When Charming and I first started dating it was really clear that the kids (and indeed his ExWife!) were running absolute rings around him, he was by his own admission, over compensating for being a ‘part time Dad’ and the new boundaries were very unclear for everyone. They would attempt to dictate everything to him…when he had the kids, where they met (often at the last minute) what he did with the kids during his time with them, what he cooked for them…the list goes on. Anything that could cause conflict, would be thrown in his face.
The youngest StepChild would quite often throw the biggest hissy fits – and I mean full on strops, over something and nothing in an attempt to get her own way. Like all kids do!
Interestingly though, his ExWife also favoured this approach and thought nothing of regularly embarrassing herself and us, with a full scale, public, screaming meltdown!
Trying to placate a cute 6 year old who is throwing a temper tantrum is one thing, but trying to do this with a grown woman, because one of the kids left a shoe in the back of our car, or I had the audacity to say ‘hello, how are you’ to her, is quite another! Waving a chocolate biscuit in her face in an attempt to calm her down, just didn’t work the same kind of magic…
Every and any situation were we had to communicate with the ExWife, went from basic to bonkers in less than 30 seconds flat!
So me and Charming got our heads together, usually over a couple of beers to take the edge off the verbal battering we had just endured, and decided how to approach this situation as a team.
Let’s face it. In an ideal world, the separated couple, the new partners, the kids and extended family would all get along famously, they’d be no drama, no spiteful remarks made to the kids about you, everyone would drink tea, eat cake, and commend each other for the great work they were doing with the kids. High fives all round! ‘Yeah right, good luck with that’ I hear you say!
In the early days we genuinely did try this though. From the very start, as most people with good intentions would do – we strived to be friendly, helpful, super flexible, communicative etc etc and every single time, without fail, it got thrown straight back in our faces…
I see now in retrospect, that she was becoming resentful, angry that he was happy and had (finally) moved on with his life after their painful divorce.
Seeing my smiling, happy face trying to force the hand of friendship and seemingly playing happy families with her kids, was just about enough to tip her over the edge! Fair enough – it must’ve been difficult to process and I was making the situation worse just by breathing.
So here’s the thing we discovered…
The StepMum does not need to have any communication with the ExWife whatsoever. None, zero, nada, zilch.
Take yourself out of the firing line completely (as difficult as this may feel) I know the temptation to throw on a balaclava and grab a baseball bat is at times all consuming – but don’t do it! Distance yourself and spare yourself the jail time, grab a drink and some snacks instead and let them sort it out between themselves.
This is how we ultimately improved the negotiation of every single detail regarding the children:
*warning* implementing the following WILL result in more utterly bonkers, crazy behaviour at first. It will definitely get worse, before it gets better. Being polite and reasonable is like a red rag to a raging bull in this situation. Essentially as you’re taking away the drama, new fantastical situations will be created instead to test you!
Unless it directly impacts the children, ignore it all! Eventually when there is no reaction from either of you, it will start to stop…
- Bitching – As hard as it can sometimes be, we never ever said a bad word about their Mother in front of them. This is totally unfair on the kids, who of course love their parents unconditionally. This courtesy will not be extended to you of course – but as the kids grow up they will come to realise that you don’t do the same, you’re not derogatory about their parent and they will respect you for it. What you say in private is however altogether different – go to town! But don’t let it dictate your time, a quick moan and some reassurance for one another is fine, then talk about something more interesting – like the weather…
- Arrangements – Whatever has been agreed in terms of when you see the kids, should be followed without fail, wherever possible. Aim to have a set routine each week and stick to it. It’s also good for the kids to feel secure with this too and if you’re having them when you say you will, there should (in theory!) be no need for a crazy comeback. No changing days, if we needed a night out one weekend – we’d do what any other parent would do, and got a baby sitter, we try not to request any changes to the routine at all. In a best case scenario the kids will be collected/dropped off with minimal fuss, without actually having to engage (much) with the Ex, keeping it civil and getting out of there quick time!
- Communication – Aim to keep all communication with the Ex to an absolute minimum and via email, unless there is a genuine emergency. Not everything requires an immediate response…breathe, reflect, respond. Your partner should respond on both of your behalf’s, taking the emotion out of the reply completely – basically treating the Ex like a tricky Client, keeping all communication polite and businesslike. Keep in mind that the kids may read what you send back – so be the bigger person.
- Do not meet crazy with crazy! That is a recipe for disaster…
Also, this should go without saying anyway – but whatever has been agreed in terms of payments for the kids, needs to be paid, in full, on time. No messing about here (and quite right too) kids are expensive, they need stuff.
If you’re doing all of this, then there really is no reason for late night calls from the ExWife to your partner, weird texts or random communication – of course in the event of a genuine emergency, then absolutely, the appropriate thing to do is to call the other parent directly. But these situations are hopefully few and far between.
If he takes a call and it quickly transpires that it has nothing to do with the kids, shut it down ASAP, ask her to send an email instead – hang up if you have to.
The important thing to remember is that everything we do is for the benefit of the kids – no one else. They become the focus of our world don’t they? As they should. Putting the kids front and centre of everything we do while ignoring any background irritations, will only strengthen their relationship with you in the long run.
The good news is that it does get so much easier in time, with a good routine, lots of patience and copious amounts of Gin!