In just a few short weeks or so, my daughter will have a new person living with her: my ex's girlfriend.
She's not a stepmother yet and I don't know if that will happen or not, but by living with my daughter she becomes an actual part of my kid's life, rather than a person she sees now randomly every other weekend. This is a huge change for my daughter and, quite frankly, me. And probably for this woman, too, and my ex.
I try to view the situation logistically.
- It's out of my control no matter what happens, whether the relationship falls apart or the two of them form a family and give my child a stepsibling.
- To that extent, I cannot control how the other household will run or treat my child. I just have to be there to support my kid through the changes.
- It's a "natural" part of the divorce cycle; although to be honest, divorce does not feel "natural" to me even two years later.
- This person seems like a nice person although I have yet to meet her (not how I would handle the situation if it were in reverse), and so, I am grateful my daughter likes her.
"Inheriting" an ex-wife or stepmother feels exactly like that: you are inheriting someone that you have no choice but to deal with. It's like someone walked into your home and said, "Guess what? You are now getting a roommate," and you have no choice but to live with the person for the rest of your life. OK, so it's not exactly like that, but it does feel that way sometimes. Here are some fears I share, as well as those of other parents I have spoken to in the same situation in which divorce brings a new man or woman into our kids' lives permanently.
1. Will the person try to take over?
Will the person be unbearable, or will they work with the mom to make a good relationship? It's unexpected. When a stepmom enters into your world, she doesn't know what to think of you either. Will she overstep her boundaries, or instead, will she want to learn about my child and her world on both sides of the fence? For example, perhaps in Dad's world, a child may behave one way, but perhaps on the flip side, at Mom's, the child behaves another way. The reality is the stepmom or girlfriend typically has no idea about life at the other house unless she is close to the mother. In divorce, two homes are typically run somewhat differently and for some people totally differently. It's like learning new languages. On the flip side: I give a lot of credit to stepparents. It is hard to enter into an already "drawn" picture and try to find a way to fit yourself into the frame, or create a new picture from the one that is already permanently etched.
2. Will the person compete with the mom?
I think this happens more with women than men, but I wonder: is this now going to be a competition of who is the better parent? I mean, have you ever seen moms at a gathering? It's like people are trying to prove who is the better mother. Should I expect that with a stepmom? Many moms like myself feel the same way. Sadly, another family member, not the girlfriend, tried to "do this little competition already." Thankfully the twisted person's efforts were ignored from everyone. So sometimes, it can be other toxic family members who try to create drama from both sides of the coin. That of course thank goodness doesn't seem to be the norm. On the flip side, a stepmom may be worried that the mom is out to portray her as less than or as a wicked stepmother.
The reality is there really should be room for everyone's strengths and weaknesses to be cherished and supported. It would make for a better blended family. If a stepmom could support a mom in her areas of weakness and vice versa, the family units could do very well.
3. Will the person get to know the mom outside of the framework of the ex?
I wonder if this person will try to get to know me outside of what she has learned, which I imagine is unfavorable, about me from my ex. I mean that's what people do. We share the heartaches of our exes to the next love, typically. The way I see it — and I told her this — she has a clean slate with me. I don't know her. I know fragments of information and still haven't met her. To me, she's a stranger and that is a benefit to her. I am not walking in with assumptions. But is this offered to me? Probably not and that's not intentional but a fact of the situation. A stepmom's ear has been rammed with info from an ex. Hopefully though, the person is mature to know that to each relationship side, there is a story.
On the flip side: it can be scary for a stepmom or stepdad to approach someone they have heard so much about and is the other main person in a future or potential stepchild's life. It can feel a little like walking onto a hit TV show with a new role, hoping to blend in with a tight and high-performing cast.
4. Will this person affect a child's love for his or her mom?
Yes. This is by far one of the biggest fears I have read from people in my shoes. Will the child love the stepparent more than the parent? Will the stepparent try to jeopardize the relationship the child has with the parent? Sadly, this does happen. There are some cruel people in this world who try to taint the relationship the mom or dad has with the kid. Thankfully, there are many people who are not like this! That's the good news.
On the flip side, the stepmom may wonder, "Will I ever truly bond with this child?" She may feel as if the mom does not appreciate all she has to offer to the child as an additional person who, hopefully, loves the child.
5. Will this person destroy the relationship between the coparents?
Ding, ding, ding! One of the biggest fears is that a new woman wrecks the coparent relationship. I know a new person certainly affected my own situation a few times from my own perspective. The fear is that now the stepmom will meddle in with affairs that don't pertain to her between the two coparents or that she will turn the ex against the coparent.
On the flip side, the stepmom may feel like a third wheel or may be subjected to ranting from her new partner against the mother. The stepmom may want to defend her partner (although she should stay out of it) and may not know when to step forward or step back. It's not easy, I am sure.
6. Will the stepmom favor other kids or take child support away from the mom's kid?
Suddenly a new child comes and WAM! — Dad is not around as much or money gets too tight for child support for kid number one. This doesn't always happen, but if it does, this can create a lot of stress for moms. The reality is I am sure a great stepmom loves your child/children as much as her own kids. Of course, there will be some who don't. That's a fact, but as moms, we cannot control that. We can just love our kids to bits and give them all that we have. Besides, what better love than a mom's love?
On the flip side: the money may be tight and the stepmom may just gel more with one of her own kids. She may worry you suspect she's not caring for your child the same or that she doesn't appreciate your own plight financially supporting your kids.
There are so many fears I have and others have had. I will have to make a part two. But for now, I leave everyone who is in my boat with these thoughts: As much as I am not looking forward to the changes, I know that on both sides of the street there are stressors and changes. If stepparents and parents could come together knowing that we all have our crosses to bear and are trying our best, perhaps progress, a great coparentship, and even a friendship can be made.