Holiday Party Custody Battles

by admin on December 10, 2012

Today’s blog post is unusual in that we get to read both sides of this dilemma at the same time.   I did edit these two submissions to change the names of all involved for consistency between the two.

Story one:

I met Phil about 9 years ago when I started working at my current job. He works in a different department and is older than me but was good friends with my cube-mate and I thought he was funny. We became really good friends over the years and, when his wife divorced him our friendship grew even more and we are now engaged to be married. Because of how some people think that our relationship started, which isn’t true, we’ve lost some friends but gained some other really good ones.

Phil’s ex and I do not speak, at all, unless we have to. She calls me as ‘the mistress’ in conversation with Phil, just to get him upset. I will admit that she doesn’t say anything bad about us to their two kids, so that’s something. And she and Phil work very hard to be friendly when the kids are around, which is something else.

Two weeks ago, really good friends of ours had a holiday party. They wanted to have it early enough that people would be able to come, so they scheduled it for the weekend after Thanksgiving. Phil and I had custody of his two kids that weekend and our friends told us to bring them, so we did.

We had been there for a while and the kids were playing in another room when Phil’s ex-wife walked into the house!!!! It turns out that she is dating our friend’s step-brother and he brought her with him to meet the family. The kids knew, IMMEDIATELY, that their mother was there and kept making comments about how nice it was that all of us were in the same place for once, which was cute and sort of painful, at the same time. The ex said hello to Phil and I when she walked in, even taking the time to hug my fiance. Then she obviously avoided talking to us from that point forward, moving from room to room to stay away from us. It was awkward and awful when it should have been fun just because she was there.

After everyone ate, I went in to help my friend with the dishes only to find the ex standing at the sink, chatting with some people in the kitchen, including her new boyfriend. I went over and offered to help, instead, thinking that I would get to spend some time with my friends, finally, as she was sure to leave the room. Instead, she sat down at the table and continued to talk to them all while I stood at the sink washing dishes.

Then, our youngest child came into the kitchen and he was excited. He ran past me and to his mother, saying something about his older brother and trying to pull her out of the room. While I tried to get him to calm down and tell me what was going on, the ex snuck out a different door and down the hall to where the kids were to find out for herself. The older boy had cut his arm on a toy and needed a band-aid, but she looked so panicked that Phil went with her while I held onto the younger child, Little Guy. Then, Little Guy decided to throw a tantrum, probably because his mother was there, and Phil had to come help me calm him down. Once he got a band-aid, the older child decided to come out and do a bit of yelling, as well, and then finally Mommy swooped in like a hero, calmed everyone down and then refused to speak to me, at all. She and her date left right after that.

After that, the kids were cranky, and the party was sort of over, so Phil and I packed up and left, too. I felt so bad for my friends that their party was ruined! After discussing it, Phil and I decided that he needed to stand up to her and explain that the polite thing would have been for her to have left, once she realized that we were already there as invited guests, to avoid the sort of mess that happened. Of course, when he did that, she told him that I was the one that was immature and impolite and refused to acknowledge that he was right.

In the future, any gatherings that we have with that particular couple, I am going to ask first if his brother and the ex are going to be there and, if they are, I’m going to sadly decline the invitation or ask them to only invite us to things where they won’t be.

(You might get a letter from the ex, too. Phil told her that I was going to ask you for your opinion and she said she couldn’t wait to see it and that she might give you her version, too, so that you could ‘properly decide’.)   1204-12

And now the ex wife’s side of the story:

Background: My ex, Phil, and I have been divorced for more than 3 years. He has been in a relationship with another woman, Melanie, for 6 years. Yes, there is some causality there.

Our relationship is civil, even friendly, when dealing with matters relating to our two beautiful children. Melanie does not speak to me, at all, and Phil does an admirable job of never putting us on the same patch of land if it can be avoided. Of course, the 2 or 3 times that it couldn’t be avoided, she dedicated herself to the task of making sure that everyone in the room, including the kids, knew that he belongs to HER, now, which is silly and defensive and completely understandable. Trust issues abound.

In the years since our divorce, Phil has explained our split to family and friends as me being “controlling” because I wanted to “choose his friends”, notably, Melanie. The list of things that he says that I am guilty of is long and odd and has no actual basis in reality and all serve as an excuse, in his eyes, for him to have engaged in his extramarital “friendship”. His family, of whom I was and am very fond, were initially stuck in the middle but, over time have, of course, stayed on his side of the “fence”, so to speak, which is also completely understandable. When I see them, we are all very cordial with one another but there is no communication outside of the occasional holiday drop off or chance meeting in the grocery store. I have no idea what they ACTUALLY think of the whole situation and tend to think that they believe him, which is out of my control.

End of background.

I recently began dating an extremely lovely gentleman by the name of Richard Irish (his last name becomes important later). Richard, himself, comes from a blended family, twice over, and has sisters and brothers and step-brothers and a half sister. He speaks of them all often and glowingly and I had been looking forward to meeting them. Initially, as we are both divorced, we took things quite slowly and spent our limited time together getting to know one another and adventuring together, just the two of us. Last month, we decided to take the “this is getting serious” plunge and introduce one another to our children, which went better than we could have even hoped for. The kids are all similar ages and had a great time playing games, running around and telling stories about Mom and Dad.

With the holidays upon us, we each have a bunch of invitations to answer both personally and professionally. The weekend after Thanksgiving, he had been invited to one of his brothers’ homes for a family get together and asked me if I would join him which, of course, I did. We arrived at his brother’s house at the same time as his sister and another brother and introductions were made in front of the house. His brother is employed in sales and is one of those fellows that immediately offers his hand and full name in greeting. Upon hearing his (step)brother’s name, John Italian, I had a little mental start as his last name is not only not the same as Richard’s, which was to be expected, but it’s also not a very common name and one I know well as a good friend and colleague of Phil and Melanie’s has the same, uncommon last name.

I shrugged the possibility off as both unlikely and unimportant and we continued into the house to meet the rest of Richard’s large family. Coats and hellos and the dog barking as we walked in and suddenly there was a small person wrapped around my legs. My younger son, 8 years old, was there!! I turned around, baffled, and came face to face with my older son, 10 years old, as well! Richard looked as confused as I did, until I saw that his (step)brother, John Italian was, indeed, the same person who is close, personal friends with my ex-husband and his fiancé. This party was at John’s house and he had invited Phil and Melanie and the kids, not knowing, at all, that there was any connection between them and Richard’s new girlfriend.

We said our hellos and Phil and I exchanged an ironic look and an awkward hug and then endeavored to give each other a wide berth for the remainder of the afternoon. I asked Richard, early on, if I should, perhaps, bow out and he wouldn’t hear of it. I had a lovely time with Richard’s entire family and loved the fact that my own kids were there, as well, to show them off a little bit. John and I ended up in the kitchen for a bit, talking, as he had some concerns about me dating his brother considering some of the things that he had heard about me from Melanie. I told him that there were three sides to every story and that I would be happy to talk to him about anything that he wanted to talk about, but I wondered if that moment was the right one and he agreed so we made a date for coffee later in the week. Shortly thereafter, Melanie came into the kitchen to get something and saw me helping John’s wife do the dishes while a few of us chatted. She came over to the sink and, without a word, took the sponge from my hand and told me that it was “her turn” to hang with her “dearest friends on the planet”. Not wanting to cause a scene, I wiped my hands, backed away from the sink and started to leave the room. John and Richard, sitting at the table, immediately made room for me there and asked me to sit down with them so that they could finish their story, so I did. Several times, Melanie went out of her way to lean over or around me, awkwardly. I said nothing about it, made no faces – I HATE scenes and I ESPECIALLY hated the idea of THIS scene in THIS place with THESE people.

My little guy came running breathlessly into the kitchen at this point yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!” I stood up and he started to speak at warp speed about his brother and a cut while pulling me out of the kitchen. As he passed behind Melanie, she stepped back from the sink, grabbed his hand from mine and told me, “I’ll take care of it, they’re on my time, now. Sit.” He told her that he wanted Mommy to fix it and tried to pull away from her. She knelt down and started to give him a speech about the difference between ‘Mommy Time’ and ‘Daddy and Melanie Time’, while all that I could think about was “his brother and a cut” so I stepped out of the kitchen through another door and went in search of my older son. As I passed by Phil, he saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong and I told him and we both ventured to the playroom where the kids were playing games to find Big Guy sitting there with a fairly large cut on his forearm, bleeding heavily, having fallen back on a toy with a sharp edge. At this point, I could hear Little Guy having a meltdown in the kitchen and, as Big Guy wanted me to fix his cut, Phil squeezed my arm and told me that he would handle Little Guy and left the room.

There was quite a brouhaha in the kitchen while I was in the bathroom and John’s wife came in to check on us, practically in tears about the wound. I told her to please not worry about the cut, it happens, little boys roughhouse, it wasn’t mortal and she shouldn’t feel so bad. Upon finishing up in the bathroom, though, she wouldn’t let me leave as we could still hear raised voices in the kitchen. Melanie, evidently, insisted to Little Guy that when he’s on ‘Daddy and Melanie Time’ that he can ONLY ask them for help, no matter who else is around and he has to let only them handle it. Little Guy told her that he wanted Mommy to help because Mommy was the best at fixing cuts. They both insisted on their own point of view and Richard, John and Phil all had to get involved to convince Melanie to back off and let Little Guy go. The continued raised voices in the kitchen were, evidently, a new tirade about the inappropriateness of me being present at the party, me butting in on her and Phil’s time, me swooping in to rescue a situation that they were perfectly capable of handling, etc. I stood patiently in the bathroom with John’s wife, waiting for the argument to end. It was the first time that I heard, first hand, exactly how awful and horrible a person I am and have been for years and years. I was hoping against hope that my kids were too engaged, again, to be listening to it, in any case. John’s wife just held my hand and patted my arm and apologized every few minutes.

And then Big Guy was heard, in the kitchen, telling Melanie that if she didn’t have anything nice to say that she shouldn’t say anything at all and that she absolutely wasn’t allowed to say bad things about Mommy when Mommy didn’t do anything wrong. Little Guy followed that up with, “You’re a bad, bad lady!”

I finally exited the bathroom, at that point, against John’s wife’s protest. I sat down on the floor between my two boys and did my best to explain that everyone just wants to take care of them and do the best thing for them and we were scared about Big Guy’s cut so everyone got a little bit crazy and we needed to calm down, say we’re sorry and move on. I was SEETHING inside but letting the boys know that wasn’t going to help anything, at all, at that point. Phil pushed Melanie to apologize and I encouraged the boys to accept it and everyone moved off into their own corners, not feeling at all better but having given it a go.

I looked at Richard and asked him if we could leave and he went to gather our coats. Phil was murmuring to Melanie and she finally looked at me to say something. I put my hand up and told her that I was meeting all of these folks for the first time and my kids were there and I did not trust myself not to make a scene right then and there, so I would prefer to leave without any further conversation between us. She responded that they were her kids, too, now and I was going to have to learn to deal with that. Richard wrapped my coat around my shoulders, turned me around and we left before I tried to kill her or said another word.

The next evening, when bringing the boys back to me, Phil asked why I had stayed when I knew that it would cause so much turmoil. I told him that I stayed because I was hoping that my relationship with this man who was actually RELATED to the other people at the party was actually going somewhere and because I presumed, 3-6 years later, that the three of us could be adults and there would be no turmoil and because, once I walked in, had I walked back out, the boys would have been disappointed and asked a thousand questions that no one wants to answer yet. He told me that it would have been easier if I had just left and let Richard enjoy the party with them. I told him that he was entitled to his opinion.

This is long enough, so suffice it to say that there has been more discussion about it, since then, with the boys and while they are still a bit cool to Melanie, they are no longer demanding that she not be around. Richard and I are doing well and John and I had a lovely coffee.

Should I have left as soon as I realized the awkward circumstances? Phil still insists that that’s the only way to avoid this situation in the future, should it ever come up again. I told him that I left HIM for that reason and that his fiancée needs to grow up. 1204-12

Isn’t it fascinating to actually hear both sides of a dilemma?  This unique situation did confirm to me that it is possible to get to the nitty gritty issues without ever hearing the other side,  however.  I had already reached conclusions and my opinion based solely on the first submission I had received which was the stepmom, Melanie’s story.   Receiving the ex-wife’s submission merely confirmed my initial thoughts.   So here goes….

There are three major rules in play in this situation.

1.  Children are never, ever, EVER to be used as pawns in adult games and conflicts.  There are no caveats to this, no exemptions.  You don’t hide behind the children, don’t use them to be your mouthpiece, don’t manipulate them in order to achieve control over another adult, you don’t draw them into the fray as an ally, and the list goes on.   Children should never be used as the “battleground” over which adults choose to fight.

2.  One question often repeated by me on this site and one I believe everyone should be use to assess motivations is, “Who is being served by this?”  A lot of etiquette dilemmas could be avoided if people thought to ask this question of themselves.  If you are serving your own agendas, you are probably wading into dire Etiquette Hell straits and need to back out before you really screw it up.

3.   The third rule deals specifically with hospitality so I’ll save that for a little later.

Stepmom Melanie admits that Ex-wife/Mom, “doesn’t say anything bad about us to their two kids”, which is far more decent than most divorced parents.  Ex-wife/Mom is serving her kids, and indirectly her ex-husband and his fiancee, by not poisoning their minds to serve her own agenda.  Whether they trust and fall in love with their soon-to-be step mom will rise or fall solely on Stepmom’s own behavior.

The children became the battleground when Stepmom Melanie initiated an “avoidable mess” regarding the ADULT issue of how children are to be shared by literally restraining Little Guy from getting help from his primary caregiver, his mother.   Moms in general are the more nurturing parent and it stands to reason that if something is amiss, a child will go to the parent that has the most input in their lives which in this case is Ex-wife/Mom.  If we ask the question, “Who is being served?”, of this situation, clearly the child is being served when he seeks comfort and help from his primary parent.   Stepmom Melanie betrayed her own agenda to serve herself when she turned a minor crisis into an opportunity to enforce her fiance’s custody of his children.  If you had backed away and let Mom and Dad handle the problem, all would have been over within 10 minutes with peace reigning in the host’s house.   There was a whole lot of adult drama and angst about a few minutes of parental custody “vagueness” in the midst of a minor emergency that was completely unnecessary.

I am somewhat baffled as to how Stepmom/Melanie can call Little Guy and Big Guy “ours” when it is highly unlikely the judge awarded shared custody to a mother and father and his fiancee.   Bearing the title of “fiancee” or even “wife” does not bestow upon a person the rights and privileges of having a child’s trust and affection.  It is completely unrealistic to believe that a child, in a situation he considers an emergency, should not go directly to his mother but rather mentally remember which parent has legal custody at the moment and choose that parent.  In other words Melanie, you took up your fiance’s offense about custody issues and in the world of etiquette there isn’t a whole lot of grace extended to you.   You will have a happier future marriage and relationship with your stepkids and even their mother if you fade into the background on these matters.  If Phil is not willing to address custody issues he may have with his wife or chooses to not address it in the midst of a crisis, you are not helping matters being his mouthpiece.   Step back and think, “Who is being served”?, and if the answer is, “The children are best being serving”, you won’t go wrong.

A warning to Ex-wife/Mom.  I noticed how, in this story, you used the children as your mouthpiece to really drive home the point of how poorly you view Melanie.   The kids may have said as you reported and believe Melanie to be a wicked witch but they are still too young to understand the consequences of their words and you reporting their behavior to others exposes their indiscretions and does plant in listeners’ minds a picture that you may think is unflattering to Melanie but I would also council is unflattering to your kids and you.   I sincerely hope you are not doing this in real life as this would be an example of misusing children as allies in an adult conflict.

And finally, to the issue of hospitality and shared custody…

A host decides who he or she would like to invite into their home or wedding or any other function they happen to be hosting.  A guest has no business whatsoever influencing the guest list or adding to it or working surreptitiously behind the scenes to discourage other guests from attending.   If you feel you cannot be civil for a few hours, then by all means YOU decline the invitation.   Here on Ehell, we are all about taking responsibility for your own actions since one cannot be responsible nor change the actions of others.  Calling the host to imply an ultimatum that its either you or the other guest is beyond rude and again, serves who?   You!   You’ve put the host in the incredibly awkward position of having to take sides in your stupid divorce wars all because you cannot grow up and learn to act like civil adults.   The host’s home, or where it is they have chosen to host their shindig, is neutral ground in the personal wars.   Truces must be made and kept, peace accords honored on neutral ground.  That means you learn to act like civil, decent, respectable guests in your host’s home.  There is a time and place for serious discussions and a holiday party is not one of them.

My father divorced my mother long after the kids had grown and left home but he was a true gentleman who behaved with utmost decorum and civility on the occasions where he and Mom were in attendance at family functions.   I still remember with fondness the memory of he and Mom dancing together at my niece’s wedding as they both put aside any differences they had to make the wedding all about their granddaughter.  They talked pleasantly and even laughed a few times during the dance and afterwards went to their separate tables.   My Dad never behaved in a way that encouraged the taking of sides in the divorce and to this day, I consider that a gift.  What is the legacy you are leaving your children? What memories are you giving your children?

Should Ex-Wife have left when she realized her ex-husband and his fiancee were also at the party?   Hospitality is not a game wherein the first guest to arrive stakes out his/her territory and the spouse that arrives later loses and must leave.   Again, this is using the host’s home as a battleground and what will result is a perpetual contest to see who can get to a party first.    The decision as to whether to stay or leave lies solely with the person who believes he/she themselves cannot or will not behave civilly.   There are always caveats to certain rules and I can imagine there are situations where the other guest will, no doubt, make a scene thus compelling you to leave for the peace of all.  But if one acts with maturity, civility and graciousness in these situations, it becomes glaringly obvious which guest is the real troublemaking dramatist and one has to believe that their invitations will dry up while yours increase.   As a frequent hostess, you best believe I would “catch on” as to who was actually the instigator of the drama and boot them from future guests lists.

So, Phil, if you believe you or your fiancee cannot behave in a civil, respectful manner in your host’s home while your ex-wife is in attendance, then by all means please decline the invitation or leave.  It is completely unacceptable to suggest that Ex-wife’s date, Richard, can stay at the party while she must depart.  Why not you stay and Melanie goes home?    Both women have acknowledged that you and Ex-wife work hard to be civil for the sake of the children and the logical conclusion I reach is that Melanie is the dramatic fly in the ointment.    I’m going to be even harsher than your ex-wife and counsel you to consider whether you are concerned by the fact that your youngest son got used in some stupid tug of war over custody by Melanie that had more to do about her insecurities than concern for the child.   I have no idea if this has been a pattern of behavior or if it is the first time but if this type of behavior continues, you have a serious dilemma on your hands.   Because your children’s wellbeing and their relationships with you may be sacrificed on the altar of someone else’s agendas, ego and self-esteem and that would be a tragedy.

Btw, the commentary section of this blog post will not be used as another battleground between the two parties.

{ 163 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie December 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Let me start this by saying that I am a stepmom to a wonderful 11 year old boy, so my response may be a little biased. I firmly believe that it takes a special person to be a good step-parent, and always based my relationship with my stepson on how I would want to be treated. Let me also say that I have a fantastic example in my stepdad (my father passed away when I was a teen). I do think that the word stepmom conjures up images of poor Cinderella, and have worked hard on negating these stigmas. I have received much praise from my in-laws for being such a good parent to our Big Guy. This has all given me great practice at being a mom, so much so that my husband and I welcomed our own Little Guy this past August. Let me also add that Big Guy is the best big brother we could have hoped for.

My husband’s ex and I are not friends, but we both work very hard on being friendly to each other for the benefit of our son. Yes I call him our son. No I am not his mom, but I have a very strong relationship with him, to the point that his mom calls me his “second momma”. We share custody and have a lot of interaction with each other. We actually spend all holidays and his birthday together as a family. Is it akward, absolutely. Is it fun, not so much. Is it important, more than we probably understand. My point here is that BOTH parties involved need to put aside their issues to be there for the kids. Problems will continue to arise for years to come but they are your problems and not the childrens. All involved need to act like adults when issues do come up. No one needs to leave an event due to the other being there, just treat each other the way you would want to be treated and you will get through it. You may not like it, but its not about you. Maybe a good start would be a family outing to the park…

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neverlostfaith December 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm

To the “step mom” you never ever ever step on “Bio Mom’s” toes when it comes to her children. Regardless of whether it is your time with the children or not. The biological mother should always have control of their childrens health care and well being. I have two biological children and two step children. My first husband is re-married therefore my children also have a step mother and step sisters. The first thing I told my first husband when he announce his engagement was, ” Just make sure she knows who the mother is.” Transversly, I would NEVER intentionally step on the toes of my step daughters’ biological mother. She is their mother, she carried them, she raised them, she knows their health history a lot better then I do. I would certainly consult with her on anything regarding the welfare of her children. My childrens’ step mother has always been respectful of me and I have valued her input.

The key here is RESPECT. Respect boundaries. Respect the fact that the biological mother carried these children, gave birth to these children and has a relationship with these children that is as long as their lives.
As adults you ALL should have been able to be civil at the holiday party. Shame on you.
I’m sorry if you disagree, but the biological mother always comes first.

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Sarah Jane December 14, 2012 at 9:02 am

Neverlostfaith, I would appreciate your willingness to clarify your statement that “the biological mother always come first.” Surely you recognize that the CHILDREN come first, and it is the CHILDREN’s need to be cared for by their mother that comes first. Your need to point out that everyone remembers “who THE MOTHER is” sounds a little egocentric and indicative of the Golden Uterus Complex, although I’m sure you didn’t intend it that way. A mother does not have to assert her title to feel important, and parenting a child among divorced parents and stepparents has nothing to do with the biological mother’s needs or her sense of entitlement to respect or the notion that her feelings trump everyone else’s. I see nothing in your post about the importance of the role of the biological father or his right to control the children’s health and well-being. I certainly hope your children aren’t getting the impression that Mommy is the most important parent here and the only adult who really matters.

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Enna December 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

@ Sarah Jane, I think Neverlostfaith is talking about respecting and excepting biological mothers of her step children. E.g she shows respect to the bio-mum of her step children and the stepmother of Neverlostfatih’s children respect her in turn. I can see where Neverlostfaith is coming form e.g. if a child is hurt then biological mum is going to to want to help as that is instinctive – however if bio-mum thinks it is okay for her children to smoke drugs and step mum says no, then step mum has the child’s best interets at heart.

I don’t think any adult behaved well here and that they also need to be careful that the children don’t play the adults off against each other to gain, whether it’s materail gain or point scoring or what – children can be very mainuplative especailly if they want to get back at their parents for divorcing. I think feelings were clearly running high as one child was injured – if Melanine held onto one child to keep him/her out of the way then that is one thing but she shouldn’t of brought the custodey battle into it as she is at a public event. I also think that the biological mum and dad should do their best not to “dig” at each other.

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Enna December 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm

P.S I do agree with Admin – if you go to a party with lots of people why complain so much aboutsomeone you don’t like being there? Ex wife was trying to avoid Melaine, maybe she wasn’t ready to talk to Mel then? Do not use children as a way to point score of each other that’s not on. If someone you don’t like has been invited too you don’t have to go.

It is hard to tell if Phil’s and Mel’s relationship started pre or post divorce.

Respect is a two way street.

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Mabel December 14, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Excellent response, Admin.

I dated a guy who had a little girl. I helped raise her from three to seven, but she was not my child. It was difficult to be civil to her mother, whom I disliked, but I did it because THAT WAS HER MOTHER. There was nothing to be gained for me to be anything other than pleasant with her.

Melanie: You may love them like your own, but they are NOT your kids. Sorry. Welcome to the wonderful world of stepparenting. Do your best to get along with Mom or the kids will suffer. This is NOT about you.

Mom: There is no competition here. Good for you for not badmouthing your kids’ father to them, whether he cheated or not. I can’t tell from this one way or the other. Do your best to get along not only with him, but with her.

Phil: Sheesh. I don’t even know what to say to you. Admin said it best. If Melanie can’t keep it together, both of you need to vamoose. It’s not worth the drama. The kids don’t need that. She’s your fiancee. You picked her. It’s up to you to mitigate any conflict with your children and ex.

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Alpaca December 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

Having read both sides now I can only be sure of one thing.
That Melanie and the Ex both didn’t write everything that had happened, leaving out the “bad” things that would set them in a bad light in their opinion.
Another thing i have realized by reading the comments here is that your own mood colours the events that happened.

Was Melanie wrong to asume that just because she was there first, or came to the kitchen, that The Ex should leave? Yes of course.
Was she wrong to try to help Little Guy when he was talking to his Mother? Most likely.
But other than most of the comments here i do not think she had a malicious intent by “keeping a child from his mother”
If we look at both sides here :

Melanie “While I tried to get him to calm down and tell me what was going on …”
The Ex: “As he passed behind Melanie, she stepped back from the sink, grabbed his hand from mine and told me, “I’ll take care of it, they’re on my time, now. Sit.” He told her that he wanted Mommy to fix it and tried to pull away from her. She knelt down and started to give him a speech about the difference between ‘Mommy Time’ and ‘Daddy and Melanie Time’”

I don’t disregard one for the other because i am pretty sure that the way they think of each other coloured their memories and their perception of the moment.

Everyone knows how it is to have an aquaintance/colleague that we do not like. Just imagine that person saying something perfectly innocent like “Oh whats that on your desk?” it would be easy to for someone not liking that person to understand “OH! What is THAT on your desk?”

What if the little guy ran in to talk to his mother and Melanie really did try to help and calm him down…by using the wrong choice of words?
What if she said “Hey little guy, is everything okay? How ybout you tell me what happened, you know it is Daddy and Melanie time.”
All The Ex could (justifiably) understand is “Its Daddy and Melanie time so you tell me what is wrong.”

For all those saying that Melanie thinking of her fiances kids as “ours” is just wrong, wrong , wrong.
I think it is wrong to think that she shouldn’t be calling them “ours”.
The children would never ever feel included if Melanie called them “his”. They could always think ” Well Melanie isn’t our Mom because she doesn’t say we’re her kids.”
I know i wouldn’t respect a Woman as my mother if she never ever called me her child.

Yes, the ex will always be THE Mom. But Melanie will be their mom too.
Instead of thinking of Melanies “ours” as “soley ours” they should think of it as “also ours”
The children will have two loving mothers. People should be happy about that

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Kit December 16, 2012 at 11:34 am

@Laura Payne: Your situation of “our children” is rather different, IMO. Yours is “my children”+”your children”=”our children”, and I think everyone understands this kind of shortening. Compare it to your husband telling you “I have packed our toothbrushes” – obviously, he doesn’t mean he has packed a bunch of used-by-everyone toothbrushes, but rather, his and yours. But now imagine he would add “I have also packed our tampons”…?

I think Vermin has it right, and Phil is the bad guy. ;) As to whether the relationship started before or after, it may be both of them are right. Imagine such a situation: your husband is going to a golfing event with his coworkers (and possibly their partners), both male and female. You would like to go with them, but he tells you that you are such a lousy player that nobody would have fun if you came along. You swallow it bitterly and stay home. Later on, you happen to meet one of single female coworkers who were on that event, who would happily chirp to you: “oh, I know I am really no good at golf, but luckily, your husband helped me all the time!”. Maybe you would like to go with your husband to a party “your partners included” at his workplace, but he says you would have no fun anyway and babysitters are so expensive so you better stay home with kids and he goes to party… to dance with a just-friend-coworker. And now imagine that such kind of things happen more or less regularly for two years. Maybe, for a young and naive woman it is indeed that they are just being great friends with the man. For the wife, though, it is a very clear case of emotional cheating, and of course such a behaviour from husband *would* break the marriage apart.

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postalslave December 17, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thank you to all the “real moms” and ex wives who posted their views on this. You have validated my reasons for never dating a man who has children.

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MonkeysMommy December 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Honestly, I was all prepared to think the worst of Melanie, but the Moms story is so over done and detailed that it reveals way more than her words. My children have an amazing step father, but my ex has not remarried, and I was the stepmother to My ex’s child, so I’ve been on all sides of the coin. I think Mom should be happy Melanie loves the kids, and thinks of them as “ours”; many step parents are not like this, and it causes the non-custodial parent to spend less time with the kids because their new spouse doesn’t care for the kids. Count your blessings, I can only hope my ex will marry someone who actually is good to the kids.

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Amethyst Ribbons December 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I do not think this is a very good example of stepparents or custodial issues. I know there are a lot of ex’s and new girlfriends who are like this, but if everyone would take a breath and THINK before speaking, many of these issues would not happen. We are emotional creatures and those pesky emotions can make our common sense go out the window sometimes.

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Green Eyes December 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Dear Ex-Wife, Melanie & Phil,
Your story has taught me one great lesson:
Never, ever submit a story to any website looking for validation of your side. From your follow-up letter, it sounds like you guys typically handle things reasonably well and this happened to be one situation where the three of you were caught off-guard and not prepared to behave appropriately. However, the judgement of the internet will always leave you wanting. They will read into this single incident and make all three of you out to be selfish/abusive/distant/etc. parents. We all have bad days. It’s best not to air them on the internet.
The only advice I have for you guys is this: Melanie is now part of the parenting scheme. Instead of talking to her “only when necessary” she should be included in parenting discussions between ex-wife and Phil. And, if/when this or another man becomes a major part in ex-wife’s life, the same should be true for him. This is important because, even if ex-wife & Phil retain final say, she now has a stake in the kiddos’ well-being and there will be less miscommunication through hearsay. It may even allow you a smoother flow when you do find yourselves thrown together unexpectedly.

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Becky January 26, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I have a stepmom who came into my life when I was about 12 or 13, and we are not super close but we get along well, and I enjoy spending time with her and my dad whenever I can. But it’s unreasonable to expect that she would ever become equally important to me as my mom. Melanie needs to realize that her future stepkids already have a mother, and she will never replace her. The kids will always go to their parents first when they need something. The sooner she accepts that, the sooner they can start forming a healthy step-child/step-parent relationship, which will never be exactly like a child/parent relationship but good and rewarding in its own right.

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