Ben Harrison: “Mommy…”
Jackie Harrison: “What, sweetie?”
Ben Harrison: “If you want me to hate her I will.”
− Stepmom (1998)
It is with great… (still searching for the right word) that I announce our upcoming new family addition. No, it’s not a baby. Yet. It’s my children’s stepmom.
Very recently, though I can’t say exactly when because I’m not privy to such information, my ex-husband became engaged to the woman with whom he betrayed our marriage. I heard the news from my kids. They, in turn, found out as their dad passed around his iPhone at a family dinner a couple months back, sporting a picture of his fiancée’s engagement ring for all to admire. But I really can’t complain because it’s not like they didn’t already have a heads up about the situation. Their future stepmom took care of that a few weeks earlier when, without their father present, she giddily (and provokingly?) said to them, “I think your dad is going to ask me to marry him. What do you think I should say?” Minutes later I was hit with a barrage of frantic texts, as they attempted to mask their hysterics from their dad, the “adult” equally charged, as am I, with their well-being.
Until now, my ex-husband’s significant other has held the dubious honor of being the “other woman,” a title that accurately denotes her well-deserved status as a home wrecker, the most unwanted of intruders, and categorically trumps the positions of any invasive in-laws and overbearing family members. Now, as she usurps the much more ubiquitous title of stepmom, devastating my children, I know there is not a damn thing I can do about it. Or is there?
It’s no secret to my ex-husband, his future bride and, frankly, anyone else who will listen, that my children and I are not her biggest fans. She does things to tick the kids off, whether intentionally or unintentionally I can’t always be sure, and they aren’t very forgiving. Neither am I, for that matter. But she keeps on going about her day, living her life, and even appears the happier for it, as my children become increasingly irritated and upset. The old saying that reminds us how hating is like drinking rat poison and expecting someone else to die holds true. So, really, who are the victims in this scenario?
Today I stand at a crossroads. Either I can sit back and allow my children to continue disparaging this woman, or I can facilitate her inevitable transition into their lives. These children can’t help but blame their dad’s fiancée for the dissolution of their family as they once knew it. But, in reality, she was only a symptom, even a catalyst, but certainly not the cause. When a marriage is strong, nothing can shake it from its foundation. This marriage was anything but that.
I didn’t get to choose the woman who will be my children’s stepmom. But I can choose how I regard her publicly, and ultimately affect how my children view her. I can’t promise that I will ever be her friend. I’m not that progressive but, really, nobody knows what the future holds. My task is a difficult one; I must swallow my pride and pay a modicum of respect to a woman whom I both disrespect and dislike. But for better or for worse, till death do my ex-husband and her part (or sooner, as I found out when I got divorced), she will be in my children’s lives.
Everybody has good qualities, even her. And, as much as I hate to admit it, she is not a monster. By acknowledging my children’s stepmom, by paying her respect, it is not she who I adulate, but my children. And, for them, I will do what I once believed unthinkable. I will accept her.