As ex remarries, be a beacon of stability for kids amid the chaos
Q: My husband and I divorced a year ago. We are both proud that we are still dear friends. We have two kids, 13 and 16.
Three months ago, my ex met a woman through an online dating site. Since then, I realized after much deliberation that I wanted to give our relationship another try; we both agree we've made substantive and important changes. I steeled myself and told my ex.
About a week later, my ex asked this girlfriend of three months to marry him.
I am unsure exactly what is at work here, other than feeling he's more "in love with love" than with her particularly. She is 14 years his junior. After having originally told me she was divorced, he recently admitted she is still married and they haven't filed for divorce.
I am heartbroken and disappointed and worried. My ex is throwing this woman together with our kids at every opportunity so they can "bond" because "she's going to be their stepmother."
I think this sends them a terrible message about what a serious venture marriage is.
What is my duty here? I am having trouble reconciling being a good mother, being a good friend to my ex, wanting my ex back, and behaving in a way that will make me proud down the road.
Sad in Eastern Ohio
A: You can't stop someone from making a twitterpated fool of himself. You also can't bash his fiancee, because it will undermine your credibility too badly. You have a clear conflict of interest.
Being a good mom, however, doesn't run afoul of credibility or boundaries. That's your toehold on sanity here. So, what do good parents do?
(1) They protect their kids from emotional chaos. Meaning, you talk to your ex-husband — ONLY to caution about the message his haste might be sending.
Do cop to being hurt and jealous, because you are, but also make it clear: As the ex, it's not your place to question his choices. As the mom, it's your place to envision your someday-grown kids getting engaged after three months like Daddy did, and to lose sleep over it.
(2) Since there will always be chaos from which they can't protect their kids, good parents try to be clear-headed guides through it. You don't bad-mouth your ex or the fiancee, and you don't egg your kids on when they complain about them. You don't let the kids harbor fears that they are to blame for the chaos.
You do: love them, tell them so, tell them their dad loves them. You do listen to and respect their feelings, and you do encourage them to be open with their dad.
And you do explain that people are complicated. We're best understood as an accumulation of our thoughts, deeds and desires — not as fixtures locked in by the past, or throwaway commodities based only on what we've done lately.
(3) Good parents have their priorities straight. You are hurting and thinking wildly uncharitable thoughts about your much-younger still-married dating-site rival — and yet you're asking yourself to remain focused on your duty, and your integrity. Not as flashy as a whirlwind engagement, but it's no less a statement on marriage as serious venture.
It's also a beacon for them, and you, through this pain.