Virginia Custody Cases: When There’s a New Stepmother

 

Families are full of complicated dynamics. That’s especially true in the case of a blended family, or even a set of blended families.

When parents break up, and remarry other divorced parents with children, the logistics can get complicated really quickly.

Even if the remarriage doesn’t include more children, it still includes more personalities – which can mean that there are tons of opportunities for problems to come up.

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of this, so I wanted to take a few minutes to speak on it. Mostly, actually, I’ve seen and heard of things from the new girlfriend’s point of view. Frankly, I’ve been completely unimpressed.

I’m in the business of inspiring and empowering women through difficult life situations. I try to help women see that their divorce is an opportunity at a better future for themselves and their children, that divorce is big way that the law provides protection for women (or, generally, for lesser earning spouses), that there is a way to a future that is (or could be) better than the present.

I love when women lift up and support other women because, let’s face it, the world we’ve been born into isn’t easy. It often sidelines, marginalizes, and devalues our contributions, both personally and professionally. The wage gap is decreasing, but there are a million different microaggressions we see every day. There are a million and one ways we struggle, adapt, and overcome.

But, unfortunately, the truth is that other women don’t always lift each other up and inspire them. I think it mostly comes from a scarcity mindset – meaning that there’s generally the perception that there’s not enough to go around. When we’re insecure, or scared, or feeling like our position in life isn’t as stable as we’d like it to be, we might feel the need to lash out at people around us.

I’m not a therapist. I can really only speak to what I see in my practice, and then basically try to do my best to put myself in those people’s shoes to understand why they might act the way they do.

In the instance of a catty woman, I have to assume that she’s feeling weak, unsafe, or threatened in some way, and that she assumes that the other woman (or women) in the equation are either the probable cause of those feelings or, alternatively, simply an easy target. A target can be different things in different situations; it could be as simple as finding someone weak to lash out against who is generally unlikely to lash out similarly, or someone who the aggressor could use to deflect blame or attention from their own shoulders.

I’m not so much judging as hoping (and trying) to explain. Woman-on-woman meanness undermines us all, so it’s important to try to understand what the underlying motivations could be. Whether you’re the aggressor or the victim, we all have a role to play – especially if we want to make the world a better, safer place for women in the future.

You know, like our daughters.

What bothers me the most is that, in both of the instances that I’ve seen lately, the potential stepmothers involved (neither one is actually married as of the date of this writing, but still – it’s relevant, so bear with me) wanted to blame the child’s mother for all sorts of things.

One insisted that the child’s mother was “just jealous” because she (the new girlfriend) earned more money, and she and the child’s father enjoyed a better lifestyle because she was in it. She argued that the reason that the child’s mother took the child’s father to court was because she was just so jealous.

The other insisted that moms should have to itemize how they spend their child support dollars, because, in her boyfriend’s case, the child’s mother used the child support to pay a housekeeper.

In both of those cases, there’s about a million points I’d want to make. (Like, seriously, I DOUBT that the child’s mother would petition the court over custody and visitation because of jealousy over the new girlfriend – but maybe take a look at ‘best interests of the child’ factors or a quick gander at the whole ‘material change of circumstances’ thing, if you don’t understand. And, also, who CARES if she paid a housekeeper? What, so it’s terrible for a child to live in a nice, clean home? And, if (1) there’s a roof over the child’s head, (2) there is food in the child’s belly, and (3) there are clothes on the child’s back, the child support is being spent appropriately.) I won’t go into it in detail here, because that’s beyond the scope of my point here, which is just that woman-on-woman drama like this has got to stop.

I know, I know – these are all the girlfriends or wives of the child’s father, and have nothing to do with you. You can’t help who he takes up with after you.
But you know what you can control? You.

I know it’s not heartwarming to say it, especially if she’s spewing trash like this all over social media. It must be painful to see. It would be painful to me, especially to think that my children were then going to spend parenting time with their father – while that woman would also presumably be around – and might get an earful of that kind of thing.

But you know what? That’s exactly the reason, too. If you can’t bear the thought of your child being wrapped up in something like that, then do everything in your power to change the dynamic.

You can’t change her. But you can be bigger than her. Maybe she’ll rise to the occasion, too, after she stops seeing you as such a threat to her happiness. After all, you’re the mother of her boyfriend/husband’s child. It must be hard to know that there’s this shared passion, history, and love (not of each other, but of the child) between you. I’m sure – if we’re being charitable – that it’s hard to be the new girlfriend, too.

Don’t do it for her sake, or for his. But do it for the children, and do it so that one day it’s possible that they’ll call her their ‘bonus mom’ and you’ll even be able to be in the same room as each other. Maybe the smiles and the niceties will be fake at first, but over time it’s possible that a mutual respect could grow, if you let it.

You don’t have to tolerate anything and everything, but you do have a responsibility to try to make it as good as possible – for the kids. If for no other reason than to protect your children from something really nasty, it’s worth a try.

For more information about coparenting, modifying a custody and visitation agreement or court order, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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