The first time I met the kids’ mom was at an eighth grade football game my future stepson was playing in. It was the first time I had been invited to any of the kids events. Coincidentally, at the same time I met my future mother-in-law. I truly believe I was informed ahead of time that they all sat together at the kids events. I remember having two thoughts about that; I’m not sure that’s normal, and wow, that’s very mature of them.
I didn’t anticipate that this very issue would become a heated, repeated argument over the course of our marriage.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know, and that includes boundaries. I understand the purpose of sitting near each other. I understand it makes it easier on the kids. You’re presenting a united front. The kids don’t have to search all over for the other parent. There’s no need for the child to feel guilty paying more attention to one parent over the other. If my other step-kids are with us, it allows them to not feel put in the middle between parents.
I get it. I have my own biological children and have often wished their dad and I could co-parent as well. As irritated as I get with sitting with my husbands ex-wife and her family, it’s a much better situation than the one I have with my own ex-spouse. At my children’s high school graduations, he and his family sat on the other side of the gymnasium. As both of my children walked across the stage and accepted their diplomas, you could see the brief look of panic. To which parent should they turn with their diploma and flash a smile? There is nothing worse than seeing a small child coming out of the gym after a game well played, to find his/her parents standing on opposite sides of the lobby from each other. You can witness them looking from one parent to the next. Who do they go to first, and whose feelings do they choose to hurt?
I understand sitting in the same section. I’m even OK with being just a few rows apart. What I don’t understand, what I don’t like, is sitting right next to the ex-spouse. I don’t like sitting with my husbands ex-wife, her family, my husband, and his family. Kids sports are an all out family affair on my husbands side. Who do you think ends up feeling left out, overlooked, and like a third wheel? While my in-laws are laughing and sharing old inside jokes with the ex-wife, while her parents and my husband are reminiscing about events that came before me, I often sit quietly wondering why I bother showing up.
It is for this reason, in part, I feel like I’ve never fully felt accepted into my husbands family. My in-laws had my husbands ex-wife and husband to their new home before us. My mother-in-law asked me if it would be OK if my husbands ex-wife was invited to my father-in-laws surprise birthday party. While the two parties divorced, the families never did. There wasn’t room for me when I came into the family. There was room for only one wife and she already had a seat at the table.
I understand there is a full history between these two families. I even know it’s a bit hypocritical of me, given I was incredibly close with my own ex-MIL. She helped raise me and is the single reason I stayed married to my ex-husband as long as I did. Where I didn’t have a close relationship with my own family, I did with her. She has been to my house, even now that I’m remarried to my now husband. My ex-inlaws seem to really like him. My husband doesn’t have the same hang ups about me being friendly with them either (but he’s also completely cool with hanging out with his ex’s current husband too). But because my ex and I have never co-parented, he has never felt the same frustrations as I. My ex has never created rules that affected our house or how we parent his children, as his ex has done effecting our house and my own kids. We have never had expectations for my ex-husband because he’s never been more than an EOW dad, whereas my husbands ex-wife has joint custody and should be doing fifty percent of the work raising the kids. It’s hard to want to sit with her and be cordial when my blood is boiling because once again, my life has become more difficult due to her lack of planning, communication, and follow thru.
Here’s where we’re at currently, with sitting together. If i’m leading the way into the gym or vocal hall, or wherever the event is being held, and I know the other kids will not be in attendance, I will pretend to not see the ex-wife, and sit within close proximity, but separate. If the kids are in attendance, we sit right next to them all, real cozy like.
Listen. Let me be blunt. Everyone gets along so well that my step-kids have made several comments and remarks about how “neat” it would be if we all lived next door to one another. They don’t understand why, when we throw a huge family Christmas party in December, why we don’t include their mom and her side of the family. I tried not inviting them to my daughters open house a few years ago. It didn’t occur to me to send them an invite. Why would I? They SHOWED UP ANYWAY. They assumed I must have given the kids an invite to give them and it just hadn’t made it’s way to them on transition day. They came in, sat down with my husbands family, and it was like there’d never been a split. I know some of you would consider that WINNING. I say, to each their own. One thing i’ve learned for certain is that there are several ways to skin a cat, as my grandpa would often say, but this one isn’t for me. The next year, for my sons open house, I made sure to send an actual open house invite in the mail.
It could be worse, I know. I read so many horror stories of high conflict biological moms that stand in public in front of the kids yelling obscenities at the other parent. I read about HCBM constantly calling the police on the other parent. Or being nasty to the step-mom as though she caused the split.
It’s sad for the children. I don’t want that. But I do believe there is a happy medium in there someplace in between. If the kids aren’t in attendance, there is no reason for us to sit together. We’re not friends. I don’t understand bio-moms and bonus moms that become BFF’s. I’m sorry. I think that’s weird! I don’t want to know that my husband knows to do that one thing that makes me melt in the bedroom because you taught him! No No NO! We can acknowledge each other, courtesy wave, and sit separately. When the event is over and our child is coming to seek us out, THEN we can stand together and exchange pleasantries.