The Wisdom of Neutrality In Blended Families (or How I Became Switzerland)
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November 15, 2013 - Updated March 10, 2014

switzerland.jpgOne lesson I learned from my marriage (and I learned it the hard way) is this: Never become part of the story when it comes to the relationships between your new mate’s former wife, children or family members. As best possible, stay out of it! Be Switzerland. Be neutral. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing neutral.

When I met my ex husband, he had loads of stories about his former wife, none of them good. When we married, his oldest daughter, “Nicky,” lived with us full time. She was going through a rough spell—often not showing up for high school classes, quitting jobs yet asking for money, partying… You get the picture. My ex convinced me that she just needed a strong female mother figure and that would be me.

Just weeks after our wedding, our city experienced huge wildfires and my ex had to work long hours to help address the disaster. Nicky took that as an opportunity to disappear and party. When my ex came home, he was livid and asked that I accompany him to Nicky’s room to read her the riot act. I didn’t want to but I wanted to please my new husband. So I followed him to her room where he lit into her. When he was done, he asked that I chime in.

“Nicky, your failure to put your needs ahead of your dad’s while he’s trying to help thousands of people who are losing their homes is incredibly disappointing. If this continues, you’ll lose all kinds of privileges—your private bedroom being the first one to go and your car the next.”

She looked at me with contempt and disgust. “Excuse me but why are you here?”

It took me a second. “Good question. Why am I here?”

“Because I asked her to be,” he said. “She’s the other adult living in this home and she has every right to speak and make decisions.”

There you have it. I guess.

That was just one of many times I stepped into the middle of my ex's relationships with his daughters and his ex wife. One experience happened just a few months after we started dating. We were on our way to the movies and he needed to stop by his ex wife’s home to drop off a check. When we arrived, he said, “Can you take the check to her front door? If I do, we’ll just get in a big huge fight.”

Stupid me, I did it. I had good intentions—helping them both avoid a confrontation. But it was a really bad decision. I knocked on her door, my ex's youngest daughter opened, then his wife came to the door, and I handed her the check. “Who are you?” she asked. 

Oh, wow, what was I thinking? I cannot fathom anything more “in your face” and obnoxious than an ex husband’s new honey showing up in her private space. Yikes. But that was me. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Needless to say, the drama between the ex wife and me was horrible. And it was even worse when it came to Nicky. As much as I tried to be the mother figure and friend that my ex wanted me to be, it was a complete and total disaster. And his younger daughter and I had a rough go at it, too. It took a few years before the two of us became pretty good friends (and still are). But getting there was horrible and painful for both of us.

Much of this could have been avoided entirely if I had approached it all with a completely different mindset. Lesson learned. Here’s my new mantra…

I will doing my best to be nice to everyone in my boyfriend’s circle. I will do my best to be nice and respectful of everyone in his life. Period. Those people were around long before I arrived and it’s not my job to try and correct any perceived wrongs.

An ex wife is not my enemy. I may not like her and I may not agree with her decisions or behavior. But I can’t change her, nor is it my duty to try. Whatever animosity exists between the two of them is for them to figure out without my jumping into the middle of it.

His children are definitely not my responsibility beyond being kind and helpful. His children should be his priority and I will not get in the way. I’m not his children’s mother, and it’s not my job to try and fill that role.

When things get dicey (as they will!), I’ll do my utmost in supporting my guy’s decisions while at the same time butting out.

Some lessons are learned by making huge mistakes. This is one of them.

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