Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Empathy for the Ex (a.k.a. Sympathy for the Devil)

About a year and a half ago, I decided that I was going to try to get along with my husband's ex. At the time, both of them were constantly bickering and nothing was being communicated with regards to their daughter -- my stepdaughter. So, I decided to take the higher ground for my stepdaughter's sake and figure out some way to communicate with her Mom. And for a short time, it worked. Whenever she would come to pick V. up at our house, I would greet her at the door, hand her V's school bag and let her know about all the stuff a Mommy should know: permission slips that needed to be signed, visits to the doctor's, etc. She seemed to appreciate my efforts even if the sharing of information was totally one-sided. There even came a time when we had to exchange a telephone conversation and I was not afraid to answer the phone.

My ally in this exercise? Empathy.

I learned to put myself in her shoes, imagined what she was feeling and what I would want to see happen if I were her. I put aside my own feelings of anger and resentment and focused on what was best for my stepdaughter. It worked for a while and I know that I was much more content with this way of living.

Unfortunately, my ability to empathize was ultimately undermined once this woman took out a restraining order against my husband after he tried to pick up my stepdaughter during his custodial day. The night the papers were issued, she called the house to speak with her daughter. I was so angry that I simply said "She is not home. She will call you later." And hung up.

I was angry and disappointed. I was quickly reminded that the desire for us all to get along was, at that point, mine and mine alone. If the three of us ever have any hope of co-parenting, then we all needed to change our attitudes and the way we approach one another. The power of one, in this case, was not powerful enough.

At present, emotions are still running high and my husband and his ex do not communicate at all, except through certified mail which often times goes unanswered and even uncollected at the post office (by her). They are embroiled in a bitter custody battle that is scheduled for court next month. In the meantime, we are under advice from lawyers not to communicate verbally with my husband's ex. ::sigh::

Still I try to remain empathetic, albeit from a distance. I understand, even though I don't agree with, what she is doing and why. She currently is not in a relationship, although she was supposed to get re-married almost 2 years ago. If I were in her shoes, I'd be a little bitter too to see my ex-husband and his new wife moving on with their life together and adding to my daughter's family. This woman has nothing right now except her daughter. And, right or wrong, she is doing everything she can to hold on to her. As a mother, I can't blame her.

Empathy has brought me this far, and I hope it will continue to see me through the battles that lie ahead.


Island Queen said...

Good for you! It can be very difficult and I wish you and your family the best in getting through this.


Anonymous said...

I think you and I are in a very similar situation. I knew there would be other stepmoms out there who are feeling the rage and disgust I'm feeling about my husband's ex. My disgust, though, is based in her lifestyle, neglect of the kids, and alcohol abuse.

As usual, it's a long story, but not a unique one. It's just that none of us set out to be in a situation that is filled with so much hatred, anger and rage. It's so destructive, but so hard to rise above sometimes. I'm still working on it.

I will look forward to hearing how the custody case comes out.

Take care.

liltigersmom said...

Honestly as the X and a former stepmom myself. You really need to leave dealings with your husband and his X alone. They are forever going to have to deal with each other because of their child and the connection/history they will always have.