How to play well with your ex’s spouse

by singlemomseeking on December 12, 2010

Because my ex moved abroad, across the Atlantic, I never experienced what it would have been like to have a relationship with his new girlfriend — or spouse. But I know that so many of you are in the thick of this. And from what I see, the holidays often bring up any underlying tensions.

That’s why I’ve asked Hyla Molander — an incredibly brave and beautiful woman whom I first met via Twitter and then in real life — to chime in this week. Widowed at 29, during her second pregnancy, Hyla grieved deeply and tried make meaning out of her tragedy. She met her new husband, Evan, on Match.com, and they got married in 2007. Evan adopted the daughters she had conceived with Erik, she embraced his son from his previous marriage, and they now have another wonderful baby boy together.

I’m honored to run Hyla’s post on how she learned to “play well” with her ex’s wife:

Dana and I clink our tequila-filled shot glasses, as our combined six children—2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 12—all sprint across the hardwood floors of her home.

Tatiana, 8, shouts, “Get em!” and then, like a vulture in flight, she swoops her locks of matted medusa hair down upon a squirming pile of elbows and stinky feet.

Voices squeal: “Get off . . .  Mommy . . . Stoooppp . . . You farted on me!”

Finally, the kids tumble aside, one by one, and Jason, 12, reveals his sweaty, red face. “You wanna help me here?”

Poor Jason.

Dana says, “Looks like you’ve got it handled, bud.”

I laugh, raising my glass. “Here’s to being together.”

Dana tilts her head back, swigs the Patron, and then eagerly sucks the juice from her lime wedge. “Wish we could do it more often.”

Dana is Jason’s mom. I am Jason’s step-mom.

And, yes, I really am drinking tequila with my husband’s ex-wife.

On a good night, Dana and I might even grab the guitar and microphone from Jason’s Rock Band game. We belt out “Eye of the Tiger” while the wee-ones bang on the drums, jump on the bed, and dance in front of the TV.

Tatiana often says, “We have four kids, but really six if you count them all.”

The family dynamics are very confusing to her teachers at the beginning of the school year, but Tatiana loves Dana’s other children as if they were her siblings.

Having grown up with divorced parents, the idea of former spouses having jam sessions with current spouses seemed insane. Why would anyone ever want to subject themselves to that?

My rule had been to veer on the other side of the road, far away from men who’d been married before. I was widowed. Entirely different situation. There was no chance that my late husband would call in the middle of the night to scream at me about child support.

I did, however, want to end up with a man who would be a loving daddy to my two and three-year old daughters. But how would I know about his parenting skills if he didn’t have children?

Eventually, I opened up to dating men with kids. Men with kids meant men with wicked ex-wives.

Frightening.

A week after I met Evan, he invited me to the baseball field to watch Jason’s game. Wanting to make a good impression, I spent extra time pulling my daughters’ hair in pigtails, and putting their olive-toned bodies in matching hot-pink sundresses.

I held the girls’ hands and walked towards the concession stand. Then, out of nowhere, something came towards me.

It was her. It was the ex-wife.

I wanted to flee.

But she came at me, with certainty, her arms open wide. “Hyla, right?”

What do I do? She’s hugging me.

Dana’s one-year-old daughter began climbing on the bleachers with my girls. They were instant friends.

Later that evening, my mom and I spoke on the phone. “You’re going to have a play-date with Evan’s ex-wife?” she asked. “Don’t you think this is a bit strange?”

Yes.

At first, it was strange to go to the park with Dana and her kids.

And it took a couple of years of soccer games, school plays, birthday parties, and swim meets before I could trust that the “wicked ex-wife” wasn’t wicked at all. Dana was loving and supportive, always willing to help out with my daughters. She wanted Evan to be happy, so that Jason could be happy.

Dana says, “What more could we ask for? Jason has four nurturing parents.”

Divorce is tough. I’m certainly not claiming that it’s easy to get to the place where you’re doing tequila shots with your spouse’s ex, nor am I suggesting that it’s necessary to get as close as I have with Dana.

What I do know, though, is that all of our children benefit when they see that their parents play well with others.

~~~

Your turn:

Did your ex get remarried, too?

How have YOU learned to play well with your ex’s spouse?

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December 12, 2010 at 5:21 pm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa R. December 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm

My ex-husband got married this past March, and his wife and I were fast friends. In fact, I’m trying to get them to move closer. A big reason for this is that my ex and I had time to close out our marriage, deal with lingering resentment, and become friends again. That goodwill now extends to his new wife. I’m sure that it also makes a difference that our son lives with me, and there is no perceived competition for his affection. Time has been the most important party of the equation for all of us.

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Hilary Jacobs Trout December 12, 2010 at 6:44 pm

As an adult child of divorce I can speak to the child’s perspective and it was always a challenge to intergrate my parents’ significant others and later their children into my life. I got attached to my parents’ significant others, only to have them leave my life when the relationships ended. My mother remarried when I was in my 30′s and I suddenly had three step-siblings. The relationship with my step-siblings and my step-father has been a challenge. We all want our parents to be happy, but it takes some adjustment. The best my parents could do was respect my feelings, which is hard for them too.
.-= Hilary Jacobs Trout´s last blog ..December 12 – Body Integration =-.

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avigail74 December 12, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Ha! This is a great post! Every year my daughter and I go back to the Bay Area—guess who we stay with? The ex! (Well, I’m an ex too!) The ex is always so glad to see my child and call her, “My second baby” and I always smile and say, “Mine too!” That’s because, her daughter was really my first baby ;-)

She and I got along from the get-go. We’ve always laughed, talked politely to one another (even though we are VERY different) and even had dinners without my then-husband. Our daughters always saw us as friends—not competitors.

And, now that we’re both divorced from the same man, we’ve become best friends. We call each other up once in awhile, she sends my daughter X-mas and birthday and Valentines and no reason gifts all the time! She even wrote a “fairy” letter to my daughter sharing that some people have a hard time loving (her dad) and that he does indeed love her—it’s just a very different way–and on and on and on. And, I worry for my step-daughter just like a mum—I reprimand her when I see her, encourage her, give her advice (she’s a teenager now) and plan on helping her fill out college applications next year. And, you better believe, I’ll be at the graduation along with her mom, ex-husband and ex-in laws!
.-= avigail74´s last blog ..The Four Day Trip =-.

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Naked Girl in a Dress December 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm

What a great post. It is so inspiring. I find myself being cautious now of who I date and have the same feelings Hyla did; I don’t want the crazy ex and baggage-filled dysfunction that comes with it, but want a man who is a dad already. I want a good match not just for me, but for the three of us.

I am not widowed, but have a great relationship with my ex. We are friends and I want that to continue. So, I need a man confident enough in himself and our relationship to be comfortable with my relationship with my ex. I also don’t want him bringing crazy ex dynamics into our lives because I was able to completely avoid that for our family.

It feels like this is an impossible task, but I will be patient like Hyla. It will happen when the time is right.
.-= Naked Girl in a Dress´s last blog ..Dancing in the Rain =-.

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Alitalyn December 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I love, love, love this post. This is an area that I struggle greatly in. I can’t stand my husband’s ex and really, for no good reason. I guess I see her as some sort of competitor? His family is still very close to her and her family and when she’s around, I can just feel rage going right through me. I know it’s wrong and I shouldn’t feel this way. Thanks to me reading this, it’s something I’m really going to work on. So thanks for sharing!
.-= Alitalyn´s last blog ..Wheres My Christmas Cheer =-.

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Anna December 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm

The ex isn’t married, and from comments he has made in the past, I don’t think he’ll ever get married again. Kudos (and good luck) to him if he does. He has been with his girlfriend for 2 years, though, and frankly, I don’t deal with her often (they live in another state), but she sometimes does pickups and drop-offs for the holidays and she seems like a very nice, caring person. I want to have a good relationship with her because she is the one who takes care of my son when he is at his dad’s (dad doesn’t do much). Will we ever be drinking tequila and having playdates? Probably not, but my kid only benefits from everyone getting along.

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How Does She Do It Mom December 13, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Oh how I wish that this could be the story I had to share…unfortunately it is not and I actually for the first time in a long time find myself somewhat envious of someone, Hyla.

My ex (who I left) became involved with someone a year after our separation…I was truly happy for him and hopeful that it would result in him finally finding happiness in life and thus letting sleeping dogs lie with him and I. However I guess it is not easy to do that when you are man who’s wife left him after years of emotional/verbal abuse being launched at her.

When I met my soul mate (I know gag!!barf!!, lol) a full two years later and got engaged I had hopes that my story would turn into one like Hyla’s…nope…well at least not yet! My ex fills his life with “I can’ts” and “woe is me”s and unfortunately this turns into his girlfriend and him usually trying to place blame on me for something….while I appreciate that is not really the case.

Anyhow all that to say I look forward and am optimistic to one day share a story like the above!! :)
.-= How Does She Do It Mom´s last blog ..How to “Do Something With Your Life” =-.

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Soccer Mom December 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm

She rocks! I have a *decent* relationship with The Ex’s new wife. However, she’s the one that broke up our marriage so I’m seriously putting a lot of resentment aside for the kids’ sake! She & I were friends before the cheating…and I try to remember that she’s the one spending time with my children when they’re with their dad. I wish I didn’t have some of this baggage and could hang out this way. We can sit on the sidelines and watch soccer together, sit together at the children’s performances at school and any number of activities, but it’s still there … even if just a little. I hope the kids don’t pick up on it, but I really try hard to make sure they don’t. It’s hard to give up time with your children to another woman, even if it’s their dad’s new wife and he’s there too. But, if he finds a good one, I think you have to. I try to think of it as the more people who love my kids and want them to do well, the better for them!
.-= Soccer Mom´s last blog ..A Look Back… =-.

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SDMktg December 13, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I get along ok with my kids’ mom (I read once it’s easier to work with them if you refer to them this way rather than “ex”) My girlfriend got off to a bad start with her at a birthday party when the ex walked up to say hello to her right when she took a bite of pizza and couldn’t respond. The kids’ mom made some bad career choices and moved away so I think there’s a lot of jealousy on her part towards my GF being close to the kids. On the other side GF doesn’t care for the way the ex left all of her parenting responsibilities behind for me to pick up the pieces. I don’t think that relationship will ever be anything more than civil. Obviously it’s a lot easier if all involved are responsible, loving people. One person can’t make it work on their own.

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T December 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm

How coincidental. My post today is about blending families… and the struggles. And I was just asking if there were any good blogs for this topic.

As always, thanks for coming through for me, sweet Rachel!

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janine December 15, 2010 at 6:09 pm

It was the grandchildren that brought my parents and step-parents closer together. In fact, this will be our second Christmas in which both sets of parents will be traveling to spend the holiday with us. You’re never too old to benefit from seeing your parents play well with others.

a fellow Writing Mama
.-= janine´s last blog ..Michael and Wagner Kovac Christmas Gift Drive =-.

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Karen Johnson December 16, 2010 at 10:14 am

How much is fair to ask of your second wife and 2nd family when joining the husband, his first children and ex-wife for holiday occassions?

My husband’s children are in their 20′s now. We have been together for 15 years. We have 2 of our own daughters who are 10 and 11.

For the good of his children, I went along with things and joined the Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner traditions which included the ex-wife and later her new partner. The main Christmas events for my husband and his children did not change when I came along. Naively I beleived that over time the traditions might change. Not so.

OUr children came along and they go off to the first family’s same events with us.

I hear what people say – for the good of the children, etc. My husband beleives that is why he continued the same traditions. He is proud of his positive relationship with his first wife. He won’t call her his ex-wife.

This fall he has taken this a step further though. Several times he has referred to Wendy (ex wife) as one of his best friends. He is becoming quite adamant that Wendy and Gord (son) are his family so he wants to spend the special occassions with them. I can agree that Gord (step-son to me) is part of my family, even tho his mum prevented us to have much of a relationship years ago. But I do not want to include Wendy in my family. This is becoming a big issue in my marriage.

I was willing for my nuclear family to join the EX-tended family for Christmas day dinner. In fact, for ,months is has been understood that we are hosting the Christmas dinner (we alternate houses). The usual Christmas Eve event is not happening this year so I saw this as an opportunity to make our own tradition – my husband and our 2 biological daughters. Step son could do his own thing with his fiance or join us. Then the ex-wife invited us to her house for Christmas Eve.

Now my husband is angry with me because I don’t want to attnend. He does not want to miss out on seeing his 26 year old son. He also talks about how much our childreen enjoy gatherings at Wendy’s and how important it is for him to have her involved in our children’s lives.

This leaves me feeling very unimportant. the first family takes precedent. My husband gets angry and says that I am complaining when I try to explain myself and how it has been to fit in with his first family’s Christmas traditions for 15 years.

By adding my 2 bits to this blog, I don’t know what I am looking for – support, ideas from someone else who has sucked it up and joined in the first families more happily than I. (I am well behaved at the joint parties and I do enjoy them, but I am often grumpy before the party because I don’t have a real choice whether to participate or not.) That is enough for now.

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Mama Dharma January 17, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Can’t bring myself to meet her. They have been married for 2.5 years. I guess one day it will happen, but for now I am happy to have no relationship with this woman whatsoever.
.-= Mama Dharma´s last blog ..Revisiting “I HATE Married People” =-.

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