Friday, October 29, 2010

Why stepmoms shouldn't have to "suck it up" and go on vacation with the ex

Sometimes stepparents, especially stepmothers, find themselves in very awkward situations through no fault of their own.  Since my husband's children disowned him, I've been spared a lot of these situations, though even I did get stuck in one at the beginning of my marriage.  Of course I'll dish about it later in this blog post.

What got me to thinking about this was a post I came across on Babycenter's online community.  A stepmother was lamenting because she and her husband wanted to go on a vacation.  Her husband's two teenaged kids were also supposed to come along.  The problem was, the kids refused to have a good time whenever they were with their father.  Their mother had made them feel too guilty about leaving her at home.  So this poor stepmom was on Babycenter asking the other ladies how they felt about inviting biomom to come along with them for their vacation, even though stepmom didn't like biomom.

Something tells me that poor stepmother was put in a bind by her husband, who naturally wants to have a relationship with his kids.  He probably told her to "suck it up" for the kids' sake and put on a happy face.  Or maybe it was biomom who came up with this lame idea...  What it all boils down to is that stepmom was being asked to play second fiddle... put her desire for a nice vacation aside for the sake of two kids who are almost adults.

I'm sure like most nice people, this lady just wanted to "get along" and make people happy.  But the very fact that she was asking other mothers for their opinion tells me that she didn't actually want her husband's first wife to tag along on their vacation.  And who can blame her?

Well... reading about this woman's issue reminded me of a tricky situation that developed in my world back in 2004.  My husband and I had barely been married for two years.  He was still trying hard to maintain a relationship with his daughters.  His ex wife was being a real pain in the ass about visitation.  Every time he suggested a time in which he could see his kids, the ex shot it down.  And then one day, as the holidays approached, she came up with this beaut of an idea...

She said the girls wanted to see their grandparents-- that is, my husband's dad and his wife.  She had cut my husband's mother out of the kids' lives long ago.  So she suggested that my husband and I journey to my husband's dad's house for Christmas and she and her husband would bring the kids there.  That way, we could all spend Christmas together as one big happy family...

Now, I was not too thrilled with this idea, since I already knew by this point that the ex wife apparently had a lot of preconceived notions about me.  She as much as told my husband in emails that she expected me to be wicked and inappropriate (which I'm really not, but whatever).  I had only met my stepkids once and hadn't had much time to spend around the inlaws.  It was going to be an enormously uncomfortable situation for me and, most likely, for just about everyone else.  The ex also added that she expected my husband and me to get a hotel room, since she and her husband would be staying with my husband's dad and his wife.

My first inclination was to suck it up and go to the inlaws' house, grinning and bearing it.  But the more I thought about this situation, the more angry it made me.  We were pretty poor at the time, mainly owing to the huge amount of child support my husband was paying for his two kids, plus the ex's older son.  We really couldn't afford to travel for Christmas, stay in a hotel, and board our dogs.  And besides, I didn't want to spend Christmas with my husband's ex wife.  Christmas is stressful enough under the best of circumstances.  It's hard for me to spend it with people I love.  Why would I want to spend it with someone I despise?

It occurred to me that the ex probably thought she could control everything if we all went to the inlaws' house.  I would presumably be "kept in check" because I would want to fit in with my husband's family and his kids.  Meanwhile, the ex, who knew these people much better than I did, would be running the show as if the divorce had never happened.  She would gain valuable information about what kind of person I am, all the while showing me who the "real" daughter-in-law was in the family.  She was under the delusion that my husband's parents loved her more as a daughter than they did my husband as their son.  Actually... thinking about this situation makes me feel very sorry for the ex's current husband.  What a shitty and uncomfortable situation for him to be in.

Anyway, I knew it would be an absolute misery for me to spend Christmas with that woman.  I also knew that as incredibly hostile as I felt toward her, it was unlikely that I would be able to restrain myself from getting very upset and possibly losing my temper publicly.  I knew my husband would worry about me while he was trying to maintain his relationship with his kids.  I also knew that my poor inlaws were hosting this little shindig and just wanted everyone to get along.  In my heart, I knew it was unlikely I'd be able to grin and bear it and, even if I could do that and things were civil, it would only encourage the ex to arrange a similar gathering at a later date.

One day, when I got especially annoyed with the whole situation, I told my husband that I wanted to stay home.  I encouraged him to go see his kids and I would remain at our home and look after the dogs. That way, we would only have to pay for one plane ticket and there would be no boarding expenses for the dogs.  I wouldn't have to subject myself to my husband's hostile ex wife and I wouldn't be exposing innocent people to my own hostility.  I knew Christmas would suck anyway, but it would suck less if I weren't around to add to the tension.  My husband resolved to come home before Christmas Eve, so we could at least spend Christmas Day together.  We didn't tell anyone I wasn't coming because we suspected that if we did, Ex would throw a wrench in the plans and my husband wouldn't be able to see his kids.

So off my husband went to this ridiculous soiree while I stayed home with the beagles and drank copious amounts of wine... something I knew I would be discouraged from doing at the inlaws' house, since Ex and her brood are all devout Mormons.  The days passed fairly peacefully, though I did get daily phone calls about the ordeal.  It sucked as much as I thought it would, but my husband did get to see his daughters.  Sadly, that was the last time he's seen them.  Shortly after that fiasco, the girls pretty much decided to disown him.

My husband's dad and stepmother were very pissed that I didn't show.  And I was pissed that I had been put in the situation in the first place.  There were a lot of hard feelings about that gathering, but I bet feelings would have been much harder had I gone.  So many things could have gone wrong...  Ex could have tried to turn all the women against me, only to find me cozying up to my father in law (which I would probably do anyway).  Shit, I could have really been inappropriate and pulled her husband aside for a little chat, asking him if it bothered him that he'd been pussywhipped into hanging out with my husband's family for Christmas.  No... I think I was the only one who was thinking clearly about that get-together and how much worse it could have gotten.  I decided to spare myself and innocent bystanders from the potential bloodbath and I don't apologize for it.  

A couple of years later, when Ex and my husband's daughters sent hateful letters to him, apparently kissing him off for good, she included a rant about the fact that I didn't show up to celebrate Christmas with her in 2004.  She also asked my husband not to share her letter with me.  He did, of course... just the parts about me.  That was when I sent my one and only communication to her and pretty much spelled out that I knew damn well that she had no desire to be friends or family with me.  After all, she had never invited me to that gathering...  she simply disrespectfully informed my husband that she expected me to be there-- and stay in a hotel, mind you.  Everyone else had simply parroted her command without even so much as giving me the chance to politely accept or decline.  I doubt anyone really cared about seeing or talking to me, since they really just wanted to see the kids.  The only reason my presence was needed was so that the situation would look normal and acceptable... and my dear husband's stay in a hotel wouldn't make anyone feel guilty for choosing to host the ex over him.  

My not showing up for holidays with the ex exposed the situation for what it was... extremely fucked up.  And it also sent a clear message that I would not tolerate this kind of abusive crap from my husband's ex wife.  The only reason she wanted me to be at that family gathering was so that she could learn more about me while simultaneously showing me that I would never really be a member of my husband's family or part of his children's lives.

I know my letter made her very angry because not long after that, we got a phone call from my husband's stepmother who basically told my husband to keep me in check.  Evidently, the Ex had called her complaining about what I'd said and got my husband's stepmom worried that she'd keep the kids from their grandparents.  I thought it was very telling that Ex never once confronted me about her issues with me and, in fact, asked my husband to keep her letter a secret from me.  Instead, she got other people to do her dirty work and pressure me to stay in line.  Thankfully, by that point, my husband was developing a spine, so he set his stepmom straight.  And not long after that, Ex and the girls disowned their grandfather and his wife, too.  So much for the inlaws being rewarded for taking Ex's side...  The upside is, at least that bitch leaves all of us alone now.

I don't know the Babycenter poster's situation.  It's probably not as dramatic as mine was.  But I always feel sort of sorry for stepparents who find themselves placed in awkward family situations, trying to make a good impression on the kids, the ex, and the blended families.  No wonder so many remarriages end up failing!

So... to any put upon stepparents who may read this blog, just know that I feel for you...  And I encourage you to resist any bullshit requests for you to hang out with the exes on vacation or whatever.  Unless, of course, you actually happen to be friends with the ex, which I know sometimes happens.  I envy those who do have an amicable relationship with their ex spouse(s).  If you can comfortably spend the holidays with your wife's or husband's ex spouse and actually want to, then more power to you.  But if you're in a situation like mine was, I'd encourage you to politely tell the ex to fuck off.  There's very likely a good reason why your spouse is divorced from that person.  You shouldn't be expected to hang out together if you don't want to... and certainly NOT on  a vacation.

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