These days, complaining about your ex-spouse has become as socially predictable (and cliché) as those snarky comments married people love to make about their "dreaded in-laws". Talk for more than five minutes with any divorced person and it seems nearly everyone has a gripe about their ex: "Can you believe what he/she did now?! What a self-serving crazy person!"
I've had my own moments of incredulous outrage at things my ex-spouse has done since our divorce, especially once he started a new relationship. Was I jealous? Actually, no. Not in the least. He and I were not in love, so when we split, I felt pretty nonchalant about the idea of him meeting someone new. I wished him well in that regard.
But, what I was not prepared for was how much my Mama Bear instincts would rear up and let out a primal ROAR when his new girlfriend was introduced (in my opinion, inappropriately) into our daughter's life.
What's crazy is that, at the start of our separation, my ex is the one who insisted on all sorts of rules about how we could and could not introduce a new love interest to our daughter. Items on his "how to move on" list? Our daughter was not allowed to meet a new partner in either of our lives until we knew we were marrying that person (uhm, say what?!) and that (when that time came) the ex-spouse was to meet that special someone new before our daughter ever did. Our child therapist and I pushed back hard on the first point (because, dude, get serious), but the latter point I agreed to as well as many others. However, because life is full of such irony, despite all of his insistent posturing about that good faith agreement needing to be in place, my ex began breaking his own rules just three months later when he started dating a kindergarten teacher at our daughter's elementary school.
During the 2 and half years of their courtship, engagement, and subsequent marriage, I disapproved of just about everything related to how my ex (and his new love) inserted their relationship into my daughter's life.
I initially found out about their relationship from a very gossipy, very drunk teacher from the school who ambushed me with the news at an event (classy). For more than a year and a half (despite my repeated requests), my ex refused to let me meet his girlfriend who was spending time alone with my daughter. During their wedding, our daughter played the role of an uncelebrated junior bridesmaid in their bridal party instead of standing by her daddy's side (where I thought she should be) or being the flower girl (which is what she wanted to be). Oh, and unless you want to hear what an anger-fueled sonic boom sounds like, don't even get me started on what happened to my daughter's poor cat after my ex's cat-allergic new bride moved in.
Even though I took huge issue with a lot about how my ex's new relationship unfolded in our daughter's life, I bit my tongue and kept quiet about 90 percent of it. Why? Because, frustrating as it was, I had to suck it up and accept four very hard but vitally important truths about handling post-divorce discord sanely and with grace.
1. If I don't have legal grounds to complain, I need to shut up about it.
A very hard pill to swallow? Yes. But the truth is (as my lawyer matter-of-factly explained) that unless our child is in clear physical danger (abuse, neglect, etc.) or either party "significantly or consistently" violates terms of our legal custody agreement (child support, visitation, information sharing, etc.) the court simply doesn't give a f*ck about what upsets either one of us personally. (Boo-hoo. Too bad. Buh-bye!) Our opinions and feelings on any matter outside of legally enforceable parameters are, in a word, irrelevant. So, even if I personally think he was wrong to let our daughter be alone with his girlfriend before I met her, I didn't have one legal leg to stand on.
Like it or not, what my ex does and who he allows around our daughter during his visitation is his judgment call to make, just like the same is true when our daughter is home with me on "Mama weeks". And that is perhaps the most terrifying reality a divorced parent must face. Is it not? No longer having full control over who is around our children anymore. But the law is the law. So, if there is no legal recourse for addressing a matter that frustrates me, I've learned to think twice about picking a fight about it.
2. Not doing something my way does not make it wrong.
Oh, our big mommy and daddy egos — always so certain that the way we do something is the one and only right way it can be done. And, of course, our exes are straight up villains if they dare to deviate from that, right? I occasionally fall prey to this ego trip, too. But newsflash, our exes (and the people in their new life) don't remotely care what we think.
Do I think how a parent introduces a new partner into a child's life should go differently? Definitely. So guess what? In my own new love relationship, I'm handling that the way I think it should be done. But I have no right to expect a say in my what ex does. He can court the new woman in his life, propose, and have a wedding ceremony any way he wants. And as a result, (as long as neither of the "adults" ruin it with unnecessary snarkiness) our daughter actually benefits by growing up seeing multiple examples of how people choose to show up in love.
3. How would I feel in his shoes?
Being a kind and gracious person is an important priority to me (yep, even when my Mama Bear temper is flaring up). So, one thing I made myself do every time I got annoyed at my ex and his new girlfriend is imagine how I might feel in their shoes. Sure, my ex made a big, ridiculous stink with the whole "good faith" new relationship rules that he immediately broke, but I'd like to think that occurred because he wasn't in a new relationship yet. Our marriage was a very unhappy one. And I think when he suddenly did find new love, he just wanted to protect it. And while I certainly did not appreciate some of his choices, I understand his instinct to keep that new joy as safe as possible.
My ex has every right to move on and be happy on his own terms. Just like I have the right to do the same (and have happily done so). I mean, isn't moving on the whole point of divorce?
4. My job is to worry about MY relationship with our daughter, not his.
What I want most in this world for my daughter is for her to feel valued, safe, and loved. Did some of the choices my ex made in his courtship, engagement, and new marriage negatively affect her, even if unintentionally? Yes. She says fairly often that she feels left out and less important to him. I want that to not be so. But here's the thing: ultimately, she is safe at her dad's. She is loved at her dad's. And his new wife is actually a really nice person. Are there some kinks in their father-daughter dynamic? Yes. But, that's his job to notice and work through.
My job is to focus on making my own relationship with my daughter happy, strong, trust-filled, and wonderful. Part of doing that is teaching her the conflict resolution and communication skills she'll need for success in any relationship in her life (with her dad and even in her relationship with me; we're bracing for the teenage years). The bottom line is, whether I wish him harm or wish him well, nobody cares. My opinion of my ex and his new life just doesn't matter. The only opinion that does actually matter is the one my daughter holds in her heart about her life and relationship with me.
So, is biting my tongue and letting ex-drama slide easy?
Not at all. Especially when my ex has no problem sending nasty emails to me about things he takes issue with. (My gosh that dude is fond of angrily typed ALL CAPS MESSAGES WITH MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! lol) But he really can't huff and puff too much about any perceived affront he, himself, initially committed, right? And he knows it.
That's the added benefit of taking the high road first, as often and as consistently as you can. It sets a precedent that keeping the peace is possible and that, for everyone's sake (but most especially for our daughter's) the right thing to do is quit the nit-picky opinionated b.s. so that we can each truly move on.
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