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My ex-husband works many hours a week. We have joint physical and legal custody, so our schedule alternates. One week I have the girls M-W and Sat/Sun, while my ex has them Th-Fri, and then it switches the next week. When they are at their biological father’s house, their stepmom Molly is the primary parent. We handle this well, due to our constant open communication.
If the stepparent is the main person in the other household who cares for your child, respect them as the other person most involved in your child’s life, next to you. That person is your co-parent. This can be uncomfortable at first, but if you keep an open heart and choose not to judge, it can be okay, even good.
The stepparent is the person who helps with homework, holds the kids when they cry and tucks them in at night. The stepparent is also the one who has probably taken the brunt of your children’s angry outbursts and resentment from the divorce–and that’s no easy job. It’s a million times harder when there is resistance from the bio-mom. Can you imagine being the person who is making stepparenting harder on someone than it already is?
When Molly and I started directly communicating, it was awkward. As time went on, communicating became easier and easier. She and I are both children of divorce, each with our own share of bad or traumatic memories from our childhoods. Neither of us wanted to put our children through the same emotional turmoil that we went through, and neither of us want to waste our valuable energy on hating one another when we could work together. We both wanted to set a good example for our children, and so, that’s what we’ve done.
Tips for Bio-Moms to Keep Communication Open:
*Communicate openly with the stepmom. If you communicate solely through your ex, and he is not always home, things can get lost in translation or morphed into something bigger than it is. That’s not great for the kids, and it adds fuel to any resentment you might have toward your ex. Try to remember that next to you, the stepmom is the other person who best knows your child, and at times, she feels just as frustrated with the normal ups and downs of parenting as you do.
*Keep communications polite and business-like, at least until it becomes more comfortable. Don’t ask skewering questions, express dismay or say negative things about your ex.
*If the stepmom resists at first, explain that you are aware that she is the primary parent in her household, and that you would like to work together to better know what is going on with the children. Children tend to play both sides when the bio-mom and stepmom do not communicate directly. Be generous and kind until she accepts the truth: you have no ill intent.
*Try to keep your feelings about your former relationship out of the picture entirely–and if that proves difficult, seek counseling. You cannot change the past, but you can help shape the future.
*If you feel she is stepping on your toes, call her. She probably has no idea how you are feeling or what you expect from her. Call her and talk to her as you would a friend. In other words, do not open with accusing her. Use “I” statements. Example: “I feel like I am being replaced when my son goes to you over me.” It’s normal to have a hard time engaging a stepmom with anger. For help with this, I recommend the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg.
Tips for the Step-parent to Keep Communication Open:
*Communicate with the bio-mom. I know not all bio moms are receptive to open communication, but I urge you to keep trying. When the bio-mom is communicating through the bio-dad, important things can get lost in translation. After all, YOU are the primary caregiver in that household and YOU are the one who actually knows what is going on with the children on a day to day basis.
*When in doubt, call the bio-mom. Anytime the child brings up an issue that you are uncomfortable with or you are unsure about something, open communication works best. Don’t assume that the child is conveying accurate information–go to the source.
*Leave your feelings about the bio-mom and her former relationship with your spouse out of the current situation. People behave differently in different relationships. Even if your partner has told you how badly he was treated and shared all of his ex’s flaws, separate the idea he’s created in your mind from the person you are now engaging.
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of ten and fourteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.