Your Husband’s Ex-Wife
Dealing with your husband’s ex-wife otherwise known as your stepchildren’s mother can be one of the most trying aspects of stepfamily life. If she is bitter or tries to undermine you as the stepmom, it can make your life particularly hard.
Katherine Maguid, writing in Stepmom Magazine, describes how her husband’s ex-wife told her children that their stepmom was “not a parent and she’s not family”. Ms Maguid was understandably hurt, and writes “I’m not a parent and I’m not family. Are you kidding me? I’m married to their father; hence, I’m legally related to the boys.
I might be a childless stepmother, but I do everything that an ordinary parent does. In fact, I pretty much do exactly what my mother did with my siblings and me when I was young. I make them food, I watch them all day long while they’re with me and their dad is at work, I take them to the doctor, I buy them clothes, I discipline them, I get up with them in the middle of the night when they’re sick or if they’ve had a bad dream, and I bring them to sporting events and camps.
Most importantly, though, I love them dearly and unconditionally. So what differentiates me from a parent, aside from the fact that I didn’t give birth to my stepsons? The act of giving birth to a child cannot be the sole definition of being a parent because look at adoptive parents, they do the same things I do. So, if I’m not a parent, then what exactly am I?”
This is one of the many variations of ways the husband’s ex-wife puts the children in a loyalty bind. Clearly, the husband’s ex-wife in this case has not completed the unfinished business of her divorce. If she had, she would not have such a need to undermine the stepmom to her children. Clearly, she is does not feel secure with herself as a mother.
Very unfortunately, she doesn’t understand that the best gift she can give her children is allowing them to have the love, comfort, and security they need in both their homes. Doing so will not diminish her relationship with her children, but allow it to flourish and will provide the strongest basis for their self-esteem as adults.
Our bonding was abruptly shaken when her mom re-entered the scene and refused to acknowledge my presence or my role. When my stepdaughter’s parents went back into mediation to agree on a new custody arrangement, I had no voice in the matter although I was functioning in the place of a full-time stepmother. There were many lessons for me in that experience, and it took a long time for me to re-make my role appropriately as a stepmom.
Deal with the insults and hostilities privately, not in front of your stepchildren or children. If you insult her back, you will not only be putting them in a loyalty bind, but you’ll stifle further conversation with them, creating a wedge between you. And you can expect that the insult will get back to your husband’s ex-wife, fueling the fire! If your husband can take it, vent to him or talk to a friend or coach, or utilize one of the excellent online forums for stepmoms.
Look at the situation as honestly as you can, and behave in the way you know to be right. In the end, right always wins. And if you refuse to play the game that she’s playing, eventually your stepchildren will see it, appreciate you for taking the higher road, and there will no longer be a prize in it for her. She’ll give up the game.
Try to create a little space between what you’re hearing or experiencing, and what’s going on in your head about it. Can you find a way to give her the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps your husband’s ex-wife has a legitimate reason for saying/acting this way? Maybe there’s a middle ground that can be found? Is there any accuracy that can be found in what she’s saying?
Focus your attention on your relationship with your partner; a strong stepcouple has the ability to weather these storms. Be sure you get the time you need together to nurture your relationship. Ask for support from him.
Be grateful for the aspects of the co-parenting relationship that do work. Whatever you focus on grows; so when you find yourself obsessing about the things your husband’s ex-wife does that hurt or irritate you, switch your thoughts to something positive in the children’s life that she is part of.
Set your boundaries. If your husband’s ex-wife clearly oversteps her bounds, stand up for yourself with your husband and ask him to back you up. This is easier said than done, and may require your stepping away from the situation to protect yourself.
Lastly, recognize that you may have to be the “bigger person” in the extended family. You may have to keep giving kindness and understanding for a long time before your husband’s ex-wife turns around. To do this, it’s important to believe and visualize that harmony will eventually prevail.
The children are learning from your example, and that example is more powerful than you can know. I was absolutely determined to get beyond the impasse with my husband’s ex-wife, even if I had to kill us both with kindness.
And, through a seemingly unrelated event, when my stepdaughter was 16, my husband’s ex-wife got over all her hostility, rather suddenly. Perhaps we were just lucky, but I believe it was due to all our efforts and prayers over those seven years.
I must admit it took some shifting of my perspective as well, to discover she was not the person I had made her out to be, either! Since then, we’ve had better and better communication and respect all around. And I can’t even express the difference it has made in my stepdaughter’s well-being and the development of her relationships with us all!
Need help? If you are, online course can aid you fully on how to handle and deal with the relationships on both ex-husband’s wife and stepdaughter.