Close Quarters

The very thought of sharing space with your husband’s ex-wife may be enough to make you physically ill.  We often read about biological moms and stepmoms struggling to coexist in a school auditorium or bleachers at a ball game, but what about those rare occurrences like a major doctor’s appointment or teacher’s meeting that require you to occupy the same small room?  10+ years later, even with my role clearly defined and great relationships with both stepkids, I can still feel intimidated and uneasy in close quarters with either of their moms.  Here are a few pointers on how to handle the inevitable with grace:

Plan ahead.  I cannot stress this enough: don’t wait for a scene to prepare for it.  If history suggests that there may be a confrontation with your husband’s ex-wife, I recommend having a frank but respectful conversation with a person in authority.  Stepfamily experts also suggest requesting a separate appointment, or alternating who accompanies the child.  Equally important is anticipating – and preparing for – your reaction.  A huge coping mechanism for me was to kill everyone with kindness.  I was super anxious around both moms in the early years, and my upbeat, positive attitude refocused my energy – to the benefit of my stepkids!

Acknowledge who she is.  One of my most frustrating stepmom moments was when my stepson’s mom introduced me to doctors and nurses as a “friend.”  Mind you, the medical staff knew exactly who I was from previous appointments – but it still stung.  No matter how involved your stepchild’s mom is or isn’t, don’t pretend to be “the mom” in her presence.  And if she discounts who you are (“the new wife” or like me, “a friend”), it’s probably not the time to correct it.

Respect her space.  You may not like it (or agree), but there’s a good chance that your stepchild’s mom feels like you’re in her space at the doctor’s office or school.  Let me put it this way: if you’re not friends, don’t act like it.  The doctor, teacher or coach is not your audience.  Give her appropriate physical space, i.e. no hugs or sittings/standing too close. Also, if she doesn’t normally talk with you, this is not the time to force the issue.  I have learned (the hard way) that sometimes it is enough to be invited to the proverbial table with my stepdaughter’s mom – I can sit silently,  absorb the information given, and allow my husband to lead discussion.

Don’t undermine her.  I am far from perfect, and one particularly poignant example was during a pre-surgery appointment for my stepson.  He was tired, bored, and acting out – much to his mom’s frustration.  Instead of backing her up, I encouraged his bad behavior out of spite.  What I didn’t realize was that it not only caused friction in my relationship with her, but also reflected poorly on me.  No matter how you feel about her personally, your stepchild’s mom is still a person of authority in his/her life.  Don’t return disrespect for disrespect.

Expect respect.  Before attending any appointment or event where your stepchild’s mom will be present, get your husband’s blessing – and here’s why.  Your presence may put your husband in the middle between his ex and you, and that’s not a fun position to be in.  If he invites you or encourages you to attend, then he should (theoretically) be prepared to deal with the consequences…and communicate to his ex that you will be treated with respect.


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