friends and immediate family members will inevitably believe that you are incompetent in the workplace and have the intellect of a Teletubby. Keep in mind that Jennifer Aniston almost certainly said the same things about Angelina Jolie. There’s nothing for you to do but accept it and move on.
All this is well and good, but assuming you’re neither Mother Teresa nor a masochist, you need to let loose sometimes.
Vent to your friends and invest in psychotherapy. Invite your mom out to a tearful lunch. Buy a new hand bag, bungee jump or march in a protest. Relish the fact that your husband is now a fully formed male who adores you. He’s made all, or at least a good many of the usual marital mistakes in his first go-round. If all else fails, there are always online self-help groups like I Hate My Husband’s Ex.
A BM friend of mine once said, “Being a stepmom is a thankless job. Expect no gratitude.” She sighed, then added, “But neither do I. We’re all in the same boat.”