My little boy clutched his Valentine's Day cards in his dimpled hands and beamed with excitement. Jill, my son's stepmom, had made them. I forced a smile as my heart exploded with disappointment (along with jealousy and a dash of insult). This was the same feeling that caught my breath when I saw my son wearing a new haircut or clothes she bought. My immediate reaction wasn't the gratitude I feel today. Back then, when sharing a mothering role was new, my possessiveness over my son was paralyzing.
Connor was MY child. How could she do this to ME? What was she trying to PROVE?
Divorce ushers in a loss of control over many things, especially our children.
I took a deep breath (one of many).
I had to admit anger was a secondary emotion masking my fear of being replaced, of my inadequacy as a mother, of Connor loving Jill more than me, of my jealousy that she did things with (and for) my son that I wanted to do. I was also acutely aware unchecked emotion often leads to vicious behavior between moms and stepmoms. Did I really want to go down that path? Hating is easy, especially when it's condoned by society.
I almost fell for it.
As a mother, I was expected to make derisive comments about my son's stepmom, even in front of my child. I was allowed to ridicule and insult. I was permitted to drive a wedge between Jill and my child because it was acceptable when disguised as being "protective." My fragile emotion made me susceptible to embarrassing, immature, regrettable behavior.
We've all heard of moms who lie about their children's sporting event and party locations and times, manipulate drop-offs, change plans unexpectedly and make unreasonable requests of ex-husbands just to be vindictive. I've heard moms tell daughters they aren't allowed to wear gifts from their stepmoms. Sadly, the list goes on. Meanwhile, children are forced to witness egregious behavior while struggling to make sense of adult problems. I realized my child wouldn't understand why his mom and stepmom fought -- he'd just think it was his fault.
My little boy's well being stopped my insecurity in its tracks. I didn't want Connor to suffer and refused to confuse him by encouraging hatred for a woman who loved him. I refused to be selfish, cruel and bitter because it's just not how I'm wired. And I began to wonder, what if? What if society considered nastiness between moms and stepmoms abhorrent? What if moms and stepmoms who chose to hate were shunned for creating hostile environments for children caught in the middle? What if the societal pressure was that we get along? What if I chose to be tolerant, patient and accepting of Jill? And what if Jill met me halfway?
Like so many of you, even if I had the best intentions, Jill could thwart my greatest efforts. She could detest me, the ex-wife, which would also be expected and condoned. And if we both chose hate, we'd be caught in that stereotypical relationship perpetuated by millions of combative women whose worlds collide because of a child.
While I checked my ego at the door, Jill chose kindness.
This hasn't always been my experience.
In addition to being a mother, I am a stepmother. The path Jill and I chose was harshly juxtaposed against the insufferable path my stepdaughter's mother preferred (where the rainbows, unicorns and sunshine ended). The real victim is my stepchild who is poisoned by a hate that doesn't even belong to her. Hatred is so strong, even if it's one-sided, it can win. It infects children's hearts, minds and worldview.
Is this what mothers really want for their children?
All mothers and stepmothers have a choice.
I chose to remove ego from my situation. I chose to temper my protective instincts, loss of control, jealousy and insecurity. I had them (oh, did I have them.) But I realized there was no danger to my son being loved and mothered by another woman. The only danger was to my own self-esteem and fragile ego. Jill's love for my child, and the way she showed it, had absolutely nothing to do with me.
Instead of characterizing Jill's mothering as an affront to me, I was relieved Connor had more love in his life. Instead of surrendering to jealousy when Jill did things for him or with him, I was grateful I had help in raising my son (and from a woman who loved him like her own).
We often hear mothers say they'd die for their children, that they would take a bullet. I know I would. Yet, if we're so willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of our lives for our kids, why can't we sacrifice our egos for them?
Some say my friendship with Jill is too "idyllic," "impossible," or not "the truth" when it comes to co-parenting. I assure you, it is our truth. Of course, it hasn't always been easy. As with any family relationship where disagreements are inevitable, we've committed to respectfully communicating, forgiving, accepting different points of view, apologizing, adapting, compromising and moving on. We've been co-parenting for well over a decade. It's my hope more women will be inspired to consider a different path, one where kindness is chosen and ego is sacrificed. You can create peace for yourself, and more importantly, your children.