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Life with the Ex-Wife [Secret Life of an Expat]

I would like to use this week’s post to give you some advice. If you haven’t already committed and shacked up, don’t marry a guy with kids.

Don’t get me wrong; the kids aren’t the problem. Once you get over the initial horror of taking a rectal temperature or helping a little boy wipe himself, the trials of co-parenting become manageable, and after time the benefits outweigh the work.

But if you’re going to wait until your mid-thirties to tie the knot, and you end up with a divorcé, I do suggest that you try to pre-screen the ex-wife. Ha! Like that’s even possible.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been a part of this family for almost three years and I’ve hardly ever spoken to the ex directly. We exchange information through the kids. On the speakerphone, she asks them something, they ask me, I respond and they tell their mom. She never acknowledges I’m there. I think she tries to pretend I don’t play a role in their lives, that I’m no more than one of their forgettable afternoon babysitters, but I’d like to think I play a bigger role and I wish there could be more cooperation between us. Why are we buying two sets of sneakers for kids who are going to outgrow them in four months? When we signed them up for activities last fall, we had to go in on the assumption that they’d only be able to go every other week, and even now I’m the one who brings my step-daughter to her dance class every Friday, even when she’s sleeping at her Mom’s house. I’ve never asked the ex to communicate with me, I’ve given the woman space, hoping that through a kind tone and cooperative attitude, she would warm up to me. It’s not that I need her to like me, I just want her to stop not liking me, because really I’ve done nothing wrong except come into her world unannounced and helped raise her kids. But the real tension is between her and my husband, and I bet she’d say I have nothing to do with it, and she never even gives me a thought.

It’s an unfortunate situation, and as the new wife, I can’t logically argue against the divorce, or where would I be?  But everyone should remember that when the kids look back on their childhoods, they are going to recall having at least 3 parental figures, myself included, so maybe I’m worth thinking about.

What I’m trying to say is, if you happen to be the ex-wife, or find yourself playing any role in a shared custody situation, try to seek common ground. It’s no fun feeling like there’s always someone against you, and whether she thinks about me or not, that’s how it comes out. I don’t know if it’s a French thing (I’ve heard more than one terrible story of family members not speaking for five, ten, or twenty years here), but it seems utterly ridiculous to not communicate with a family member. And in the eyes of the ex-wife’s kids, we are family. If you’re going to force your kids to live in shared custody, the least you can do is try to make their management and upbringing as supportive and worry-free as possible.

But maybe I’m not getting it, so I ask you – is it reasonable to expect the ex-wife to cooperate with the new wife in terms of her children’s upbringing, or is it only the incredibly enlightened ones who can manage such a thing? Is there anyone out there who shares my situation?

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featured image credit: lord marmalade