Years ago, before my husband and I were even engaged, I walked into the room while he was on the phone with his ex-wife.
“I’m done trying to explain it to you, you’re an idiot,” he snapped into the phone, then hung up.
I probably should’ve felt concerned, hearing my boyfriend speak so harshly. (Don’t worry, he’s never called me an idiot!) But instead I felt relieved. I had finally witnessed my cordial, calm boyfriend lashing out on his ex. It was my confirmation that he hated her as much as I secretly wanted him to.
He turned to me and gave me a look that said, “Sorry you had to hear that, I’m just at wits end,” and I responded by saying, “Wow. She really is the worst.”
Stop Being Gasoline, and Start Being Water
And so began my terrible habit of being pure, premium gasoline.
I became a pro at taking my husband’s fires – even the tiny, petty ones – and dumping hate fuel all over them. Stressed about money? Let me remind you that the mom only works a couple of days a week because you fund her lifestyle. Frustrated that the mom got your daughter to school late? Allow me to add that this is the 8th time she’s been tardy so far this year! Anything else you’d like to commiserate about? I’ve got a selection of fueling comments on tap!
Deep down, you know. You know that contributing to your partner’s complaints about his ex’s parenting does not make you a better parent. Reminding him of all the ways she is a loser doesn’t make you a winner. Hateful gossip doesn’t change what you can control, it just makes you even more bitter about what you can’t. And pouring gasoline on his fires is not bonding or being supportive, it’s just …making larger fires. You know.
But oh, it just feels so good to tear her down, right?
Call it insecurity, call it second wife syndrome, but whatever the cause, we stepmoms find loads of “happiness” in tearing down our stepchild’s mother. You’ll note I have happiness in quotes, because it’s not actually happiness at all. It’s shallow validation, and I cannot warn you enough that it is extremely short-lived.
Eventually, whether it be months or decades, the appeal will wear off. Someday you will grow sick finding common ground in negativity. You will grow tired of trying to make up for all of the mom’s parenting shortcomings because you’re still trying to prove that you know better. You will grow exhausted of talking about her all the time, even if it is to put her down.
Eventually, you will want your home to be a positive, peaceful atmosphere.
Eventually, you will want your conversations with your partner to be about your own life together and the things that actually bring you closer.
Eventually, you will become secure enough in your position in his life and his children’s lives that you no longer feel the need to prove your worth – or the ex’s lack of it.
I dislike the phrase “know your role” as much as you do, but friend – in order to thrive as a blended family, you must recognize and embrace what is within your control and what is not. You cannot control what type of person the mom is. You cannot control how she parents her children. You cannot control what she does for work or how much TV she watches.
You can control the tone you set in your home. Make your marriage a buzzing nest of insults, and everyone will feel the resulting negativity – including your stepkids. If you think the kids don’t sense the presence of Team We Hate Mom at their dad’s house, you’re sorely mistaken.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can choose to build your marriage on commitment instead of complaints. You can choose to make your home a safe haven, a we’re-all-just-doing-our-best-here home, and a place your family always wants to be.
A Conscious Choice
Choose to be water, and you’re choosing your own happiness over your desire to be right. I absolutely still struggle with this, but I can tell you the more sure of myself and my place in this family I become, the less concerned I am with making sure everyone around me knows I’m “better” than my husband’s ex.
The next time your partner is frustrated that his ex doesn’t have their daughter doing her daily reading minutes, choose to NOT fuel the fire. Choose to praise him for how involved he is with his daughter’s education, choose to offer to read with her an extra fifteen minutes when you pick her up, or to leave a friendly reminder note in her folder. Choose to diffuse the fire by offering only suggestions and encouragement from within your realm of control.
Speaking poorly of your stepchildren’s mother – to your partner, to your mom, to anyone who will listen – will never make you better than her. You are already enough. The people who love you already love you, no matter how much you can convince them to hate someone else.
Stop being gasoline. Choose to be water. The sooner you do, the sooner you will start feeling more REAL happiness and peace in your stepmom role – not to mention how much lighter you’ll feel now that you don’t have to carry all those gas cans around.
PS: Would you rather be right or happy? It’s an important question to ask yourself!