I’m going to start this one with a scenario:
It’s a Tuesday night. Your 4-year-old stepdaughter tells you for the hundredth time that she wants a haircut. She’s never had a haircut before. You and your husband talk about it, and tell her, “Maybe we can take you this weekend.”
On Wednesday, her Mom picks her up from school, and she tells her with excitement, “Daddy is taking me to get a haircut!”
Immediately, a pit falls into the Mom’s stomach. She wants to be a part of her child’s first haircut.
Quiz time! What should the appropriate reaction from the Mom be?
Option A: Send a text to the Dad asking for information. For example, “Hey! [Name] mentioned you’re taking her to get a haircut… is that true? If so, do you mind if I join? I really don’t want to miss her first haircut.”
Option B: Send a series of texts to the Dad, without leaving him time to respond, and accusing him of leaving you out. For example, “I can’t believe you’re taking [Name] to get a haircut without me! I am her mother, I need to be there for her first haircut! I will just take her tonight. I know of amazing hair stylists. You are welcome to join us. We are on the way now.”
If you answered Option A, congratulations! You are in a rationale state of mind.
Unfortunately, in a blended family, Option B seems to be chosen more often than not.
Spiteful Acts in Co-parenting: How to Deal
Spiteful acts in a blended family not only hurt the co-parenting relationship, but also hurt the children involved.
Children understand more than we give them credit for. As they grow up, often quicker than expected in a blended family, they begin to understand who was considerate, and who was not. Who acted selfishly, and who acted with the child’s best interest in mind.
Children do not want to feel like the conversations they have in one home needs to be kept private from the other home. They do not want to relay innocent information which unintentionally causes an all-night text war between their parents.
Children see which parents respond appropriately to the information they share, and which parents do not.
The sharing of information between homes is not to spy. Children, especially at a young age, only share information or stories from the other home when they feel safe and comfortable enough to share.
For many parents in a blended family, it is difficult to hear about experiences in the other home… conversations that were had you may not agree with, or experiences had that you may have missed out on. But the child sharing information means they trust you.
One of the most difficult aspects of being in a blended family is that you often have to miss out on things. You don’t get to experience every “first” with your child, or every fun vacation they go on. You may not be there with them as they experience their first heartbreak, or as they open their college acceptance letter.
It’s painful, and to be frank, totally sucks when you have to miss experiences. So in the example above, I understand why the Mom was upset when she heard about a potential haircut. What I don’t understand, is why Option B, the spiteful act, was chosen as her response.
Rather than reaching out respectfully and having a mature conversation, the Mom in this scenario assumed the worst, sent accusatory text messages to the Dad, and then rushed to “beat him” to the haircut.
The first question that comes to mind is, “Why?” Why would she do that?
Unfortunately, we may never know the why. In many blended family dilemmas, we never get the privilege of knowing the “why.”
So instead of asking questions of the other party, we must only ask questions of ourselves.
Questions to Ask Yourself when Responding to a Spiteful Act in Co-Parenting
How can we respond do this spiteful act? Do we even need to respond?
Is this a battle we want to pick? How important is it?
How can we address the concern in a respectful way, despite the fact that the other party’s selfish act was disrespectful?
Will the other party even attempt to consider our perspective, or will we truly be wasting our energy trying to discuss it?
How can we prevent ourselves from getting mad at the child for sharing the information, even though we are sure they knew it would cause controversy?
How do we prevent ourselves from feeling unjust resentment towards the child?
As the old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Moving Forward After a Spiteful Act of Co-Parenting
You cannot stoop to the spiteful party’s level. If you cannot come up with a constructive or positive response, despite the betrayal, then do not respond.
If the battle isn’t worth picking, then don’t pick it.
If the other party is the type who will fight their point to the death, even if proven wrong, then don’t waste your time or energy trying to work it out.
Do not blame the child. This is not their fault.
Be the bigger person, always. That’s not just a good co-parenting rule, but a good life rule. That’s good karma, right there. Always be the bigger person.
No one ever regrets doing the right thing.
Unfortunately, spiteful acts in co-parenting are inevitable. We are all human. Humans act out of impulse and emotion at times… it’s just what we do.
Maybe the co-parent in your life seems to be all spite and no grace. Maybe, that’s actually true. Maybe, you’re guilty at times as well, and need to practice introspection to continue your personal growth.
We will never fully understand the “why” when it comes to spiteful acts in co-parenting. Lucky for us, we can understand our personal morals and values, our responses, and where we choose to spend our precious time and energy.
Don’t waste a second in places it’s not worth it.
P.S. None of this sound familiar? Could you be the problem? Are you a high-conflict stepmom?
P.P.S. Want to ensure you’re taking a deep look inside? Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re having high-conflict thoughts.