It’s Blended Families Week! So, I decide to write about my personal experience to celebrate. Heck, who am I kidding, to observe it. When I found out my daughter’s dad moved on, I was devastated. It felt like someone stabbed me in the back and the heart at the same time. I yearned to pick up the phone and call her—the other woman who later became the wife. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but I was sure that the sentences would be filled with four-letter words.
I didn’t dial a single digit. Although a blow up would blow off steam, it could be detrimental to my daughter. Did I want a woman who was mad at me to watch my child unsupervised? Did I want a woman to look at my princess as something other than an adorable, innocent bystander? Even if she didn’t become the evil stepmom portrayed on television, I didn’t want to give her a reason to not cherish my child. I admit—at first I didn’t want a woman I never met around my daughter. Then, I swallowed a very big pill—I’m pretty sure with a very big glass of wine. I cannot control who comes into my daughter’s life. I had to trust God. If this woman loved my ex, she would love his child, right? Fortunately, she has!
I shared my story with my friend Deesha Phillywaw, author of Co-parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce. We talked about how to spin the stepmother story into a positive portrayal. I told her, that I think I may get along better with the wife than the ex. We laughed and came up with 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Hate Your Child’s Stepmother.
1. She gets a set of keys to the carpool.
Heather: I co-parent across state lines, so my daughter’s stepmother helps with the driving. It’s a long haul, so I no longer worry that my ex will fall asleep at the wheel. I say a prayer, and they arrive safely!
Deesha: People sometimes ask me how I really feel about my kids’ stepmom. After I affirm that I don’t just like her, I embrace her as a family member, I add…‘And even if I didn’t like her, she’s another person to drive these kids around!’ Sometimes my co-parent can’t chauffeur our kids to school and to activities, so I welcome this additional driver with open arms!
2. She shuts the revolving door of women.
Heather: I hear so many horror stories of men brining home women they wouldn’t introduce to their mother but would let babysit their children. I don’t think my ex would do that, but knowing my daughter won’t be opening and closing the revolving door at their home is a sigh of relief.
Deesha: My kids never met anyone their dad dated except the person he eventually married. I am so thankful that she has been a positive and a constant in their lives. Fewer women—or in this case, one woman, meant less chance for drama and less adjusting for our children. Also, my ex and I agreed that we would give each other the opportunity to meet any new partners before they met the kids.
3. If she’s my opposite, she teaches my child something new.
Heather: In the beginning, you want to know what the other woman has that you don’t have. Now, I’m really comfortable in my skin and don’t compare our attributes. I don’t want my daughter to have a Stepford Wife Stepmom. I want her to experience and tolerate different personalities. I don’t really know my daughter’s stepmom, but what I do know is definitely different. Opposite, however, doesn’t always equate to something negative.
Deesha: My children’s stepmother and I get along great, but we have different tastes, different styles and different interests. So through her, my girls are exposed to ideas well beyond what they get from me, which makes them well-rounded. Their stepmom is more into sports and has different political and social views.
4. She can buy tampons, do hair and iron clothes.
Heather: Before my daughter had a stepmother, I secretly emailed her grandmother and asked that she ensured my daughter’s hair was neatly combed and lint free! I also ironed everything I sent! Although I used to irritate my ex, I voluntarily curled his children’s hair and ironed their clothes. We weren’t married, but I wanted to treat them like my own flesh and blood. Not that my ex is incapable. Sometimes women have a bit more practice in this area.
Deesha: It just so happened that my oldest daughter was at her dad’s house when she started her period. She reached out to her stepmother. And, as fate would have it, one of my bonus (step) daughters was in my care when she got her first period. It’s not that dads can’t parent in these situations; it’s that a woman’s presence may be beneficial.
And for both boys and girls, it helps immensely if the child is free to accept help and care without pressure from the biological mom to be “loyal” or hold this new person at arm’s length. Some children struggle to get comfortable with a stepparent’s care. As moms, we shouldn’t compound this struggle by burdening our children with anger or insecurity about “being replaced.” Children have plenty of needs and love to go around.
5. She can whisper a new perspective into my ex’s ear.
Heather: Although my ex doesn’t always attribute things to his wife, I can tell when suggestions come from her. I recall one instance in particular where he suddenly had a different perspective on a subject we disagreed on. I wasn’t jealous that he didn’t listen to me first. I didn’t care how he got to the end of the decision-making process!
Deesha: Ideally, your ex’s new partner won’t view you as an adversary, and there may be occasions when she can act as an unspoken ally. She might offer your co-parent a woman/mother’s point of view about child-related matters that he hadn’t considered or that he’s reluctant to hear from you.
6. She is a responsible adult and not a teenaged babysitter.
Heather: I would much rather my daughter’s stepmother babysit than a neighbor or a teenage.
Deesha: And if she has kids of her own, she has parenting experience under her belt. Some stepmoms play a support role while others may be your child’s primary caregiver during much of your ex’s parenting time, especially if the child is very young, if the stepmom is a stay-at-home mom, or if your ex’s job requires travel or long hours.
7. She is organized and efficient.
Deesha: Most married moms and stepmoms I know are the COOs of their households. A stepmom may keep chaos at bay and help your ex avoid conflicts in the parenting time schedule. Again, it’s not that men aren’t capable or shouldn’t be expected to manage their own co-parenting situation, but the reality is that some stepmoms become the default keeper of the family calendar. And she may not relish this responsibility any more than you relish her participation, but if it makes life easier and better for your kids, try to accept it.
Hey DFTM Fam–What would you add to the list? How can you change (throwing) lemons into (sipping) lemonade with your child’s stepmother?