One woman’s frog is another woman’s prince

Note: I’m apologizing ahead of time for anyone that I might piss off with this post. It is not my intention :).

Okay, here goes!

There are 2 complaints I hear often from moms regarding their ex-husbands.

The first complaint is that if he’s remarried and the stepmom plays an active parenting role, then he is being  “let off the hook.” The stepmom has stepped in and therefore dad doesn’t have to step up to the plate.

He can fade quietly into the background.

The second complaint is that “He was such a bad husband/father/horrible person. What could the stepmom possibly see in him?” And a variant of that complaint is, “She must be just as bad as he is.

Often, when I hear these complaints, I can’t help but notice the anger and hurt still present in these women.

There’s no right or wrong here, just another perspective. So here’s mine.

Complaint # 1

“Now that he’s remarried, he lets his new wife handle everything, including parenting.“

These men have remarried. As with any healthy marriage, the partners become integrated into each other’s lives, to an extent. They DO for each other.  Stepmoms will pretty much do anything to make the life of their husband and his kids better or easier. Granted, many times to her detriment.

But here’s the part that I think moms are missing.  He’s doing the same thing for his wife.

He’s helping her too. He’s making her life easier, in whatever way he can.

Maybe he’s helped his wife start a new business. Maybe he’s 100% supportive of her new life goals, or he cooks her dinner every night.

Whatever it may be, they are doing what happy, functional couples do, practicing reciprocity.

And if there are now 2 adults in this household to raise and love these children, instead of one, how does that make him the bad guy?

Why is that seen as dad getting let off the hook? This phrase makes it sound like he weasled his way out of his parenting duties.

Sure, there are some dads who are guilty of this. But there are plenty of them who aren’t.

More likely, these men have made room to let their wives help with things that women are typically better at, such as appointments, scheduling, reminders about household tasks, etc…

But these dads haven’t stepped back. They’re still there, right beside their wives. As they both support each other.

I think these men are lucky. They fell in love and now have someone to help them with their share.

Moms, would you not jump at the opportunity to have some help on your end?

But it seems like all mom is seeing is how her ex-husband is benefitting, and she’s not.

How she is still alone, left with the difficult task of being a single parent.

What’s the answer to this? I don’t know that there is one. But I would love some feedback from moms who have experienced this.

Complaint #2

“He was such a bad husband/father/horrible person. What could his new wife possibly see in him?”

OK, maybe he was an awful person when he was with her.

Maybe he was young and stupid.

Maybe they brought out the worst in each other.

Maybe he wasn’t in love and was just trying to make it work for the kids.

But he’s different with this wife.  Why is he different?

Maybe he learned from his past mistakes.

Maybe he’s in love this time.

Maybe he wants to be BETTER this time and get it right.

Maybe she just knows how to be with him or she can tolerate the things that drove the other woman crazy.

We all respond differently to different people. Maybe this time around it’s just the right combination.

There are too many variables to guess why one couple can make it last and another can’t.

I know some moms see the improvement in these men and acknowledge them for it, and others don’t.

Some need to believe he’s the same old jerk, because it’s just too painful to admit that he’s different with another woman. That he’s changed for another woman. That he’s better with another woman.

Some will question why he couldn’t have been that man for them.

And as for the men? Well, some men still ARE those same jerks. Some men still treat their ex-wives like crap, while worshipping their current wives.

But others have made true changes. Some men try to be decent to their ex-wives, only to get harassed and put down, once again.

So I guess what I want to say to some moms is this: your ex-husband might not be the same man you divorced. Unless you two spend hours a day opening up to each other, you probably don’t even know him anymore.

If this applies to you, maybe next time instead of going to your dark place where you replay every bad thing your ex-husband has ever done to you, you start looking for the good that he’s doing now?  What would it take for you to be able to acknowledge him as a decent man and a better father today? Is it even possible?

To get a better understanding of the men in your life, join Jenna for her Insights Into Men workshop!

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Comments

  1. Love this Jenna! As both an ex-wife and a wife, it is painful to watch your previous partner/spouse move on a be happier than when he/she was with you. I know it was for me. And I also know it was painful for my husband’s ex to see him crazy about someone else. (me) At the end of the day, women in an ex situation just need to pull themselves up and know that their happily ever after does come provided they move past the anger, resentment, and bitterness.

    Peggy

  2. Beautifully put, Peggy!

  3. THANK YOU! Love that post and so needed. My husband is an excellent partner for me and he is an amazing dad. In his former marriage he was not..he just wasn’t allowed tohave an oppinion that differed from his ex and shr expected him to do as he was told with the kids. It was a living hell for him. His own personality had to be surpressed because she didn’t approve. Keep in mind this is not her fault. When he met her he was tryig to be somethe wasn`t. Now he is comfotable in his skin, with his kids and with his life. Wish she could see that he is not the same man. On my end I have an ex who loves his son but has always been a playmate. Our son will be going to live with his dad next school year and I hope that his dad will jump into the parenting role and flurish. They have a chance at a new relationship and I am lookimg forwars to seeing how they change together.

  4. Robin D. says:

    This is great! I felt exactly this was about my childrens’ father when he found his new partner. I soon realized the kids were better off with her around! She has made a huge difference in his parenting.

    NOW, as for myself becoming that other woman and a partner to someone with an ex-wife and children…

    The other woman’s frog WAS INDEED a frog. And he DID put all of the household, parenting, and financial responsibility on me. And all of those horrible things I believed about his ex-wife….well….those are the same things he now says about me now that we are no longer together. Luckily, I have a new close friend….his first ex-wife. :) And what is funny? She told me, “You know, I wondered what the hell you saw in him but I figured you would find out for yourself.” Yes, yes I did.

  5. Thanks, Brennen! Yours is a great example of why a man is different with a different woman. It also looks like you have a positive mindset and are expecting your ex to be successful in his new parenting role. *fingers crossed* :)

  6. Wow Robin, that is SO interesting! I guess this is one man who hasn’t learned from his mistakes yet. At least you got a new, close friend out of it! ;)

  7. The first half of this really used to get to me in the beginning of my ExH’s relationship with his (now) new wife. However, as time has passed I have actually embraced the fact that she is their and has a willingness to help out with our children and have even told her how much I appreciate what she does for the children. To be honest, (not trying to say anything negative abou tthe Exh) I feel more at ease that she is there helping raise our children because I find that I don’t worry so much when I cant be there. In a way she is like a helper to me and the best part is that she enjoys it and so do the kids. Do her and I have a perfect relationship? No. I think there will always be issues that come up that need to be worked through (as with any relationship). The second part of this was easy for me. In the beginning I thought it was funny that she was with this person that drove me nuts for nearly 10 years and now he was going to do it to her too. I realized thought that people change. We are all constantly changing as individuals, learning from experiences and continually evolving. In the end, I am happy for him (and even kinda proud of him) that he has learned from his mistakes in our relationship and has found new love and is happy once again. :)

  8. Misty, that’s huge of you to be able to embrace your appreciation of your kids’ stepmom! And also to be able to acknowledge your ex’s growth. It’s true, we’re all changing, all the time. :) And doesn’t it feel great to wish someone well rather than wish them pain? You should celebrate your *awesomeness*!

  9. I really liked what you wrote, and it made me think. I wrote about it on my blog, and it really helped me see things differently. Thanks for the good thoughts!

    http://www.idreamloudly.com/2011/04/previously-married-man.html

  10. Great, thanks Kate!

  11. Thank you for sharing this Jenna. I know a lot of women on both sides of the fence think of you as a wise lady and hearing this from you will help.

    I’ve been married to a man who has custody of his children since 1995, and I can’t tell you how tired I am of seeing my husband being put down and at the same time it being perfectly fine when a man in her life helps her out with the kids.

  12. Correction! Been married since 2005…sometimes it feels like it’s been that long though (1995) :)

  13. Haha, thanks Deb :). I know what you mean, the other day I said to my husband “Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been married for 10 years?” and he was like “uh, no!”. :). Oops! It’s just that we’ve been through a lot together in such a short (3 years) period of time!

  14. My poor husband. I’ve said the same thing once, and he said NO..boy did I feel bad! I love him so!

  15. ::sigh of relief::

    THANK YOU! As a young stepmom without stepmom friends who can identify with what I’ve been through, I sometimes need reinforcement that it IS a tough road and there are so many issues in stepfamilies that don’t exist in biological families – but that doesn’t mean you’re alone or that you’re wrong all the time.

    In reference to complaint #2 – There are so many times I ask myself, “Am I too involved? Do I take on too much responsibility planning/organizing/scheduling for myself, my husband and his son?”
    It’s nice to hear someone say (blog), “It’s ok!” We ARE a partnership, we take care of each other and support each other. I do the scheduling because I’m good at it!

    Thank you!

  16. This is an incredibly timely post for me personally. My husband’s ex mentioned to my husband yesterday of how jealous she was of our relationship. She is also remarried (but to a not-nice guy), and she recognizes and felt comfortable admitting to being jealous of us. She said she felt like she can’t compete with us in terms of our relationship with the kids. My amazing husband responded with, “it’s not a competition. You’re their mom, and they love you. I’m lucky to be in such a great relationship that work so well.”

    I’m lucky to have an “other woman” who recognizes that my husband and I have a great thing going on, and comes to us for advice!

    Thanks for the post!

  17. Okay someone has to talk about the flip side of this particular coin.
    I was married for 18 years. My ex was unemployed, uninvolved, unpleasant. We had 4 children. He was verbally and mentally abusive. One day I woke up and realized that the best thing I could do for my babies was to move on. He was very angry and I wont even go into the extreme divorce scenario but soon he found someone who was willing to listen to him and who joined him in his continued abuse of me and my family. He used the visitation as another way to abuse me by doing whatever he knew would upset me. His new wife joined and loved every minute of it. She was a paralegal and used the law to frighten me. But, she did all the parenting so it looked good. My poor kids were so confused. Eventually, I found out that the new wife’s boy was abusing my children. The woman then threatened my children with everything under the sun if they told. Luckily they did and I was able to take them from that situation. Their marraige continued, but I heard it wasn’t doing so well. Finally, I heard that the 2nd wife contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 40, when she died, her husband (my ex) was out with another woman and couldn’t be found. These days he draws unemployment from the states and lives in other countries like Thailand so he can live cheaply.
    I realize my story isn’t everyones…but it is someones. The 2nd wife was evil. She used my children as weapons. She hurt them in ways I couldn’t argue. She would tell them they ate too much or that they were dirty (none of it true…but try to argue that type of thing in court). My babies are now grown. But after 16 years of divorce…I still cant move on because my ex has done things that linger that I wont go into.
    The end…I met an amazing man who raised my kids and loves us all. So, in this story…the person not getting the kudos..is the new husband!
    What I would say…is find a family therapist that you really, really like. They can help you through so much!

    Deb

  18. Michelle, you’re welcome! Being a stepmom can drive you crazy, especially early on. I suggested you look for a support group/meetup group in your area. Friends and family who AREN’T a stepmom just won’t be able to understand what it’s like for you. I’m glad this post gave you some comfort :).

    Sarah, I love that both your husband AND his ex-wife are able to speak openly to each other, without an attemp to hurt the other. Unfortunately, it’s very rare. You are lucky!

    Deb, thanks for you rcomment. Your past situation sounds horrible. This post is not referring to animals dressed up as men. However, I AM glad you were able to find yourself a prince in the end :)

  19. Of course, these women get upset at the stepmom taking an active parenting role in the kids’ lives are usually the same ones who are ok with the stepdad taking the biodad’s place and becoming their ‘real’ dad.

  20. Elisette says:

    I know my ex’s girlfriend simply does not expect the same things of him that I did, so they are better matched. I am happy I am not living life the way he is (I found it depressing, repetitive, and boring)!! I don’t know how she’s helping yet, they both seem similarly inept and are depending on me to pick up the slack. (ie, wanting me to pack OTC medicines for the kids.)

  21. I remember when I wrote a blog post in which I slammed by ex-husband. My friend Kiera read it before I posted it and reminded me that he was somebody’s prince, so I rewrote it. He did all the things with this first GF (and her kids) after the divorce that I wanted him to do with me and our kids and I was so incredibly jealous that I made it my personal mission to destroy their relationship.

    Then the tables turned. I found my prince and his ex called to “warn” me about all his warts. He had been very honest about his faults and really, his faults made him seem like an angel compared to my ex.

    In my particular case I wanted my ex-husband to change into something he wasn’t capable of being. He’s found a few women that like him just the way he is. On the other hand, I adore DH and all his faults and quirks. Wouldn’t change him for the world, but I have a suspicion his ex wanted him to be different than what he is. When your divorce is emotionallly incomplete it’s hard not to obsess on the other woman and how much of an ass your ex is. Here’s the thing: as ex-wives, we should WANT our husbands to be happy (recoupled or not). Happy ex-husbands make really great fathers.

  22. Jenna,

    This article is FABULOUS and so so true. I do whatever I need to do to help my husband as he does for me. Our husband’s and their exes had their chance. I would not and do not ever want to take the place of my stepchild’s mother but I will do everything in my power to make her life happy when she is with us and so will my husband. That is what I am charged to do as a stepmom but I am also charged with caring for myself and my children so as long as we know that there are healthy boundaries in every relationship, we can’t set ourselves up for the detriment that some experience. As I always say, we have to show our children what a healthy MARRIAGE looks like as well as a healthy DIVORCE!

    Thank you for this enlightening article! Loved it!

  23. Brigette, I love “Happy ex-husbands make really great fathers”. And very interesting that you’ve experienced both sides of the coin, and survived ;)

    Diane, thank you! A healthy marriage AND a healthy divorce, I love that. And it’s possible, I saw it with my own parents. They divorced when I was around 7, and never once, not even to this day, have I ever heard either one of them speak a negative word about the other. We can celebrate holidays together, my mom and stepmom are friends, and there’s just a lot of love there. I blame them for me growing up to be a very happy, loving person :)

  24. I am a step mom. I am not sure why the ex is so angry. They divorced 12 years before I met. My husband is a great guy. I don’t know what he was like 10 years ago but I do know what his ex is like now. She has repeatedly tried to hurt me and undermine my role with her kids. I guess that makes her feel good. Like maybe it’s making me look bad (who knows or cares, I am not sure) but I do know it’s hurting her kids. It also appears like she hasn’t moved on and really doesn’t want her ex (my husband) to be happy. After all these years and after all he’s done for her (he does the majority fo the parenting and paid more child support than legally required) she just can’t move on. How sad. But we have and all her anger is doing is hurting her own kids. How sad for them. The kids are about grown and we’re going to move away so she can boil full of hatred without us around to watch it. Unfortunately, her kids are caught in the middle. I wish she would “get” that the people she is hurting the most are her own kids.

  25. Hi Mimi, that is so sad. It pains me to think of the people who just can’t move forward. They replay the “movie” in their head over and over again and do their best to relive the pain fresh in their minds.

    The best we can do is focus on ourselves and our families and not let the other person’s poison into our lives.

    Thanks for sharing!

  26. While I’m happy for those who have had such positive experiences, it doesn’t necessarily paint a realistic picture. And women are certainly not the only ones who have issues. Both my ex and my husband had more than their fair share of issues when the exes moved on! O think it’s normal to feel those sorts of things. The trouble comes when certain parties )or all of them!) are unable to move past them. When lives begin to revolve around knowing every last detail, grilling children after each exchange, etc. then the issues are out of control.

    Like Michelle, my ex didn’t migrate to bluer skies. Even after remarrying he and his wife are downright terrifying. I don’t care about me because I’m an adult and I can see through the smoke and mirrors acts they both seem to have perfected. The children aren’t so lucky. The people who should be protecting them are the ones doing the most damage! No doubt everyone has said the same thing at some point in time and in many ways what mothers and fathers who are the targeted parents in a Parental Alienation situation does sound inconceivable. Yet, we’re living proof. Missed holidays and family celebrations, coming of age milestones, even the momentous family goings on that are sad have been taken away from all parties, but especially the children.

    Again, for those who’ve found themselves settling in and accepting the other men and women, I couldn’t be happier for you. For those who can’t even imagine what that would feel like, I’m sorry that we’re the minority. Just know that either way, all experiences are genuine and all pain leaves a scar.

  27. Hooah Mom says:

    Great article! I live this!
    I’ve been with my wonderful husband for over four years and am so grateful for him. He is definately my prince. I wish his ex knew him the way I do … the way anyone who knows him today does. So many times she acts like he is “the bad guy”. So often our unity is misinterpreted. More times than I can count she accuses him of being someone he isn’t. Maybe he once was someone else but I don’t know that person. No one today knows that person. She has dumped alot of pain and torment on us via accusations, refusal to cooperate, denying visitation, attempts to sabatoge his relationship with the kids, demanding things be done her way, and making false claims of non-payment of child support. Holidays have been ruined and family events have been trespassed. Her own children began to believe he loved ours more than them thanks to her insecurity-based poison.
    She has hurt her own children in the process, although I don’t think she could ever admit that to herself. As painful as the experience has been for her children (and us as well), I think her pain has to be the worst. I believe this because the children will eventually ‘get it’. They’ll see for themselves and will make thier own decisions about how to deal with her. The relationship damage with them is her own. Not only that but she has got to be miserable. No one can be truly happy and full of hate and anger simultaneously. I pity her for that.
    I’ve personally gone through several phases with her, from friendship (well, I certainly meant it) to defensiveness to absolute disengagement. When she doesn’t need me she rejects, slanders, bullies, and despises me. When I’m useful to her she is as good as gold. It’s like dealing with some kind of addict or someone with a serious personality disorder.
    Today, her children are in our home and she is cordial and pleasant. She engages me and behaves as though she is interested in my opinions and participation. Of course, she didn’t behave this way toward me until the day she asked that they come stay with us. She needs something from me (to support my husband as her kids’ father and take care of her kids) so I’m not taking her friendliness to heart.
    Oh how I wish I’d known about all the support for stepmoms out there like I am aware of now. Oh how I’d known then what I know now. And oh how I wish things were always how they are today.
    I can dream, right?

  28. Jenna, here’s why I worry about it, and don’t want my ex dumping childcare on his gf.

    The number one complaint I hear from stepmoms — friends and online — is that they work themselves to the bone for someone else’s kids, live in perennial chaos, take all kinds of shit — and meanwhile the mom (that wench!) is off spending money and living it up.

    They get resentful because they get Housework Wars Plus. It’s great to talk about doing for each other. Some couples actually do. But in most households, whatever marriage it is, the guys actually, measurably, do less. Less childcare, less routine housework, less household management. It gets left to the woman. Meanwhile, the guy’s career comes first while the woman’s career deteriorates, gets mommy-tracked, meaning now she’s still working for pay, but she works harder for it. The longer that goes on, the easier it is to sacrifice her work, and her independence and security, altogether.

    To pretend that dynamic doesn’t exist, or is unusual, is, I think, willfully naive. Throw in someone else’s kids, who aren’t necessarily even nice or appreciative, and an ex-wife who won’t go away, and the relative powerlessness of the stepmom status, and yes, this is a recipe for serious, explosive resentment.

    Unfortunately, she can’t really take it all out on the guy; that’s not safe. Nag enough, and you wreck the marriage. That means the only available target is the ex-wife. Knocking down the ex-wife’s also a convenient way of helping the stepmom keep her life tolerable: she can see herself as the hero, who’s sacrificing because she’s better than that bitch. And if the stepmom’s not super-disciplined with her tongue, she’s going to pull the kids into the middle of it, with little remarks about their mom, and pumping them for evidence that the bitch has a vacation life at her expense. This can go on for years before the stepmom decides she’s had enough, and tries to disentangle herself.

    As a mom, I don’t want it. I don’t want to see the stepmom knocking herself out for he man, who’s someone I happen to know a little bit. I know how selfish he can be. And I also know that any nice woman will try and do for her man. She’ll do it way longer than she should when it’s not being reciprocated. And she’ll get madder, and madder, and madder, which cannot help any kind of relationship among the adults.

    I look ahead ten years: that can go quickly. I see that my ex is on the hook for a third of our daughter’s college expenses. Is he saving? I doubt it. Will he mention the obligation to his wife? Probably not — he may not even remember it. So when college rolls around, after this lady’s been sucking up the frustrations of stepmotherhood for years, and suddenly her husband gets an email saying they owe $8000, with the first half due immediately, whose money will that be?

    I don’t want it to be hers. She’s got no obligation. I don’t see why she should have to fork out for my kid. But the reality is that she’ll be the one to pay, because he didn’t plan, and dumped the consequences on her. That money will come from their household budget. Maybe they’ll have kids at the time; maybe she’ll want to spend that money on her own kids. Maybe she’s still paying off her own school debt. But will I let them off the hook? Nope. Because the alternative is that my daughter walks out of school with serious debt, which can restrict what she does with her future. Remember, my priority is my kid.

    That’s why my message to stepmoms is: Stop. Take care of yourself first. Keep your money separate; don’t make a habit of spending it on the stepkids, or of subsidizing how your husband spends on his kids. Reserve time for yourself. Don’t do free childcare when your honey’s not returning the favor in some commensurate way. Don’t get all romantic about this, because you’re very likely to regret it, and so will everyone else.

    As for unfairness, and the ex-wife’s not having someone to help: I have to say, this hadn’t occurred to me. If the stepmom is a smart and decent woman, the stepmom *is* help. She’s someone else loving that child and helping bring her up, making the dad’s life better. But quite a bit has to do with the mom’s choices, too. Is my life hard? I guess so…I mean I work a lot, and am usually pretty harried. I’ve got no family in the area. But I can’t see any cause for complaint. I knew how many kids I could afford to support on my own, and stopped there, even though I was married. My daughter’s pretty awesome, and I’m deeply grateful for how healthy and happy and bright she is, how well she’s growing up. I lucked out hard. Zero complaints about where and how I live. Plenty of friends and good community. I think my life’s pretty good.

    So much has to do with the ability to look ahead down the road, see how things often go for people, do the math, and plan accordingly — and recognize that sometimes craziness happens anyway. But it happens a lot less often if you plan well.

  29. Hi Amy, thanks for your response! I value your input but want to take some time to think about your comment before responding. Will get back to you! :)

  30. As a mom and stepmom, I can totally relate to this. My opinion is that different people bring out different qualities in one another. My ex is single but he has really come into his own as a dad since we split. I think that for both of us, being free of the bad marriage has given us more bandwidth to flex our parenting muscles.

    Now I have a blended family, and I’ve been framed by my stepkids’ mom as being a bad parent like her ex-husband. The story line goes something like this: She knew him to be a neglectful, selfish dad, we’re associated, and therefore I must be those bad things too. It’s been ridiculous. Over the past three years, she has sent all these weird texts and made all these strange phone calls, hyperventilating about whether the kids are being properly cared for when they are with us. Sadly, the mischaracterizations impacted my stepdaughters’ ability to trust me, us, our home. But over time it has gotten better because in life, usually the truth comes out. And bio-mom hasn’t had the wherewithall to continue with the attacks.

    I’ve decided that all this hassle was my preparation for when my kids have a stepmom. I’m going to give the lady a break, I promise.

  31. Thank you… This put it all in perspective as to why the ex-wife acts the way she does. I am going to step up and help the kids and my husband. That is my role as wife, mother, and step-mother. I help her plenty as well. It will all work out for the best.

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