This guest post was contributed by Laura Petherbridge, The Smart Stepmom:
“My husband wants his children to come to our home for the normal visitation during this Coronavirus, but I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Stepmom Alayna stated.
“He has a complex medical history which includes heart and respiratory issues,” she continued. “I’m terrified he’s going to get the virus from his kids because at Mom’s house they have no social distancing guidelines, plus she works with seniors. His response to me when I brought it up was, ‘I’d rather risk my health and see my kids, than for them to think I don’t want to see them or that this isn’t their home too.’ I didn’t even know how to respond.”
Alayna is in a position many stepmoms are facing right now. Because none of us have lived though a pandemic before, most families are at a loss over what to do.
I am not an attorney, so I will not share legal advice.
But I have been a stepmom for 34 years. In that time, my husband and I have encountered more complex stepfamily issues than I can count. We frequently do not agree on what’s the best resolution; however, I have discovered that to maintain my sanity, peace of mind, and marriage, I must focus on the things I can control and let go of the things I cannot.
Because the virus falls under a rare category there is no “cookie cutter” answer for everyone. We must remember, “This too shall pass.” The decisions we make today during COVID-19 aren’t forever.
Dealing with High-Conflict Situations
Here are the ways I have learned to manage a high conflict situation.
These are my husband’s children. If he wants to see them, and the law allows it, then he should be able to do so. I am not his mother; I am his wife.
Choosing to see his kids does NOT mean he doesn’t love me, my kids, or the “ours” kids. It merely means he loves ALL his kids.
When I’m setting a boundary, I wait until I calm down.
I’m firm stating what I believe, but also kind. “Steve, I understand why you want to see your kids. And I never want to be the reason that you don’t see them. Can we discuss the pros and cons before you decide?”
I take my eyes off the other parent and the choices she is making. I CANNOT control what goes on in the other home. Repeat that to yourself several times—per second, minute, hour, or day—whatever is necessary. If the other parent is using this to manipulate visitation, let your partner deal with the ex.
If an ex has been high conflict in the past, do not expect this circumstance to cause an epiphany or change of heart. Lower your expectations.
Dealing with Coronavirus Concerns
Specific to COVID-19, if I feel my health or the health of my children is at risk, and my husband does not, I have one of two choices.
Ask him to see his kids in another location other than our home, or my kids and I can go to another safe location.
Being a stepmom is often extremely challenging and requires a lot of self-control.
I didn’t learn these steps quickly or easily. The driving force was the question, “Do I want to be right or do I want to have a home that’s peaceful and relaxing?”
That doesn’t mean I’m a doormat and I let people treat me badly. It means I’ve learned to discern when it’s wise to set a boundary with a consequence, and when to let it go.
What’s Best for Your Home
Only you can decide what’s worth the risk in your blended family home. There is no shame in protecting yourself or your kids.
If your spouse isn’t respecting your concerns, then that is a marriage issue, not a stepfamily issue. For that, I highly recommend professional help from someone who specifically specializes in stepfamily issues.
P.S. Here’s additional guidance for sharing custody and COVID-19.