This mug was given to Chris by my stepsons for his birthday this year. His ex-wife purchased it along with something else; this is the second time they have gifted him this mug. I spend time in the run up to Christmas, Chris’ birthday and Father’s day engaging the children in gift selection and we generally figure out a gift he really likes. Despite this, Chris’ ex still insists on sending some thoughtless gift. Besides the incorrect grammar, the continuing to imbed herself as part of any celebration is hard for me to take. However, there is not much I can do but accept this. I don’t control her. I can neither control her dynamic with her sons nor how she relates to my partner (her ex).
She may be an Ex but she’s still MOM
Ex suggests someone who is gone and no longer around (it Latin ex means ‘out of’) but that’s likely not the case if your partner had kids with his ex. I know there are many ways a step-family unit might be constructed and a mother may be absent but in my case she’s still very much in the picture. She’s there because she has joint custody of the children and they live with her Monday – Friday. She’s also my stepsons’ mother and they love her.
It doesn’t matter what I think of her, how she’s treated me or if I disagree with her parenting decisions. The fact is she is their mother; I have to get used to her being on the edges of our marriage and all the time we spend with the boys. This is not an easy realisation: I’m starting year three of being a stepmom and I still have to regularly remind myself of this.
Recently, I’ve tried to calmly articulate to Chris how her presence, even on the periphery, makes me feel. I was surprised to find him empathetic to my plight. He listened to me and agreed that it ‘must feel terrible.’ This was a shift for both of us and I think it had to do with my approach. Previously, I’ve let my resentment at the situation build and lead to an angry explosion. This has put Chris on the defensive and led to arguments that left both of us feeling hurt, not heard and guilty.
You will feel resentment but you need to let it go
How can you not feel resentment? Your partner has to interact regularly with the person whose role you now fill. Except, you don’t fill that role. You’ve taken on the role of wife but you’re not wife and mom so the dynamics of your role will be different. It may also be different because during the process of separation and divorce your partner may have changed; he may be approaching this new marriage differently.
At times, I have let my resentment just bowl me over.
It’s left my anxious, angry and incredibly frustrated. It’s hard for me to reconcile that Chris spent over 20 years in marriage to someone else. It’s hard for me understand that he was married to someone that by his accounts didn’t treat him well and from my observations still doesn’t.
To deal with this, I have to first acknowledge that it is understandable and OK for me to have these sorts of feelings. Then, I have to analyse the benefit of holding on to them. Do they help me be a better partner and co-parent? Do they help me love my stepchildren any more than I do now? Emotions like this are not often productive for me. They cause my anxieties to mount and end up in me being irritable with my stepsons and sometimes exploding in anger at Chris.
I have to do sometimes do a reality check to let go of these feelings. What’s the reality of the situation? This helps me to move beyond my anxieties. I often write in my journal what is the reality, as opposed to the catastrophe in my head. Here are some examples:
- Chris’ first marriage and the birth of his children happened before I knew any of them
- Due to the age difference between Chris and I, it would have been impossible for me to be his first wife and the mother of his his current children
- My stepsons are a product of their mother and regardless of that it doesn’t change the love I feel for them
- The divorce and the parameters of it were established before Chris and I started dating
- I fell in love with a divorced dad
- I fell in love with the Chris I met when I met him; not some past version of him
This technique helps me to let my resentment go because I can see it’s illogical to resent a past that I was not part of and the feeling does not help the present in any positive way.