Roger and I had been married three months when his ex-wife emailed him to figure out plans for Christmas. When Roger told me about this, I thought nothing of it. Of course she wanted to know when she was having the kids. But that wasn’t exactly the tone of her email. No, she wanted to know when she, Roger, and their kids would be having their annual holiday celebration.
We’re more in step now, but this definitely was a rough way to start off our first holiday.
As I talk to more and more stepmoms, I’m realizing that when it comes to the relationship with our husbands’ ex-wives, each blended family has some crazy story just like this. Weird expectations, bad patterns, and guilt-motivated compromises are some of the issues we need to navigate when it comes to making room for the ex.
One of the first lessons I learned was this: As much as you want to resist doing it, you have to make room for your husband’s ex in your blended family. This looks entirely different for every situation. Some stepmoms and exes become good friends, or just have the drive and temperaments to make the relationship work. Others cannot and will not be in the same room together. Most of us have a relationship that falls somewhere in between.
As much as you want to resist doing it, you have to make room for your husband’s ex in your blended family.
Here are eight reasons his ex and you may be at a disadvantage:
- You remind her of a failing in her life. However you look at it, divorce is a failing that can carry a lot of guilt not just for years but for decades. I know that as the “new wife,” I am a constant reminder to Roger’s ex that things didn’t work out in their marriage, and that can be painful. Sometimes it’s not about you; it’s about the circumstances.
- You threaten her relationship with her kids. A few years ago, as Roger and I were taking our girls to Disneyland, I posted on Facebook, “Roger and I are taking our daughters to D-Land! Woot, woot!” Not long after, Roger got a text from his ex-wife: “Could you please ask Kathi not to call Amanda ‘her daughter’? I am her mother, not her.”
My first reaction was, “Oh, brother.” But even though I felt she was overreacting, I didn’t want to step on toes. I’m careful how I post things on Facebook now. I also make sure I reinforce to my stepkids that I know their mom is their mom, and I’m not trying to take anyone’s place.
- You enjoy some of the “perks” she no longer has. You and your husband are married; his ex may not be. Your husband now has someone to help with school pickups and drop-offs and feeding the troops, and maybe you now are a two-income family. Sometimes it’s hard when an ex sees the things she used to be able to afford, and now some other woman is enjoying them.
- Your husband has become a better dad since you got married. You help him get this dad thing right. And his ex resents you for it. “Why couldn’t he have been a good dad when we were together? Must be nice to have someone else do all the heavy lifting when it comes to parenting.”
While his ex wants the best for her kids—and the best is a dad who loves his kids and is involved—it burns a little extra that you are the one who is helping him step up. It’s a natural feeling, and one that’s hard to deal with for anyone who was married before.
- You’re moving in on her territory. Roger’s daughter Amanda had all her significant first before I came along. Manicures, pedicures, graduation dresses—those were all with her mom, and that’s how it needed to be. But in some families, mom isn’t around or isn’t an everyday part of her stepkid’s life. In those circumstances, I think we need to do our best to think about what is best for the child and to not put him or her in the middle of any difficult circumstance.
- You’re an unknown factor. For my own kids, I’ve done background checks on babysitters, asked their friends’ parents sly questions to get a feel for whose house I’m dropping them off at, and checked out the Facebook pages of the friends they’re hanging out with. But now your husband’s ex is being forced to allow him, who may be the most difficult person in her life, to decide with whom her kids live. You’re going to have different chore standards, food, bedtime routines, and disciplines at your house. You—yes, you—are the unknown factor in her kids’ lives, and that has got to feel a little disarming. Especially if she’s the kind of mom who labeled her kids’ underwear with their names and phone numbers and thought that kid GPS systems were a plausible solution to tracking teens.
- You hurt their marriage. Roger and his wife had been divorced for almost a decade when he and I started to date. But if we’re going to talk about reasons an ex may resent the stepmom, we have to acknowledge that some of us didn’t take the right road when it came to being with our husbands. If you are someone who was with your husband while he was still married to his wife, there is a real reason she may feel resentment toward you. A Christian counselor can help guide you through the steps it will take to seek healing for everyone involved—for example, admitting your role in the break-up, repentance, seeking forgiveness from those who’ve been hurt. A counselor will offer advice on what your stepkids may need in order to respect and love you and their dad.
Okay, She Doesn’t Like Me. Now What?
Here are a few important guidelines to keep in mind as you forge (or try to mend) a relationship with your husband’s ex-wife:
Accept the relationship where it’s at. However or whenever your relationship with your husband first started, you have to rebuild a difficult relationship with his ex from where you are now. Move forward with the assumption that everyone is hoping for the best from each other and for the kids.
Treat the relationship like that of junior-high girls until otherwise notified. I’m not saying that ex-wives and stepmoms act like junior-high girls. But I do remember what it was like to try to have a new relationship at that tender age. There were jealousies, a certain amount of weirdness, and other people watching your every move and judging you. What I am saying is that both of you are in this powder keg of a relationship that you didn’t have a lot of say in creating, and until you find yourself on better footing, be cautious.
Figure out how to move forward in the way that’s healthiest for everyone. As stepmoms, our first instincts aren’t always our best instincts. But we can act better than our first instincts. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us in life. We can wait, pray, seek wise counsel, and behave better than we feel so much of the time.
Pray for her regularly. Roger’s ex is one of the most important people in my stepkids’ lives. And my stepkids are two of the most important people in my husband’s life and mine. I need to be praying for her and the relationship she has with her kids, as well as with me and my husband. The bonus? It’s hard to look for the bad in someone you’re praying for regularly. Often I’ve looked for specific Scripture verses to pray for her. That seems like the best way to pray for someone when maybe—just maybe—your heart isn’t in it at this moment.
Understand that God has given you everything you need to respond in a grace-filled way. It’s very humbling to be put in the bad guy role all the time. But we have submitted ourselves to a powerful God who calls us to act better than we can do on our own.
Taken from But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother! copyright ©2015 by Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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