I have noticed myself being very judgmental lately. Not in general, but in particular. And the person in particular who has been the subject of my judgment is my ex-husband’s new wife.
I know, I know, I know. This story is as old as divorce and remarriage. The first wife resenting the second wife, feeling that she doesn’t measure up, that she is the recipient of everything denied in the first marriage, that she does not deserve the opportunity to raise the children of the first marriage. Honestly, I know the song and dance, and I get it.
But I still want to shake her sometimes. Hard.
I didn’t always feel this way. One thing I credited my ex-husband with was the propensity to select a suitable woman to enter my daughters’ lives. Bryce has always valued smart, capable, successful women; he is not a man predisposed to bimbos, tramps, or gold-diggers. So after our divorce, I really didn’t worry at all about whom he might bring into the lives of our daughters.
Indeed, his very first girlfriend after (or before?) our separation was a woman I knew from our tennis and swim club and liked very well. I told my friends that it was shame that she was the Rebound Woman because I would have been very happy with him settling down with her. But, of course, she didn’t last. Then there was Debbie, Bryce’s foray into the Younger Woman category. She seemed very nice, and I thought my daughters liked her very well, but I found out differently once she and Bryce broke up. And then came “Mariah.” At first I was grateful for her presence. She is older than Bryce, with one child in college and another about to graduate high school. She’s a successful career woman and seemingly smart, attractive, and classy. When they got engaged in late 2013, I was genuinely happy for them both, and I told them so. But that was before she shared a house with my children…
I am of the firm belief that Mariah married Bryce in spite of his children, not because she loved them as well as him. This sad truth is blatantly apparent in the choices that she and Bryce have made as they’ve blended their families into a single home: from creating a bedroom for my daughters to share out of a dark basement space, to refusing to buy foods that my daughters in like in favor of shopping lists prepared around their step-sister’s preferences (and, no, she doesn’t have food intolerances or allergies), to a strict dress-code that I’m sure Mariah borrowed from the Mormons, to taking a “family trip” to Europe over the summer without my girls (who are being shipped off to their grandparents for a week instead). My daughters are not a high priority for their step-mother, nor, it would seem, for their own dad sometimes. Sabrina has informed me that her dad rationalizes his refusal to challenge Mariah on her dictates because he wants to make her happy, something he believes he had failed at with me. So, my girls know that they are not a priority at his house, and I know it, and it makes all of us sad.
I’m not naive about divorce and blended families. I expected different rules at the two homes, and I knew that some new and different values would be at tension with how Bryce and I had originally raised our girls together. But I honestly never anticipated a step-mother who so obviously did her best to tolerate them only. In all their lives, I have so rarely run into adults who didn’t seem to genuinely like my girls; the idea that I now have to share them with a woman who doesn’t is heartbreaking.
But, really, it should be okay that she doesn’t like them. I remind myself that we all connect differently and with different people. Just because I like (or love) someone does not mean that you would equally as well or even at all. My girls are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea anymore than I am, and that I know and accept fully. Or at least theoretically. But what I simply can’t get my head around is this: Why in the world would you marry someone who had two relatively young children (ages 11 and 13 at the time) with whom you don’t want to be involved and maybe don’t even particularly like?
I try — SINCERELY! — to remember that not everyone approaches relationships and blended families as I do. Even James has struggled to care for my daughters in the same manner and with the same depth of emotion as I care for his children. But if I didn’t like his kids, if I’d just been biding my time until they grew up and moved out, if I found their behaviors, habits, and manners so irritating and aggravating, I couldn’t have made a life with him. So Mariah’s decisions and motivations are a mystery to me.
People who know both Bryce and I have speculated that Mariah married him to enjoy the financially comfortable lifestyle he is so capable of providing, and perhaps this is true to some extent. They do have a newly renovated showcase home on an acre of land in an expensive enclave of an expensive town. Bryce did purchase Mariah a ring just this side of Kardashian-land. And she is enjoying lavish vacations. But still, how is that enough if you don’t want his kids around fifty percent of the time?
I remind myself that I do not know her whole story. I do not know what her own childhood was like. I do not know if her formal and rigid nature is a vestige of the way she was raised or maybe a defense mechanism acquired later. I remember to be glad that she is not outright mean or cruel or vindictive toward my children. Because even if she were, my options would be meager. But she’s not. She’s really not. She’s more indifferent than anything.
So why can’t I just accept that she is different from me and different from my girls and that’s okay? Why am I so disturbed by the fact that she is marginalizing them when it could be so much worse? I mean, seriously, who died and made me judge of anything? What right do I have to cast stones in anyone’s direction? Why am I so decidedly unable to practice the values of no judgment and bountiful compassion toward her?
I have examined my feelings from multiple angles. I have questioned whether I am jealous of her relationship with my ex, and concluded that while it is occasionally painful to my ego to have it confirmed for me that Bryce’s depth of love for me was no deeper than mine for him, I do not begrudge her anything that she shares with him. I am grateful that he is happy and settled, and equally grateful that I am no longer with him but with James. I have also wondered if I am jealous that she is another “mother” to my girls and concluded that that is not it, either. My relationships with my daughters are secure and stable and deep and mutual; no one in the world can take that or change that but us. Everyone else who might love them can only be a good thing in their lives. And so, I am left feeling icky and judgey and petty without fully knowing why. I wish that I did not dislike her. I wish that I were, at least, indifferent to her. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that I’m not.
I’m just not.
And it makes me want to shake her sometimes. Hard.