Are we sabotaging ourselves?

Credit: anankkml

The other day, during our webinar with the super insightful publisher of Stepmom Magazine, Brenda Ockun, she said something that struck me.

Something that I would like to shout from the mountain tops and that I wish someone had told me 3 years ago:

If you and the other woman can’t have a cordial relationship initially, then it’s best to keep your distance.

And here’s why.

If the other woman does come around one day, it will be a lot easier to transition into having a relationship with her if you don’t have years’ worth of angry emails, accusations and hateful feelings between the two of you.

As soon as I heard Brenda say this, I wished I could have turned back the clock and taken her advice. (Then again, I wouldn’t be here today, but that’s another story.)

It makes complete sense.

Imagine you barely having any contact with the other woman for a few years. Imagine again — you reached out — and she ignored you or insulted you. You decided you would not tolerate being treated like that and you stopped trying.

Depending on whether you’re the mom or the stepmom, you continued to care for your stepkids or kids, nurtured yourself and your love life, and stayed out of whatever drama was occurring with either your ex-husband, or your husband and the other woman. You are happy.

Then one day, something shifts for her.

The stepmom has finally accepted the fact that the mom will always be there. Or the mom is not so angry at her ex-husband anymore, or  no longer sees the stepmom as such a threat. Whatever the shift may be, suddenly she’s open to having a discussion with you, in a respectful, more neutral manner.

Can you imagine how much easier it would be to start a relationship from that place, rather than one where your history with her consists of years of accurate and inaccurately perceived offenses and conflict? Resentments that have gone both ways?  (Let’s take a moment to dream….)

But sadly, the reason we’re here, is because we DID let it get to that place.

We either already know that routine by heart, or we’re new on the scene and wondering how in the hell to deal with such a difficult situation. After all, when we’ve encountered frustrating people in the past, it was simple. We could easily just draw the line and remove them from our “contacts.”

But in this situation, we’ll go 10 rounds in the mud with this woman trying to make it work. Why? For the kids? How good is it for the kids to see us on edge? Stressed to the bone? Cringing at the sound of the other woman’s name?

And just for the record, if you think you’re ‘hiding’ it from the kids, you’re not.

They can sense the slightest bit of uneasiness in us. And it makes them uneasy too.

I’m convinced there are too many emotions flying high when it comes to the mom and stepmom to point blame at any one place. We’re all dealing with our own crap and doing the best we can.

So why can’t we just call a spade a spade, recognize when someone isn’t ready for us, and leave it at that, at least for a while?

Everyone gets to make their own choices, but it seems to me you would want to give the relationship with the other woman as much opportunity as possible to breed positivity.

Just in case, one day, she comes knocking on your door, ready to talk.

And I ask you, women: for those of us who are getting this message a few years too late, where do we go from here?

How do we begin to create peace and happiness for ourselves first?

© 2011 Jenna Korf       All Rights Reserved

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  1. You create that space of peace by putting things on pause. Do nothing.

    “After winter springs comes
    and grass grows by itself.”

    ~ Japanese Zen Poem

    And by “putting so much effort into making yourself a better person you have no time to criticize others” (that quote is written on my office white board)

    Last year my ex-wife-in-law and I had a slight disagreement. While she tried rallying troops to her cause, I left her alone. I did nothing. No one jumped on her band wagon. She was left treading water by herself. Weeks later I received a heart felt apology from her. Months later I heard through the grapevine how much she respected me.

    Do nothing.
    Be your authentic self.


  2. Thanks, Peggy, I completely agree with you. However, for a lot of these women, they just don’t know how to do that yet. And for me, the “doing nothing” came after I was able to find my own internal peace. Well, the internal peace I had found before entering into this situation, but the understanding of the dynamics and what the consequences could be came after. Only then, was I able to realize that “doing nothing” was the only and best option for me.
    In our new Member’s Community, we’re hoping to help these women find the inner peace and calm that is so vital to us all! :)

  3. Katy Morrigan says:

    Really appreciate this perspective. I’ve made the decision to avoid the BM as much as possible, and be over-the-top polite and kind when I do have to interact with her. But that decision was made mostly to give myself peace of mind and stay out of battles with her. I like the idea that someday it may pay off in possibly creating the potential for a relationship with her!

  4. Thanks, Katy. It seems like common sense, but I never looked at this way until Brenda put it in these terms. I love that every day we can learn something new!

  5. Great article, Jenna! The personal experiences of the individual involved in the family dynamics… can either increase the speed of self development or find it’s way through additional speed bumps.

    I did create distance between my kids step mother. I however, never it let get in the way of their relationship with her. My kids spent/spend adequate time with their father, when he isn’t deployed, and so I knew she was in the picture. I trusted somewhere in my gut that her role in my kids lives, will be developed on it’s own (through the efforts she was putting forth in developing a relationship with them, and the kids being open to her place in the family), as I observed from the sidelines (but always felt the right to interject, if I felt harm was/would be done).

    Then finally came the day where I felt it was time to introduce myself. It’s been a slow development since, but just the right pace and I rarely practice unnecessary self projections. I let things happen as they may, and figure out how to deal with situations as they come, draw boundaries when necessary.

  6. Thanks, Nancy! It sounds like less contact was really beneficial for you. How is the stepmom reacting to you now that you’re reaching out? Is she receptive?

  7. Great post! The Ex and I had a somewhat cordial relationship in the beginning. The first time Hubs rocked the boat regarding his son, she snapped and blamed it on me. Since then I’ve taken a different approach and stepped way back in regards to interacting with her. It’s been 4yrs since then, and it has only gotten worse. Maybe things will change, maybe they won’t. From now on, I’m taking your advice Jenna, I’m going to work towards creating an inner peace and happiness for myself.

  8. Hi Angela, you can’t go wrong if you’re working on your OWN peace and happiness, because that’s really the only thing we have control of anyways :).

  9. Wow Jenna, I think this might be the answer I was looking for in my post in the members forum. That “ten rounds in the mud” line… that really describes what I’ve been doing for the past few years. And why, for what purpose? The BM is just not in the same place I am and truthfully, might never be. I’ve exhausted myself trying to make it work for the past few years to the point that I now find myself so burned out that I don’t even want contact with her… It’s just too exhausting to try. And in spite of being so burned out with the situation, I still find myself feeling like I failed in my attempt to have peace in a blended family. I guess I need to really disengage, stop trying to shove that square peg in a round hole and rest for a while… Just pause and work on me. I really like your perspective!

  10. Hi CKsmom, I’m glad you found this perspective helpful for you :). And imagine how things might change for you, if all that energy is now spent on YOU and the people in your life that you love!

  11. Well, Jenna…. My children’s dad is deployed and so she expressed interest in continuing her efforts in building the relationship with the kids and I have actually been receptive towards her in that manner. However, I have come to appreciate the relationship she does have with them and have found her to be reliable as for needing help with care. As I said, I’ve come to appreciate her as well.

    I think there may still be some hiccups along the way, yet I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

  12. Thats great, Nancy! It’s wonderful that you appreciate and acknowledge her and the fact that it would be beneficial for the kids to continue a relationship with her! Have you ever told her that you appreciate her? And yes, take it day by day :).

  13. Yes, I have told her I appreciate her! There was once when she was sending me emails, a little pushy and persistent (at the time, in my eyes, because I had a lot going on)… anyways, I replied kind of short saying it wasn’t a good time. Then sent her another email soon after, saying that I didn’t want her to have the wrong thoughts and that I appreciate her efforts in building the relationship with my kids… etc… and that I had a lot going on…. So, yes. She replied right away, thanking me for the email. :)

    I can’t help but wonder though, if there’s anything she would like to say to me… she/they began the relationship with my ex while we were still together/married… I’m totally over it, but just wondering if there was anything in her that she needs to let go (to me)… just curious.

  14. … sorry, the email she was sending me was asking me to come visit the kids…

  15. That’s awesome that you were able to voice your appreciation for her :). And when you were busy and kind of short with her you even followed up with an explanation. To me, that’s common courtesy.
    I think that’s what most women are looking for, nothing special, just common manners, decency. But they’re not getting it.
    If she has something to say to you, hopefully she’ll find the courage to do it. On the other hand, maybe she knows how lucky she is to be in a situation with a mom who is respectful of her and she doesn’t want to rock the boat. I guess time will tell!
    Nancy, was there ever a time, maybe in the beginning, when you didn’t want anything to do with her? Or when you treated her poorly? Or she treated you poorly?

  16. Tracey Wigans says:

    Great article! Common sense and true to the bone. This is what we all need to hear. Bless you for putting together this material. 6 years ago when we started our stepfamily there was very little support material online, at the library, or through the church. Even though I had worked with children and family professionally, I was surprised at my inability to cope with the personal relationships within the stepfamily.
    I am hopeful, now thanks to your work regarding relationships between moms and also the program of The Smart Step Family. The author of TSSF brings truth to the whole family make-up of the step family in a biblical form. THANKS AGAIN!

  17. Yeah, in the beginning Jenna, there was just no room for her, mentally… so I had nothing to do with her, but that’s the extent. I was more focused on myself. I think my education helped me stay focused on things I knew I had control over and wanted for myself. She had nothing to do with any of it. As long as I knew my kids were being treated well, which I could read/tell by their behaviors, I was satisfied.

    I don’t feel as though either one of us ever treated each other poorly. I really had no reason too. I’m not the type to harbor bitterness or relish in feeling scorned. Not me. I can’t speak for her, but I don’t think she had a reason to treat me poorly.

    I really feel as though what you mentioned in the article is true. One truly needs to process their thoughts before acting out on words used or behaviors…. with the help of coaching and therapy, it’s the only way :)

  18. Speaking from someone who did too much too soon, was drug through a two year custody battle, and had my fair share of conflict with the other home…it’s never too late to step back. I did. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was worth it. About a year after removing myself from direct contact with the bio-Mom, we started easing back into a neutral relationship…then moved to communicating on a regular basis…and now we are on good terms. We both make scheduling decisions together, and she appreciates my input. I still leave certain topics alone, but both bio-Mom and my hubby give me information.

    Thanks for your post! Even though I wish I had read this years ago…it’s never too late to turn things around:)

  19. Hi Lynnae, thanks for the feedback on your positivity! I do think change is possible at any stage of the game. It’s great that you were able to step back enough to then start again at a later time. Here’s to moving forward! :)

  20. Thank you… I met the love of my life last spring. He has three teens and we decided to get married this summer. I have a 14 month old, who views my sweetie as “daddy” since her bio father is not in the picture.

    The closer we get to the wedding, “that woman” is doing everything she can to turn the kids against me/us out of anger and jealousy (“He never taught me how to golf/took me to dinner at that fancy restaurant/ took out the trash,” etc.) I’m a fairly easy going person and most people I know think I’m the kindest person they know. Imagine my horror that one of the teens is calling me a “hateful b**** of a step-mom” to all her friends!

    The only thing I ever tried to do is love their dad, support him, and have a decent life together, so far as we all can. That woman won’t meet me and I’m taking all of it personally.

    Thank you for your posts. I still think she’s unreasonable, and probably never will think beyond what is good for her (more money and attention)…. but at least there’s a bunch of other people who feel my pain, and have lived through it. There might be a light at the end of the tunnel…

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