“Thanks for the extra help today, Caroline! I really appreciate you.”
Those words were spoken by a stepmom in my office to the biological mom on the phone. I about fell out of my chair.
“Christy, was that your husband’s ex?” I asked.
“Sure was! We haven’t always been this good, but we’ve come a long way. I actually don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Christy explained to me their fragile beginning. It involved a divorce, new love, hurt feelings, and children. Christy was the new bride and Caroline was the ex-wife. There was tension and hardship for a couple years. One day Christy called Caroline to discuss some boundaries and maybe some common ground for civility.
“We need to at least try for the kids,” Christy said.
Those words really broke through the wall Caroline had built up. Do it for the kids.
From that point on, Christy and Caroline worked bit by bit on their relationship. Time and kindness brought healing and understanding. They actually became friends. Caroline would babysit Christy’s little girl when needed, and Christy would pick up the kids if Caroline had to work late. They also helped each other in other ways like picking up something extra while shopping or helping to feed pets when needed.
I was FASCINATED by this. Every time I heard their kind chatter and occasional laughter, I’m sure my mouth would fall open in awe.
My relationship with my stepson’s biological mom is, well, non-existent. I would welcome any olive branch, any kind of civility. I have tried with her through the years, but any action from me is met with hostility, downright hatred, or a passive-aggressive remark about my “motives”. We are 16 years in, and sometimes I feel like she just gets worse. For my sanity (and maybe safety) reasons, I finally had to stop trying and just let it be.
The struggle in the absence of co-parenting with her has taught me many valuable lessons. I could list dozens, but for our time today I will stick with five and share more in a later post. I believe these are pretty crucial though.
- Be very careful and mindful of EVERYTHING you post on social media. The days of carefree posting are gone. Be bigger and better than the haters and KEEP YOUR DRAMA OFF YOUR FACEBOOK WALL! Do it for the children as well. They are embarrassed when we act like first graders. Vent to your spouse, friend, or a diary. But please, NEVER badmouth another parent online or in ANY public setting. I could go on and on about this one, but for our time today I ask that you think of the little eyes that might see your daily updates.
- Be very mindful of texts and phone calls as well! My husband has a great saying for the workplace. He tells his employees, “Don’t put anything in an email that you don’t want to end up on company letterhead.” I think that applies well to the blended family. Even if baited, antagonized, cussed at, or falsely accused, don’t say ANYTHING in text or in a possible recorded phone call that is hateful or tacky. Answer questions directly but stick to the facts. Keep adult problems and emotions out of your questions or responses. A high-conflict individual would love nothing more than to break you and show your inappropriate responses to the kids. They will try in the cleverest of ways to pull you into the mud. Stay squeaky clean, my friends!
- Don‘t be passive-aggressive about the biological parent to the children. The older, wiser, and more mature our stepchildren get, the more they recognize the truth. I promise you! That day does come. They will either see that YOU were the problem or the bio parent was. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution! Hopefully time will heal our blended families where strife remains. In the meantime, rise above the situation! Don’t use a belittling tone about what must go on in the other household or make condescending remarks under the guise of trying to be “funny” or inquisitive. You only cause more hurt and confusion for your stepchildren when you are cheeky and snide.
- Remove the word “mistake” from your vocabulary concerning the biological parent. Do you truly love your stepchildren? Their little lives have purpose and so much meaning. Yes, your spouse’s first relationship failed. But calling it a “mistake” is basically saying the children are mistakes. Imagine how that makes them feel? The TRUTH of the matter is, both biological parents were needed to create your unique and beautiful stepchild. We all have common sense to know that, but sometimes we don’t WANT to know that. The sooner you can be at peace with that, the more loving and accepting you can be of your stepchildren. BUT, please know that YOU can be JUST AS IMPORTANT AND NECESSARY in their lives as a biological parent! YOU ARE HERE FOR A REASON AND YOU ARE A STEPPARENT FOR A REASON. I believe you are also reading this for a reason just as I am writing this for a reason. My faith as a Christian teaches me so.
- You can’t control the actions of a hateful person, but you CAN control your reactions! Take GREAT care of yourself. Be patient with yourself. Be as loving and understanding of yourself as you are “stepping up” to be with others in your family. When you feel overwhelmed get out into the sunshine and take a walk, run a hot bath, make your best coffee, call your Mom or best friend, or just sit still and enjoy some silence. My stepparent Sister or Brother, this road is not easy. I understand and my heart goes out to those struggling. I want you to be the BEST VERSION of yourself though and not let tough situations chip away at the beautiful creation you are. Take good care of your body and mind. You are loved and needed.
I could talk about this topic for days! I will end here for now. Need a prayer partner concerning a high-conflict blended family situation? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! Respond to me here or in a private message at firstname.lastname@example.org