When I first started dating a man with kids, I was terrified… not of the kids, but of their mom.
Not that she’s scary—in fact, I hadn’t even met her yet. But her presence scared me. Simply knowing that she existed was intimidating. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that if I continued to date this man, she would be a part of my life. She wouldn’t go away; she would be a constant.
When we started dating, the kids were very young, and the separation was still fresh. Their mom didn’t want to meet me, and frankly, I didn’t want to meet her. I wanted to pretend she didn’t exist.
I tried to convince myself that I would never have to be at a child exchange and that he would never hear from her. I was sure that as time passed, they would never need to speak to one another.
I assumed they would plan when exchanges were taking place well in advance, would meet, move the kids from one car to another, and drive away from each other.
I thought surely, they don’t have anything to talk about. Surely, she can handle the kids when they’re with her, and he can handle the kids when they’re with him. I thought, does he really even need her phone number anymore? Can’t they just email if something important pops up?
My, my, my… how naïve I was.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that she was still a regular part of his everyday life. Between exchanging babies and their belongings, sorting out finances, and preparing for custody mediation (which eventually turned into custody court), they found plenty to talk about.
Side note: I had no idea how long it takes for things to get sorted out in a divorce. The division of assets, sale of a house, creation of a custody agreement, mandatory separation period when children are involved, and creation of divorce decree… it can take years.
Since [it seemed like] they found a reason to communicate daily, it didn’t take long for me to start being brought into their conversations… by her. Rude remarks, accusations, and blatant lies were stated to my boyfriend about me, perhaps in a fit of jealousy or rage.
It took everything in me to not insert myself into the situation and contact her directly… but, then I did. One day, I decided I needed to extend an olive branch. Did you hear that?! I needed to extend an olive branch. It was eating me alive.
Extending an Olive Branch to your Stepchild’s Mom: Does it Work?
I needed her to know that I was not trying to take her place or overstep in any way. I needed her to know that I knew she was their mom, and always would be. In about three months of dating, we had never spoken before. I couldn’t take it anymore… I needed to get these things off my chest, so I wrote her a letter.
My boyfriend didn’t know in advance that I had written her a letter. One day, we were picking the kids up from her house. When he was getting out of the car (and I was staying in it like a smart, drama-free girlfriend), I handed him the sealed letter and asked him to give it to her.
To be honest, he looked at me like I was a complete idiot, but he did take it to her. He knew in his heart that it would do no good. He also knew better than to try and convince me of that, which is why he took the letter to her without question. Smart man…
As I stewed and stewed for weeks on end, you know what finally came of the letter? Nothing. She never said anything to me, or to him, about that letter.
As time continued to pass, we began having small conversations whenever we saw each other. We were cordial but did not have a relationship. We had a couple of notable bad times but overall, we just… were. We coexisted, and I forced myself to become okay with that.
About 2 and a half years after writing that letter to the mother of my then-boyfriends kids, she extended her own olive branch to me.
After my husband and I had been married for about a year, my youngest stepdaughter broke her arm on a Friday afternoon at daycare. The kids were with their mom that weekend, and on Saturday, she needed help. My husband was working, and I sprung to action.
While I was at her apartment, she opened up to me. Yep, this olive branch was extended in-person. A lot was said but in summary, she said she wanted us to have an open line of communication. She wanted us to get along. She acknowledged my role in the lives of her children and even made reference to us all being around for the long haul. I was shocked.
Not only was I shocked, but I was baffled. I remembered the time I had tried to open this same line of communication and was essentially ghosted. After the shock and confusion wore off, I was relieved… relieved that she opened up to me and that she considered me an important person in the lives of her children.
What was the difference?
But… what changed? How did we get here? Why did this olive branch work, when mine had failed?
My olive branch didn’t work because she wasn’t ready to accept it. My intentions were pure and my words were kind and empathetic, but none of that mattered.
The truth is, there is nothing I could have done at the time I wrote that letter to begin cultivating a relationship with her… she wasn’t ready.
The real truth is that a few months after she extended an olive branch to me, I found a Facebook message that had been filtered to “spam” from her. It was several years old, and it was nasty.
In that message, she told me exactly how she felt about me dating her estranged husband. The irony? The date of that message was just a few days before I delivered her that letter.
Isn’t that wild?! At a time when I thought we had never directly communicated, we had. She sent me a private message, essentially saying she wanted nothing to do with me, mere days before I sent her that letter trying to extend an olive branch. No wonder I never heard a response from her… she really wasn’t ready for it.
The olive branch she extended to me years later worked because we were both ready to accept each other. Time had passed. I had shown her my dedication to the kids. She had shown me her compassionate side. We had begun to humanize each other and were ready to take the next step.
Is The Timing Right?
So stepmom, before you extend an olive branch to your stepchild’s mom, think long and hard about it. I mean seriously, reflect on where you are at and where you have been. If your judgment is clouded, get an outsider’s opinion from someone in your support system.
Despite my intentions being in the right place, the timing was terrible. If I had asked one person for their opinion, they probably would have advised against it.
Think about her perspective. Would you want to receive a letter from your estranged husband’s new girlfriend? Especially one regarding your children?! The answer is no, you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t either… and I should have realized that at the time.
Something I did right is that I didn’t press her. Once I didn’t receive a response to my letter, I dropped it. I didn’t write multiple letters, or show up knocking at her door demanding a coffee date to “clear the air.” I just dropped it, which was exactly what she—what we—needed.
Extending an olive branch at the wrong time can be detrimental, but at the right time, it can be life changing. Before you ride off on your stallion to save the day and pour your heart out to your stepchild’s mom, think long and hard about whether or not now is the time not only for you, but for you both.
If you’re honest with yourself and do it at the right time, extending an olive branch to your stepchild’s mom can be exactly what you need to lessen the tension between you two, or to alleviate some of your own anxiety.
But, as with everything in blended family living, don’t be surprised if the results of the olive branch aren’t what you were hoping for.
P.S. Still waiting for your olive-branch moment? Remind yourself that you are a GREAT stepmom!