How to Deal with the "Evil" Ex
My Partner's Ex Badmouths Me to the Kids
It very well may be your partner's ex isn't really that bad, but it certainly seems so at times, especially when the ex is saying nasty things about you to the kids. Usually you'll only hear about those nasty things if the child tells you—oh, what a dynamic you have here! The child may want you to hear how you're being criticized or, more commonly, may want to bait you. It's your job not to take the bait.
Dealing with a nasty bioparent who is saying awful things about you to the kids provides you with a brilliant opportunity: You get to be the good stepparent! Model good behavior to the kids, keep them from running wild, and refrain from badmouthing the parent.
Don't Be Wicked
The telephone is intrusive. Any time you pick up the phone, you run the risk of hearing your Love's ex-partner on the other end. Take three deep breaths and blow off the negative energy. Don't let it ruin your mood. And don't vent on the rest of the family.
This advice is more than just a ploy to get you a halo. Badmouthing a bioparent (even if the parent is absent, abusive, or just rude) will backfire on you. Say your stepdaughter Alicia is angry at her dad. Your saying he's a no-good scum will initially build an alliance with Alicia, but it's a phony one based on shared anger. Subconsciously, Alicia will feel that if her dad is bad, she must be, too. She'll resent you for pointing it out, and her self-esteem will suffer.
Alicia also is dealing with loyalty issues. The minute you say something nasty about her dad, she's gonna leap to his defense, no matter how angry she is at him. (There's more on this in Don't Compete with the Ex!)
If you can avoid responding to the provocation, you'll feel great about yourself. As you struggle to avoid taking the nasty ex's bait, seek empathy for the ex within yourself. If all else fails, sometimes it helps to try to pity the ex. Whatever it takes to do it, don't badmouth the ex. If you're guilty of doing this, stop.
The Prior Spouse Is a Creep
What if the ex is a creep? Sometimes the ex seems crazy, unpleasant, inconsiderate, oddball, sloppy, spacey, or rigid. What (if anything) you can do about this depends upon who the creepy behavior is aimed at. If it's aimed directly at you, you've got a choice—fight it or let it slide (don't rule out ignoring it; that doesn't necessarily mean you are relinquishing responsibility).
Say it's the child who is having trouble with the ex. If the child is eight years old or older (old enough to express herself clearly), let her handle it. That's between the two of them, her and her parent, to resolve. If the complaints are serious and they recur, let your partner be in charge of running interference. That's not your job. If you step in, you may very well make it worse.
Of course, all this supposes that no real emotional, physical, or sexual abuse is occurring. If you believe it is, get help.
I Kid You Not!
If you suspect child abuse, you need to take care of the situation at once. Call the National Center for Missing and exploited Children for advice. Get the child to a safe place. Call your lawyer. You can also call the Boys Town National Hotline at 800-448-3000. They provide 24-hour counseling for parents and kids.
When You Know He's a Creep but the Kid Doesn't
If you know that your partner's ex is a creep but the kid thinks he or she is a hero, shut your trap. You can't do anything about it anyway, and if you want to keep building your relationship with your stepchild, keep that trap shut. In an ideal situation, truth, justice, and the stepparent way will win the day. (Again, all this is assuming that your partner's ex is just an unpleasant person, not an abuser.)
Divorce expert Judith Wallerstein believes that children of divorce do understand their fathers' good sides as well as their bad sides, but they don't “as a rule, draw the conclusions that an objective observer would make from those records….” Wallerstein believes that teenage girls, especially, need to create the image of a protective, loving father and that “without any sense of contradiction, they are able to maintain a benign sense of the loving father side by side with a history of repeated rejections and failures.” Later these same kids may think of their father as a betrayer. Of course, not only men are creeps, and both boys and girls will suffer from a creepy biomother's actions as well.
As a step, you'll do best if you give the ex the benefit of the doubt when it comes to parenting issues. People have different styles. Look for evidence of love and attention—ignore the clothes and manners and try to lead by example, not by attacking the ex's approach to life and parenting.
More on: Nontraditional Families
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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