One peculiar feature of a stepfamily is that they are built on a
negative foundation. A stepfamily couple comes to their new
home with a full set of baggage, containing memories,
wounds, and habits. Probably the biggest piece of baggage
that sits in the way of your developing a new life is your
connection to your ex?spouse.
And, while some ex-es go away physically, many more
haunt your life as well as your memories. One of the great
mysteries of divorce and remarriage is why many
ex-spouses just refuse to turn loose.
It has been said that divorce is the single cruelest thing one
person can do to another person. The one soul you trusted
more than any other with your secrets, your hopes, and your
weaknesses turns from their vows and wrenches
themselves from your living heart. The phenomenon of the
spiteful, vengeful ex-spouse is such a problem that the
majority of emails we receive are on that subject.
However, in working with thousands of stepfamilies around
the world, we've found two facts to be true about dealing with
these vindictive ex-es (and they're nearly always ex-wives!):
1) The kids see the truth. Kids aren't stupid. And, although
they have a natural tendency to defend even the worst
bio-parent, they can see for themselves when adults lie and
use them. They see both sides of the story, in both homes.
These kids know what your personalities are like, versus
her personality. And they are keeping track of everything she
tells them that doesn't add up.
Now, this doesn't mean that you can use this fact to try to
turn the kids to your side. You must behave in the most
Christian manner you can.
Which leads to one of our Cardinal Rules: Never Criticize
Your Stepkids' Other Parent In Front of the Kids. She may
actually be a psychopathic shrew or he may indeed be an
alcoholic abuser, but if you criticize those monsters where
the kids can hear you, those kids will defend them-either
aloud or in their minds.
2) Wicked ex-es are not as strong as God. This is a weapon
you can use for your defense and against them. If you
present the best example of a selfless, loving, gentle
Christian stepparent that you possibly can, your stepkids
will be able to see and feel the difference in spirit between
love and hate. Also, if you constantly return kindness for
every time she is mean to you, you will wear her down.
These are not "pie in the sky" dreams. I've seen them
happen in my own stepfamily and in many others. It is a
Christian concept, but it's also fundamental nature. You are
not responsible for how she acts toward you. You are only
responsible for how you act ... or react ... toward her. Act in
such a way that you can feel comfortable with yourself. Show
those kids how a real woman handles problems-with
strength and self control!
While it is sometimes necessary to stand up to vindictive
ex-es, the only approach I have ever seen to be completely
effective in securing a peaceful home in relation to your
ex-spouse is to reach out in love. Now, I'm not throwing
flowers around and saying everyone will get just along
together. But I am saying that it's pretty much impossible to
fight with someone who won't fight back.
I'll fall back on some sage advice which says that, "If we only
love our friends and hate our enemies, how are we any
better than them? But I say unto you, Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute
Look at it this way, if you simply react to your ex-es attacks
every time he or she says something about you, who is in
control of your life? Your ex is.
However, if, no matter what they say about you or do to you,
you refuse to stoop to their level, if you insist on acting in a
superior manner, you-not your ex-are still in control of
your mind and life.
Jesus wasn't teaching, in the above passage from Matthew,
chapter 5, that we are supposed to be wimps. On the
contrary, it takes much more courage and character to
answer an attack with an attempt to make peace. It is
harder, but it is more rewarding.
The only sure way to win is to get everyone on the same
by Bobby Collins
? copyright 2000
Bobby Collins is a stepdad first, then a minister, a certified
family mediator, and founder of STEP-Carefully! for
Stepparents!, the largest faith-based support organization
for stepfamilies in the country. His articles have appeared in
national publications and he has appeared on national TV
and radio programs always teaching stepparents how to
have healthier, happier families. His organization can be
reached on the Internet at http://www.stepcarefully
.com where visitors will find free articles, a free
newsletter, and a book store with proven stepfamily
resources for sale. Collins is best known for his private
family mediation between husbands and wives,
ex-spouses, and stepparents and their stepkids. With over a
decade of experience, he has helped thousands of
stepfamilies survive and succeed. Contact him directly at coach@stepcareful