Steps And Exes: 10 Simple Things I've Learned From Living In The Trenches

When I was younger, divorce was something you whispered about, like cancer. It came with a certain stigma and a mysterious other-worldliness.
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When I was younger, divorce was something you whispered about, like cancer. It came with a certain stigma and a mysterious other-worldliness. My aunt and uncle got divorced when their kids were in college and some of that stigma dissolved as we all learned to live with it. When my ex-husband announced we were splitting up, I was devastated (for a few days). I've learned to live with that too. I've cast away the stigma and feel like I'm a poster child for the flourishing of a divorced woman. I'm happily remarried, as is my ex, and we both maintain what we consider a healthy, happy, split home life for our two daughters. Here are just some of the things I've learned in my nine years of splitsville.

1. The Divorce Disincentive

Once you are divorced, your ex-spouse will have no incentive whatsoever to please you. If you were still trying to be married, one or the other would cave with the hope of a little make up sex, or reconciliatory dinner. Depending on how fractured you were when you parted, the cooperation factor will be proportionately fractured or whole.

2. Least Custody=Most Energy

Whoever has the least amount of custody will likely end up being the more fantabulous parent. With five days off, who can't muster a little extra enthusiasm, patience and creativity knowing that in 48 hours the kids go home and the non-custodial parent can go back to their own self centered universe.

3. The Leavers Guilt Factor

Whoever left will approve of your new boy/girlfriend. Whoever was left will judge the other's new partner. The leaver wants to believe that it was all for the best and the new person can fill the crack that was created. The left will resent leaver's new love interest as the obvious home wrecker. It was ever thus.

4. Dad Should Be Happy/Mom Should Serve Children

Your children will want Daddy to be happy with a new love, but will expect Mommy to stay single and single-mindedly devoted to their happiness. The new woman in Dad's life will be greeted as a sweet, fun, unfrazzled big-sister type, while the new man in Mom's life will be perceived as an interloper and a barrier to the mom/child relationship.

5. New Wife as Judge and Jury

Over time, if your spouse remarries, your husband's new wife will find fault with your parenting and will subtly try and retrain your children. This is insulting to you, but not necessarily detrimental to your children (unless she blogs about it in public). It's ok for kids to know that different people have different standards. And, since this is their father's house, it's ok for new rules to exist.

6. Dad is Fave

If you remarry, your children will likely tolerate, but not overly bond with your new husband. Unless your ex has totally abandoned the family, Dad is still the man in their lives. It's advantageous for this to be so, especially if you have daughters. If your ex is a douche however, hopefully your new husband can provide a better father figure.

7. The Ex Family Judgment

Your ex's family will likely act friendly and warm, but will covertly be critical and condemning. They will worry about the future lives of their granchildren/neices/nephews as they disapprove of the way you raise them as a single mother. Ignore. Be Friendly.

8. Step Siblings

Your new husband or wife may have children. Try to have realistic expectations of the relationship between your children and his. Friendships can form, but just as likely there may be undercurrents of jealousy that your children live more with their Dad than they do. Be sympathetic and accepting. Help your children to see it from their steps perspective. In the end, everyone gets some extra love in his or her lives, not less.

9. Forced Family Gatherings

There will be times when all the ex's, new spouses and such will gather for graduations, school plays, weddings, funerals. It's in everyone's best interest to pretend to get along. If you can ignore the advertising of happiness your ex does with his spouse by hanging all over her during Back to School Night, you'll be better off. Focus on the child you're supposed to be paying attention to and all will be fine.

10. Savor The Love When You Find It

Despite the problems that divorces/exes/steps may bring, if you work hard enough and are honest enough, you and your children can benefit from the extra-added love that was brought into all of your lives. Focus on the positive and that's the way it will turn out.

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