You may think, at first pass, that co-parenting with your child’s stepmother is unreasonable. If you think about it, we get to know our children’s teachers, doctors, daycare providers, their friend’s and their parents, and anyone else involved with our children. Why wouldn’t you want to get to know the other mother in your child’s life?
This is the person at the other household who holds your child when they cry, who helps with homework, and reads stories to them. Is the only reason not to make more of an effort to get along with stepparents that you are clouded with baggage from a previous relationship? When your children witness the tension between you and their stepmother, they are learning how to behave with other people from your actions. They are also uncomfortable and stressed. There is enough love for both of you. Their stepmother will not replace you, but if your children have a good relationship with her, their lives will be richer for it.
I understand that both parties must be willing to work on the relationship, and usually when I tell other divorced parents about our family dynamic, they reply that there is no way they could get along with the new wife or girlfriend. All of the issues are usually blamed on the other person. Change begins with one person. If everyone pushed the responsibility of relationships onto the other person, no one would have successful relationships. I understand that every situation is different, and this may not work for everyone, but you never know until you try. If you let go of your own resentment, and your ex and his spouse do not reciprocate, your children will still learn from watching your behavior.
We try to maintain consistency in both households. We have identical chore charts, punishments, and consequences in both homes. When a child is in trouble at one home, they are punished at both homes, eliminating the “fun” parent versus the “bad guy” mentality. We also try to keep homework habits, bedtimes, and TV privileges the same at both houses. Since we have joint custody, the girls have everything they need at both homes, eliminating the lugging bags back and forth. We all want them to feel at home and safe in both houses.
Here are some suggestions on how to begin a new relationship with the other mother in your child’s life.
● Do not badmouth your ex or their spouse/girlfriend to anyone, even your friends.
● When your children talk about your ex and his spouse, don’t roll your eyes, sigh or make any other outward sign that you disapprove. Allow your children to love ALL of their parents.
● If your child gets along with their stepmother, BE HAPPY!
● When communicating with your child’s stepmother, pretend like it is a business transaction. Be pleasant, professional, and to the point.
● If your ex and his spouse/girlfriend need to switch days with you, try to be flexible.
● If a problem arises, especially when the child is the one talking about it, call the other adults and discuss in a civil, business-like manor. (Remember that your children may feel some animosity toward their stepmother, blaming her for their parents not getting back together, so not everything they tell you is the complete story.)
● Ask your child’s step mother what you can do to keep things more consistent in both homes. Give her some of your ideas. Thank her for taking good care of your children!
● Let the little things go.
● When your child tells you something negative about their stepmother, defend their stepmother.
● Try to see the situation from her side. She fell in love with a man with children. She chose to love and accept your children. Remember that she feels like an outsider, especially in the beginning. It is not easy to walk into a relationship with children, and she is challenged by your children, her new in-laws, your in-laws, you, and sometimes your ex-husband. She has to work much harder on the relationship with your children, without stepping on your toes, without trying to replace you, without playing favorites with her own children.
● Forgive, forgive, forgive! Holding onto bitterness and anger is like swimming with weights tied to your legs. Eventually, you will get tired and drown. Just let go of that extra weight.
● If things have gone poorly between you and your ex’s wife/girlfriend, make a conscious choice to turn it around. If you have been critical or judgmental toward her, make an about-face and accept her. If you have spoken badly about her to your children, your other family members or your friends, it is much harder to repair the relationship because your community is supporting your dislike of her. Go to each of them and tell them you have decided you want to have a good relationship with her, and that you shouldn’t have spoken poorly about her. Then, move forward into the sun! Live in harmony with your children’s stepmother.
Advantages of getting along with your child’s stepmother:
● Your children will have less stress, adjust faster, and learn how to better relate to others.
● Your children will learn forgiveness, by example.
● Your children have more love in their lives.
● When you speak to your ex and his spouse, you will have less stress and anxiety.
● When you forgive, it’s much easier to move on, and be happy.
● Your children learn problem-solving skills.
● When you need to switch days or need help, your ex and his spouse are more likely to be helpful when they are treated the same.
● It is easier to get along, in every way!
Written by: Trish Eklund has lived in Nebraska for almost fifteen years, raising her two daughters of nine and thirteen with her husband, ex-husband and his wife. Taking a nontraditional approach to raising children after divorce and remarriage, all four adults co-parent their daughters. Visit her personal blog by clicking HERE.