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Holiday Party Custody Battles

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.

{ 165 comments… add one }
  • Abby December 10, 2012, 11:36 am

    I don’t even see how this is an issue of her side vs. her side. I mean, ex wife’s side paints a pretty ugly picture of Melanie, but even if we completely discount her side as lies (I mean for argument’s sake, not because they are lies) Melanie still comes off as the wrong party here.

    By Melanie’s own admission, the ex wife limits her catty comments to Phil only. She does not badmouth Melanie or Phil to their kids or other people. In Melanie’s version (the version most likely to paint Melanie in the best light and the ex wife in the worst), the only crime the ex is guilty of is a few catty comments to her ex husband.

    I know it’s Melanie’s opinion that the ex wife should have slunk home from the party immediately upon seeing Melanie and Phil were “there first”, and should have left the room when Melanie entered (even though she was there first, so by Melanie’s own previous logic, *Melanie* should have left the room), and should have ignored both her screaming son and her injured son (as evidenced by Melanie’s perception that Ex “snuck” out of the room to attend to her son, as if Ex needed Melanie’s permission to attend to her injured child and disobediently went anyways without it), and should not have “swooped in like a hero”, ie let her kids cry so Melanie could handle it in her own way, but hopefully that is not an opinion shared by anyone else because if you ask me, that is ludicrous.

    So, I fail to see, even using *only* Melanie’s biased version, how Ex did anything wrong at the party. And then when you go on to read Ex’s version, you see that Melanie actually caused all the drama! Even if only 10% of what Ex said is true (and I can believe that Ex may have exaggerated some), that still makes Melanie look pretty bad, and she didn’t come off that great in her own version of events.

    Can someone please share with me anything they picked up that makes Ex at fault at all in this particular situation? Because I see this as 100% Melanie’s fault.

  • LadyPhoenix December 10, 2012, 11:46 am

    Two sides, two stories. Hard call to see which is true or not.

    I will say however, to both gals, that as the admin say — don’t use the kids to fight your battles. If you got a beef with each other, find a private moment (NOT a holiday party) and vent your frustrations out on each other. Then find a common ground in which you two can behave. When it comes to the child’s injuries, don’t fight over who will take care of the kid — just take care of the child. The fact you’re using the kid’s injuries to serve yourself if BEYOND deplorable.

    Melanie, just because the ex is in the same room as you doesn’t mean SHE HAS to leave. It is either your responsibility or hers to leave if you 2 can’t play nice. She didn’t leave, meaning either she wanted to start drama — or she could be civil. You didn’t, thinking that SHE has to leave because you can’t be civil with her. You are at fault.

    I wish there was a neutral party, like a friend or someone from the party. I think both parties are wrong.

  • Lilac December 10, 2012, 11:47 am

    This story hits home in some ways for me. The second letter could have been written by me–not for content but definitely for tone. I recognize her voice and I think she has handled her situation in the same way I handled my divorce in some ways. A few differences–my ex had a blatant affair that led to our divorce. It started right after the birth of our second child so I was pretty devastated as I was a stay at home mom with two little ones. I had a lot of very bad feelings about this “other woman” and my ex. All my close friends and family were my sounding boards so they knew how I felt. But my kids NEVER did and still don’t. They still have not heard one bad think come out of my mouth about their dad or his new wife. But I can’t say that my doing this has been all about the kids–and this is what I am picking up from the ex wife. I think she is keeping it civil for her kid’s sake–but also for her own. I see in her what I know about myself–I can’t help feeling just a little bit smug about the way I have handled things. It’s been a point of pride for me to handle the situation in the best possible way for my kids. I don’t think the pride always reflects very well on me to be truthful, but the results do. My primary motive has always been keeping my kids from getting hurt and it’s worked–my kids are pretty awesome 🙂 I think this mom reached the same conclusion I did early on–let the kids figure out their dad and his wife from their own behavior. Listen–don’t talk. Don’t influence their opinions. Don’t come off as bitter or angry. I recognize the tone of this mom’s written voice–she has a lot of feelings about this woman and her ex but she has made an decision within herself to behave well. And this is why her version of the story rings true–I think she takes personal pride in not coming off as a bitter ex and in behaving well for the sake of her kids. From my own experience, I know that this can also be a little manipulative and self-satisfying. She is probably secretly getting a lot of satisfaction from the fiancee’s antics and the fact that she (the mom) comes out looking better. It’s a bit manipulative in that she knows that the more she plays against type (the harpy ex-wife), the more unreasonable and shrewish the new wife looks. I’m not implying that this is her intention–I think her kids are her first consideration. I just think she is probably enjoying the side effect. Her thoughts don’t have to be pure though, only her motives. I just think she may also be inwardly gloating that Melanie is showing herself to be insecure and selfish and the mom hasn’t had to lift a finger to make it happen. Melanie better figure out that she has set herself up to be the hated step-mom all on her own. The mom hasn’t had to do a thing to undermine her. She is just sitting back and watching, popcorn in hand.

  • Amy December 10, 2012, 11:47 am

    Am I the only one who feels that the Ex-Wife is bitter, and exaggerated or fabricated a lot of the details in the story? They say the more detail a story has, the more likely it is to be a lie. She seems super resentful, and out to make Melanie look as horrible as possible. I’m certainly not saying Melanie is innocent in this — she could have handled things much better than she did. But Ex-Wife just seems so… hateful. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if she’s reading these comments, cackling to herself because everyone seems to have villainized Melanie.

  • Annie December 10, 2012, 11:49 am

    Right on, Admin. Melanie, are you a teenager or something? Even reading your side of the story, you sure sound like one.

    I don’t understand why you can’t all act like adults. My uncle and his ex-wife have both been coming to all our family events since they got divorced over 30 years ago. There was plenty of bad behavior around the time of the divorce too. You have to get over this stuff and act like adults for the sake of your children.

  • B December 10, 2012, 11:49 am

    It’s curious that Melanie says the ex “divorced” Phil and then the admin says her father “divorced” her mother. The use of the term this way seems to connote that one person imposed the divorce on the other, and that Phil or the admin’s mother may never have wanted to be divorced.

    Is that how other people take it? I thought it was correct to say that two people “got a divorce,” which doesn’t suggest any blame/innocence.

  • Bint December 10, 2012, 11:50 am

    “But chastising her for being a parent to these children when they live with her (therefore they are her kids)”

    This is not a definition of a parent. They are also her fiance’s children, not her stepchildren. I agree it is a positive that she wishes to be involved in their lives, but calling them ‘ours’ when justifying keeping one child *from his mother* is outrageous.

  • Lisa December 10, 2012, 11:54 am

    Melanie needs to re-think her role in this relationship. As we’ve seen, husbands and wives come and go, but children will be your children forever, and as admin said, should NEVER be used as a pawn for adult issues. As a stepmother myself, I immediately knew where I was on the totem pole; I was Lisa, and Mom and Dad were Mom and Dad. I never overstepped that boundary, always regarded their mother politely, and have a warm and loving relationship with the kids (who are now adults). They even acknowledge me on Mothers day. Phil needs to grow a spine where his kids are concerned, and Melanie needs to read up on how to be an effective step parent. It can be a beautiful relationship if handled correctly. Kudos to the ex-wife for being the only mature adult in this equation.

  • Princess Buttercup December 10, 2012, 11:54 am

    Whew, talk about opposite sides of the story. While both are claiming they try to be civil, they are both proving the opposite. Both are trying to disparage the other and prove they are superior. You want to know what is superior? Letting it go!
    I know someone who has friends in common with me so we see each other once in a while, however she has always been rude and trying to one up me. In return, when we are together, I don’t pay her much attention. It’s not necessary to individually speak to every person at a gathering.
    Let it go, don’t let others control your life and make you into the annoying guest that causes problems.

  • Annie December 10, 2012, 11:56 am

    One additional thought: your children expressed joy to have you all in the same room together. Isn’t that enough to make you work out your differences so you can all be in the same room together?

  • WildIrishRose December 10, 2012, 12:02 pm

    It often amazes me how grown adults cannot seem to behave themselves. Those poor kids. And Melanie, please don’t try to force Phil’s kids to think of you as their “mother.” My mother and stepfather made that mistake with my siblings and me, and it was a disaster like you would not believe. We absolutely HATED our stepfather!! And we resented the two of them making us call him “Dad,” etc. He turned out to be a horrible person and the marriage disintegrated after about three years–but we got the blame for that too. Don’t push his kids too hard. It won’t end well for anyone.

  • acr December 10, 2012, 12:12 pm

    As soon as I read Melanie’s account of the whole kitchen situation, she lost me. Ex wife was in the kitchen. Melanie should not have attempted to chase her out, as she admits to doing. Melanie was also TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY wrong for getting between Ex wife and the child. Melanie IS NOT THE PARENT.

  • Lisa December 10, 2012, 12:15 pm

    If there wasn’t the underlying current of Melaine being the “mistress”, this most likely wouldn’t have escalated as it did.

    With 50%+ of all marriages ending in divorce, the “new normal” I have seen is parents actually co-parenting. I see the biggest issues occur when there is animosity from the past relationship.

  • Carrie December 10, 2012, 12:16 pm

    I feel sorry for the kids and the hosts and would love to get John’s side of the story. As for the three of you, Marozia said it best- “You all deserve each other.” If you can’t suck it up, quit acting like babies and plaster fake smiles on your faces on the occasions you do see one another, how do you expect to raise these kids with proper etiquette and respect for others? These situations like the unfortunate one above only serve to frustrate the kids and turn them against everyone involved.

    And Melanie, how could you think the polite thing for the ex to do was leave? She had just as much right to be there as you, and asking your hosts to choose sides when it comes to invitations is beyond the pale. If someone issued me that ultimatum, I’d never invite those people again.

  • k. December 10, 2012, 12:18 pm

    How sad for the children that neither the ex wife and the fiancee can get over their issues long enough to put on a brave face and make the best of having to be around each other. The most notable thing to me from reading both accounts is that anyone who has been in an awkward social situation makes an effort to avoid the person with whom they are trying to avoid a scene, yet these two keep putting themselves directly in each other’s paths. When Melanie saw the ex in the kitchen washing dishes, she should have found a different way to enjoy the party. Similarly, when Melanie took over on dishes, the ex could have casually suggested sitting elsewhere, perhaps continuing the conversation in front of the tree or similar. Even at a small gathering, it is possible to keep one’s distance to avoid conflict. It very much seemed as if both were trying to stay in the same room, out of fear of what the other would say in their absence.

    While I agree that Melanie was out of line during the situation with the childen, I also understand how the pressures of the evening may have affected her behaviour. With the unexpected appearance of the ex, it seems as though she felt pressure to show her friends that she is serious about being a part of Phil’s life and that she could be good with his children, hence her overwhelming need to be needed. Her behaviour may have been massively inappropriate, but I think it was rooted more in insecurity than any sort of maliciousness.

    One thing that bothered me about the ex’s account: when she sarcastically referred to Melanie saying that she wanted to be around her dearest friends. Both accounts acknowledge that the hosts were good friends of Melanie’s and that the ex didn’t know them as well. The sarcasm made me less understanding of the ex’s point of view, as though she were trivializing Melanie’s connection to the host and her right to be at the party. While I do not think that the ex should have left the party after realizing that Phil and Melanie were there, I think that given the dynamics of the situation, it would have been better to meet everyone, stay for a reasonable amount of time, and then find a reason to politely make an exit. Given the unexpected dynamic, it would have been better to have made future plans with Richard’s family so that they could get to know her as Richard’s new girlfriend instead of Phil’s ex-wife.

    All that being said, these two need to sit down with a neutral third party and talk about how they are going to handle situations like these in the future. Neither of these women sound like bad people but they need to learn how to overlook their interpersonal conflicts when it comes to the children. Melanie needs to know why behaviour like that was inappropriate, just as much as the ex should be able to find ways for Melanie to be included when she wants to be helpful. Even if the two women are never able to get along, they need to learn how to handle situations in a way that doesn’t put the kids in the middle.

  • Sarah December 10, 2012, 12:22 pm

    I suspect that neither account is 100% objective, but, like others, I was finding the fault to be Melanie’s even when reading Melanie’s own letter. Even before the whole ordeal with the brother and his cut, Melanie first complains about the ex leaving whenever she and Phil enter the room — and then she complains that when she deliberately entered the kitchen and took the ex’s place, hoping the ex would leave, then the ex DIDN’T leave! It sounds like the ex had been doing exactly the right thing by giving Melanie and Phil a wide berth, but Melanie was simply unable to cope with just knowing the ex was in the same house.

    And expecting the kid to understand that even when he’s panicked, he’s supposed to ignore his mother and go to Melanie instead, is just ridiculous.

  • LovleAnjel December 10, 2012, 12:22 pm


    Do not fool yourself. Their mother is their mother. You will be their stepmother. You will always take a back seat to her. If you cannot handle that, do not marry a man who already has children.

    My husband’s parents divorced & remarried when he was a child. His stepmother claimed (and still claims) that she was the one who raised him and was more like a mother to him than his own mother. Besides being untrue, this has driven a wedge between them. It took a long time for my husband to stop resenting his stepmom for the way she acted towards him. When she says the same thing to me, I have a hard time not rolling my eyes at her. It makes her look petty and sad.

    Do not be that petty, sad woman. Accept your place in the children’s lives.

  • Cat Whisperer December 10, 2012, 12:24 pm

    “1. Children are never, ever, EVER to be used as pawns in adult games and conflicts.”

    ABSOLUTELY a grand slam. Hole-in-one. Bull’s-eye. A perfect “10.”

    Decent people do not use their children, or the children of people they profess to love, as weapons to punish or revenge themselves against people they do not like. People who use their children, or the children of people they profess to love, as weapons, are not decent people. It’s that simple.

    It should also be noted that decent people do not put those who have offered them hospitality in uncomfortable or inconvenient situations. As Admin noted, if you as a guest cannot guarantee that you will not put your host in an uncomfortable or inconvenient situation, it is your duty to politely decline any invitations issued by the host; and if you’ve accepted hospitality and a situation arises after your arrival in which you believe you cannot behave as a considerate and courteous guest, it is your duty to remove yourself, politely and without inflicting drama on your host.

    Final word to Melanie: dear lady, if your relationship with Phil prior to his divorce was truly above reproach and there is nothing that you said or did that cannot stand the light of day, and if you are known as a person who will always choose to take the “high road” in your personal behavior, then you don’t need to worry about what people say about you, because you know that no one will believe bad things. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Unassailably good behavior in all aspects of your life is armor against the snide remarks and innuendos of people armed with ill-will. Admin has given you some good advice in this column. You will not regret it if you take it to heart.

  • Harley Granny December 10, 2012, 12:28 pm

    I am the last wife…as in my husband was married before and has one son.
    I understand Melanie’s insecurities…..BUT!!!
    Must to her disgust we traveled in the same social circle. I have to admit that in the beginning we were not the most well behaved current and ex there ever was some fault her’s but just as equally mine. But I never ever claimed that child over her. Mine was the insecurity and her’s was the fear of losing her son to his father’s new family.

    I picked him up from school, cooked his food, clothed and bathed him, kissed his boo-boos, laughed and cried with him just as much if not more than she did. I’m earned my extra Granny stripes. I will tell people that he’s been mine since he was six but he’s been her’s forever. If we were in the situation, I would have had no problem letting him run to her.Even after all these years, I know my place.
    He’s now 30, has two daughters and two Mom’s.

    Grow up, get over it both of you.

  • Stepmomster December 10, 2012, 12:29 pm

    Newsflash… you didn’t give birth to those children, and it doesn’t matter if you take care of them for the next 20 years… not your children. My fiance’s ex wife is a recovering addict that is still learning how to behave in public, she has tantrums and regularly falls apart in front of the kids, and those children STILL don’t belong to me. We are the “extra” parent, another pair of hands/eyes/ears to help out when mom isn’t around, but not mommy. If the kids run to me instead of their mom, we all relax and deal with it. Truth is, they always go to daddy first.

    If i behaved the way the fiancee did at the party i would destroy all the progress his ex wife has made in recovery and cheat her out of a relationship with her children, and it would be selfish. I have to swallow my pride on a daily basis, and let the woman try to be a mother, and the issues that come from that are not my problem, but my Fiance’s and his ex wifes issues.

    Your Fiancee’s ex sounds like a normal woman, enjoy it, because there is nothing worse than having to deal with the fallout of emotionally neglected or damaged children. Embrace that you are all parenting, ackowledge that you will never be as special as mommy and get over yourself. Kids first always. Despite all the pain of the last 5 years with my future step kids mother, they still love her, and she gets better every day. I would not take that away from them for the world. My Fiance’s ex tries really hard to be nice to me too, and despite some initial breakdowns she does apologize and we all work it out. You three have a lot more to work with, so stop the drama. Oh, and never ever again tell another woman that you have a claim to her children. You don’t. Not in the eyes of the law. If both parents died tomorrow custody would not go to you, it would go to the next available blood relative. Never let that statement pass your lips again, its divisive and damaging to the ex wife, and i hope you never are in her situation, with another woman telling you that your babies now belong to her because she happens to share a bed with your ex. divorce is terrible, don’t make it worse by trying to force the kids into a relationship with you that should occur naturally or not at all.

  • VM December 10, 2012, 12:30 pm

    Ex may be “in the right” since the best way would have been to let things proceed as the kids found it most natural, but she uses so many rhetorical flourishes in portraying herself The Wronged Woman I find it disagreeable to side with her. But I’m repulsed by Melanie too, so concerned about people thinking there’s questions about her involvement with Phil that she repeatedly insists herself legitimate heir to All Things Phil, including the attitudes of his kids.

    Pox on both their houses, frankly.

  • MamaBear December 10, 2012, 12:33 pm

    I have read many stories, but this is the first one that I am inclined to comment on…

    I am appaled by Melanie’s behavior. She seems to want to replace the ex-wife/mother not only as Paul’s love interest, but as the chidren’s mother as well. No, they are not YOUR children, you are simply the fiancée of the chilren’s father. You must earn their love, not command it.

    A child does not understand custody battles. If in his time of need the child wants to be comforted by mommy and she happens to be there, I see no reason to not let him go to his mother and to reprimand him for it is out of the question.

    Just from reading Melanie story, I was already siding with the ex-wife/mother. Being annoyed because the other person does not leave a room just because you walked in to it is childish. She sounds very controlling and self-centered.
    I am not saying that ex-wife/mother is perfect or that she hasn’t said anything spiteful to Paul/Melanie, but I think that the one with the most issues in this story is Melanie.

  • Ashley December 10, 2012, 12:33 pm

    This whole situation makes my head hurt. Everything I want to say has already been said pretty much, I just really want to repeat that grown ups need to realize when to act like grown ups and not spoiled children fighting over a toy.

  • Sarah Jane December 10, 2012, 12:38 pm

    I am so glad to see a discussion on this matter, as I am involved in a blended family/shared custody situation, and these issues are very personal to me.

    I am the stepmom, husband has shared custody with the ex-wife. Ex-wife has been a bitter ex-wife, but not for the reasons obvious here (i.e, she cannot possibly blame me for the divorce. I entered the picture later.) She has had difficulty with the children having a stepmother, and while I have never done or said anything offensive to her, she has resented me just for existing, but things have been getting slightly better over time.

    That being said, the first couple years of our marriage, hubby and I made distinct efforts to avoid any social settings where we might run into her, even when we had the children with us. Not only is she the children’s mother, she is a bit of a “smother”, and it is difficult to enjoy the children at outings if she is also present, as she tends to hover over them and micro-manage every little move they make. She is pushy and has trouble with boundaries. As the stepmom, I would never, EVER pull a child away from their mother, I don’t care whose “time” they are on. Unfortunately, she operates under a different philosophy. She creates excuses to pull them away from me when they want to give me a hug or even talk to me. She insists they call me by my first name in her presence, even though they have a nickname for me, which isn’t any variation of “mom”. So they get very confused when we are all at one event together.

    So you see, I can relate to the idea that the presence of the ex-wife can suck all the fun out of a social situation for the new wife. And vice-versa.

    Melanie, most of my advice is for you as the future stepmom, because I am in your position. If you love your man, the best thing you can do for your family is to love his children as your own. This, however, does not include trying to replace their mother. You will support their loving relationship with their mother as much as you reasonably can without giving up your role as loving stepmother. The worst thing you can do for yourself is let them (and her) see you compete with her. The only stands you will take against their mother are when and if she tries to interject herself into controlling matters in YOUR home and when and if she demeans you in front of the children. And you will take these stands ALONGSIDE your husband and not without him.

    The fact that the younger child ran to his mother is no slight to you, Melanie, and does not mean that you cannot take care of him, that you don’t love him, or that he doesn’t love and need you. It just means that was his natural response at the time, and you should be glad that his needs were met, even if it wasn’t by you and it was on your husband’s “time”. Kids don’t care about “time.” In any given situation, he might have run to a grandparent, an aunt, a babysitter, a teacher…all people who love him. And certainly his mother loves him.

    Phil, make sure your kids are comfortable showing their mother affection and respect in your presence. In addition, make sure they know they are to respect their stepmother and feel comfortable showing her affection in their mother’s presence. Support your new wife if she isn’t comfortable socializing around your ex, and remember her feelings are a priority. I completely disagree with the admin’s statement that Melanie should have left you to have fun at the party without her simply because she did not want to be around your ex. If your fiancee/wife wishes to leave, no matter the reason, you go with her.

    I take issue with admin’s criticizing Melanie for calling the children “ours”. She was not trying to assert any legal rights. Any stepparent worth his or her salt works day and night to form a new “family” and claims the stepchildren as “his” or “hers” in every sense other than the legal. No decent stepparent detaches from the children and treats them as “guests” in his or her home. I don’t think the admin would criticize any grandparent for calling the child “theirs” in the family sense.

    Ex-wife and mother, I am an ex-wife and mother, also, and you did absolutely nothing wrong in seeing to your children’s needs while you were present, even though they were technically in their father’s physical custody. You’re still their mother. If their grandmother were there, she’s still their grandmother, their uncle, their uncle, and so on. However, your children should be reprimanded by you for calling their future stepmother (or any adult) disrespectful names. It doesn’t sound like Melanie feels that you are teaching them negative views of you, so many praises to you for that.

    I think all of you need to let the past go. No more reflecting on the divorce. It has nothing to do with the kids, and they are the ones who matter here.

    One more word to all of you: If social situations together make any of you uncomfortable, gracefully bow out. I’ve done it many times. It will save your sanity, and your real friends will understand.

    Most of all, make sure these children grow up feeling blessed that so many people love them and are looking out for their best interests. You all matter.

  • Mgirl December 10, 2012, 12:43 pm

    A few things stuck out to me here:

    1. Do these people seriously believe that they absolutely cannot all be in the same dwelling at the same time? It’s a party – there are probably dozens of other people there, it’s not like the three of you are going to be locked in a room together for hours. Insisting that you all can’t be in the same place at the same time shows that everyone here really likes to bring the drama.

    2. “You’re a bad, bad lady!” Nope. No real child has ever said this. This is definitely the Ex putting words into her child’s mouth and, like Admin said, projecting her feelings of Melanie onto her children. This is definitely not a healthy thing to do to a child, and it takes credence away from the Ex’s.

    3. From Melanie’s description of the relationship (that Phil is older), I’m going to assume she is young, maybe in her 20s. Look, I’ve been in that situation before – when I was 22 I dated a guy who was 15 years older. I know it’s difficult when you’re that young to walk into pre-existing family dynamics, and there’s going to be some immaturity and brattiness on the younger person’s part as they try to navigate the situation. However, if Melanie feels she is ready to become a wife and a stepmother, that immaturity needs to end and she needs to act like an adult.

    4. Melanie says she began the relationship after Phil was divorced, while Ex says the relationship was going on for three years of their marriage. I honestly don’t know who to believe, but … if Ex is correct, then her bitterness spilling over to this situation is understandable (though she shouldn’t let the children see that). If, however, Melanie is correct, than Ex is either paranoid or lying to manipulate people’s emotions, both of which would make me doubt the accuracy of what she says happened here.

  • Missy December 10, 2012, 12:43 pm


    I don’t know if I’d made any judgment calls on this because everyone seems to be angry and bitter still and I don’t know how much I trust the information given.

    I think the admin is spot-on about asking what is going to be accomplished. I know of what I speak. The judge has just asked my husband and me if we are interested in adopting the two little children we are currently fostering. I am dealing with a tangle of relationships right now that involves nine previous caregivers, ten grandparents, and four social workers who they see as protectors. When you decide you want a parental relationship with someone who already has history, it cannot be about you. What’s more, if you want them to trust, love and treat you like a parent, it won’t happen by interfering or belittling whatever other relationships they have. So in thinking about their needs and wants, you are actually making it easier for yourself down the road.

    But that also means that the mother in the situation has to ease up too. No matter what the kids think of Melanie now, they will not have their life improved if they are forced to maintain and distant and antagonistic relationship with her over the next decade as they move towards adulthood.

  • Laura December 10, 2012, 12:50 pm

    I’m with the other commentators who don’t believe either story. Melanie says their relationship didn’t start until after Phil and Ex were divorced, while Ex begs to differ.

    While I was reading Ex’s side of the story, her manner of writing reminded me of the EHell posting from several years ago regarding the baby shower and thank you notes- too much detail and too much eagerness to be “the good one”- The Ex was just an innocent victim and did every ehell approved method of handing it. I don’t buy it.

    I think both sides are seeing what they want to see- and both sides need to grow up. Melanie needs to understand that Ex is the mother, and therefore, in a situation like this, that the Mother will be the go to person.Ex needs to get over bitter feelings, stop acting like the innocent and somewhat Pollyanna dewy eyed innocence and take note that maybe her personal feelings are showing to her children.

    When at the same function, be cordial, and then avoid each other. Everyone in this story has moved on to be with someone they are happy with- so why does there need to be animosity? If Phil is badmouthing the ex, then he REALLY needs to grow up and be a man. When people ask, just say “It didn’t work out”. Why say things about the mother of your children? If Melanie is acting like a possessive twit, roll your eyes and leave the room. If ex is pretending to be “the bigger person”, but is really not- then leave the situation. You guys all have to get along for the sake of these children for the rest of your lives. If Phil and Ex can keep it cordial except for when Melanie is there, then maybe Phil should re-think his choices.

  • Meow December 10, 2012, 12:51 pm

    As always there are three sides to every story. I get the vibe that ex-wife’s account of events may be far closer to the truth than Melanie’s. By the tone and words of Melanie it sounds as though she wishes the ‘ex’ would just disappear- the ex should have left when she realized they were there, by how it pained her to hear that the children were happy everyone was there (really? your step children’s happiness pained you?) and the fact the ex isn’t given a name – known as ‘the ex’.

    Ex- if you are calling Melanie ‘the mistress’, you should stop, even if it is true (and I count emotional cheating as an affair too, even if nothing horizontal happened, I find it even more devastating than a random hook-up) by lowering yourself to name calling you’re standing in the way of your own happiness. The misdeeds of others should be kicked out of your head like a mooch who’s been living on your couch for a year.

    Back to Melanie (sorry, I’m not letting you off that easy) if a child is injured the situation is *not about you, starring you, directed and casted by you in any way shape or form*, it is not a moment to discuss custody arrangements with an 8 year old kid while his brother is bleeding. It is not a moment to block a mothers access to her injured child. You either get out of the way or assist in a helpful way. This isn’t the Melanie Variety Hour with the Kid Puppet Back-up Dancers.

    The bulk of the letters are mostly ‘she said, he said, and she said’ but when you put yourself ahead of the kids – the kids I’m assuming you want to have a warm relationship with – you’re not earning their respect or their trust.

    You only have a few precious years before they’re teens and you’ve completely lost your chance, so you need to decide now – do you want to be talked about or introduced as ‘My Stepmom Melanie’ or ‘my dad’s wife’? Continue down that path and I guarantee you the second. My husband still refers to my S-FIL as ‘the guy mom married’ nearly 20 years on… you decide.

  • Batale December 10, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Wow…this takes me back.

    As the child of divorced parents, parts of this story echo with me. To this day I do not understand why 3 grown adults cannot be civil with each other when children are involved. Lord knows if I was rude as a child I was reprimanded severely, but apparently once you include wedding vows any kind of etiquette goes out the window.

    FACT: The moment the children discovered all their parental figures were in the same place was a moment of joy for them. It’s no doubt something that doesn’t happen often and probably made their day. It certainly was when it happened to me. This entire argument and escalation ruined it, and you had better hope they’re not old enough to hold it against you. The battles between my parents and my stepmother weigh hard on my opinions of ALL of them to this DAY.

    FACT: No matter how strong a bond Melanie has with the kids, if their mother is in the room, of course they’re going to go to her. My stepmother would never have expected me to go to her if my actual mother was available – children seek out their mother’s when they’re hurt. Its pretty much instinctive. And so is a mother going to see their injured child – back door or otherwise.

    Finally, entering a room with someone you don’t want to talk to in the hopes that they will leave, is bullying. If you didn’t want to talk to her, don’t enter the room. If you wanted to talk to your friends, you should have gone in with the understanding that you would have to include the ex-wife in the conversation. Don’t resent her for staying in a place where she was already accepted and included – its just petty.

  • DGS December 10, 2012, 12:57 pm

    Amen, Admin! Certainly, Ex-Wife’s implication that Melanie was a slut who caused the demise of her and Phil’s marriage was unnecessary, but Melanie, cut the theatrics. Your relationship with Phil and his children will suffer if you continue to make every function about you and your significance. Phil, Melanie and Ex-wife all need to grow up (Richard sounds like a delight, though).

  • vanessaga81 December 10, 2012, 1:03 pm

    I’ve thought long and hard on this one. I am in a similar situation: my husband is divorced and has one child with his ex, who believes, that I had something to do with their divorce. I did not, although we were co-workers at the time. We became friends and eventually married. We have 2 children together now. My husband’s ex wife has never done anything, to our knowledge, to undermine the relationship that we have with their son. He is happy and well-adjusted and they co-parent excellently. I would never call my stepson “my” son in front of her as I am sensitive to that relationship, but neither would I single him out as “my husband’s son”. To anyone else, I have 3 children and I make no distinction between them. I am appalled, however at the idea of telling the child that they were on my time” and therefore, couldn’t see their mommy. That is ridiculous. I imagine both letter writers wrote these letters to make themselves look their best so I am sure we are getting part of the story in both cases and as in most conflicts, the truth lies somewhere in the middle-but Melanie does seem to be the cause of most of the drama. I do hope, for the children’s sake, that this is all dealt with sooner, rather than later and I agree that counseling might be best.

  • Nikki December 10, 2012, 1:10 pm

    I actually feel sorry for BOTH of these women. There’s an emotional tug-of-war that both seem to be going through, and I don’t for a minute think that either one felt they were doing wrong at the time – but then, “Hindsight’s 20/20” is a cliche for a reason.

    Hopefully, both of them can learn from this experience. Maybe THEY should be the ones going out for a cup of coffee to talk. No one would ask that they be best friends, but they have to learn to work together for the best interests of the kids.
    Like it or not, Melanie is about to be their step-mother, which means that she does have some claim on them. Not the same claim as their actual mother, of course, but I don’t think she’s wrong to want to call them “our children.” Indeed, I think it’s a good thing. So she’s not perfect, and maybe she has some insecurities. But she’s trying.
    When my parents divorced, my new stepmother was so jealous of us kids that she never wanted my father to spend any time with us at all – and he didn’t. The fact that Melanie is trying at all to form some sort of bond with these kids is commendable, not criminal. The more people who truly love those kids, the better for the kids in the long run. Doesn’t mean she’s never going to mess up, or make mistakes, or anything else, but then, who among us IS perfect?
    Of course, I get the real mom’s side, too, and I sympathize.

    Hopefully, these adults can all learn to get along. Otherwise, they face the possibility that these poor kids are going to grow up not liking any of them.

  • SMHL December 10, 2012, 1:13 pm

    My parents divorced a few years ago and my dad remarried. His new wife is very insecure and she refused to be at any family events where my mom was until my wedding a few months ago. Even then I was told that my parents could not sit in the same pew at the ceremony or at the same table at the reception and my dad was told that he was not to speak to my mom at all. My parent’s divorce had separated our family but it wasn’t until this woman came along that our family was really and truly broken. Even though I’m a grown woman, I get stuck in the middle when it comes to holidays and other events becasue stepmommy dearest refuses to get along with my mom.
    I CAN also sympathize with the “new wife” because I’m a second wife too. My husband was married once and he and I met right as he and his ex were divorcing. A lot of people assumed that we had been having an affiar because our relationship happened so quickly and DH actually lost a lot of friends over this. Irionically enough though, his ex wasn’t one of them. She’s remained a good friend to him over the years and she and I get along well too. She’s actually defended him to people and she was thoughtful enough to give us a bottle of wine when we got married. They took care to preserve their friendship because they share two amazing kids and she and her BF and DH and I are looking forward to having a drink together over the holidays.
    Here’s the point I’m trying to make. If a divorced couple are trying to preserve their friendship for the sake of their kids then it’s up to the “new” family to be supportive of this. When kids are involved the adults have to put on their big kid pants and learn to get along for the sake of the kids.

  • Rap December 10, 2012, 1:14 pm

    ” If it was me you physically restrained my little child from when he/she is crying for me; the momma bear in me would’ve made me want to punch you. ”

    Right, because letting the little guy scream and paw his mother as his mom dramatically tended a boo-boo is the right call. I’m sorry, does anyone really think the best answer in situation was to let the younger boy attach himself to his mom while his mom was dealing with the cut? And that its appropriate for someone holding a crying child out of a potential emergency to get punched for their troubles because mommy bear rage trumps common sense?

    I agree with an earlier poster, the second OP very much wanted it made clear that she is the wronged party, and Melissa’s affair, supposed or real, has no relevance to the actual situation. Likewise, Phil’s family taking Phil’s side, and John having heard “things” – not relevant. Also the “fact” that Phil called her controlling and how thats just not true, again not relevant. Melissa did a little of this as well, don’t think I’m letting her off the hook, but part of why I am examing Ex Wife’s testimony more critically is because she’s making it very clear she’s very angry about more than this incident… and that makes me question the truthfulness of her account.

    It sounds like the basics are this. Neither woman likes the other, everyone was surprised to see each other. Melissa wanted to spend time with her friends and on both sides of the description, it does sound like Melissa has socialized in this group before, while Ex-Wife has not. Both women admit to avoiding each other. The little boy runs in, Ex-wife runs to the Cut Boy. Melissa tries to calm down and possibly lecture Little Boy (Because ExWife has made a point of citing how wronged she is, I’ll be upfront, my honest inclinination is to think she’s exaggerating) Melissa says the kids then acted up, possibly because their mom was there, ExWife says she hid in the bathroom with John’s wife while Melissa and Phil argued with their 8 and 10 year old over how awful Exwife is. (Sadly, having seen some divorce fights, I can buy this)

    Neither woman handled this well, and this might not be the etiquette answer but they might be better served by not attending events at the same time since they clearly don’t yet have established rules about how to act if they show up to the same event during the other parent’s custodial time. Melissa needs to back off because she isn’t the step mom yet and that role only gets more difficult as time passes. ExWife needs to remember that just because she’s angry with Melissa, that doesn’t necessarily mean Melissa is doing the wrong thing. I honestly would need a second witness to confirm that Melissa was lecturing Little Guy on custodial issues before I side with Admin on this because honestly? I’ve witnessed too many divorce arguements things just get better in the telling.

    As for who should/shouldn’t leave? I actually think that’s more John and Richard’s call… and I bet they don’t invite this threesome at the same time again any time soon.

  • Angel December 10, 2012, 1:19 pm

    After reading both sides of the story, I think they are all in the wrong. The ex shouldn’t have to leave just because Phil and Melanie are at the same party, and Melanie’s act of “staking out her territory” for the ex wife is juvenile and very petty. I’m not going to say the ex isn’t wrong for referring to Melanie as a “mistress” –because she isn’t a mistress at this time, now that Phil is divorced and engaged to her–BUT, they engaged in an emotional affair for who knows how long before Phil and his ex wife divorced. I think in many ways that is much worse than a physical affair.

    Is it any wonder there are trust, insecurity, and boundary issues here? It is very ironic that two people who have absolutely no respect for marital vows are now engaged to one another.

  • Goldie December 10, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Wow. Melanie has some serious growing up to do. Who on earth does this to an eight-year-old? And, for the record, when a kid is crying because his brother is hurt and his dad’s new fiance is getting in the way of his brother being helped, for no reason other than the kids are now on “her time”, that’s not called a tantrum. That is called being a good brother.

    Phil seems to be confused as to who was the host of the party. He is not the host, he does not get to choose who’s invited, who stays, and who leaves.

    Finally, Saucygirl has a point. There will be numerous family events – children’s graduations, etc. – where both parents have to be present. Is this how things are going to go anytime Phil, Melanie and the boys’ mother are in the same room?

    The boys’ mother did a lot better than I would under the circumstances. Like other commenters, I would’ve probably lost my cool as soon as someone tried to physically restrain my child from talking to me in what he thought was an emergency. Richard, John and John’s wife sound like wonderful people, by the way.

  • Tsunoba December 10, 2012, 1:26 pm

    And suddenly, I wish I could hear my step-brother’s mother’s side of the many disputes we’ve had with her.

  • June First December 10, 2012, 1:33 pm

    Trying to place limits on the ways a child can ask for help (“This is Daddy and Melanie time”) is rather frightening.
    Otherwise, it’s time to act like grownups, not Real Housewives of Smalltown.

  • Calli Arcale December 10, 2012, 2:02 pm

    My observations:

    1) We can’t tell who is right and who is wrong, but since there are details in both stories that do not jibe, someone has to be wrong. Given the quantity of details, it is entirely possible that both contain untruths or at least stretched truths; both parties obviously have reason to do so in order to frame the story to their advantage.

    2) I find it telling that both Melanie and Ex took pains to establish circumstances of the divorce — Melanie is keen to let us know that her romantic relationship with Phil didn’t start until after he was divorced, while Ex is keen to let us know the contrary. There is history there, and both are keen to establish their preferred framing of the history before letting us into the real story.

    3) Both women are, in their own versions of the story, staking out territory. Melanie’s is more obvious, as she is attempting to fortify her claim to children who are not her own. Ex is attempting to fortify her claim to the host family and establish precedence at the party; she suggests that she has more right to be there because she is dating immediate family of the host, while Phil and Melanie are merely good friends of the host. Yet this does not actually give her any precedence. As Admin said, the hosts decide the guestlist; “precedence” only enters into it if we’re getting into royal or diplomatic protocol. At a gathering of friends and family? You’re all equals. Act like it. Melanie, her kids aren’t yours. Deal with it. Ex, your boyfriend’s family isn’t yours yet, and even if it was, it’s certainly not your house.

    4) We can definitely tell that Melanie is controlling. However, I suspect Ex has some tendencies in that direction as well; perhaps that is the sort of woman Phil is attracted to, and Melanie is just *more* controlling and thus was able to win him away. Bottom line, though, is that it doesn’t matter. Like Admin said, you are responsible for your own actions, not those of others. Watch your own behavior, follow etiquette, put others first, and you won’t go wrong.

    I have seen some divorces where there are children involved, and seen some downright soap-operaish situations. Like Admin said, the best thing to do is put the kids first. If your first priority is making sure their needs are respected and the transitions are smooth, the whole thing will go infinitely better. And as a bonus, being responsible about the kids will improve your attractiveness to other potential mates, who won’t want to touch a soap opera situation with a ten foot pole. As a for instance, I have an uncle who has been married twice. His first wife is invited to all the family gatherings too, even the ones held at his house. The divorce was a situation probably similar to this one, where fairly soon after the divorce, he was engaged to a gal from the office. So you can bet there was anger. But they both put the kids first, and that made a world of difference.

    (One minor caveat: “putting the kids first” doesn’t *always* mean being friends with the ex. If the divorce was due to abuse, then space might be better for the kids. It’s all very individual, but if you’re putting the kids first, it’s very hard to go wrong in any case.)

  • Cheryl27 December 10, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Here, even though both the ex and the fieance are both somewhat at fault, it would be up to the ex-husband and Melanie to leave. The reason being, since it is the ex-wife’s current boyfriend’s sibiling they have more of a right to be there than friends from work. As for the kids, here I agree this is between the ex’s to figure out, Melanie does not need to be invovled unless the child comes to her. Also, as a point, kids are not dumb and they are observant, I am sure to some extent the kids know what is going on/has gone on with the relationship between Melanie and their dad and the divorce. These two women need to find some common ground and Phil needs to grow a pair while informing Melaine about boundaries with his and his ex-wife’s kids. Melanie is not married into the family, yet, until then she gets absolutly no say about the kids in any aspect. Once they are married however, even though the major decisions are to be mad between the ex’s, when the boys are in Phil and Melanie’s home then she can set rules for their household only but should be in line with the rules that the mother sets in her house.

  • Tsunoba December 10, 2012, 2:09 pm

    I’d also like to comment on everyone getting on Melanie’s case about stopping the little guy when his brother was obviously hurt and bleeding:


    [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]


    [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’]

    (In brackets because I don’t feel like dealing with double and single quotes.)

    We don’t just have two different points of view here. We have two conflicting stories. Melanie says she was trying to calm down the child and find out what was going on. Mother says Melanie understood what happened and started talking about custody arrangements.

    I can’t really say which one is in the right when I can’t tell which one is telling the truth. If Mother is telling the truth, then Melanie obviously acted badly. If Melanie is telling the truth, then you can’t fault her for not reacting to something she didn’t know was happening, especially when she was trying to find out what did happen.

    Also, I read a couple other comments, and saw some people acting like Melanie was in the wrong for considering her fiance’s kids as her own. What’s wrong with that? My step-brother is not related to me or my mother, but we both love him just as much as if he was. My step-father considers me his daughter. Step-family is just as good as blood-related family.

  • momofeveryone December 10, 2012, 2:14 pm

    well, no worries about about either couple being invited to parties with this group of friends again. i was witness a few years ago to a fight between ex’s who ‘were fine together!’. needless to say, a hour and a few beers in, a huge cat fight ensued. anyone who was there now check with both groups before setting a date. normally its a date neither group can attend. oh darn! no drama! (last part is very sarcastic.)

    a side note: most married women i talk to ‘know’ when the spouse is cheating. some even know the day it started, and have it confirmed later. im inclined to believe ex-wife. a women always knows.

  • acr December 10, 2012, 2:15 pm

    For those who say they are both at fault – please tell me what the ex wife should have/ could have done differently. She came to the party. She was civil. She repeatedly left whatever room Melanie entered. She was invited to the party and had as much right to be there with Melanie. If Melanie couldn’t handle it (which apparently she couldn’t) then she and Phil should have left.

  • Shea December 10, 2012, 3:04 pm

    What a sad situation, especially for the kids. It’s interesting to see two accounts of the same story, but frankly, I doubt we’re getting anything like “the truth” from either story. They’re from two people who are both in a highly emotionally charged situation, both of whom want to make themselves look good and appear to be the wronged party, and neither of whom come over looking too good. I’m inclined to be more suspicious of the ex-wife’s story, simply from the tone of the letter and the level of detail, which to me comes across as protesting rather too much. That’s not to say that Melanie is coming off too well either, she’s obviously extremely insecure and taking it out on the ex and kids.

    Both of these women need to grow up, stop using the kids as weapons in their war against each other, and ideally get some mediation so they can have a cordial, if not friendly, relationship.

  • Ellen December 10, 2012, 3:12 pm

    Melanie’s own letter reveals her to be immature, self-centered, and bitter. Throughout Melanie’s letter she blames the ex for leaving the room to avoid them, then blames her for staying in the kitchen, blames the ex for “sneaking” out of the kitchen to attend to her hurt child, blames the children for being upset and “deciding” to have a tantrum, blames the ex for bandaging and calming her own children, then blames the ex for leaving….apparently the ex is at fault for continuing to exist!

    Melanie obviously has a very limited understanding or empathy for the children’s feelings, and is only concerned with her own, to the point she expects not only the ex, and the children, but all of her friends and acquaintances, to avoid saying or doing anything that makes her feel “awkward”. If she is so insistent that they are “her” kids, and she should be the one taking care of them, then why wasn’t she helping the injured child, and soothing the upset child? She seemed far more concerned with being acknowledge in the “role” of caretaker, than with actually giving help and care.

    Those poor kids. No wonder they didn’t go to her in trouble.

  • Scarlet December 10, 2012, 3:16 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, only about half of them, so if I repeat what others have said forgive me.

    This story definitely needs a third, neutral POV. I think both women and Phil acted terribly. My sticking points:
    1. Neither of them should expect the other to leave a party all of them happen to attend. GROW UP.
    2. Melaine should never have prevented the child from going to the mom. I don’t care whose time it is; if Mom is there, Mom is who they are going to go to. IF this had been my child and you tried to stop them from getting to me, you would have ended up on your backside.
    3. I don’t think Ex-wife/mom is innocent in all of this. Coffee with your BF’s brother because he *heard* things about you from someone else? Sounds sketchy.
    4. If Melaine is going to be in the kid’s lives, there will be times when she is going to have an active role in parenting them. If the Ex-wife/mom’s relationship with Richard works out, he will have to have an active role in parenting them, too. The sooner everyone accepts this and tries to make the best of it, the easier it will be for the kids.
    5.Do those of you who say Melaine needs to back off from parenting think Richard should also back off from parenting if the relationship with Mom works out? Since Mom is the primary caregiver, it only stands to reason that Richard will spend a fair amount of time with the kids, especially if the relationship survives all this drama. Is Richard expected to back off and let Mom and Dad handle any future child emergencies if all parties happen to find themselves at the same place at the same time? Richard will want to step in and help since he spends a good deal of time with the kids. But, that does not make the kids anymore “his” than Melaine’s.

    A little side observation: I find it amazing that women are so ready to go after each other but the man is basically unscathed. Phil needs to grow a pair. Phil is the common denominator is this. Whether his relationship with Melaine began before or after the marriage ended is irrelevant. It is in the past, leave it there. Erase all this from the page and start a new chapter. Think about the kids FIRST. If you cannot be in the same room/house/area without drama, you are in for a stressful life. The kids will get old enough to figure out that they can use the hostility between you all to their advantage and they will play you against each other. Please don’t say it won’t happen because it will. While you all are busy disliking and one-upping each other, the kids will learn how to play the game watching you.

    No one was innocent in all this and these “adults” need to find a way to peacefully co-exist. I am a child of divorced parents who where so busy trying to prove who was right or the best that they forgot to parent.

  • Valerie December 10, 2012, 3:36 pm

    So what about Phil? He sets these two women against each other, leaves his kids in the middle, and gets off scot-free.

  • Lola December 10, 2012, 3:38 pm

    Much has been said about the Mom-Melanie dispute, and I don’t have anything to add on that subject. I will say, however, that, as a mom, if I ever saw my daughter’s stepmom laying into her over some BS like “you’re on my time, so don’t talk to mom,” especially while the latter is in distress, Melanie would be leaving the party before me. In a stretcher.

  • The Elf December 10, 2012, 3:38 pm

    ” Children are never, ever, EVER to be used as pawns in adult games and conflicts. ”

    That’s it for me right there. I don’t have to read any more. If you ever talk to someone who has been used this way as a child, they carry that scar with them for life and it does affect the relationship with their parents. So, short term gain – you get to really stick it to the ex today? And in turn you destroy your relationship with your children tomorrow. Your choice.

  • Vermin8 December 10, 2012, 3:45 pm

    This is a case where both sides are so biased I would seek another.
    Let’s see: Melanie had nothing to do with the divorce vs. there was “causality.” Melanie went into the kitchen to offer acceptance vs. she grabbed the sponge out of ex’s hands. Both stories are out of whack.
    I do believe that both are bad mouthing each other. Melanie should have never asserted herself as the boys’ mother. I thought she was harsh on the ex considering by her own admission that the ex was avoiding her and not trying to cause a scene. There is a lot of hurt and negative emotion on the part of both women; that sort of emotional turmoil develops over months or years and can’t be fully analyzed with one incident.
    I suspect – and, yes, I am extrapolating to a very large degree here – that the bad guy is Phil.
    He hits a stale point in his marriage, directs his emotions elsewhere including to a caring but naïve female coworker. When his wife tosses him out after realizing he has checked out emotionally and will not return, he makes her the bad guy by emphasizing the end of the marriage was HER choice and begins to seriously romance said coworker now Friend who naively thinks that the friendship had no impact on the unraveling of the marriage.
    Phil then asks Melanie to marry him but doesn’t discourage ex from talking trash. It’s possible he encouraged Melanie to think of herself as the boys’ mother. It’s possible he just chuckles when ex call Melanie “the mistress.” He lets their anger stew then sits back and let them duke it out in public.
    I think both women are better off without him.

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