This week I’m so excited to welcome Christina Nelson, host of The Radical Step-Mom Podcast a groundbreaking podcast all about what it means to be a step-parent from the perspective of the step-parent. Today Christina shares her perspective about how to have a positive relationship with your spouse’s ex, and whether it is actually possible.
A positive relationship with your spouse’s ex. Is it possible?
When meeting a new stepmom, you ask the three most basic questions: How many stepchildren do you have? What is your custody schedule? And of course, what is the relationship like with the ex-wife? I am not aware of a relationship more fraught with emotion than that of the stepmother and the ex-wife. As a stepmom of nearly a decade, I can confidently say that the type of relationship you have with the ex-wife deeply impacts the tone of the blended family dynamic. So, what can you do to assist in developing a positive relationship?
Expectations & Boundaries
I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way: as a stepmom, you are under no obligation to be best friends with the ex-wife. Sure, there are some families who can attend events together, wear matching shirts and live in co-parenting harmony. Yay for them! However, this is not the reality for many blended families, and going in with this expectation can lead to massive disappointment and heartache. What type of relationship do you want with the ex-wife? Do you want to have monthly coffee dates to discuss the kids? Or are you more comfortable with a cordial businesslike dynamic? Somewhere in the middle? Identify your comfort level and boundaries and share them with your partner. How you choose to interact with the ex-wife will impact the way you parent with your spouse. It’s best to be transparent and open.
Pro tip: Your comfort level may be different than that of the ex-wife. The goal is to be flexible, but not at the sacrifice of your own boundaries.
In Her Shoes
Seeking to understand her perspective allows you to not only hold compassion for her experience, but it forces you to not take things so personally. She may not acknowledge you. She may not like you. She may be downright disrespectful or cruel. Why? Here’s the simple truth: many women find the idea of sharing their children with another motherlike figure incredibly threatening to their core identity and their very sense of self. And when they have to do it, they’re behavior isn’t always cooperative. Does this mean you have to accept her behavior? No. Understanding where she’s coming from simply allows you to be more mindful in where you assert your boundaries, and where you choose to let things go. Remember you have all the agency in the world to create the environment to have a positive relationship with your spouse’s ex, but she may not be able to let that positive relationship develop.
Pro tip: Picking your battles is an art form. If you continue to hold compassion for the ex-wife, when to step-up and when to step-back will be an easier decision.
The Peace Offering
Many of the stepmoms I work with ask how they can approach the ex-wife to break the ice. They are often coming from a sincere place of wanting to show her their intentions are good, and they simply want what is best for the children. I give them the above suggestions, and then encourage them to develop a peace offering. This could be as simple as an email or inviting her to a coffee date. The goal here is to provide an opportunity to get to know one another and share openly your hopes for the blended family dynamic. If you choose to extend an olive branch, do so with an open heart, but little expectations. She may be happy to meet you and grateful you reached out. Or, she may decline your offer entirely. Either way, you have done something extremely important: you’ve opened the door for a peaceful relationship and it’s up to her to walk through. A positive relationship may be a two-way street, but you can always do your best regardless of her actions.
Pro tip: Don’t do extend this offer in person. Respect her time to process and respond by sending her an email or text message.
It is a frustrating truth that how you get along with your partner’s ex-wife is largely up to her. Some fortunate stepmoms have achieved what they consider to be an ideal relationship balance with their stepchildren’s mothers. This is almost always because the ex-wife has appropriately handled her emotions (regarding her former relationship) and realizes that it’s best for her children if she maintains a decent relationship with her ex’s current partner. The benefit in accepting this maxim is that you get to quit trying so hard! Once you release the responsibility of facilitating the perfect stepmom/ ex-wife relationship, you get to choose the role that suits you best. The ex-wife may never be capable of entering into the mature relationship you had envisioned with her, but you are always in charge of how you conduct yourself.
Pro tip: Choose a standard of behavior in line with your ethical code and stick to it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you think it’ll evoke a rational response from her. In other words, be consistently kind even if she doesn’t reciprocate.
Relationships ebb and flow overtime, especially one between a stepmom and an ex-wife. Be patient, trust the process and remember the most important relationship to focus on is the relationship with yourself and your partner. As you navigate the stepmom role, confide in your partner. Have the hard conversations about parenting styles, discipline and how involved you want to be. The stronger you two are as a team, the more prepared you’ll be for anything blended family life throws your way. You can be a wonderful, happy stepmom with or without a positive relationship with the ex-wife.
Christina Nelson is a stepmom to a 9-year-old boy and has a 3-year-old daughter with her husband. She has been a stepmom for nearly a decade and created the Radical Stepmoms Podcast in hopes of connecting stepmoms and offering support and guidance. Christina is a licensed clinical social worker and resides with her family in Washington State. When she’s not helping stepmoms navigate their role, she enjoys traveling, exploring the outdoors, and of course, Netflix. If you need that extra stepmom support, Christina is your girl. Connect with her, she would love to meet you!
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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
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