My heart was pounding as my boyfriend’s ex-wife opened her front door. He had told me she wasn’t pleased about my relationship with him — and especially my role in her son’s life. But now here we were, standing on her doorstep.
“Hi. Come on in.”
Awkward small talk about snow and weather ensued as we entered her house — the one he used to live in with her — and stood nervously in the entryway, watching as our boys immediately ran off to play. We then sat down at her dining room table and looked at each other uncomfortably, waiting for someone to be the first to speak.
Being divorced is harder than being married. It may seem counterintuitive — you’d think separating from the person causing you pain would make life easier, but it didn’t for me. I’m happier, yes. I feel better than I ever have about myself, true … but life is much more difficult now.
If you’re a divorced parent, you have to continue to work together at all the same things you did while married, except now you have the messy chasm of divorce yawning between you. Newsflash: Most people don’t come out of divorce on the best of terms, and now you’ve got to manage the complicated business of co-parenting from separate homes, through the complex aftermath of love gone bad.
The often intense business of raising children with an ex is harrowing enough. But add new relationships into the mix, and holy hell is that a potential nightmare. Not only is it difficult to watch someone you thought was the love of your life move into a new relationship, but the idea of your children being in an unknown environment with this new person is unnerving, to say the least.
I live four doors down from my ex-husband, I’m dating the dad of one of my son’s preschool classmates, and oh! – did I mention my boyfriend’s ex-wife also works at the preschool our 4-year-old sons attend? Yeah. Fun stuff.
Navigating a relationship with another woman’s children is a very tricky business. It involves a high amount of unconditional respect for motherhood. As a divorced mom, I know all too well the despair that comes with only spending half your time with your children. Add to that the torturous knowledge that another woman is all up in their mix, and you may find yourself on the losing end of a panic attack.
The loss of control was a horse pill to swallow for me, as a mom very much used to calling all the shots with my kids. Where are they? What are they doing? What is she like with my kids? They went swimming at the lake together? Does she walk into the water holding my son? They watched a movie? Did she put my little boy on her lap? Does she put their jammies on them and read them stories? WHAT ARE MY BABIES EXPERIENCING?! The images of another woman now seeing my ex-husband and doing the things I do with my kids was torturous but, like tonguing a sore tooth repeatedly, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Intellectually, I want my ex to be happy and find love again, and I want that woman to love my children – but I wasn’t prepared for my emotionally visceral reaction when it actually went down. Chalk it up to jealousy, loss of control, anger, despair … whatever it was, it had me repeatedly playing out scenarios in which the new woman gently mothered my children.
I was imagining my kids experiencing a wonderful, new family environment, demonizing my ex’s girlfriend, making myself miserable, making my ex-husband miserable and came dangerously close to destroying the fluid, friendly co-parenting environment we’ve worked so hard to create. I had to get it together.
I worked hard to change my perspective. Just like working your muscles at a gym, you have to exercise your brain by forcing yourself to think rational, intelligent thoughts about the various divorce situations that occur. Train yourself to not emotionally overreact, and eventually those calm, productive thoughts come naturally.
I began telling myself that just like I’d want a top-notch babysitter who loves my children, I want this woman to care for my children like they’re her own. When I’m not with my kids, who better to be with them than another mom who is genuinely concerned about their well-being? My knee-jerk bad response was based solely on my own jealousies, fears, and insecurities, and I wasn’t taking into account what my children experience, which is the only factor that really matters.
Recently, my ex-husband’s girlfriend and I have exchanged friendly, productive emails and texts with the promise of always communicating if we need to. We’re both divorced women with kids tiptoeing into dating men with children — which is hard enough, so there’s no reason to make it harder than it needs to be. Let’s be allies in this thing, not unnecessarily hostile and competitive. Who needs the extra complication?
So when my boyfriend told me his ex-wife was sending worried texts about the nature of my relationship with her son, instead of feeling offended or upset, I decided to nip it in the bud with direct mom-to-mom communication.
The three of us sat down together and voiced our concerns. We discussed what makes her uncomfortable about her son spending time with me, how she feels strange that he seems to have this whole new family that she’s not a part of, and what might make her feel better about the situation — feelings I know all too well from my own divorce experience.
I wanted her to know that she is the most important person in her boy’s world, and I’d never want to step on her toes as a mother or do or say anything that would confuse her son or make her feel uncomfortable. I told her that her son is a sweetheart, a testament to her parenting, and that I’d always look out for him when I’m around — but would never and could never fill her shoes. I know the awful emptiness that invades your soul when the kids are with the other parent, and so I told her that I try to be for her boy what I hope my kids experience when they’re with their dad’s girlfriend.
I know couples in second marriages who have been together for decades and still don’t get along with ex-spouses. The lack of communication perpetuates ill will, and those bad feelings only grow if people don’t stop the madness, communicate, and move through important issues. Who wants to spend life mired in hatred and negative feelings? Deal with your significant other’s ex-spouse in a rational, compassionate manner and move on. Not only for your sake, but more importantly, for the sake of all of the kids involved.
In the end, the children are watching, and the behavior we model will leave a lasting legacy. We can model pettiness jealousy and anger, or we can demonstrate kindness, compassion and love. The choice is ours.