Walking on eggshells. Toeing the line. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So many stepmoms I meet (and coach) use these exact phrases to describe their experiences co-parenting with the ex.
They work so hard to keep the peace with the ex but don’t actually feel peaceful themselves. And what good is that?
Ultimately, when we prioritize keeping the peace with a co-parent, we de-prioritize what’s truly important and what can actually give us lasting happiness as stepmoms. Here’s how to reprioritize and reclaim control.
Boundaries is what matters most.
Often, in an attempt “at a truce,” we (or our partners) will not set, or enforce, boundaries that would protect us because they might upset the other party. But you know what? I think that’s a bunch of BS.
Not setting those boundaries prioritizes someone else’s peace over our own. And don’t you think we’ve sacrificed enough that we don’t have to also choose someone else’s comfort with our lack of boundaries over our comfort with healthy boundaries in place?
In a perfect world, we could keep the peace internally and interpersonally. But often in blended families, that’s not our reality, and I would much rather you choose to prioritize yourself than anyone else (including the ex, your in-laws, etc.).
If you’re not happy, that will spill over into other areas of your life. You might take it out on your partner. You might be standoffish with your stepkids. You might snap at a coworker.
If it goes unresolved long enough, not being content within could mean that you don’t have peace with anyone. That is why it’s critically important to step outside of your comfort zone and any fears you may have about how prioritizing yourself may be perceived, and do it anyway.
Because you deserve peace, your relationship deserves peace, and your family deserves peace.
Your relationship is next most important.
Last week, I hosted a workshop for couples in blended families where I gave a bit of tough love to partners who prioritized peace with their ex over everything else (you can snag the replay here).
I get it. I get wanting to build bridges so you can make things as easy as possible for your kids, and avoid risking losing any bit of time with them (or the ex bad-mouthing you). I really, truly understand that this isn’t about picking sides for you.
But, my friend, it does sometimes come down to picking sides. It may come down to a decision to keep the peace at home or keep the peace with the ex, and if that’s the case, consider the ripple effect if you choose the ex instead…
Your partner will be upset, and she’ll likely feel disrespected or at least, not prioritized. You’ll argue, she’ll grow distant from the kids, they’ll sense the tension… And I hate to be that guy, but if it happens enough, your partner will not want to be with someone who is prioritizing someone else’s comfort over her own. And is that breakup what’s best for your kids? For you?
Play it out until the end. Our decisions today have lasting effects. It’s not always as simple as we think it is in the moment.
Always prioritize your contentment internally first. Then, prioritize the unity with your partner next. Everything else follows.
Sometimes, keeping the peace isn’t possible.
It’s also entirely possible that no matter what you do to try to keep the peace with the ex, you’ll never be able to.
If the ex is committed to being difficult, they’ll find a way. If you give in about dance class this time, they’ll find another excuse to poke the bear next week. With a difficult ex, you can never truly keep the unity.
So, focus your efforts where you’re able to make a difference. Focus on what’s most important.
Sometimes the only way to truly find peace as a stepmom is to ignore the ex’s conflict, take back control for yourself, and prioritize harmony within above all else.
P.S. If your partner’s ex is high-conflict, here’s how to co-parent with a difficult ex.