R.E.S.P.E.C.T…What it means to me

After seven years I have copped my fair share of abuse from my husband’s ex wife, both directly and indirectly and although I knew when I took on the role of step mother it wasn’t going to be easy…nothing could prepare me for what has eventuated.

Whilst I don’t consider myself to be naive or idealistic, I truly never imagined people like my husband’s ex wife existed. That said, I realise we don’t have world wars or ongoing terrorist attacks because people are able to forgive and forget & treat each other with respect!

I understand that my husband’s ex wife can’t get over him leaving her and the fact that he has remarried and is very happy, only magnifies the void in her own life. Compounded by the fact she hasn’t found someone to make her truly happy, despite; numerous online dating attempts, a couple of short-lived engagements and a current relationship that has disaster written all over it. But surely there comes a time [post divorce] when you put aside those feelings towards your ex to focus on raising the children you created together?! Shouldn’t children of divorce have every opportunity to become the best version of themselves and be spared from their parents hatred of one another? Unfortunately our reality is far from that as my husband’s ex wife does her best to undermine my husband and show us both nothing but contempt & aggression. Such a great role model for her children!

I’m not asking to have coffee dates with my step children’s biological mother where we share funny anecdotes about her children and work together on strategies to get past the latest phase one of them might be going through…but somewhere closer to this fantasy would be preferable to what we have now. Which is an undercurrent of hostility and disrespect that has me frequently smiling through gritted teeth for fear of telling my step children what I really think of their mother & her behaviour. Whilst I’m not interested in being friends with someone who has…no morals, no work ethic, no ounce of kindness or care for others, I would like to be shown some level of respect as a fellow human being and more importantly, as someone who is helping to raise her children! What my husband’s ex wife refuses to acknowledge is that her biological children have spent half of the past seven years in my care and will continue to be a part of my life into adulthood. And although she has found plenty to complain about and ridicule, surely she can see I only have good intentions where her children are concerned? After all, in the ‘Evil Step Mother’ ratings I think I score pretty low.

Our latest…co-parenting moment [if you could call it that] has involved her method of communicating with me in my husband’s absence. Basically texting my thirteen year old step daughter to let her know that she will collect them early, who in turn told me. I understand they aren’t babies and should be able to make decisions about when and where they want to be, but with my husband overseas this week I have been going solo with our collective brood so surely that entitles me to a certain level of respect from their biological mother? Apparently not. So instead of a polite text asking if it would be okay to collect her children early I am forwarded a text she sent to my step daughter claiming she couldn’t contact me as she didn’t have my number (!) and to simply show me this text! I can ignore the fact I am referenced as the ‘step mother’ despite knowing my name but it’s that, rather than being asked, I am told she will collect her children. This might seem a little precious as after all they are not my biological children, but they are in my care & therefore my responsibility whilst my husband is away. But I don’t take it personally as my step children’s biological mother communicates exactly the same way with my husband. When he reacts negatively towards her demands it’s never about denying her time with her children it’s because she tells him of her intent rather than asking if he objects. It simply comes down to a lack of manners…& respect.

Due to her distinct lack of morals and any degree of decency, my step children’s biological mother clearly believes we don’t deserve her respect. Nor does she believe faking respect to be seen as a decent human being is necessary either. I am also sure she would justify her behaviour to her friends and family who would support her actions, after all, aren’t we drawn to friends who are like us…and it’s our family who teach us how to behave?!

Whilst I am under no illusions regarding my relationship with my husband’s ex wife I do hold out hope that my step children will eventually see their biological mother for who she really is. Although I suspect they already know, they just choose to ignore her bad behaviour out of respect for her.

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True Colours

Considering I tend to see the good in others, it might be surprising to learn that I am highly suspicious of everything my husband’s ex wife says or does.

I guess six years of tweeting about her antics could make me seem a tad negative but to me, that’s simply online detoxification – ridding myself of all the negative energy that emanates from her mere existence. Maybe this is what Shrek meant when he said, ‘better out than in’?

If I’ve learnt anything about my husband’s ex wife, it’s that she seldom gives up without a fight…especially where money & possessions are concerned, or more accurately…my husband’s money & possessions. Even seven years on and after obtaining 65% of ALL their financial assets + 99.99% of their household effects accumulated during marriage, she still feels a sense of entitlement. To be fair, all us ex wives possess it to varying degrees however in her case it’s at lava melting levels.

Mostly my husband’s ex wife is blatantly obvious with her intentions and we are seldom left guessing. Like an occasion one Sunday when she clearly didn’t want to take my 17yr old step son to his casual job, so she exploded at a flippant remark he made 20 minutes before he had to be at work & refused to take him. Now if my son, told me our family dog ‘had more friends’ than me, I would’ve just laughed off his attempt to rile me. My step son is seventeen, so subtle and not-so-subtle insults are essentially how he communicates. You learn not to:

a) take it personally or
b) listen (a trick I learned from him) and then you’re fine.

But the reality is, she simply didn’t want to drive him at all and this was just one of the many excuses she has made to avoid it.

When my step son first got his job eight or nine months ago, my husband’s ex wife made it clear she wasn’t happy about it. Or more accurately the inconvenience of having to drive him there & back one day each fortnight. She initially told my husband that she had something on every Saturday morning for an indefinite time period [which we later learned was a short lived Pilates class] and couldn’t take him or it would seem, even drop him at our house on her way to her appointment. My husband then offered to take my step son to work each week if she would bring him home. But that clearly wasn’t the solution she was hoping for and suddenly her mornings became free to take him.

It wasn’t the first time my husband and I have had to come to the rescue of his children and I doubt it will be the last.

On this occasion it meant leaving a Sunday family brunch (just as we arrived) to get step son to work on time. I have to say, these little rescue missions always fill me with mixed emotions. As a mother, I want to do whatever it takes to make it up to my step children to compensate for their own mother’s bad behaviour. As a wife, I want to support my husband as I can see his ex wife’s behaviour distresses him. But mostly I just detest her manipulation & smug attitude that she can control my husband, knowing he’ll always do the right thing by his children [even when she doesn’t]. I don’t believe in violence but at times like these…certain thoughts do enter my head.

Call it a premonition but I believe our next rescue mission will involve my youngest step daughter and her quest for braces.

It’s been a long time coming but after several years of heated debate with my husband’s ex wife and many lies in an attempt to extort money from us, she is finally getting my youngest step daughter’s teeth fixed. But as we’ve come to expect, my husband’s ex wife rarely outlays her own money for her children without expecting us to contribute the same, if not more. We certainly wouldn’t have an issue paying for half of this expense, IF…she didn’t have a history of underhanded antics. When the braces were delayed for another few months my step daughter complained to my husband, so not wanting to see his daughter disappointed he contacted his ex wife and offered to contribute some money. He felt that as he was paying 100% of my seventeen year old step son’s dental bills [& knew periodontics & crowns were likely] that paying 1/3 of his daughter’s dental bills seemed fair. This of course was met with immediate acceptance by his ex wife who rather than be gracious in her acceptance simply quoted a figure & her bank account details. When my husband then told her his contribution would be after her health insurance reimbursement she informed him she no longer had any. She lied. So when he asked for an account from the orthodontist so he could be sure he was paying one third she simply told him to “forget it”. At that moment I had visions of her reacting like a petulant child throwing a tantrum when caught out in a lie.

Of course this is predated by her changing the payer details on my step son’s high school accounts six years earlier. Making my husband solely responsible for his school expenses. Her method of communication was, as it has always been, via text informing my husband this was the new arrangement with no prior discussion. Given the challenges we faced paying 50:50 of any bill with my husband’s ex wife, it actually seemed the simplest option for each parent to pay 100% of one child’s school, medical and dental costs. But there are still many occasions when she has still tried to manipulate the situation.

I guess at the time this seemed like a win for her as my step daughter was still at primary school so paying 100% of her costs were minimal in comparison. But a few years ago, reality hit when my youngest step daughter started high school and it was clear she would need braces. So rather than maturely discuss this with my husband, his ex wife initiated a joint session with a professional mediator in relationship counselling with the sole focus of getting us to pay more money.

She felt she had succeeded with this method in the past so why not? But when presented with the facts, the mediator [whilst remaining impartial] did make it clear that it seemed like a fair split of their children’s expenses given the parity with their incomes. Not the result she was hoping for but we knew it wasn’t the end of the issue.

Fast forward to now, with my husband’s ex wife scheduling an appointment for my youngest step daughter to get her dental plate fitted…choosing early one weekday morning, when she was with us. Not only was my husband not asked if this was convenient for him, but it was left to my step daughter to ask him if he’d take her. In response my husband told my step daughter that her mother had to ask him directly. Not simply because my step daughter has been known to get information muddled but because on many occasions his ex wife has berated him for ‘using the children as messengers’. But apparently the same rules do not apply in reverse.

Intermittently my husband’s ex wife will block his number on her phone which occurred when we were informed of the dentist appointment. I would understand if he constantly or even occasionally sent her nasty texts or left harrassing phone messages but the truth is, he simply isn’t interested in communicating with her….unless he absolutely has to and its only ever to discuss their children.

I don’t doubt she feels very smug and tells everyone she’s stopped the abuse but seriously how do you co-parent when there’s no communication? The answer is, you don’t.

Sadly his ex wife makes decisions concerning my step children that we have no input into & rarely agree with. Like my youngest step daughter doing five nights of dance a week and being so exhausted she barely eats and has no energy to do homework or assignments. Her mother even signed her up to a local stage production of Hairspray – yes, a great experience for a young dancer but once again we weren’t consulted. Nor are we ever given details of rehearsal timings, locations or any other important details. We are simply expected to ‘find out’ for ourselves.

When my step daughter asked if we’d get her part of the costume for this production that parents are required to source. Despite knowing her mother has already paid a few hundred dollars for this opportunity I secretly [& strongly] objected to buying clothes, shoes, makeup or anything else for this activity, mostly as I know this is part of her mother’s plan. Thankfully my husband agreed.

What it comes down to is not…a financially struggling single mother who’s a victim of an abusive ex husband with a passive aggressive new wife…but a bitter, vengeful woman with narcissistic tendencies whose behaviour is damaging her children. Sadly she is so good at playing the victim that few see her true colours.

What You Say, Is What You Are!

We’ve all done it. Thought up a nasty name to call someone & either said it to them directly, or whispered it to a friend. For me that ended when I left school [more years ago than I care to remember] but sadly it seems for my husband’s ex wife it hasn’t. I strongly suspect she relies on this bullying tactic to bolster her own self esteem or is simply, a slow learner.

The simple fact is when you become a step mother or an ex wife [or both] you have to accept that you’re going to be subject to a bit of name calling. Whether it’s from people who once promised to love you…until death do us part, or their new partner, or…the former wife of your husband. Sadly it’s just par for the course.

Ex partners are adept at inflicting pain as they know our Achille’s heel better than anyone. They no longer show the restraint they once did or maybe they never did…after all, you’re no longer together for a reason.

In the words of playwright Willian Congreve…

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a woman

And when he writes about a ‘woman’ I know for certain that he is describing my husband’s ex wife. Despite it being 300+ years before she came into existence.

It’s no secret that my husband’s ex wife and I aren’t friends, but I’ve always done my utmost not to articulate my distain for her to my step children. After all she is their mother. Her remarks made about me [or in recent years, to me] don’t offend, as they come from someone who:

  1. doesn’t know me,
  2. is driven by hatred, jealousy and revenge &
  3. I have zero respect for.

However it’s her behaviour as a mother that I really struggle with. What lesson is she teaching her children? That it’s okay to denigrate and bully others? Am I just naive to think all mothers want to teach their children respect and tolerance? I try to teach my own children to be kind & show respect towards others [even those they don’t particularly like]. After all there’s too much hatred in the world already.

Admittedly when pushed to my limits, I have:

a) rolled my eyes
b) sighed loudly
c) commented that she was a “difficult woman” and
questioned why she would do / say something nasty or
d) all of the above

I wish that I could show more restraint but my left eyebrow has this uncontrollable ability to raise itself when I hear about someone behaving badly.

My step children have informed me their mother has told them I am evil…simply for being their step mother. But that’s not surprising given her own step mother beat, starved and neglected her & her four siblings + her six half siblings after their own mother abandoned them. Despite my extreme dislike for the woman, it makes me sad when I think about what she must’ve endured as a child and how this has shaped the person she’s become. I can only imagine she carries a lot of emotional scars, and maybe some physical ones too. I’m sure a lot of painful memories resurfaced when I became step mother to her children and that she was fearful for their well-being whilst in my care. But surely it didn’t take her long to see that I treated them as kindly and lovingly as I did my own?

A few years ago her step mother became terminally ill but before she passed away they reconciled, to the extent that my husband’s ex wife started referring to her as her ‘mother’. So whilst it’s been six years since I became step mother to her children and the level of mistrust and animosity from her continues…I still hold out hope.

My husband’s ex wife has called me, a despicable human being for driving my youngest step daughter to her house to collect a forgotten uniform, a skinny cow with bad hair – I can’t recall the motivation for that one, implied I was stupid [again over school uniforms] and my personal favourite, a gold digger. Which was her justification for me marrying her ex husband. No he’s not a secret millionaire, but has an elderly [childless] uncle whose money & the possible beneficiaries of said money had been obsessively talked about by her their entire married life.

Maybe it’s paranoia, but I am guessing that I’m called far worse…it’s just that my step children choose not to share that with me.

Despite six years of name calling either directly or indirectly by my husband’s ex wife, my step children have always been respectful. For that I’m very thankful.

She is fiercely protective of her children and has been known to contact schools demanding retribution when one of them has been teased by another child. Whilst I take bullying seriously too I prefer to empower my children [& step children] to handle the situation themselves. Thankfully they have never had any issues that they couldn’t handle but if they did, I would certainly intervene.

Maybe it’s a defence mechanism she learnt as a child, but whenever my husband tries to engage in conversation with his ex wife regarding their children’s education and well-being he’s accused of bullying her. Her typical response to the tough questions:

“Why weren’t the children at school [again] today?”
“Do you think 5 nights of dance is too much for a thirteen year old struggling to complete her homework?” is…

“STOP BULLYING ME!” Name calling is the modus operandi of bullies. The really manipulative ones play the victim as well.

After nearly seven years, I really find it hard to comprehend what motivates my husband’s ex wife to continue with her bullying / victim antics. After all she claims she’s “never been happier” since their divorce and whilst I am their step mother I don’t believe my treatment of her children warrants the moniker ‘evil step mum‘.

Oh well, Sticks and stones may break my bones…

 

 

Bah Humbug.

It’s tough to establish any sort of Christmas Day tradition in our house because our children share the day with both their parents and each year we alternate which part of the day we spend with them. Sounds simple but it never is, as my husband’s ex wife thrives on causing conflict, disruption and discrediting any activity we plan or gifts we give.

While my ex husband and I tend to co-ordinate the day better to ensure our kids have at least one special christmas lunch or dinner, it’s not that easy with my husband’s ex wife. Communication [with us] is not her strength. So essentially, we are either left to guess her plans or ask my step children – who are never entirely sure…

a) if they should divulge her plans or
b) exactly what her plans are…

When my children were younger, my ex husband and I would even discuss christmas gifts for our children – to ensure there was no double-up, now my children take the initiative by providing each of us with a different list! Gotta love teenagers.

I also used to buy my ex husband a Christmas gift on behalf of my children. Whilst inexpensive, it was always discussed with them in an effort to get an appropriate & thoughtful gift to give their father. It meant a lot to them so that’s why I made the effort. I did however stop funding their gift giving when he got a new girlfriend as I felt it was time to pass this responsibility on to her. Now my fifteen year old daughter has a part time job and buys her father and I gifts. I think she’s looking forward to the day her thirteen year old brother has a job too and can contribute to their gift giving although to be honest, I think she’d be happy if he just contributed, ideas.

The first Christmas my husband and I spent together (as a couple) his ex wife bought us gifts from my step children. It took us both by surprise and we were quietly optimistic that this was the symbolic ‘olive branch’ that meant life would be less complicated and she would be less hostile towards us…and then we opened our ‘gifts’. My husband was given a pair of men’s underwear and a tube of…lubricant. I received a bar of soap labelled ‘karma’. Subtle.

Always one to appreciate a joke [even a bad one], my husband rushed out to buy a suitable ‘thank you’ gift for his ex wife…he came back with a tiny plastic reindeer that pooped brown jelly beans! Not my choice, but that’s what happens when there is no adult supervision! Needless to say, that was the first & last time we received a Christmas gift from my husband’s ex wife!

I don’t doubt that as a single parent my husband’s ex wife struggles to afford Christmas gifts for my three step children, after all two investment properties and two cars to maintain can be a financial drain even with a salary higher than my husband’s. Nevertheless it’s unfair that she then ridicules the gifts we give my step children, as I’ve always tried to instil a sense of gratitude in my children no matter what the gift, the price…or the gift giver. I can only assume this is simply to be seen as the ‘cool’ parent who knows their likes and dislikes better or to suggest that the value of our gifts equate to how much [or how little] we love them!

Whatever her motive, as someone who considers herself a Christian with strong religious beliefs this is hardly in the true spirit of Christmas – which I always thought was about peace & goodwill to all.

My husband accepts that he has no control over the parenting of my step children when they are with their mother, but it doesn’t stop him from frequently being shocked and disappointed by her behaviour. Mostly we hear about her antics from the children themselves who delight in explaining they can eat dinner wherever they like at their mother’s house…including their rooms. Which sadly is motivated by her desire to simply do the exact opposite of whatever rule we insist upon, like having basic table manners and eating the evening meal all together at the dinner table. 

We also hear about her disdain for us via social media as she has a number of my husband’s family as her Facebook friends. The advantage [or disadvantage] is that they inform us of every Facebook post where she denigrates my husband and I.  

Her latest post was that old joke insinuating her “ex” was “satan” having never seen both in the room at the same time – I personally prefer the one about Batman. Naturally, my husband was extremely upset by her joke as his three children are Facebook “friends” with both parents. For me, my disgust comes from her inability to show any regret when confronted or responsibility for her actions preferring instead to ridicule my husband for assuming it was directed at him. Agreed, there may have been another “ex” she was referring to but the fact that six years post divorce her only relationship of any notable duration was a man she met & dated briefly via an international dating site…some five years ago. I hardly think it’s plausible that her “satan” reference was directed at anyone other than my husband. 

I really struggle to understand why any parent behaves like they are in a competition with the other parent to ‘win’ the love and respect of the children they created together. After all believing your child has a limited amount of love to share is rather an immature understanding of both love and children. This attitude really comes down to insecurity, jealousy and revenge plus a twisted sense of entitlement believing they are more entitled to receive their children’s love than the other parent.

There have been many occasions where I have asked my ex husband if my children can spend time with me during his week with them. This is never done to compete or detract from anything he may have planned, but to attend extended family gatherings that we know they would enjoy. And to date, he has never…refused my request, accused me of manipulating them or anything just as ludicrous. My husband’s ex wife on the other hand…typically responds in that manner. On the rare occasion she does agree it’s because she has plans that don’t involve the children and it’s convenient for her not to have them but, we are never allowed to forget her generosity.

Admittedly the timing of my husband’s latest request wasn’t great – asking my seventeen year old step son (just three days before Christmas) if his mother had any plans for Christmas lunch & if not, did he want to join us at a family event. We don’t typically invite them to these sorts of occasions when they’re spending it with their mother but my step son is particularly reclusive, dislikes his mother’s family and seems to enjoys spending time with his father’s family…or maybe it’s just the promise of good food with minimal pressure to interact socially.  Either way, he was keen to join us, as in his words…”she has no plans & hasn’t even bought any food”. But added that he doubted she’d let him go…and without any further discussion, we all knew the reasons why. Not because she was planning a family celebration or wanted to spend time with her son – as they all typically retreat to their rooms to ‘interact’ with technology but because it would mean being kind and generous towards her ex husband.

Unfortunately, rather than politely tell my husband she had plans with my step son, his ex wife’s response was to launch an attack with the standard level of venom we’ve come to expect – with accusations of manipulation, undermining her authority and stealing her children. But the irony of the situation was that after collecting my step children from our house Christmas morning – she took her two daughters to her family’s celebration across town whilst she left my seventeen year old step son home alone. Whilst it made me feel sad that he was left alone on Christmas Day, I also knew that would’ve made him happier than the alternative.
 

The More Things Change…

I have never felt I’ve got it 100% right, as a step parent. I’ve made mistakes, some colossal ones but ultimately I try to do the best I can. Friends and family are the first to tell me they admire me for taking on this challenging role & for embracing our blended family. But they are also quick to tell me, they don’t know how I do it.

Some days I don’t know how I do it either and some days I think I’m not doing it too well.

I recently spoke to a step mother of two adult step children who had raised her husband’s young daughters as their biological mother was emotionally absent from their lives. A young bride, pretty much a child herself & at that stage with no children of her own.

As an aside…I have to say, without meaning to sound patronising, I really admire childless step mothers [whether this is your situation just from the outset of your relationship or a permanent decision you’ve made]. It’s challenging enough when you understand the stages a child goes through emotionally having experienced it with your own children. But it takes a special person to take on someone else’s children when you don’t have or want children of your own.

Anyway we compared struggles, especially those dreaded teenager years and I felt a real connection…that was until she talked about her relationship with her two adult step daughters now.

They had all survived those awful teenage years [and from her stories those years were far worse than I have experienced thus far] and now they have an amazing relationship. Call me cynical, but I don’t see my relationship with my step children [especially my step daughters] ever being that way.

I know I blame my step children’s biological mother for…basically EVERYTHING my step children do wrong but I believe her negative influence will continue to impact on my relationship with my step children even when they’re adults. Despite many people telling me that when my step children have grown up [and maybe not until they have children of their own] they will come to recognise all I have done for them, the genuine motive behind my acts of kindness and see that I care about them and in response, will like & respect me for it.

But I’m a realist and I understand that the control their biological mother has over them is considerable and I know that given my twenty year old step daughter remains living under her mother’s roof and is significantly absent from our lives it is unlikely my other step children will take a different approach.

There was a time I felt my youngest step daughter would see me as someone special in her life as she was only seven when she came into mine, but all that has changed these past few weeks. My husband and I see her rebelling against us and refusing to spend time here. I used to think the reason was simply my presence in her life…but have since worked out that it always seems to coincide with a dance school performance. Coincidence maybe but I admit being with her biological mother at that time is easier for her, as her mother loves the dance teacher [to a nauseating degree], knows all the other ‘dance mothers’, helps to make dance costumes & doesn’t refuse to share her expensive hair & makeup products for dance performances.

However I am feeling particularly reflective at the moment as we recently had his ex wife unexpectedly drive over with my youngest step daughter to collect a sports uniform she had left here.

Her father and I tried to explain the unfairness of her request given there were three uniforms we have bought that her mother has decided not to return. But despite this information [which she knew all too well] my youngest step daughter stood defiantly in her resolve to take her mother’s purchases back…whether out of fear or loyalty or both I can’t be sure. Although she did quietly say she said that she would “try and sneak” our uniforms back in her bag. Which suggests to me that she understands the unfairness of the situation but feels helpless to do anything.

I find it particularly frustrating that my step daughter has no issue in asking her father and I for left items but her can’t or won’t ask her mother. I understand parental loyalty and how even in families where the biological parents are still together, children feel closer to one parent over the other. But her loyalty is to the point of ridiculous when it’s ultimately supporting her mother’s jealousy, bitterness and manipulation.

That night I was fed up and whilst that my husband was too he will always do what’s right for his children…even if that means giving in to his ex wife’s demands. I really admire his morales under those circumstances but there are certainly times where I wish he wasn’t so honourable.

But my judgement is always impaired by my disgust at my husband’s ex wife’s antic that I completely lose sight of my step daughter, who despite siding with her mother is ultimately caught in the middle of an adult battle. It’s not her fault her mother manipulates her. Although I do believe she IS responsible for how she treats her father and I. At 13 you may not always get it right but you’re no longer that child incapable of making decisions and seeing the bigger picture. If she had come to us and explained that she was fearful of her mother’s wrath and that she understood it wasn’t fair but felt she was unable to disobey her, I would’ve been more sympathetic. Or maybe I just want some validation that my step children recognise when their mother is behaving badly?

I acknowledge that the issue of school uniforms is a petty reason to continue to argue with my husband’s ex wife and believe it or not would gladly co-exist with her and…share uniforms, but the ‘fly in the ointment’ is always her resolve to cause maximum conflict and damage wherever possible. Whilst doing her best to convince my step children it’s all my fault and I’ll admit, I don’t willingly give in to her demands but I am not by nature, a difficult person. In fact I have far more reasons to cause MY ex husband drama and whilst uniforms are occasionally left at the wrong house & arranging trips to collect or drop off becomes an mild inconvenience. It’s never a problem as neither of us stockpile our children’s clothing in some childish game to create drama and cause added expenditure. Guess that makes us…grown ups!?

I can recall many occasions in the early years where I washed and folded uniforms sending them home with my step children each fortnight. I can also remember my first face-to-face encounter with my husband’s ex wife maybe three or four years ago. It occurred moments after she had collected my step children, returning back outside our house when she learnt we hadn’t sent our extra uniforms back. She didn’t come to the door in those days preferring to park out the front of our house and toot her horn to announce her arrival [such class]. So on this occasion when she returned she was on the opposite side of the street & stood in the middle of the road [it was about that time I regretted we didn’t live on a main thoroughfare] and then proceeded to screech at my husband until I made an appearance. It would seem she believed we were withholding her son’s school shirts [for what reason I am not entirely sure]. But as we were about to drive my children to their father’s house and it looked like she wasn’t leaving empty handed, I intervened. I explained that not only did we not have them but that we had somewhere to be. I could almost see the steam coming out her ears as she reluctantly got back in her car and drove off in a rage. My then eight year old son who had witnessed the entire exchange and was able to observe his step siblings mother – who up until that point had been an enigma, saw to lighten the mood by announcing she had “a lot of junk in her trunk”. I told him that it was an inappropriate remark to make although I suspect my chastising had little impact, given the preceding laughter.

Fast forward four years and we are still arguing over my step children’s school uniforms.

With the end of the school year only a few days away I have resigned myself to the fact we now have two months grace before the battle continues again.

Where Do You Draw the Line?

I’m not a great cook nor am I the best housekeeper but thankfully these are skills [however elusive] that I can learn or better still, delegate but I think I possess the more important attributes of generosity and kindness.

Ok so, writing a tell-all blog and having a twitter account where there is a no holds barred approach to discussing my step children’s biological mother, is hardly an act of kindness. But hey, I never claimed to be perfect…and my kindness doesn’t extend to those who treat me badly.

And isn’t it generosity that I share my experiences with you all? Ok, maybe not.

Whilst not one to give money to the homeless which is more about my irrational perceptions and fear of conflict [yes, weird I know], I would give my last $10 to a friend in need. And I do just about anything for my step children, simply because, I can’t help myself! Although when I have felt taken advantage of I have tried to ignore their requests; to help with homework, mend clothes, take them places or buy them things, but it never lasts long. And there have been times when I am a little too cutting with my remarks to them or have ignored their requests to help find or buy something, and there have been endless occasions where I have reacted badly to being asked [in the same day] “Where’s dad?”- like I am a personal tracking device for my husband! I admit I have a very low tolerance for annoying behaviour but I justify my occasional ill treatment of my step children as my only means of responding to their biological mother’s treatment of me. If only Cinderella’s step mother could’ve used that excuse!

Sure we are all responsible for our own actions [and how we respond to someone else’s] but when we’re talking about teenagers who are forming their own opinions anyway and seeing how far they can push the adults in their lives, it’s enough of a challenge for any parent [biological or step] to remain…sane. But add to that the negative influence of a biological mother who is very opinionated and very vocal…well, you see where I’m going?!

Sometimes it takes a reality check from my husband to remind me not to blame my step children for something that is beyond their control…ie. who their biological mother is!

After recently sleeping in, my step son [obviously in no rush to get to school] chose that moment to ask me to mend a hole in the pocket of his school shorts – I guess when you’re a sixteen year old boy, being late to school is almost a badge of honour. Not surprisingly then when I asked him after school if he had received detention or at the very least a warning for his lateness he delighted in telling me not only had he evaded punishment but, he doesn’t even need to give his name at the office as they ALL know him!

Okay, so the mending request was no big deal but when the kid has been wearing the same shorts all year [only allowing them to be washed a handful of times] and refusing on previous occasions to allow me to hem one pant leg, it does make you wonder…like, why wouldn’t he ask his mother? She makes dance costumes for my youngest step-daughter and I struggle to thread a needle. Surely he doesn’t see me as…reliable / consistent / kind? Or perhaps, just the hired help? Ok maybe that’s a little extreme, but that’s a title I frequently use for myself when we have ALL the children here and there is a trail of food crumbs all over the kitchen, dirty dishes are left in the sink / on the bench / in their rooms[!] and the dishwasher remains full of clean dishes until they are told to unpack it…like they’re all hoping the cleaning fairy will work her magic!

As I hung out his wet washing – not only his school shorts [a condition on me mending them] but his work uniform for the weekend, it occurred to me that I washed it just before he went to his mother’s the week before, so essentially I am doing ALL his washing! To be honest, I don’t actually mind as I would rather he wore clean clothes than quibble over who does it, but and this is bizarre, although not surprising…his biological mother sees this as a ‘win’ when she doesn’t have to do things for her OWN children….and can ‘out-source’ to the step mother. Maybe I’m weird but in the same situation I would not want to look like I didn’t care or love my children.

My husband will frequently tell me to leave the kitchen in the disgusting state our children have left it in, until they can be made to clean it up. But I can’t manage to do that. It means I have to spend my day surrounded by the mess [the downside to working from home] but then having worked in many large organisations, I know this is not unlike communal staff kitchens – the mess of many is cleaned by the few. I also think waiting all day to reprimand our children is a bit like chastising a naughty puppy hours after they’ve dug a hole in the lawn.

Our teenagers all have the same response to getting in trouble [we’re talking clothes on the bathroom floor or wet towels on the bed kind of trouble – thankfully that’s as bad as it gets around here] they will simply say “sorry”…only to do it again the next day and the day after that and the day after that. We’ve tried disciplining them, well to a degree. We revoke privileges and even that I have to confess is pretty infrequent, usually results in me cleaning the mess anyway. So I think we need to be tougher. Is cat o’nine tails too extreme?

My husband’s ex-wife draws the line at doing anything [for her children] that may somehow benefit my husband and I. Whether it’s spending money on them as she has held off purchasing school books for my youngest step daughter – despite agreeing to pay for this expense, hoping we would or agreeing to swap weeks with us or even having her children for an additional night. [See post: A Numbers Game]

Case in point, our recent plans for my husband and I to holiday in Bali, which never eventuated thanks to a persistent ash cloud over Indonesia – which would’ve meant his ex-wife taking her own children just ONE day earlier. It became a waiting game…firstly, waiting for my husband’s ex wife to respond to his email request [three weeks out] only to be told via the children [a week later] that she had a “work trip”. No surprise that despite in the past we have been accused of “communicating via the children” his ex wife considers herself exempt from the same rule. And of course we waited to hear about the status of our flights.

Ironically after we had heard our flights were likely to be cancelled as news updates made this information public, his ex-wife then informed my husband that her [Sunday] work trip has been cancelled! Coincidence? I think not. Why? Because she made this announcement on Friday and she would’ve had to be home for the children by Monday afternoon [as no reciprocal care arrangement was discussed] and what government employer makes staff travel on the weekend for a “meeting”?

If that wasn’t enough of a game to ‘be seen’ to be helpful by changing her plans, she later calls my sixteen year old step son to let him know she had saved him from a night with his aunt & uncle. Far from an unpleasant experience, just meaning a night away from his beloved computer & an afternoon spent at church!

Equally sad is the fact that she will [continue] to lie to her children about her “work trip” and manage to convince them, well my youngest step daughter at the very least that my husband and I are the manipulative ones.

Despite having little patience for liars I am mindful that in this situation the offender in question is the biological mother of my step children. Revenge…where do you draw the line?

What Was He Thinking?

I was recently asked, why my husband’s ex wife was still so hostile after SIX years, and my response was that I ask myself the same question!

After all, I am kind to her children, my husband and I are happy and she [in her words] has never been happier – now free from her life with my ‘controlling’ husband. But the irony is – this is EXACTLY why she remains hostile:

  • His ex-wife dislikes me being nice to her children – either because they may like me as a result or she feels threatened, or both
  • She resents the fact my husband has found happiness with someone else – something that eluded him, most of his previous married life
  • His ex wife claims to be happier single [and I’m not suggesting you need a partner to be happy] but according to her own children, is a regular on dating sites which suggests she really isn’t that happy being single and…
  • It’s evident that she hates no longer having control over my husband [despite accusations to the contrary]

But is her hostility the result of all that has happened to her or is it simply in her nature to behave this way? Well, regardless of the reason, surely there comes a time when you recognise your obsession is unhealthy and say, ‘enough is enough’?

As the sayings goes…“inhale the future and exhale the past”.

My husband often tells me how six months into their marriage he knew he had made a huge mistake but felt trapped by his decision and resigned himself, to a future with a woman he really didn’t like. How they would have huge fights in those early days where she would pack her bags and he would be stand in front of her car, begging her not to leave [maybe out of a fear of failure or rejection but it would seem, not out of love]. When this first happened, his own mother suggested that next time she pulled that stunt…he simply let her go. And it was a stunt, because despite enduring seventeen years of too many of these performances, when he was eventually the one to leave the marriage – she confessed that every time she had simply been bluffing! Call me naïve but I thought marriage was about building up the significant other in your life and not making them live in fear?

My husband and his ex-wife married young, as did I and while I’m not saying everyone who marries young is doomed to failure, I simply believe you don’t necessarily enter into it for the right reasons or for the right person.

My ex husband likes to say when we met – I didn’t know what I wanted and then many years later when I eventually worked that out, I realised it wasn’t him. That’s not entirely true, other factors contributed to our divorce but as he prefers to live in denial and it’s a lie he chooses to tell his family, his girlfriend and his friends, I really couldn’t be bothered correcting him.

My husband and I regularly share anecdotes about our previous marriages with one another, sometimes it’s to gain a better understanding of what motivated us or our exes to behave a certain way or just to have a laugh [more often than not we will find humour in the retelling of the most serious of scenarios]. I acknowledge that no-one tends to share stories of the good times experienced in their marriage, as after a divorce, the ‘good times’ are hard to recall [whether there weren’t any or you simply prefer to repress those memories]. As I’m sure my husband’s ex-wife chooses to do, having only ever publicly acknowledged that my husband has a good sense of humour, although still finding a way to turn that into a negative!

Whilst my husband regularly shakes his head in disbelief at my stories, it’s mostly because it’s as though I am describing a totally different self [and in some ways, I am] but because he can also recognise that my ex husband and I were not a good match. On the other hand, when my husband talks about his life with his ex-wife, I am always astounded…by her behaviour. Which always leads me to ask “what were you thinking marrying that woman?” to which he always responds with…”good question”.

Let’s just say, youthful exuberance [and hormones] have a LOT to answer for!

I know this will make my husband sound superficial, but appearances are important to him, although not [entirely] in the way it suggests.

He always likes to be well-groomed and ‘on trend’ fashion-wise but he also looks for that in a woman. Although he regularly tells me I’m “overdressed” as I would never consider wearing jeans to dinner – unless the restaurant had ‘family’ in the title. Nor do I think a muffin top should be seen anywhere but in a bakery [despite my husband describing my ‘baby-belly’ as “cute”]

I actually find it refreshing that my husband has an opinion on what he thinks would look good on me, though we don’t always agree and I will frequently decide on the opposite of what he’s suggested, I recognise he’s just trying to help.

But his ex-wife always took a different view, preferring to ignore his advice [that jeans and a t-shirt were not appropriate for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant or that leggings really aren’t outerwear] and accuse him of ‘controlling’ her or stubbornly refuse to even consider his suggestion, and going so far as to say to him “you don’t own me”.

My husband has admitted that in the early days of their courtship, his ex wife’s dress sense [a.k.a her obsession with wearing track pants everywhere] was almost a deal breaker. But maybe she was just too fashion forward for my husband, as now it’s almost become socially acceptable to go places [other than the gym] in your active wear.

He has recounted many stories of going clothes shopping with his then wife [at his suggestion] to find her suitable clothing to wear for work or a special occasion, only to return frustrated and empty-handed as they battled it out over what each considered the best choice [for her size and shape]. Now I regularly go clothes shopping with my husband and can confirm he’s a very willing participant and rarely wrong [but I’d rather not tell him that] – preferring to help find me outfits than be one of those husbands who wait patiently outside the store until you’re done. He particularly enjoys buying me lingerie but on many occasions I’ve had to remind him, that we were looking for a dress and it’s called ‘underwear’ for a reason. But that said, my problem [if you could call it that] is that my husband loves to buy me clothes. Our children like to tease my husband by saying he only buys me clothes when I’ve been mad at him and he’s trying to make it up to me [for the record, that’s not the only reason he does it] If anything it’s me who says…[& apologies to women everywhere] “I don’t need it” and he never had a problem spending money on clothes for his previous wife either, she just made it much harder for him to do so!

My husband also has a lot to say about his ex wife’s weight during years they were married and I have to confess, I always feel a little uncomfortable having these types of discussions with him. Mainly because I was once considerably larger [albeit just a few years in my late teens / early twenties] and as a woman, I know how sensitive the issue of weight can be and I also know how judgemental men can be. But to be fair, his comments are more to do with her reaction to her weight than her actual size.

Over the course of their marriage her weight fluctuated and she not only despised herself for it, she actually despised any woman who was, in her words “skinny”. She tried all the latest methods to lose weight, including diet shakes, health food bars, gym membership and a vast array of exercise equipment and had, a degree of success.

She even tried running, but that literally gave her…the runs!

Whether she achieves results or not, she has never been able to maintain a strict diet and exercise regime for long, which is very surprising given her determination and focus on remaining hostile towards my husband for the past six years.

According to my step children, their mother has even considered following a gluten free diet after hearing that I had become a coeliac, perhaps believing this had to be my ‘method’ for maintaining a consistent weight. The purchase of exercise equipment [that only ends up gathering dust in the garage or is used as a climbing frame for the dog] continues all the while seeming to ignore the recent reports that there’s a direct correlation between happiness and weight loss.

When they were newly engaged, his ex wife told my husband [I’m not sure for what purpose…perhaps some perverse show of ’loyalty’?] that she had run into some old acquaintances in the street and had talked about her future husband by saying, “I could do better, as he’s not much to look at, but looks don’t last forever anyway”. Not a nice comment to make about anyone, let alone your fiancé!

But we’ve all made choices we regretted. Some we live with momentarily [like that cake that looked so good on the menu but tasted like cardboard] or ones that lasted a lifetime [like that tattoo with the misspelt word]. But regardless of the longevity of our bad choices we simply have to live with the decisions we make, learn from them and hopefully not make them again.

Someone once said, “Thinking before acting is wisdom, but acting before thinking is regret.”

My husband has seventeen years of regret.

What Drives You?

Sometimes I struggle with the parenting choices my husband makes as rather than make the tough decisions he will often take the soft approach [which drives me crazy] – not because he’s lazy or disinterested in being the tough parent but because he’s driven by fear. [He also experiences a degree of fear when I drive…but that’s another story!]

His main fear is that his ex-wife will seize any opportunity to lure my step-children away from him [I have visions of a gingerbread house in the woods and an oven, but perhaps that’s a little extreme?] Her methods are subtle albeit damaging, basically forgoing all rules and focusing on being my step-children’s friend as what drives her, is revenge.

Sure there are times when it’s ok to be your child’s friend – like when you’re discussing their favourite movie or playing a board game but essentially at all other times your priority should be – being their parent. Whilst our children need friends, they need peers their own age and in my experience, they tend to make them quite easily – at school, from sporting teams and in their neighbourhood. The upside of having TWO homes, they have TWO neighbourhoods to find friends, so they don’t need the friendship of a middle-aged woman in happy pants and converse sneakers, who describes everything as “awesome” or “so cool”.

Thankfully that is a fear I have never had to [personally] deal with as my ex husband and I have always understood [and respected] the importance of the role the other plays in our children’s lives. I wish I could say the same about my husband’s ex-wife. It’s a fear that has been the driving force behind his actions ever since their separation.

It started when my step-son was twelve and refused to come stay with us. At that age his motivation wasn’t to punish his father he simply didn’t enjoy the lack of privacy at having to sleep in the ‘rumpus room’ adjoining his big sister’s bedroom. Of course his mother gladly let him stay with her full-time, but sadly there were never any genuine discussions with my husband about how she felt he could convince their son to return – only complaints about everything we were both doing wrong.

You see we bought the house we could afford…a modest four bedroom home [for five children] as initially we were only allowed to see my step children for two nights per fortnight. We [naively] believed that we’d never be able to alter the consent orders and both knew his ex-wife would never willingly share her time with them [especially if their 65:35 financial settlement was anything to go by]. But after one of my children [who were with us half the time] agreed to swap bedrooms my step-son returned.

Then two years ago we upgraded to a five bedroom house, which we did for no other reason than to make the four younger kids happy, not having to share a bedroom. At the time we chose to keep the location of our new home a secret from ALL our children [and from his ex wife] until we moved in. We weren’t moving from the suburb [which at 12.2 km2 or 4.7 sq mi is hardly a huge change] and told all the children as much, as we wanted to surprise them and also didn’t want them fighting over bedroom selections. According to my step son, at the time it was announced, their biological mother scoured the online real estate sales to identify which house we had bought. I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps to know how much we paid or simply know what the inside looked like. When his ex wife was eventually told the address, she of course checked it out, saying to my step children “I’m not impressed by it”. Which simply makes my husband and I laugh, as we certainly didn’t buy it to impress his ex wife nor, do we care if it doesn’t.

When we were first married my eldest step-daughter decided she wanted to stay with us full-time. I had no problem with that but encouraged her to continue to have contact with her mother – which she reluctantly did. Although at the time his ex-wife speculated on my own estranged relationship with my mother [from conversations I’d had with my step daughter] and decided I had it in for her due to some deep-seated mother/daughter issue. But nothing could be further from the truth.

My step-children have been allowed to miss school, not study for tests or complete homework and submit assignments that are invariably late and rushed. Well this is what occurs when they are with their biological mothers. I find this odd for a number of reasons, firstly, as a parent you [generally] want a better life for your children but more importantly, when you study later in life [as she has] you often regret not starting sooner and as a result, want to help others avoid this mistake – especially your own children. Not so with my husband’s ex wife because this goes against her quest for the status of ‘fun’ parent.

My children know that when it comes to their education, I expect them to work hard and constantly challenge themselves to improve. Even though by comparison, I was an average student, somewhat of a procrastinator and very disorganised. But unlike my parents – my ex husband and I are aware of what our children are doing at school and invest the time to ensure they remain focused. Although I tend to think my ex husband can be a little extreme with his approach, by making them do an hour of homework each night even if they have none assigned!

I’ve shed a few tears and said a few harsh words with my husband over his lack of involvement in my step children’s education. But it hasn’t always been this way…perhaps as the result of my nagging or the endless emails from teachers, my husband would yell at his children to do their school-work. Yes, not the most helpful approach but he really didn’t have the patience to calmly discuss why they hadn’t completed work nor sit with them to work through a task they were putting off starting. In an attempt to help [as the one with considerably more patience], I would sit for a few hours each night helping my youngest step-daughter work through her maths homework [albeit with a glass or two of wine, to help me through] or download information to help my step son with his assignments. Often ignoring my own children’s requests to help them or at the very least, give them attention.

Like a back seat driver – I regularly voiced my opinion when my husband was taking a wrong turn and it wasn’t until I realised that he was driven by the fear [of losing his children] that I could fully comprehend [and accept] why his efforts were always half-hearted.

My step children went from a week with their biological mother where they were never told to do their homework – his ex-wife would simply forward school emails advising of a failure to hand in work to my husband to deal with and also telling him that, their son needed to ‘step-up’ and take responsibility for his school work himself, wiping her hands of any responsibility. I agree that children need to learn self-discipline and organisation, but it’s not an inherent skill and often a child will need guidance and encouragement to get there or at the very least, have their parents oversee their efforts.

When my step-children would arrive for their week with us, my husband would immediately expressed his anger at their failure to do their school work…it didn’t make for a pleasant week – for anyone in the house. But playing ‘bad cop’ to his ex-wife’s ‘good cop’ routine was wearing my husband down and I could see he was stressed. I think he wanted to give up this ‘bad cop’ routine long before I would let him. Unfortunately, I was too consumed with making sure my step-children were trying harder at school to see that this was damaging his relationship with them.

It hasn’t been easy for me to step back and allow my step children’s biological parents make all the decisions [or in some cases, not] concerning their education but I know I have to, if only for my sanity and for my husband’s.

So where are we now…well, my sixteen year old step son is in his second last year of high school, failing most subjects and considering entering the military as a way to avoid another year of school. I see that as a positive move given another year at school would be a waste of everyone’s time not to mention the potential arguments it would cause. But he will need a pass in Maths and English, and then there’s the discipline, early mornings and restricted use of [personal] technology that may be his undoing.

My thirteen year old step daughter, has a lot further to go being in her first year of high school so I am trying not to imagine what the future holds for her education. Especially as her biological mother places more importance on the number of dance classes she attends rather than teaching her daughter her times tables.

Although there was an occasion where my husband’s ex-wife hired a maths tutor for my youngest step daughter. Which most people would see as a positive move by a caring and concerned mother. Sadly, it wasn’t motivated by a genuine desire to help my step daughter, it was simply done out of fear…and in response to my husband hiring a maths tutor to help my step son months earlier. As she had also instigated a mediation session with Relationships Australia [to extract more money from my husband] and was fearful she wouldn’t be seen as proactive with their children’s education. As was evident when she immediately stopped the tutor, following mediation, which didn’t provide the outcome she had hoped, as the counsellor repeatedly told his ex wife to calm down and that, by her assessment my husband’s contributions seemed fair and reasonable.

Decent fathers – won one: Greedy biological mothers – zero.

And the Award Goes to…

I’m not expecting a nomination for step-mother of the year…but I think I am at least worthy of an honourable mention.

Despite knowing any kind gestures I make to my step-children infuriates my husband’s ex-wife [for no other reason than they like me for it…albeit momentarily] and despite the fact that on occasion, it motivates me more than the desire to simply do something nice for them. But largely, I do nice things for my step-children because it’s simply in my nature.

I have two children that I love [as any mother would] unconditionally. I didn’t plan to have more, but then I didn’t plan to get divorced either.

From day one, I have disciplined my step-children as harshly as I do my own. I have washed and mended their clothes, cooked their meals, taken them to school, shopping, movies, allowed friends to stay-over and looked after them when they’re sick…well essentially everything a biological mother would do…short of love them.

Do I love my step-children? Some days…yes, some days…no. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good children and as far as step children go I’ve been pretty lucky. I have never been yelled at, sworn at, shown [too much] disrespect and they have certainly never used that classic step child statement “you’re not my mother”. Although I’ve used a version of that myself – when my sixteen-year old step-son, asked why I hadn’t put his school uniform back in his room, after I had washed it! [I left it on the ironing board, hoping he would get the hint…he didn’t]

Despite everything I do for them, they have never shown me affection nor felt 100% comfortable alone with me and to be honest, I haven’t either. I am affectionate with my own children but not one to enjoy hugging and kissing strangers upon meeting. So, when my step children came into my life at age fourteen, eleven and seven I really wasn’t sure what to do and neither were they. My youngest step-daughter however, would occasionally hold my hand when we were out, or lean against me on the lounge but I could tell, she was torn between showing me affection and showing her mother loyalty. Who at that stage, would ring EVERY night and talk to each of them for half an hour, as well as make the half heart gesture with her youngest [who reciprocated with the other half] whenever she said goodbye.

It was nightly hour-long phone calls [which would’ve no doubt gone longer if my husband hadn’t intervened] when they came to visit us interstate [for a week] but to be fair, that was her first time away from them – I was an unknown entity and perhaps she feared she would be replaced?

Her insecurities were highlighted when learning, my husband and I took his children to get some professional photos taken while they were with us and whilst it was all too soon for my children and I to be in them, playing the ‘happy [blended] family’ his ex-wife organised a photo shoot with her children as soon as they came home.

Even though since we’ve returned, we haven’t lived more than ten minutes away from his ex-wife’s house that hasn’t stopped her making the children feel guilty for abandoning her each fortnight. In the beginning her approach was subtle, making comments to the children like “I wish I didn’t have to share you with your father” and “I miss you when you’re away from me”. Truth be told I have said the latter to my children too, but that is to let them know they’re always in my thoughts rather than to alienate them from their father and guilt them into staying 100% of the time with me.

Which makes me consider that perhaps my comments, implying that she was manipulating her own children are a bit unfair…but then as I am reminded of her many negative actions since it sadly only reinforces my original views.

When my step children complain about their mother, I always defend her with comments like “I’m sure that’s not true” or “I’m sure she had her reasons” or “don’t say that about your mother” and whilst I try to sound sincere, I’m not.

But I don’t defend her out of some sort of respect for the woman nor is there a ‘biological mothers code’ I’m adhering to…I just simply believe they don’t need to hear their step-mother denigrate their biological mother. Because I respect my step-children and…for all her faults, she IS still their mother. I do say [at moments of utter frustration and thankfully, not too frequently] things like “I can’t believe your mother would say that!” or “Why would your mother do that?” [and less frequently] “Sometimes your mother can be difficult!” but I try to keep those types of remarks to a minimum and never too personal. But with my husband behind closed doors, I discuss her treatment of my step-children with absolute disbelief and condemnation.

You see whilst hardly perfect, I do consider myself a fairly decent parent / step parent so am frequently horrified when she does or says something that shows a total disregard for her children – whilst claiming to always have their best interests at heart. As a mother myself, it’s this type of behaviour over everything else she does that saddens me the most.

Deliberately showing favouritism towards her daughters, as my step son will defend his father if she says something he knows to be untrue, and that infuriates her.  Or now that he works ONE day a week, making him pay for ALL his school lunches and bus travel when she will buy materials to make the two girls’ Comic-Con costumes [even though the eldest also works one day a week]. Although, perhaps my step son has brought this upon himself, as he frequently tells us he prefers to stay at home [alone] than join his mother and sisters out for dinner and particularly avoids social gatherings with her very large extended family, stating that he finds them all annoying and is embarrassed by his mother. But maybe this is ALL teenage boys and I have this to look forward to with my own son in a few years?

His mother is not totally uncaring though, having contacted my husband in a number of occasions to discuss my step son’s behaviour. Advising my husband that their son has told her, he has felt ‘unloved’ by both his parents and “the fact that you and dad are still fighting at this point is just ‘effing pathetic” or that she’s convinced he has mental health issues or fears for her life [after he stabbed the fridge!]. I understand that his ex-wife doesn’t enjoy communicating with my husband [the feeling is mutual] but I believe any serious discussion should at least warrant an email, if not a phone call rather than a brief text message.

When my husband and I hear about my step son’s behaviour we are both shocked…and a little bemused [as I strongly believe in karma]. Despite the occasional moments [of ingratitude, laziness and sullen behaviour…] this is not how my step son behaves when he’s with us. Whilst, I acknowledge that the family dynamics are different, as at his mother’s house there is no male figure to support his mother’s discipline of him, but it’s almost like she’s describing a totally different person.

His biological mother’s justification for this is that she believes my sixteen year old step son is scared of his father [and whilst my husband does have a temper, they are almost the same height at 6’2″ and both of slight build, so he’s hardly able to intimidate his son with his physical presence and is not a violent man]. I would say, it’s because he respects his father and acknowledges that in this house we have rules and boundaries. For example, in our house the internet is turned off at 9.30pm on a weeknight but never at his mother’s – simply because that would inconvenience her and my eldest step daughter. If my step son behaves badly here, his computer is confiscated or his internet access is revoked, however at this mother’s she prefers to deprive him of the foods he likes to eat or will simply yell at him. We all know how ineffective it would be as teenagers quickly become immune to that type of discipline.

Like it or not, when you become a blended family you can’t play it safe and only let their biological parent dispense the discipline, for fear of upsetting the child or worse the parent. Even in the most amicable of separations with easy-going and respectful parents [they do exist] children will rarely embrace the new step parent as their own. Why would they? They have two parents who love them, isn’t that enough? The same goes for discipline, only that has a different set of boundaries attached to it. They go to school and they [for the most part] accept discipline from their teachers, they are respectful of authority yet when the reprimanding comes from a step-parent, that is the hardest one to accept. Like I said, I’m lucky…despite maternal influences my step children are mostly respectful.

My biggest challenge is not when my step children are here, it’s as they prepare to leave. Whilst my husband prefers to justify their behaviour as them mentally preparing for the changeover [i.e. different rules, schedules, meals and parent], I think it’s more than that. You see I’ve observed the behaviour of my own children as they wait for their father to collect them [within an hour of their step-siblings departure].

My twelve-year-old son gets his last fix of Xbox and insists on hugging me every time I enter the room and leaving the collection of his stuff to the absolute last moment. My fifteen year old daughter is more organised [advising her brother of their father’s e.t.a] having her bags ready at the front door, and then spending her remaining time lying on her bed [getting her last fix of fast & unlimited internet]. But never leaving without kissing me and telling me she loves me. Changing houses every week, lugging school books, uniforms, laptops etc back and forth must be very annoying for them but thankfully they simply accept this routine is a part of their life.

My step children behave in a different way altogether. Firstly my youngest step daughter is collected from dance class on changeover day so, my last moment with her is the brief exchange before school. My priority is to ask her to tidy her bedroom, take her dirty washing to the laundry and pack up her breakfast mess and her priority is asking me for lunch money & leaving for school as soon as possible. But often her attitude changes the night before whereby she’s a little distant and moody towards her father and I.

My sixteen year old step son however, leaves our house about 5pm on changeover day and always seems annoyed, seemingly at the inconvenience of having to wait a few hours to be collected – even though all he does is play on his computer in the interim. Added to that, our food stocks are usually depleted by this stage which only adds to his annoyance. I also ask him to tidy his room [as I do with ALL the children] but generally he just ignores my request and with so few clothes worn during the week he simply puts his dirty clothes [from his bedroom floor] into a garbage bag to take to his mother’s. I try not to think about whether or not they actually leave his room to be washed at any point.

I’ve given up battling with my step son over clothes we’ve bought him that are taken to his mother’s, as I figure at almost seventeen he needs to be responsible for ensuring he has sufficient clothing [at either house]. So unfortunately if he complains about his lack of clothing here, as a result of taking them to his mother’s I simply refuse to replace the items. Although this week he seemed quite pleased with himself when the told me he had managed to wear only TWO pairs of underpants for the entire seven days!

Despite now working from home and being present when his biological mother comes to collect him, I rarely get a ‘goodbye’ from my step son. Sometimes it’s difficult not to be consumed by that overwhelming feeling of being used so instead I try to remind myself that teenagers are very self-centred and it’s [hopefully] nothing personal.

My step children may never truly appreciate all that I do for them and whilst I have had moments of despair when I feel very much like the hired help vowing never to do anything more than their own mother would [again]…I always do. If for no other reason, it makes my husband happy and it’s simply in my nature to be nice.

What Has She Got That I Haven’t?

It’s fair to say, my husband’s ex-wife has an immense dislike for me.

This started years ago, when she believed I was the reason her husband left her and to be fair, I did know him…well sort of – although it’s more accurate to say, we were acquaintances having only met once in all those years since high school. No, we weren’t former flames trying to relive the passion of teenage love, in fact nothing could be further from the truth [see previous post: Show Me The Money!…] nor were either of us using social media as an avenue to have a fling…let alone find a new partner.

When I eventually joined the Facebook bandwagon, it was on the insistence of a high school friend who had reconnected with a number of our former classmates, my husband included. To be honest I was sceptical [perhaps still jaded by my experiences from those days] and not surprisingly, many of my school cohorts…[still] didn’t impress me.

What neither my husband nor I knew at the time was that we were both miserable in our respective marriages [albeit for very different reasons] as our group online chats were never too personal…preferring to mask our unhappiness with a quest to make more people laugh at our jokes than the other. He had a high school reputation to uphold and I…wanted to prove I wasn’t the shy boring girl everyone had once thought I was.

Yes, we are together now as a result of Facebook and whilst I acknowledge that’s a very cliché way to get together, we became friends first as we were both dealing with our own relationship failings at the time to jump headlong into another.

But all of that is irrelevant when [to this day] his ex-wife has put TWO and TWO together and gotten FIVE [now who’s bad at maths?!], preferring to tell anyone who will listen [including my step children and the mothers of my youngest step-daughter’s friends] that I am the reason her marriage ended. Actually her ultimate blame lies with my husband as she has made assumptions as to why my marriage failed too and assumed it was his doing. She would rather blame someone else than acknowledge that there were problems in her marriage and that in reality, they were both unhappy. So despite seventeen years of threatening to leave him [every six months or so] she was still shocked when he decided…enough was enough.

And whilst, I am now step-mother to her three children and that apparently gives her right to ridicule my parenting / step-parenting skills, it’s my physical appearance and intelligence that prompts the most comments from my step-children’s biological mother. Well, they’re the comments I see in her texts and emails to my husband but I am sure my cooking / cleaning / mothering skills are scrutinised more harshly when she’s at home with my step children. To be honest, there’s nothing she says that upsets me [anymore] it just makes me wonder what all this bitterness and negativity must be doing to her enjoyment of life.

But I’m not above reproach…I have retaliated in kind [by being unkind] albeit anonymously and never directly to her [or her children] by tweeting about her penchant for harem pants and side buns and essentially in EVERY tweet questioning her intelligence and mental state.

So in defense of my physical appearance…I am neither overweight nor underweight despite having been accused of ‘making’ her eldest daughter anorexic and now supposedly doing the same to her youngest. I simply have, through good luck rather than good management [and dieting] maintained the same weight for twenty something years [give or take a few kilos] although preferring to gloss over my early twenties when I was close to 14kg [that’s 2.2 stone or 30lbs] heavier – a period I blame on an unhappy time in my life when food became the most convenient source of comfort. I am sure this is not the case for all women as his ex-wife claims to be happier and more content than ever.

I am vehemently opposed to exercise. I never deprive myself of food…[but as I’m a coeliac now, I avoid wheat…but not always] and the only time I vomit, it’s [and thankfully not as often these days] preceded by, excessive amounts of alcohol!

I believe his ex-wife’s comments stem from her belief that I had an affair with her [then] husband and it has prompted her to ask “what has she got that I haven’t?” [hey, we’ve ALL been there!] Because given that my face-to-face exchanges with his ex-wife can be added up on one hand [and all encounters were where SHE was the aggressor seeking me out] surely that has to be the only logical explanation behind her hatred of me? After all I am [nearly] always kind to her children.

When your marriage ends [regardless of the circumstances] it certainly makes you doubt yourself [both inside and out] but I believe your ability to heal comes from recognising, that it takes TWO people to make a marriage fail.

But in my husband’s marriage…apparently, it was ALL him! With his ex-wife discussing his failings with a counsellor after they had separated and then informing him that “the counsellor said you have to make some big changes, if I’m going to take you back” My husband tells me, that for him anyway, that was NEVER on the cards.

To be fair, I never will [nor do I want to] hear about all the intimate details of their marriage. But then nor should I…and, neither should my eldest step-daughter [who was just fourteen] when her mother shared some VERY personal details about her past sex life with my husband / my step daughters father. Similarly my own mother felt the need to share details with me about her sex life with my father and whilst I was in my thirties at the time, it still didn’t lessen my shock and disgust that my mother would think this was something I wanted to hear.

FYI – It is NEVER okay to talk to your children about the intimate details of your sex life, past or present. If you want them to learn about sex, make it a generic sex ed. discussion and leave their parents names out of it. Show some class people!

I remember a time when both my husband and I regularly caught the bus to work with his ex wife. When I say, “with” I mean we shared the same bus, we never coordinated our trips to travel together, though it did become the highlight of my day. She would naturally do her best to avoid us as we sat up the back of the bus smirking like a couple of obnoxious teenagers. Childish, yes but it was more the instant scowl she had on her face upon seeing us that would set us off. Now days she catches the train even though it means driving to the station which is further away from the city [where she works] just to avoid us.

On one occasion, when my husband wasn’t with me – I sat closer to the front of the bus than usual not really thinking about the possible consequences…until we pulled up to his ex-wife’s stop. I remember texting my husband in a mild state of panic and bemusement that wouldn’t it be funny if his ex-wife sat next to me…and then she did! Both our hearts must’ve been racing that morning, as she sat down smugly next to me believing she was intimidating me, and me listening to music and discreetly trying not to laugh at my husband’s responses. It was clearly a power play despite pretending she didn’t see me.

Whilst we probably couldn’t pick our seat buddy in a line up, who doesn’t at least glance at them BEFORE we sit down next to them?

It’s just a safety mechanism to assess their suitability ie. they’re not listening to loud offensive music or intoxicated [at 7am in the morning, you’d be surprised].

Anyway, this 30 minute journey continued in silence…except for the dulcet tones of Stevie Wonder singing an upbeat ‘Happy Birthday’ in my ears. As we arrived at her stop – she jumped out of her seat and said something to me [I am not entirely sure what, as I chose to ignore her] but with her adrenalin no doubt running high and not content with my lack of reaction she leant over to put her face [scarily] close to mine and said in a high pitched tone “I said hello” and then possibly something about not seeing me there…I can’t be sure as only removed one ear piece, and gave her a confused look of someone being approached by a crazy person and then went back to ‘Superstition’. It was a very odd encounter.

This fun exchange was never repeated when my husband was with me on the bus – preferring to return to her previous tactic, of avoiding us both and scowling.

The only other occasions where [I guess] she has felt in a position of power is when I’m walking home and she drives past me with one of my step-children with her. Then suddenly the mere sight of me sends her into this over exaggerated state of excitement whereby she throws her head back laughing heartily. It’s that or a mild seizure, I can’t be sure. Like I said, very odd.

She has said that my husband and I are perfect for each other, as she tells my step children that, I seem as immature as he is! I’ll take that. Although I prefer to view it as a youthful enthusiasm for life. And for the record am actually a year older than his ex wife.

Either way, I know what I’ve got…a husband who loves me and who makes me laugh everyday.