Revising The Childless Stepparent Manifesto
by childless stepparent
Maybe it’s because my husband’s former wife is a difficult person in this situation. Maybe it’s because they were married for so long, and old habits die hard. Maybe it’s because it took a while for my husband and me to align our definitions of healthy boundaries. Maybe it’s because co-operative parenting after divorce is not what it’s cracked up to be (watch for my upcoming post: The Case Against Co-Parenting).
For many tangled reasons, this item of my manifesto has been challenging:
5. Whatever dynamic exists between my husband and his former wife does not involve me. They must work together for their child’s benefit.
As a childless stepparent, I was tossed between two extremes. I saw the wisdom in my manifesto, in taking a giant step back and not getting involved in anything having to do with my husband’s former wife. But then I would perceive that she was intruding into our life, and I would step in, sometimes aggressively.
Since I have no contact with my husband’s former wife, in order to push *her* back, I found myself pushing my husband to push her. Not good. Not good at all.
When things got difficult, in order to extricate myself, I would tell myself over and over, “This is *his* relationship to manage.” It was my mantra. But it didn’t matter how many times I repeated it – it never settled in.
Here’s why: my husband shouldn’t have a “relationship” with his former wife. When two people divorce, their relationship ends. They may still have business to attend to (i.e., their children), but their relationship is over. That is the fundamental purpose of divorce: to end a relationship – formally and unequivocally.
Co-parenting confuses this. More on that later.
Let’s put it this way: maintaining a relationship with a man who has a relationship with another woman is not one of the many compromises I was ready to make in our marriage. I was also not willing to allow his former wife’s behavior to impact our life together. It wasn’t healthy for us, any of us.
I don’t mean to imply that my husband was having an affair with his former wife. Let me define what I mean by “relationship.” Ex-spouses should not be a source of emotional support for one another. Their communication should be about their children, not each other. There should be no emotional maintenance after a divorce. Communication should be *transactional* – not relational. It should be minimal, cordial, and businesslike: much like you’d correspond with a business associate in order to get a job done. The job, of course, is raising your child.
It was time for me to stop pushing my husband to shift the boundaries every time his former wife intruded. It was time for him to stop taking the path of least resistance. My husband and I had some boundaries to build – together.
Building boundaries is hard work. But once they’re in place, they do the work for you. That’s what makes them worth the effort. And like disciplining a child or training a dog, effective boundaries require 100% consistency.
Now my husband and I are building those boundaries: updating the custody order with the court; keeping communication with his former wife minimal and businesslike (him), nonexistent (me); no longer appeasing her attempts to use her daughter to intrude and control; no more windows into our life, period.
We agree that in the end, these boundaries will serve us, our marriage, and his daughter. Experiencing this process has led me to revise my manifesto:
Manifesto #5 | My husband and his former wife must work together in the business of raising their child. They should do so in a way that respects healthy boundaries between their child’s two homes. I will support my husband in building and maintaining these boundaries.