I wrote this blog post from the perspective of a mother and stepmother, but I believe that parts of it could apply to all stepfamily relationships (father and stepfathers, stepchildren and stepparents).
As if the traumas of divorce aren’t enough, just when you may feel like you are getting accustomed to your new normal, it happens. Your ex gets a partner, maybe even remarries, and there is another woman in your children’s lives. This family picture is a complicated one, and you will likely be unsure of how to approach it. You may feel like the new woman (let’s just call her stepmom) has all the proving to do. However, remember that how you handle this situation can either make peace or create chaos. While such upheaval may be fine for the adults, having your children in the center of that just continues the negative consequences of the divorce. So, here are some points to consider when navigating this new relationship.
You don’t have to be best friends. In the best of circumstances, it would be nice for you, your ex, and stepmom to be friends, however, it is not likely. Remember, you and your ex divorced for a reason and in the process, may have been very hurtful to each other. Stepmom has probably heard a lot of negative things about you and/or the divorce process, and will naturally align with your ex. Furthermore, stepmom likely already has best friends. Just because she fell in love with your ex and your children, does not mean she signed up for friendship with you. Most women do not dream of that as part of their love story. So, be cordial like you would with any acquaintance, or think of it like a friendly business relationship (which leads to the second point).
Respect their social and physical boundaries. People are territorial over their things…their homes, their social media accounts, and their friends and family. Even if you have no ill intentions, you should still be mindful of and respect that other people need physical and personal space. What this may mean is that you would not walk into their home unless invited in. Do not initiate requests for friendships on Facebook, Instagram, etc. with her or her family. If she feels comfortable with that, let stepmom make the move when she is ready. But premature or persistent attempts to be in their lives could be perceived as you trying to be in control or being nosy, in the least.
Recognize and accept that things will change. Sure, maybe you and your ex got along well before she came along. Maybe since she stepped into the picture your ex has to run things by her or there are new rules in your children’s home away from you. This is natural and it is not her fault. When two people come together in a relationship, they need to establish what works for them and their household. Just because things change, it does not necessarily mean it will be negative. These changes are likely not in any type of retaliation towards you, but the natural progression of a new family forming. Change is a lot harder when you resist it, and expecting things to be exactly the same with a new person in the picture is unrealistic.
Treat her the way you would like your partner to be treated. If you haven’t repartnered, consider this: How do you want your ex to treat your future partner? If you do have a partner and things haven’t been fair, consider this as an opportunity for you to set a good example of how you want your new person to be treated. Simply put, treating stepmom with fairness and grace from the get-go will go a long way, and may make adding your partner to the picture even easier. Remember that this is also a hard transition for her, as it may have been/will be for your partner. If there are conflicts, you always have the opportunity to be the bigger person and disarm the situation. You can show that you don’t want to be enemies more so with your actions than words.
In all fairness, there are two sides to every relationship, including how the new woman approaches you and your children in a healthy way (but that’s a topic for another day). After the disappointment of a disrupted marriage, you and your children do not need added stress and unrest in your lives. And although trying to have peaceful relationships with your ex and stepmom is good for your children, do it for yourself, too. At the end of the day, you will benefit from being a compassionate, respectful, and gracious person.