Step Mom Needs to Make Peace with Kids’ Mom

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: I have been dating my boyfriend for sometime and his ex-wife is aware of me and she isn’t too happy that he has moved on. We are planning to move in with each other in the next couple of months, and she is being very vindictive as far as visitation goes with the boys. Today she tells him that his relationship with me is affecting the boys. She stated that they act differently when they come home after being around me. He told her that if that was the case why did the oldest boy ask each time he comes over if I am going to be there and he gets upset when he is told that I am not going to be there.

I would never ever mistreat his children nor take their father away from them. She is their mother and I would never speak badly of her. All I know is this is something new to me and I have not yet met this woman and don’t have any desire to meet her. All I know is that she has to be aware that she isn’t going to control him any longer. I allow him to handle the situation I just want to make sure to handle it appropriately on my end.

She attempts to see me each weekend that she picks the boys up and I stay as far away from the line of fire as possible. He did state that if she ever saw me that she is the type that would be confrontational. Can you please help me on how to handle the situation correctly because I don’t want her to ever know that she is getting to me because that is her goal and I don’t want her to think that she has succeeded.

Thanks!

A: Believe it or not, it is time for you to meet and make peace with your boyfriend’s ex. You are already on the right track by refusing to speak badly of their mom to the boys. Now you need to take the next step and actively try to make a relationship with her.

The boys’ mother is feeling threatened by the fact that another woman is going to be “mothering” her sons part of the time. (She isn’t wrong. The kids probably do act differently after being with you because you matter in their lives. ) You are feeling threatened by your belief that she is trying to take control or be vindictive towards you when she may be scared. This type of situation can easily turn into an endless circle of pain. She feels threatened by you so gets confrontational. You hate conflict so you pull away. This makes you more threatening because she doesn’t know what you’re thinking so she gets upset. You get upset and pull back. And so it goes. Worst of all, it’s the boys who end up the most hurt by this. They need to have a relationship with you without feeling disloyal to their mother. And they need to have a relationship with their mother without feeling that you will think less of them (or her) because of it. What a mess!

Here’s the truth. You and the ex are both very, very important in these boys’ lives. You don’t have to be best girlfriends but for the sake of the boys’ mental health, you do have to be cordial and you do have to work together. By this I mean that you will need to be politely talking to each other about a great many things as the kids go back and forth between your homes. For example: If one of the kids isn’t feeling well, the receiving person should know. If a kid forgets something at one house or the other, it needs to be easy for the two of you to pick up the phone and just fix it. If a child is having trouble in school or with friends or is just having a bad day, the person on the receiving end needs to know. There will be many events where the kids will want you both there. You want those events to be joyful, not clouded by anxiety over what you and mom are up to.

Some people would like to think that the father in the situation can act as go-between. This almost never works out. The guy feels constantly in the middle between two warring factions. This can be frustrating, exhausting, and angry-making. No matter what he does, you or his ex may feel that he isn’t doing it right. The kids then watch the grown ups doing everything they can to avoid a situation rather than deal. They end up paying because the adults can’t be adult and get along. None of this is good role modeling for adulthood.

Of course, you don’t have the entire say in all this. If the ex doesn’t reciprocate your offer of peace, it’s tougher. If your boyfriend doesn’t help you by being his most adult self, it’s also harder. Regardless of what other people do, however, you can consistently stay on the “high road” and make it clear that it’s only right and normal for people to get along. The boys’ Mom will eventually understand that you aren’t trying to take her place. Your boyfriend will have enormous respect for your efforts. The boys will feel free to love both of the women who love them. And you will rightfully feel very good about yourself.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Jun 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Step Mom Needs to Make Peace with Kids’ Mom. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/06/16/step-mom-needs-to-make-peace-with-kids-mom/