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Blended families & ex-etiquette for parents: good behavior after a divorce or separation

by Jann Blackstone-Ford, MA and Sharyl Jupe


Is it really necessary that a first wife and a second wife get along? Of course not, if you don't care how long it takes for your kids to adjust to life after your divorce and remarriage. But, if you want to give your children the best life possible in this day of shared custody and 50/50 placement, it's time to put your own issues aside and look at the bigger picture.

As you review the following tips you will notice that many of them are simply mindset changes. We believe very strongly that you are what you think. Dwell on the negative, and that's just what you will get in return. For those of you who are angry and in the midst of ex-wars, many of these tips may seem like fluff. They work, but first you have to PUT THE KIDS FIRST and get past your anger. With that in mind, the first tip to help new wives and ex-wives get along is:

1. Have a goal in mind. Visualize the type of relationship you want to have. Do you see yourself arguing with her? Do you just want to smack her because she makes you so mad? Then you will continue to resent her and therefore continue to argue. You have to want to get along with each other. Sounds simple, but it is really the essence of the whole thing. People who want to get along make allowances to do so. People who don't want to get along, don't. Your first priority must be the kids--even if they are not biologically yours and they make you crazy. You took on that responsibility when you married their father. And, for the bio mom, that's what you signed up for when you had those babies.

2. You do not have to be friends. Look for common ground and only discuss problems you need to solve. If the kids are the common ground, that's what you talk about. You do not have to go shopping together.

3. Understand that the children already have a mother.
For the new wife (bonus mom): Don't try to be your bonus child's mother. If you try to take over or establish policy, his ex (their bio mom) will resent it, which will cause communication problems between the two of you and anxiety in the children. Bottom line, love her kids, but not so overtly that she feels intimidated.
For the ex-wife: You don't have to compete with her. Your children know who their mother is.

4. Find your niche.
Everyone is good at something. Find what you are good at and offer that to the kids. For example, Jann is a perpetual student. She is constantly taking classes in something. Therefore, she's the one who helps the kids do their homework, research reports, fool around on the internet. Sharyl, on the other hand, has instilled a pride in appearance in the kids. She's the one to make sure they have regular teeth cleanings, hair cuts, trimmed their toe nails when the kids were little. The times we unconsciously crossed over to the other's niche, the kids did not get as good of a grade on the report and Steven came home with the hair cut from hell. Both of us were furious with the other. When you find your niche and stick with it, the children get the best of both of you.

5. Formally acknowledge her good work. A good tool to break through to good communication is to compliment her.
For the new wife (bonus mom): Saying something like, "Your kids are great and I partially attribute that to your influence on them..." helps to break down the walls of resentment. If you can't say something like that because you don't think she is a good mother, or she was the reason for the breakup and you feel your husband's pain, be a stabilizing force when the kids are with you and leave it at that.
For the ex-wife (bio mom): One of the biggest complaints we hear from bonus moms is that the bio parents never acknowledge their devotion to kids that are not theirs. Acknowledgment from the bio mom (even more than the bio dad) goes a long way toward promoting cooperation. Try something like, "I really appreciate how kind you are to the kids."

6. Never speak badly of her in front of the kids.
To the new wife (bonus mom): When you speak badly of their bio mom you are attacking the children's DNA, their very essence. It will only backfire. The kids will tell her and she will continue to be your enemy, be uncooperative, and be more likely to keep your husband in court.

To the ex-wife (bio mom): Children have just as much trouble coping with remarriage as they do with divorce. Undermining the new wife's relationship with your children will only serve to extend their period of adjustment. It also teaches them to not trust their father, question his judgment, and undermines their security. Is that what you really want to do? If she was a bad choice, it will be difficult to hide. With time the children will figure it out on their own.

7. Don't secretly compare yourself to her. (I hate her--she's thinner, younger, smarter...or...what did/does he see in her? I'm thinner, younger, smarter...) It undermines your own security and keeps you riled up. The kids will see it. She will see it. Your husband will see it, and no one will be happy. Strive for your own sense of self and hold your head high. A secure woman is the most attractive of all.

8. Don't stew over past or present intimacies.
For the new wife (bonus mom): Everyone has a past. You dwell on his, you will inevitably become part of it. ( We can't tell you how many new wives have told us that they just can't get past the fact that their husband had sex with that woman...let it go.) If you can't get past her being his ex, try referring to her as the children's mother. That should take her up a notch or two...

For the ex-wife (bio mom) : If he's nicer to her than he was to you--it's not necessarily because she's better than you, sexier than you, etc. It has everything to do with him, timing, and learning from his mistakes. Resentment will make you sick and a less effective mother and person. If a relationship is important, better to put that energy into meeting someone worthy of you. Or, better yet, put that energy into lifting your spirit and changing your life for the better, then you will meet someone who is worthy of you.

9. Learn to ask her opinion.
For the new wife (bonus mom): If you are not sure how to handle a situation, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and ask her what she would do. Many bonus moms are afraid to do this because they feel it gives their control over to the very person they are struggling with for power. The truth is, if you ask for help, most of the time you get it, and respect, as well..

For the ex-wife (bio mom): Many bio moms complain that they just don't trust the bonus mom's judgment when their kids are in their care. "I don't know her!" they complain. "And, she's got my kids!" The best way to get to know someone is to ask their opinion. If you are concerned about how she might handle a situation, ask her.

10. Don't fuel the fire.
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you are attempting to raise children together after divorce, good communication is not a choice, it’s the obligation of the divorced parent. And, if you have married someone with children from a previous marriage, by signing that marriage contract you are saying "I will do everything I can to support you through life." This means you didn't sign on to cause trouble.

For the new wife (bonus mom): Some new wives think if they can keep the exes fighting it will ensure that they will never reconcile, so they do things on purpose to keep the kettle boiling. If you are worried about them reconciling, you shouldn't have married him in the first place.

For the ex-wife (bio mom): Some ex-wives are so angry that their ex has found happiness with someone else (when they made them so miserable) that they look for ways to make their ex and his new partner just as miserable. They automatically hate the new partner because of her label--new. "She's new and desirable. I'm old and discarded...and I gave him the best years of my life!" This inherent dislike of the new spouse has nothing to do with who this woman really is. It has to do with how the ex feels about her lot in life.

Your desire for revenge doesn't do your kids any good. Do what you can to move past the pain toward your own independence. Now you are teaching your children a far more important life lesson than how to successfully hurt someone because they have hurt you.


Jann Blackstone-Ford, M.A. is a divorce and stepfamily mediator and the Director of Bonus Families, a nonprofit organization supporting positive coparenting after a divorce or separation. Sharyl Jupe is Jann's husband's ex-wife and co-author. See website.



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