It’s been a year since my boyfriend and I broke up. We were together for nearly a decade, during which time I became a mom-ish-like parental figure to his kids, Tyler and Nicole. It was your garden variety, divorced-joint-custody arrangement, where we had the kids every other weekend. We never got married, so technically, I wasn’t their stepmom. Instead, I crowned myself the “Girlfriend Mom.”
It’s ironic that just when I had gotten the hang of being the Girlfriend Mom, I was faced with losing my status.What happens after a break-up? Was I now the ex-Girlfriend Mom? Should I stay or should I go? I mean, what happens in a divorce? Does a stepmom stop being a stepmom? Where did I put the manual, again?
This was uncharted territory, and I was no Lewis or Clark. I reached out to other women for advice: one said that her ex stopped communicating with her kids as soon as he started a new relationship. Another of my friends continued having a relationship with her ex’s children even though people told her not to.
I heard all the advice, but I still didn’t know where I stood in my relationships. As much as my heart ached, I wanted to do whatever I could to mitigate any discomfort or sadness that Nicole and Tyler might be feeling. The breakup was certainly not their fault, and as much as I wanted to walk away and never look back, that simply wasn’t an option. The kids had grown to trust and depend on me. I loved them. How could I just walk away?
From the start, I never viewed my role in Tyler and Nicole’s lives as temporary. When someone gives you the privilege of living with and loving their kids, you have to take it seriously. People were surprised that I wanted to maintain contact after the breakup, but why? I spent years establishing a connection, providing consistency and continuity. That relationship demanded careful and sensitive treatment. If I walked away, what message would I be sending the kids?
My ex and I had a brief discussion after the initial break-up about my relationship with the kids. I told him that I wanted to be in their lives, but only if they wanted me to be. He was glad to hear me say that, but at the same time, I knew that we were not going to co-parent. I would be navigating this new dynamic alone.
The challenge was figuring out how this new arrangement was going to work. I didn’t want to be around my ex himself, because I was in too much pain. No one can tell you how to have an isolated relationship with your ex-boyfriend’s kids. Unfortunately, this was going to be trial by fire. I could only hope no one would get burned in the process.
Nicole attends college in New York, so it’s been relatively easy to see her over this past year. Tyler, however, lives with his mother, with whom I have never had extensive contact (other than the occasional nod across the lacrosse field). I would text Tyler when he was at his father’s to make plans because it felt less awkward than having to deal with his mother. I drove myself crazy trying to see Tyler and it became complicated and frustrating. What 15-year-old manages their own calendar?
I wondered if Tyler and Nicole still considered me part of the family. I knew that I wasn’t the Girlfriend Mom anymore, but coordinating time with Tyler like that made me feel inconsequential and insecure about my place in their lives.
Eventually I asked Nicole for her mother’s phone number. The breakup left me vulnerable and I felt like an outsider when I called Tyler’s mom to ask her permission to see him.
She surprised me with her empathy and support. She thanked me for being a valuable influence in Tyler’s life, and for loving both of her children. I was speechless. When I found my words, I told her how grateful I was for her embracing my desire to see Tyler. We were two women, two mothers, who only wanted what was best for the kids.
It has taken heaps of trial and error, buckets of tears, and a healthy dose of humor to get through this year. I watched my words and my motives, but since I never knew what the right thing was (or if it even existed), I had to trust my own instincts. The most important thing has always been, and will continue to be, about what is best for the kids, not for my ego.
Nicole and I dropped Tyler and his friend off at the beach one day, and when I hugged him goodbye I told him that I loved him. He responded by promising to come into the city more this year. Once back in the car, I broke down in tears. In an attempt to soothe me, Nicole apologized for Tyler being busy and unavailable. I told her she didn’t have anything to apologize for, these emotions were natural and okay. I don’t want either of the kids to ever feel obligated to spend time with me if they can’t.
When I was first dating my ex, I used to torture myself thinking about whether I would ever love his kids. It seems silly to me now. I love those two like they were my own.
I text Tyler every weekend so that he knows that I’ll always be here and that I will always care. I see Nicole often and I marvel at the ways our relationship has grown. I don’t know what other women in my situation do, but I know that this is right for us.