Divorce, on its own, is a beast you learn to conquer. No matter how your divorce plays out, you have moments where you feel as if you won't survive, and moments when you didn't realize just how capable you are. There are so many parts of divorce that you have to pull apart, examine, reexamine, and reexamine again. The sting hangs around for awhile, even after the papers have been signed and sent off. I feel as if I am a pro at divorce now, prepared and aware of what it feels like, and what it means, and what to expect. I know this because I am divorced. Regardless of how "ready" I feel now, there was one thing I was never truly prepared for: my ex-husband's long-term relationship with his partner. I knew he would date, of course, and I knew (and hoped) he'd fall in love, and even though I've spent time thinking about everything — how we'd co-parent; how we'd tell the kids; how we'd split up care —I didn't really spend any time thinking about another woman taking care of my children.
My ex has been with his partner long enough for me to have adjusted to it, but I'm struggling with the role she'll play in kids' lives. I trust my ex completely, and because of that, I want to trust his judgment in who he decides to spend his life with. It is, however, easier said than done. I don't know if I fully trust his partner as a parent to my children. It's much easier for me to love and admire my ex and share in his happiness than it is for me to love, admire, and be happy for a woman who'll play a similar role to my own in my kids' lives when they're at their dad's. Honestly, the thought of it fills me with dread and disdain. I absolutely know you can love children you didn't give birth to, but I feel a sense of ownership over my children when I hear about the things they've done with their dad and his partner. My mind instantly goes back to, I gave birth to you! I'm the one who stayed up with you late at night; rocked you when you were sick and couldn't sleep! I take you to school; I make your lunches!
I make a tally of all the ways I'm their mom, because I need to know that no one else will fill that role.
My ex and I have a good co-parenting relationship, and as he points out to me — often — no one else is trying to fill my role in my children's lives. And they're certainly not trying to take it away from me. I realize I've been jealous that there's a potential person who my children might prefer over me. Whenever I pick the kids up from school, my daughter is always wearing a new hairstyle, something that looks complicated, something I'm not capable of doing, and she tells me how her dad's partner did her hair. I do like it normally, but I feel a little bitter. I remember my mom braiding my hair, and the process isn't short or easy. It's an hour-long (if not more) process, and it was a special time I got to share with my mother. That my daughter now shares that experience with another woman who isn't me is heartbreaking. Even though I want so badly to be happy that she has constant care and a motherly figure when I'm not available, I'm not.
I count on my son to stay devoted to me, and me alone, but also to my partner. I realize the double standard that I've created, and that I make exceptions for the people in my own life, but I can't help it. As their mother, my children are mine. They came from me. But it also goes against everything I believe in.
My son will constantly announce to his dad's partner, that she's "not his mother." Part of me is happy that he feels a need to be loyal to me, and I secretly enjoy hearing he does this, because it validates my role as their mother. When my ex and I were out to lunch recently, I was talking about how our son was finally allowing my partner to hold him; actually requesting him. And my ex brought up how he was also noticing our son being more open to his partner, too. I think I rolled my eyes. I count on my son to stay devoted to me, and me alone, but also to my partner. I realize the double standard that I've created, and that I make exceptions for the people in my own life, but I can't help it. As their mother, my children are mine. They came from me. But it also goes against everything I believe in. I love that my children are loved and that they're surrounded by adults who can be there for them when their parents are not, but the thought of someone else giving my children what I alone am supposed to provide is a hard, bitter pill for me to swallow.
Even though I wanted to be able to live out the "perfect divorce" without any problems, I'm realizing I can't. That type of perfection doesn't exist. Not for me, and I'm not sure for anyone else. It's incredibly hard for me to blindly trust another woman with my children. Instead, I have to work at it everyday.
The fact that I'm in an open relationship has created lots of helpful lessons for me. It's helped me grasp how to love someone completely, while simultaneously loving other people as well. My children, I've learned, don't see their step-parents the same way they see their father and I. They know the difference, without ever being told. They do see them as people who matter, who have value, and who love them the same way their mom and dad do. And in return they love and trust both of these new adults in their lives. I try to remember this, and mimic their trust and love. There are times where I bring up my ex-husband's partner with the children so that we can talk about why we like and appreciate her. It helps me foster a deeper appreciation for her while also showing my children that I love how she loves them and helps us take care of them.
I want so badly to respect and appreciate the other woman who does play such an important role in my children's lives. I may not love her in the same way that my children do, or that my ex does, but I do love that she's been willing to show up for them.
In the beginning this was difficult, but everyday it gets a tiny bit easier. We are at the point now where I don't coil in jealousy over my kids showering her with praise when it's just the three of us spending time together. I obviously still have moments where I roll my eyes and make dramatic noises when I talk to my ex about her. But I want so badly to respect and appreciate the other woman who does play such an important role in my children's lives. I may not love her in the same way that my children do, or that my ex does, but I do love that she's been willing to show up for them. In the middle of the night. For school events. To pick the kids up if I can't. To watch them if I can't.
I've never been a step-parent or dated anyone seriously with children, so I can't speak from that perspective. I can't imagine it's easy to know that when you commit to a person with children, you're not only loving them, but their children, and perhaps the ex from the relationship before. I want to respect her journey and I want to give her recognition and thanks where and when it's due. My kids' lives are fuller and happier because she's a part of it. My life is better knowing that my children are given a mother's love (even if it's not from me) when I can't be with them. My children are incredibly lucky. In truth, so am I.