When I came in to this stepmum gig, I thought I was pretty well prepared. I was a stepchild myself, had successfully navigated the relationship with my kids then stepmum…how hard could it be?
Harder than I could ever have imagined.
Like super hard.
Like the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including pushing out 4 babies without pain relief!!
Prior to all this happening I’d been following a spiritual path with the core values of gratitude, acceptance, and humility. I’d curated a life where it was relatively easy to practise those. I’d eliminated people I struggled with, kept my world small, and restricted to people with similar values. Well was I about to get my safe, secure world rocked to its very core!
I did all of the things stepmums are often guilty of in the beginning. I went overboard to be super stepmum. I wanted to show I was a better mum; more competent, better organised etc etc. My darling was very proud of me, and was more than comfortable telling his ex what a great job I was doing.
It’s hindsight, it’s hardly surprising her response was to shut down, and try and keep us out of her world. Her world revolved entirely round the children, so that meant she did her very best to ensure we never got to see them. There was court, breaching of court orders, weeks and months we never saw the kids. The toxicity ramped up. She thought we thought she was a terrible mother and an awful person, she did lots of things that made us think she was a terrible mother and an awful person.
It was only recently, after nearly a decade of conflict and drama that I was able to ‘own my shit’ in this whole debacle.
Yep – for all of the really awful things she did, and there were plenty…I also had a role to play in the dysfunction.
I didn’t realise how deeply wounded she was when ‘her man’ decided to take up with me. I didn’t realise she still held hope that he would come back to her and they would be a family. I didn’t realise her life experiences that made that so important to her.
I didn’t give her space to grieve her very, very deep loss.
Instead, I expected her to behave like I would. I expected her to know that I would never replace her as a mother. I am very secure in my role as mother, I’d had a conversation about this with my own children – telling them it was ok to like their stepmother, that I wanted them to like her and her to like them.
I wanted my kids to have a great time when they were with their dad, because what kind of parent wants their kids having an awful time somewhere?!?!
I can tell you the answer to that now; a parent who is terrified her children will chose someone else, a parent who isn’t secure in her role or herself, a person who doesn’t feel like a person who people will chose, a person who is reeling from rejection from a person they loved.
If I have one regret in all of this, and I’m a person who doesn’t do regret, it would be that I hadn’t understood the depth of her pain. I didn’t give her grace when she so desperately needed it. I didn’t understand her actions, that were so abhorrent to me, came from pain. She was incapable of separating her needs and her pain from the children. She saw her attempts to destroy their relationship with their father as her protecting them from him, and me.
Looking back, if we had been less full of judgement, less cutting in our assessment of her shortcomings, I think she would have found peace much earlier. I think if we had allowed her space to find peace, we all would have had peace, instead we pushed and fought for custody of the children.
Court is an ugly thing for step-family dynamics. There is no grace in court documents, instead every action and response is put under a microscope of fault finding and point scoring. Things that normally would be brushed off as ‘meh life’, instead become a stick to beat the other side with.
One of our biggest complaints was her unwillingness to coparent and share information. Why would she when there was a high likelihood it would be turned against her down the track? Really there was no winning, we either came after her for being inadequate or came after her for not sharing information that could be seen as confirming or highlighting her inadequacies.
All three children have been disadvantaged by us being unable to work together. My skill set when it comes to managing challenging behaviour and learning issues is pretty strong, unfortunately instead of it being a resource the professionals and both homes could utilise, it became a source of insecurity. I was shut out of everything, and so yet again this too was used against her.
We finally have reached agreement, the kids spend week about at each house. We parallel parent. I’ve learned to parent with my husband and leave him to parent with his ex. More recently, they are co-parenting in ways we never would have thought possible. There are still moments of frustration and things happen that both sides perceive negatively and as competitive or undermining behaviour, but it’s calmer.
It’s calmer because the ex is no longer under constant attack. It’s calmer because the worst has happened and the kids still love and adore her. She hasn’t lost them, and has some space for her and a life beyond the children.
The ugly truth about the ex is that I, albeit unwittingly, contributed to the dysfunction and conflict as much as she did. I have been able to frame myself as the long suffering victim for many years, and I have valid events and circumstances to prove that. She has done the same, and also has valid events and circumstances to prove that.
I think in the end, we have all been victims. Victims to not understanding each other, victims to a highly adversarial and inadequate court system.
Are you ready to face the ugly truth about how much you contribute to the current conflict with the ex?
It’s not easy. It’s not pleasant. It is however freeing, to lift the shackle of victimhood, to recognise our role in creating and sustaining conflict…that’s where the healing begins.