How do you navigate these treacherous waters?
Two and a half years ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic, I moved out of my own house and left my marriage of 18 years. My daughters were seventeen and six at the time, and despite years of hanging on to save the family and spare my children the trauma of a divorce and separate homes, I knew I had stayed too long and let things become too dysfunctional before pulling the plug.
Although this was my second marriage (and divorce), I had been childfree during my first marriage so it was the very first time I had to seriously consider how my marital status would affect other people. I also had to think about a future time when I would begin to date again and how that would affect my children.
I knew from experience what it felt like to be the girlfriend and then the stepmom. My ex was twice divorced with one child from each marriage when we met, so there was double the fun when it came to treading the emotional waters of two ex-wives and two suspicious children.
I saw the pain my stepchildren endured during tense weekends and the drama that ensued after every single interaction. Someone wasn’t fed the food they preferred, someone’s feelings were hurt, someone’s brand new shoes were dirty. The complaints from the respective ex-wives never stopped until the kids turned sixteen and could come and go as they pleased.
At first I tried hard to be a combination of friend, confidante, and authority figure to my stepchildren. I didn’t try to be their mom, but I wanted them to respect me. I was there to clean up messes, lend an ear, and pick them up from school or deliver them to a doctor’s appointment.
However, whenever I tried to assert a bit of authority with respect to what was or was not done in my house, I was shot down by my ex. It seemed that I was good enough to watch the kids, shuttle them to appointments, and cook for them but couldn’t request they pick up their socks or stop watching TV in my bedroom so I could get to sleep.
As a result, I withdraw from any interactions with the kids beyond seeing to their needs, allowing my ex to handle everything of importance. I was the silent stepmom without an opinion or any say in the matters of my own home. In this atmosphere, the…