When Your In-Laws Treat You Like an Outlaw

My husband shares joint custody of my stepson with his ex-wife.  Although she has not been an active part of my stepson’s life, her parents and siblings have remained in close contact.  My husband has always encouraged their relationship with him, and my stepson frequently visits the extended family over the holidays and summer break.

When I first joined the family, however, things got complicated.  I introduced a whole new level of structure and stability, and my husband and I became a united front when it came to finances and scheduling.  This was a huge adjustment for my stepson’s mom – and her family got dragged into the middle of it.  It took a few years, but her family finally realized that my stepson was my priority – not the drama or some “stepmom agenda.”  We have my stepson’s cousins spend time in our home now, and I even communicate directly with his grandparents and aunts.

Do you struggle to connect with your husband’s family?  Are hard feelings with his ex’s family impacting your relationship with your stepkids?  It may take a village to raise a child, but that doesn’t mean the villagers are BFFs!  So how do you cultivate honor and respect as a parent in your stepkid’s life?

Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:10

His family If your husband was a single dad for any length of time, there’s a good chance his parents or siblings stepped in to help him find a balance between work and kids post-divorce.  The role of nurturer may very well have fallen to his mother or sister.  Your arrival on scene inevitably means that her day-to-day involvement has come to an end.  Overnight, you’ve become public enemy #1 – and your husband’s family has a ready ally.  We often see in-laws rekindling the relationship with the ex-wife, and worse, favoring her over the new wife.  Here are a few pointers for navigating the relationship with your husband’s family:

  1. Let your husband do the communicating.  Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s his mom, his sister, his ex-wife.  He should be having the hard conversations – and protecting you from the blow-back.
  2. Save the drama for your own mama.  Think twice before you share too much with your in-laws.  Venting about your marriage or stepkids could easily get right back to your husband…or his ex-wife.
  3. It’s not a competition.  Don’t let comments about how your husband’s ex ran her house drive you crazy.  Remember when your stepkids made comments about their mom?  Innocent or not, your reaction can set the tone for the relationship.
  4. It’s really okay to not want to hang out with the ex-wife.  I have stepmom friends who showed up at family gatherings only to find their husband’s ex-wife in attendance.  Can you say awkward!?  My best advice is to grin and bear it the first time…but have your husband explain to his family why inviting his ex without his permission is not only inconsiderate but inappropriate.

Her family You may have heard it said that when you marry a man with kids, you marry his ex-wife.  They left out the part where you gain another set of in-laws.  For some stepmoms, your interactions with the ex-wife’s family may be few and far between.  For others, like me, you may see them regularly at weekend exchanges, sporting events, and school functions.  Keep these things in mind:

  1. You’re not family to them.  You married her ex-husband, simple as that.  Don’t be offended if communication – and consideration – is directed towards your husband and stepkids only.
  2. Respect their boundaries…and hers.  Forget friend invitations on social media!  Just like you appreciate a degree of separation with your husband’s ex, she probably does too.
  3. The ex-wife has their ear.  Can’t figure out why they don’t like you?  I learned years later that my husband’s former in-laws were convinced that we were withholding visitation – instead of his ex not taking it.  Don’t sweat it if they’re not your biggest fans.
  4. If it was a competition, you would lose.  Thankfully, it’s not – so don’t make it one.  Trying to one-up their daughter or prove that you’re a better wife or mom isn’t going to go over well.  Just be you.

God calls us to be Christ-like in our interactions with other people – whether we believe they deserve it or not.  Start with your in-laws.