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My boyfriend has primary custody of his three young daughters. His ex used to live an hour away and she picked them up each weekend. When we merged our families, I grew to love his daughters as an extension of him. I disciplined them, but deferred important matters to their parents. I never pretended to be their mom or said a bad word about her.
Last summer, Edith (the mom) announced that she was moving into our neighborhood. I was elated that the girls were going to see their mom more. She is a loving and good person. Even though her move would be a plus for our family, I was scared of the changes. The twins were starting middle school, so the girls’ academic weeks would be split. I pictured cleats in one house and overdue homework in another.
I wondered how much my role as a stepmom would change. Now that their mom was local, would we both attend school events and games? Would the things that I had been doing for years now be considered interference? I wondered, "How much stepparenting is too much?" Maybe Edith wanted me to fade into the background. Maybe she wanted everything to stay the same. The only way to find out was to ask.
After years of exchanging children, I thought that Edith and I had enough history between us to hold one serious conversation. With that in mind, I asked my boyfriend to arrange a meeting to discuss logistics like homework and carpool.
When Edith agreed to meet, I was a bit surprised. After all, as mom and stepmom we've been separate in everything. I planned birthday parties for her girls, and she would not attend, preferring instead to celebrate with them privately. I never understood not collaborating resources like money and balloons, but to each their own.
For a moment, I actually got it.
Last year, Edith did something extraordinary. She planned a birthday party for her 9-year-old, and I was a guest, which was great. During the fun, Edith told me she had almost had a meltdown at the party store trying to remember her daughter’s favorite colors. I touched her hand and told her the details did not matter. The party was a hit.
For a moment, I actually got it. Edith, like moms everywhere, was scared that she was not getting “it” right. I felt that three-minute conversation about party prep had cemented a foundation that had been forming silently for years.
And that's why I was shocked when she canceled our coordination meeting. She told my boyfriend that she would talk about the girls with him only, and I was left feeling dismissed. I was worthy enough to take her kids to the doctor, but not worthy of a conversation about our coexistence?
I set aside my pride and left her message telling that I did not want to create drama. She sent me a text back explaining that she was too laid back to plan that far ahead. Edith’s profession is planning. This was personal. She did not want to communicate with me about her children.
Clearly, I pushed too hard and stepped over an invisible line. I had step-mommied too much. I was the well-intentioned, sometimes bossy American, who is always trying to help. Edith was the isolated, independent nation that sets her terms of engagement. When is comes to keeping the blended peace, sometimes the best solution to be silent and let go.