I think the answer to that is yes. We are trying. Here is our story.
Three years ago and some change, I got divorced. We were together for 12 years. Wedding, jobs, houses, babies, differences, yada yada yada…divorced. We parted amicably and agreed to share the responsibilities of child rearing.
I moved on with a mistake, he moved on and got married.
Naturally, I am very territorial where my kids are concerned. Thus, in the beginning of their relationship, things got rocky between her and me. We collided at every turn, it seemed. There were some terse emails that flew back and forth between us over the years and each in person interaction was filled with awkwardness and discomfort. The kids would start to tell a story involving her and then they’d stop because one of them would give a side glance to the storyteller indicating that what they were about to say wouldn’t be well received in my house. I hated that.
It pained me to see my kids wince at sharing their happiness with me. I tried to encourage them to talk about their time at their dad’s and said things like, “Oh how nice! Oh how fun! I bet you loved that!,” when inside I was dying knowing they were falling in love with another woman. They could tell, even though I thought I was hiding it. Admittedly, I have trouble controlling my facial expressions. Also, kids sense things. We lose that ability as adults, unless we practice awareness.
As a momma bear, it is difficult to see your children love other women who aren’t in your immediate family. Sure they love Grammaw and Auntie, but the day they come home from daycare and call you the teacher’s name, oof, that stings. Now imagine they live in two households and are being cared for 24/7 by another woman when they aren’t with you. They come home to you with stories of how awesome she is and your heart completely deflates. For the last three years I have battled with my own inner brat who kicked and flailed at these thoughts. I tuck them in at night! That’s MY job! I had completely irrational fantasies of taking them on a trip to a secret place never to return so they could be mine and only mine. Every single time I had to let them go to dad’s, I cried my eyes and heart out until I was dry. Every time. And when I couldn’t cry anymore, I moped. I was miserable.
I don’t know what it was that woke me up. Yoga? Fatigue? A constant state of confusion and anger is very draining. My mind couldn’t make sense of why I was so angry. I couldn’t wrap my head around how to fix our situation. There simply was no solution and I kept beating my head against the wall trying to come up with one until I realized we were living the solution. I just had to let it be.
This woman is a nice person. She’s pretty. She makes my kids laugh. She does nice things for them and she loves their dad. They adore her. Why couldn’t I accept that? I softened. I started trying to see her differently. She cares for my kids, so why not embrace and support her like I do with all the other women in my life and the world? This was the supreme struggle for me as a steadfast feminist. Why was I hating on this woman who just wanted a happy life and to be loved, like me? There was no reason other than my selfish need to have my children love only me. That was it.
I decided I wanted to start over — can moms and step-moms be friends? For months, I struggled with how to approach her so we could put the past where it belongs and move on positively. I even composed some emails apologizing to her for not being more accepting, but I never sent them. I chickened out thinking foolishly that showing any kindness would somehow relinquish this imagined upper hand I had. I had conversations with her in my head and even dreams of us hanging out together watching the kids play and genuinely having a good time. As fate would have it, she was having similar feelings, I found out recently. After my son’s last baseball game, we all went out for pizza. As we were leaving, I had the words on the tip of my tongue and almost pulled her aside to tell her, but I hesitated too long and they all got in their cars and waved goodbye.
Later that evening, she texted me. It was an apology. I texted one back and cried and several texts later, we let it all go. We agreed to meet for drinks the next day and hug it out. It was very much like going on a first date, awkward and nerve-wracking, but cathartic. Across from me sat a woman whose interesting story I didn’t know. She was intelligent, sweet, funny and not evil at all. I had made it all up! I had been trying to make her the bad guy in order to make sense of my twisted negative perceptions. We found out we had a lot of similarities. It gave us a good platform on which we could reset our thoughts and feelings about each other. We left saying that we should do it again, and I think we both meant it. I spent the rest of the weekend and following week letting go of the soul crushing negativity that was binding me. I cried at every turn, my body letting go, my tears emptying me of long held toxicity.
Now, we text each other sometimes, kind of like friends. We are trying and the kids see it. I’m not angry anymore, which has taken some getting used to. I no longer have dreams of clutter and unsolvable puzzles. I no longer ugly cry when the kids leave me for their house. My kids feel my happiness. I actually feel joy again! They speak of her and it doesn’t bother me. I’m trying to raise my kids to be compassionate happy people, and I have to show them what that looks like. They don’t understand the nuances of adult relationships. They don’t know what betrayal and mistrust feels like. They will experience those things in due time, but I will do everything in my power to delay that for them. They loved a person mommy didn’t love and that confused them. I am changing that and as it turns out, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.
This was a difficult road for us and our story is not finished. We have a lot of work to do, but we are on the path side by side, instead of head on against each other playing chicken. Not every parent/step-parent relationship has a happy ending, I know that. There are definitely step-parents and biological parents who are not doing their best. But, we are not those people.
I know I mess up, but I try my hardest. I feel she is trying as well and I want to support, not discount that. I hope that for our kids’ sake we continue to move forward in a positive way and model for them what love looks like. We are a family, no matter how odd it looks or feels sometimes. All that matters to me (and to my kids’ step-mom and their dad) is that the kids feel loved and see us being happy. In the end, that is all I want for them. I can say now that I am genuinely grateful she is in their lives. Anger doesn’t serve us.
Women need to lift each other up. I mean, how brave was she to say yes to a relationship with a man with three kids and a very involved ex-wife? I have a lot of respect for her willingness to open her heart to that life. Incidentally, our cathartic new beginning took place over the weekend leading up to Mother’s day this year.