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 }

The Ex Wife December 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I’ve actually started and stopped this response a dozen times since this morning and I have to hop to it as I’ve asked “Phil” not to let “Melanie” know that it’s up here until I’ve had a chance to respond as she has taken a bit more of a drubbing than I have.

In a world of Mars and Venus, I am ABSOLUTELY Venus and Melanie is much closer to Mars than I will ever be. I’m long-winded and detail driven while she is very much “get to the point”. Thus, the difference in background stories.

Also, and knowing that I’m giving Melanie some insight, Lilac’s response made me cry. Yes, that. I do not, IRL, get into the nitty-gritty of what I believe happened for all of those reasons and because I know that, in telling her/their side, the story always begins with “I know that Ex-Wife thinks that we x, y and z and that’s why this happened, but the truth is…” It’s already out there and I don’t have to say anything other than, “It doesn’t matter why. We’re not married anymore.”

Melanie has had numerous occasions to provide my boys with love, comfort, refuge and humor in the last few years whether because they argued with Daddy, got crosswise with one another or simply had a bad day and she has ALWAYS been exactly what she needed to be for them. As a wife, I’m not a fan and that’s an open secret between the three of us. As a mother, I don’t know that I could ask for better for my kids.

The rather snarky and spur-of-the-moment decision to come to E-Hell for a resolution was prompted by an insistence upon what the “polite” thing to do would be BUT, in the end, the specter of being judged by the denizens of E-Hell sparked a very productive conversation between Phil and I. Please understand that NEVER in any of our wildest dreams did we imagine a circumstance wherein we would be thrust together, socially, completely unaware, with no family to act as buffer.

In the future, any such gathering will be ruled by “kid’s choice” – they want Daddy to jump rope, then Daddy jumps rope. They want Melanie to build Legos, then Melanie builds Legos. They want all three of us to play Parcheesi, then we will act like it’s the most fun we’ve ever had even if it kills us. :)

Phil also conceded that I’ve already proven that I can be gracious and civil under fire and that Melanie needed a disastrous practice run to show that there was room for improvement. That’s TOTALLY fine. My disastrous practice run was three years ago when I screamed at him like a banshee on fire in the driveway so, all things considered, she did better.

The boys spent this past weekend with Daddy and Melanie after having seen Daddy, alone, several weeknights since The Incident. Getting ready to leave, the Big Guy admitted that he wasn’t mad at Melanie anymore and felt bad that they had fought but that he didn’t want her to think that it was okay to say bad things about me. I told him that people that you love aren’t ALWAYS going to say or do the right thing and that he’s been mad at me before and he’s been mad at Daddy before and after you talk about it, the mad goes away. He asked her for a cup of tea after dinner (which ALWAYS weirds people out when a 10 year old asks!) and they sat and talked and proceeded to have a lovely weekend.

The thing that didn’t come across in EITHER of our letters was that, ordinarily, the boys don’t hear a single, solitary bad word about the other parent from ANY of us. Honest to goodness, they could hear that I had set all of the kids’ toys on fire and the response would be, “Well, I’m sure Mommy had a good reason for that!” until they could talk to me and vice versa.

Melanie and I will probably never be friends but we’ll keep working at being friendLY for the sake of the kids. And I promised not to ever use the word “mistress” again. A lot of folks have mentioned the gray area that step-parents have to live in – I have to try to be more cognizant of that.

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JeLayne December 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm

A couple of these comments come as across as snarly and downright mean. “Queen” Melaine? “Melanie should just move on because the kids and Ex-wife is Phil’s for life” ? Sorry, no. Ex-wife and Phil are divorced, she is not “his” for life. Yes, they have to be in each other’s life but she doesn’t belong to him.

Yes, this was awkward. No, no one should have to leave the party because someone else is uncomfortable. Yes, Melaine was absolutely wrong for trying to keep child away from his mom. I have a suspicion that only about half of the rest of the posts are true because each is colored by the LW’s own feelings.

These adults had better do some growing up and figure out how to get along. It seems Melaine is going to be in their life and if Ex-wife’s BF doesn’t run for the hills, he will be in the the kid’s life, too. They all need to learn to respect each other and realize that their games will only hurt the kids.

I think some of the pot-shots at Melaine are unfair.Yes, she acted horribly but Ex-wife is not innocent either. Melaine is new to the parenting world and like it or not, it seems she will be the stepmom soon. No one is perfect, and she obviously has a long way to go, but I cannot think of a single person who is a completely perfect parent 100% of the time. Not even the Ex-wife/mom. Coffee with the boyfriend’s brother to discuss the things he has heard about her? Yeah, *that’s* a great idea.

I can’t wait for the submission from Phil and Richard when ex-wife/mom get engaged or married to him and they all end up at a party together again. Child gets hurt, Richard runs to rescue and then it’s all sweetness and praise because he loves the kids and wants to be a good step-parent. Maybe that’s what Melaine wants, too, but doesn’t know how to go about it.

I would be curious about a third person point of view about the divorce, too. I’m sure the ex-wife made some mistakes that contributed to that as well.

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AIP December 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Oh the manufactured drama! Well that’s what happens when a gang of teenagers have kids… What? These are adults- grown ups who should’ve known better?!

I think the Admin is spot on here, expecting people to skulk off from somebody else’s party just because you don’t want to behave properly s not good manners.

For the record, I couldn’t care less about adultery- there are worse things that can happen in a marriage. It’s tough on children as they can feel their loyalties are divided, but I firmly believe that the best revenge an ex-wife can exact on a woman who “steals” her husband is to let her have him.

Melanie and Phil sound well-met but it’d be much better for the ex to let it wash over her and concentrate on her kids and new relationship. Maybe then the other two will calm done as they won’t be able to escalate the drama.

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Ergala December 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I honestly think the truth is a mixture of both. Ex-Wife seems to make herself as never losing her cool or standing up for herself and in the process paints Melanie as an evil woman who is out to steal her family. Melanie comes off as a quiet doormat who is quite insecure and in the process paints the ex-wife as a vindictive witch.

My step-father absolutely did refer to my sister and I as his and my mother’s when we were children. It didn’t bother us one bit and in fact made us feel more blended and made us respect him as a parental figure more. He even did that when they were engaged. I see nothing wrong with it. As for the restraining part, I have a feeling Melanie did what my husband and I have to do sometimes with our youngest. He is so emotional and upset about something involving his big brother that one of us has to hold him back so the other parent can tend to an injury without little guy getting in the way. Did ex-wife actually hear Melanie say “NO! YOU ARE WITH US AND NOT YOUR MOTHER TODAY!”….I doubt that she did. I think she did a gross exaggeration on that part. Same with grabbing the sponge. And to carry on the conversation she was having in regards to how “worthy” she is to date the brother in front of Melanie when she directly says that Melanie bashed her, well that was in poor taste. That is not a conversation to have in front of people at a holiday party.

Now when ex-wife says she didn’t realize that these people were the same ones that are friends with Melanie and Phil….I think that right there is a lie. She admits she recognized the last name and wondered. She should have confirmed her suspicions and gone from there.

These women need counseling big time. Just because someone is friends doesn’t mean they are having an affair. My mother married her former boss. She knew him when she was freshly divorced from my father and married to my now former step-father. He was married too, but they were FRIENDS….nothing more. They are now married and very happy together. Strong friendships can form strong marriages. I think ex-wife was very angry and needed something/someone to blame for the failure of the marriage and decided to latch onto the idea that Melanie and Phil were sleeping together. I’ve never gotten so involved in the love lives of my friends to the point where I shun them if I am told they got together via cheating. None of my business, and when I have been told that it’s never been by the couple but usually by the angry ex.

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Bowser December 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I agree with a previous poster: these three deserve each other.

I’m actually curious to know what Phil and Richard’s account of this evening would be.

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Allie December 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

As far as I can tell, neither of you chose to be the bigger person in this situation. I worry for the kids. If you can’t learn to deal responsibly with custody and access issues, I see therapy and/or juvenile hall in their future. That said, I agree with Admin that stepmom has no rights vis-a-vis the children and should not be attempting to assert any, either on her own behalf or on behalf of dad.

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Kate December 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

As a stepmother who spends well over 50% of her life raising her stepchild, I find you taking issue with the term “ours” fairly transparent.

I call my stepchild “mine” often. I raise her and love her as much as I do my bio-son. I’d sure as heck hate to grow up in a household where a stepparent called me “hers and his, but not mine.”

Pretty gross.

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Cat Whisperer December 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm

@Mgirl said:

“…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….”

Reading between the lines, my guess is that Melanie and Phil began an “emotional affair” at work (spending lots of time together talking about things of mutual interest, not all of them work-related, exchanging eMails that became increasingly non-work-related, gradually Melanie became Phil’s sympathetic sounding-board for problems with his wife/marriage, gravitated to lunches together, then gravitated to doing things together occasionally outside of working hours), gradually becoming so much a “couple” at work that people who didn’t know the situation probably assumed they were in a relationship and people who did know the situation started talking. Then, at some point when the divorce hit the fan, Melanie and Phil became physically intimate.

In “emotional affairs,” the parties to the affair will wave the flag of righteousness that they didn’t do anything wrong, because there was no actual physical intimacy before the marriage PUBLICLY hit the rocks. I’m guessing that that’s the territory that Melanie has staked out: that she was never Phil’s “mistress” because they were never intimate before his break with his wife. And that Phil’s marriage was in trouble when she and Phil were nothing but good friends, and his ex’s jealousy over the friendship was part of the problem, and the marriage would have broken up for the same reasons that Phil turned to Melanie in the first place, so Phil’s ex is all wet in blaming Melanie for the breakup of the marriage.

…All of which reminds me of a joke I heard once: When a man divorces his wife and marries his mistress, what does his mistress get? Answer: a man who cheats on his wife.

This is true whether the cheating is physical or emotional. Something Melanie might want to think about. The best predictors of people’s future behaviors are their past behaviors.

I’ve seen a number of situations like that, and the conclusion I’ve drawn is that being in a committed relationship with your spouse or partner isn’t just about physical faithfulness. It’s as much an emotional committment as a physical one, and it involves a great deal of trust that the partners won’t turn away from each other and turn to someone else emotionally. When someone in the marriage or partnership starts airing their dissatisfaction with the relationship to someone who isn’t a licensed counselor or therapist who will work with them to try to fix the relationship, that can be as much of a betrayal to the partner or spouse as if there is physical unfaithfulness.

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Andi December 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Sarah Jane is the only commenter here who gets it. A step-mom doesn’t start at zero, she starts at -30 and has to fight her way up to a positive place in the viewpoint of others. Everyone is pre-disposed to think poorly of the behavior and motives of a step-mom and clearly, 75 % of the commenters on this board are still scarred from their own parents’ divorces and remarriages. Dad is usually allowed to be the clueless dope who is let off the hook–again, Sarah Jane has called him out on his role–while everyone blames step-mom instead. He’s the one who should be setting boundaries, demanding a level of respect from the kids for ALL the adults, and helping the kids cope with change. How is it step-mom’s fault if your father didn’t stay involved in your life? That is your father’s fault. I know it feels better to blame a woman you don’t know than to accept that your father didn’t love you enough but you are lying to yourself and staying stuck in the past. Back to this ridiculous column, ex-wife is obviously filled with venom and while she may not overtly criticize her ex-husband or his fiancee to the kids, she is not helping them feel comfortable with change and transition to a blended family. The kids have a right to give and receive love and feel a sense of belonging in both homes, no matter how much bitter ex-wife can’t stand the thought.

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Lisa December 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Just from reading her own letter, I strongly dislike Melanie. Egocentrical to the core.
Also a drama-queen; announcing that you will send a letter to this site, presumably to have some sort of contest on who is ‘right’? Seriously, why would you want to air dirty laundry like this, pretending you are concerned with the ‘etiquette’ of the situation? Your concern should be those kids! I find Melanies behaviour pathetic, insecure, petty and mean. And if exwife embellished her own behaviour in her letter, I can’t blame her given the situation, and knowing that Melanie announced she was going to write about this on a public site.

Exwife: Just keep being a good mom to those kids (which includes no bashing, mistress-calling etcetera) and all will work out in the end. If Melanie keeps up this type of behaviour he’ll probably tire of her at some point anyway, so you won’t have to deal with all the drama anymore. :-)

Melanie: Grow up. This isn’t about you. Let those kids be with their mom if they want to be, and stop badmouthing her to others. Haven’t you taken enough from her already? Geez. Also, reread Admins advice; spot on.

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David December 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

@Amy – Thank you!

One of the things I have noticed is the number of people who have decided that Melanie and Phil had an affair based only on what the ex-wife says. And it’s coloring their answers.

Say Melanie had a work friendship with this guy she would see occasionally when he came to visit her cubicle partner. Over the 6 years, they’ve gotten on a first name basis and he talks to her as much as he talks to her cubicle partner when he visits. They’re pretty good work friends by now so she feels bad for him when his wife divorces him. Three years later, they are engaged to be married. Not once did she do anything untoward. They hadn’t even gone to lunch until after the divorce was final.

How is she supposed to feel when the ex refers to her as “the mistress”? Of course she’s defensive. Of course she (wrongly) would like the ex to leave. Thanks to e-hell, she knows now that she can’t expect the ex to leave just because she and her fiance are there.

That doesn’t excuse her for getting between a mother and their child, or going into the kitchen where her friend was while the ex was there. If a similar situation repeats, Melanie now has the e-hell advice to make her the epitome of graciousness.

The ex-wife, not so much. We do not know if Phil/Melanie was/were having a one-sided/both-sided/neither-sided emotional/physical affair. We do know that the ex-wife believes they were and that seems to be what led to the divorce. We know from the tone of the ex-wife’s letter that she feels nothing but contempt for Melanie and her ex-husband and she is not afraid to let everyone, even strangers on an etiquette board know it.

Previous posters have mentioned counseling for all three of them, for the children’s sake and I agree that that would be the best option.

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Lacey December 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Even reading Melanie’s version, it looked like she was the one mainly causing the problem. Expecting the ex-wife to leave the room when she came in to talk to her friends and getting mad that a child’s mom went to attend to him instead of sitting back? It sort of seems like she needs to mark her territory. People who are really trying to be civil to each other can be in the same room at a party.

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Rachel December 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I have to correct the belief that these aren’t Melanie’s children. Why they aren’t biologically hers, it is now part of her responsibility to protect and love them just as she would if her and Phil have their own children. I am not suggesting she take the place on mom in their life but she should be treated as an equal parent and I assure you the children have enough love for all three parents (and even four as the case may one day be. ) When I was 7 my mom remarried and had children with my stepfather. He never differentiated between my mom’s and theirs. He also never tried to take my father place because of this all my parents where able to parent equally and I don’t differentiate between my two dads. I just look at as me being lucky enough to have 3 loving parents.

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Drawberry December 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Everyone is speculating on things they simply will never know for sure. That’s the end of the matter. None of us expect Ex-Husband and Fiance will know for certain if they had an affair, physical or otherwise, and that much is not any of our business to begin with. We can speculate on a lot of things and I am choosing not to. My response is based solely on what we know for a fact.

No, Ex-Wife you where absolutely not in need of leaving the party. You where invited as equally as Ex-Husband and Fiance. For either of them to suggest your place was to leave is absolutely absurd. This was NOT their home, NOT their party, and NOT their decision to make. For either of them to suggest for even a moment that it was shows an incredible level of childish pettiness. This persons party and home where not their territory. They could not simply rub their scent on the sofa and claim it as their own. You where invited, you had as much a right to be there as your EX and his Fiance.

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Kristi December 10, 2012 at 9:14 pm

This topic has certainly sparked a large response! To me, reading all of this is sort of theraputic. I am engaged to a man who has 2 beautiful daughters, who I will eventually become step-mom to. AND for the record, those that have stated that being a step-parent is a pretty tough job are very correct. ‘Ex-Wife’ I give you a lot of credit for coming back and actually giving some honest praise to the fiance, who clearly has tried hard to be a good part of your children’s lives. I have too, but in this particular situation, ex-wife is a very bitter, vindictive, vicious person. For no reason, I didn’t take her husband away, they were all done by the time I came into the picture. She has a little pet name for me ‘the babysitter’ which she uses in conversation with the girls, which upsets them. She has told them ugly lies and painted me to be a really awful person, but the girls are old enough (9 and 11 right now) to have made up their own minds about how they feel about me, and we are pretty tight. Meanwhile, I have never said a bad word about their mother, and invite open conversations about their time with her. They talk freely with my fiance and I about their lives, but are not allowed to mention my name to her. Anyway, all I really meant to say is that it’s clearly beneficial for all, but most particularly for the kids, for all ‘parenting’ parties to get along and at least try to act as though everyone is friends. ‘Melanie’ it sounds like you’ve got your heart in the right place and have formed a relationship with your soon-to-be stepkids. Keep doing what you’re doing and try to put your insecurities about the children’s Mom aside. She will always be their Mom, but (and I speak from experience, I had a step-mom that I really loved a lot) you will have a different, special place with them too.

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TimeLady December 10, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Am I the only person who is reading the second account with a large bagful of salt? Whilst I’ve seen some comments saying that they’re sure that neither story gives the whole truth, most people are picking up on two points from the ex-wife’s letter: That Melanie “took the sponge” from ex-wife, and that she physically restrained Little Guy. People are pointing out how melodramatic Melanie is, but could it not be that ex-wife is also embellishing the situation somewhat? Who is to say that the removal of the sponge from ex-wife was, in fact, just a “Here, let me take over”, without the bitchiness that was stated by ex-wife? What if the physical restraint of Little Guy was just a, “Hey, calm down, we can’t understand you”? I’m not taking either side here, because I think there is PLENTY of blame to go around, I just don’t understand why near-everyone appears to be taking ex-wife’s letter as the gospel truth. Like many others, I would be interested to see the third side to this story, to see just where the gross exaggerations have occurred.

I’d also like to say how disgusted I am with the flippant comments I’ve seen of, “Oh, well that just shows Melanie doesn’t have kids”. Who’s to say she isn’t just trying (too?) hard to be a mother. If she really wants the relationship to work, I imagine she would be trying her hardest to ‘be’ a mother. I’m not saying she’s going about it the right way, but I feel that is an option.

I, like many other posters, feel most sympathy for the children and the hosts of the party. The hosts would have been, no doubt, very uncomfortable about what had occurred, whilst the children…well, at those ages, they really aren’t capable of understanding the complex emotional situation around them. There may well have been ‘tantrums’ as Melanie described, simply because the kids were picking up on all the negative emotion and reacting the only way they knew how.

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waitress wonderwoman December 10, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Wow. It’s like The Real Housewives Of E-Hell! Thank God no one flipped a table!
Beside the children, of course, the people I feel the most for are the hosts of the party (I would love to hear THEIR side of the story).
I’m really going to have to side with ex-wife here. All of the mistress/”friendship/divorce stuff aside, Melanie is overstepping her bounds. She is a part of the children’s lives but she is not, and will never be their mother. That “our youngest child” thing really rubbed me the wrong way. And expecting ex-wife to leave the party and trying to dictate to a host who they can or cannot invite to their own party sounds like something a bratty teenager would do!

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Kristi December 10, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Adding on here to my earlier comment. I would never try to claim my steps as my own children, but have used the term ‘our’ on occasion. Like at a social gathering and someone says something like ‘oh our kids are in the kitchen eating, where are yours? ‘Ours are in the backyard playing.’ I do think of them as ours, especially when we have them with us, it is not meant to be disrespectful to their mother, but dang it, I care for and love those kids, and I feel like my relationship with them makes them at least a little bit ‘mine’! A friend of mine explained how a bio-Mom feels when another woman enters her children’s lives, she said it doesn’t matter how awesome girlfriend/stepmom is, there is always going to be some jealousy over your kids spending time with another woman/Mom figure. I get it, I really do.

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doodlemor December 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I also thought that Melanie was rather entitled and controlling after reading her post. I’m sure that both women have exaggerated here and there, but the x-wife’s story rings more true to me.

I suspect that Melanie will not have to worry about declining invitations to this home in the future. It seemed to me that the hostess was very sympathetic to x-wife while they were bandaging the child and listening to Melanie’s tirade in the kitchen. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Melanie is not invited back.

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LadyPhoenix December 11, 2012 at 12:08 am

Oh wait, Melanie is just Phil’s fiance, right?

Sorry, but you really have no custody over the kids. You’re not legally bound to him yet to be called the “Step Mom”. You’re just another “adult” to the kids, the last person they go to when it comes to help (Parents being the first).

Saying the kids are “yours” is absolutely NOT true. You’re just a girlfriend who has a greater chance at being Phil’s wife — but you’re not his wife yet and that means you are not the kid’s [step]mom. If you WANT to be Phil’s wife, I suggest you get over your pettiness and territorial issues.

As for the Mom herself, glad you decided to be civil in the comments. However, the fact you decided to engage in John’s rumor mongering also makes you at fault. “Three sides to every story” is nonsense considering this mess — there is only your story and hers. The third story would be the objective one, which is not present.

Ladies, like I said, find a private place to simply get all the bile out of your skins and learn to behave like adults. I expect silliness from middle schoolers.

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SJ December 11, 2012 at 12:18 am

Wow.

Like others, I was already thinking Melanie sounded immature, catty, and possessive before I even read the next letter.
She seemed to say, “How dare Ex Wife hang around while I did dishes?”
And, “How dare Little Guy go to his mom instead of me when it was MY TIME?”
And, she “snuck away” to help her son?
Give me a break.

The worst thing that the Ex/Mom did was be negative about Melanie in her letter. Yeah, so she’s working through stuff, but she apparently held herself in very good etiquette at the party.

Sorry, Melanie, you gotta grow up.

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The Other Elizabeth December 11, 2012 at 2:08 am

I’m inclined to say both women are looking into magic mirrors for feedback on their actions. I honestly can’t say I trust either of them, the way they speak in their letters.

Here’s the deal: Two women who have a good reason to not enjoy each other’s company are suddenly thrust together at a party in which they both have a right to attend. This totally throws them for a loop and they spend a rather uncomfortable evening. Discomfort doesn’t always diminish with time; it can fester and grow and start to foster resentment of the entire situation. It colors one’s attitude of the world around you. How many times have you had a pressing matter on your mind, and become ridiculously annoyed when a store employee asks if you need help finding anything?

Both women end up trying to put on happy faces and keep out of sight of the other. One enters the room to find the other sitting there already. The newcomer is put off by this and likely wonders whether to stay or go, but darn it, it’s a party, why should she not mingle? The other is having a conversation and now is probably worried that the newcomer will make some snide remark (certainly not below either woman from those accounts) or think less of her (very important to both ladies I think) and is wishing the newbie would just get on with the mingling because she has no more right to be in the room than the firstcomer, who is feeling very awkward and put upon and also probably wondering if it is SHE who should leave at this point.

A couple of hours in that situation, and you can imagine how frayed their nerves must be. Melanie probably decides, enough is enough. These are MY personal friends and I WILL spend time with them, and I don’t care where the Ex is when I do so. After all, the mere presence of the Ex would, in her mind, call into question her grounds for attending the party (the comments of both that the other should have left likely turned to their own status at some point in their minds), so she would have felt the need to assert herself as a friend of people and NOT just an appendage of this other woman’s ex-husband. In the meantime, Ex wife is having a chat with the hosts when she is suddenly face to face with Melanie, the person she’s been trying to avoid all this time. After such a tense evening she interprets this as an attack, and when Melanie offers to help wash up and/or just starts washing dishes with no comment, the Ex’s disrupted calm imagines that Melanie rudely snatched the sponge away and haughtily made a comment about spending time with HER friends (implying the “not yours” part). I’m pretty sure all or most of that exchange is heavily edited by biased interpretation. It could have been a bit cold of an exchange, but this is soap opera stuff were getting into here. Turn off daytime television.

Then a crisis breaks out, and god only knows what REALLY happened. Both women are so caught up in their wrongedness that it’s really not to be trusted.

Melanie has lost friends because of rumors spread about her pre-divorce relationship with Phil. The Ex believes that something was going on, so I’m going to assume she had a hand in the spread of such tales. Melanie has a chip on her shoulder because of that and feels the need to validate her relationship with Phil and the boys. She needs to be a saint in her story because yeah, she HAS had it a little rough, and she’s trying way too hard to be a good wife/mom while thinking way too much about how rotten aspects of this new life are.

And Ex Wife, I feel sorry for her, but she’s not a saint in this story either. She has a lot to deal with there, what with divorcing her husband and losing full-time custody of her wonderful sons. I think she wants somebody to blame for the divorce, and it’s a little too easy to focus on the new girlfriend who was accessible to Phil even before the breakup. She’s going to see Melanie as an intruder regardless of whether or not Phil was unfaithful. And on this night, Melanie intruded on her social life. She was upset and stressed, and then her ex husband tells her she was impolite by staying. Since she already sees Mel as the cause for divorce, now she is writing this seeing Mel as the cause for what must feel like shunning. Sorry, I think both women were unspeakably overdramatic, and I doubt that any of the exchanges happened the way they claim.

Lastly, I think a few of you posters should be scolded for your attacks on Melanie’s virtue. You have nothing to go on but the words of the Ex wife and the knowledge that she thinks rather highly of herself and you’re ready to send her out with a giant red “A” on her blouse. Me, I am friends with plenty of guys, and many of those guys are married or in serious relationships. It seems the vast majority of the posters here believe that it’s impossible for men and women to be really good friends without there being SOMETHING going on. Emotional cheating? That’s the kind of thing I’ve heard from abusive boyfriends looking for an excuse to add some powder-free eyeshadow to a lady’s face. If there’s not kissing, or hand-holding, or tense exchanges about leaving the wife, or sex, or anything at all romantic, it’s not cheating. Men and women enjoy equal rights, don’t you know.

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Mamapotamus December 11, 2012 at 2:35 am

I think most of the issues have been well handled, but something is bothering me that I haven’t seen pointed out (forgive me if I missed it): Why is the ex-wife and the children’s father together making decisions for Melanie? The parents decide for their kids, sure, but not for the new partner! It is mentioned that Dad told Ex-wife that Melanie was submitting her story here, they also decided that Melanie behaved badly, and decided not to tell Melanie this was posted. Wow! If I had that kind of communication with my ex we would still be married! I’m sure it is flattering to ex-wife to be in this position but Dad needs to stand by Melanie he has no business being with her. Sometimes standing with your partner means keeping your mouth shut, dealing with private issues privately. Again, I think full communication about the kids is important but Dad should not assign blame to either party and the most he should say about his current partner is “we will discuss this” and then do so privately.
Especially if he thinks she was wrong.

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GleanerGirl December 11, 2012 at 3:05 am

I’m wondering what would have happened had the host or hostess heard the crying, and run to investigate immediately. Would he/she have immediately gone for ointment and a bandaid, and had the job done before Melanie or Mom could arrive?

Had it been in my house, I can tell you that when kids cry, all the adults come running, but then again, we’re all related, and we get along, so we don’t really suffer from turf wars over who gets to help whom.

I AM glad that the cut was not too serious, because the delay that happened, in order to establish who was in charge before establishing what was wrong, could have become a real problem, had the cut been worse. Taking time to establish who has custody WHILE A CHILD IS BLEEDING strikes me as being a cart-before-the-horse situation, at best. What if he’d cut an artery?

And also, if a stranger was closer and in a position to help, would a sane parent really stop the child who is asking for help, to tell that child that it is more important to ask for help FROM THE RIGHT PERSON, than to just get the help needed, as soon as possible? Even Gavin de Becker, in “The Gift of Fear” encourages children to ask strangers for help, when needed, and not worry about the danger (because predators do the approaching, not wait for a child to approach them, so if you approach the person, they’re most likely just fine), but to care about resolving the problem at hand.

I’m not going to argue who was rude and who was not. I’m just so baffled about the fact that turf wars were happening, while a child was still bleeding. Argue all you want, once the crisis is past, but for goodness’ sake, don’t prolong the child’s suffering, just to establish your place on the totem pole. Even if you have every right to that place, it’s just not the right thing to do at the time.

As admin says, “Who is being served?” Not the children.

I’m very glad the child was not seriously injured. Good luck to all involved sorting things out.

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GleanerGirl December 11, 2012 at 3:49 am

A couple of interesting points. As soon as the child ran in, seeking help, there was no reason why BOTH women could not have gone to check on the older child, at the same time! After all, both parents wound up going.

Second, if Melanie is so concerned about the Mom doing things with the children on the Dad’s time, why is she NOT concerned about the Dad not being there with his children, on his precious time? If his time is so limited that every minute counts, and his ex-wife’s presence sucks away at his time with them, then why wasn’t he already there with the kids, hovering over them and savoring every minute, and thus being able to either prevent the injury, or else deal with it immediately, so that the younger boy did not even have to run for help?

In other words, Melanie, if “whose time is it” was THAT important, then the person whose time it is should have been there, in the first place. Since Phil obviously did not take it THAT seriously, neither should you.

Another thing – crying child ought to equal all nearby adults (including host and other guests) running to see what is wrong and how to help, unless they are simply unavailable. You can always go back to your conversation, once the cut is seen to, and this will let the child know that they are loved by all. This is a good thing.

As for the conversation and whose turn it is to hang out with the friends, again, it is possible for two grown women to hang out with mutual friends AT THE SAME TIME. True, you may need to avoid the more intimate topics of discussion, but surely you can all talk about general topics, and enjoy the company of your fine hosts, together.

And finally – why didn’t the host/hostess tell BOTH of these women that the dishes could wait until later, and that such chores were the host family’s job, not the guests? That would have diffused the whole situation about who got the “honor” of doing the dishes. And if they insisted on helping with the dishes, then give one a wash rag, and the other a drying rag, and let them BOTH do dishes together. Yes, two, and even three, people can work together to do the chore. One can wash, one can rinse, one can dry or stack the dishes in the drainer. Cooperation is what grown-ups do. Learn the skill. And as the host/hostess, it is YOUR job to ensure that any chores are either done without rancor, or else left until after the party. As soon as Melanie and Ex started their battle on that ground, you should have stepped in, and put a stop to it, right then and there. “Oh, thank you both for offering, but really, I don’t want either of you working tonight. You’re my guests! So, how about those Dodgers?”

No one is in the clear, here.

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Kate December 11, 2012 at 4:26 am

I have some sympathy for both parties here.
Divorce would be incredibly difficult, and even if there is no truth to Ex-Wife’s feelings that there was an emotional or physical affair going on between Phil and Melanie, trying to be the best parent possible while dealing with negative feelings towards the children’s father would be very hard.
On the other hand, life as a step-mum would not be easy either. The kids already have one mum and there are likely to be times when step-mum’s authority is questioned with comments like “you’re not my real mother!”. I would never consider dating a man with children because I don’t think I have the emotional strength to be a step-parent.

Admin is correct in that personal feelings have to be set aside in order to keep the children’s best interests at heart. If Ex-Wife wants to call Melanie a mistress and Melanie wants to call Ex-Wife controlling, they can talk to their friends, families, therapists, anyone but the children. My fiance’s parents are divorced, and his mother blames absolutely everything that’s ever gone wrong in her adult life on her ex-husband. You literally cannot hold a conversation with the woman without hearing “your father” this and “your father” that. The kids are all adults now, but they still find it very exhausting and it’s a horrible situation to expose children to.

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Not Amused December 11, 2012 at 6:13 am

To the Ex-Wife and Melanie and Phil-
I was grateful to see “ex-wife”‘s second letter, because she indicates that the group of you are working together to deal with the realities of your family situation and the needs of the children involved. Best wishes to all of you.

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Rap December 11, 2012 at 9:27 am

Gleanergirl – you might want to remember that “Melanie was more concerned about custodial time” is ExWife’s interpretation of Melanie. This is a she said/she said discussion – Melanie’s description of Little Guy running in had no mention of custody issues and I don’t know either woman so for all I know every word Exwife typed is a lie.

I don’t know that I think that – I think the truth here is somewhere between “Melanie is totally in the right” and “ExWife shoulda clocked Melanie”

I also suspect that the cut and bleeding child was hardly a “every adult drop what they’re doing and circle round, chanting ‘we love you, may god heal this painfilled child, we love you’ as the ambulance is called” situation. Yes a child with a boo boo is a concern, but it is not a shut the party down, all adults focus on the child during this child’s dramatic crisis moment… and this viewpoint of “all adults must stop and focus love on whoever’s kid needs a bandaid” is possibly why a lot of people don’t like having kids at parties. It sounds like the hostess was helping out ex-wife, no one went to the hospital and we’re talking about a ten year old. Certainly the closest adult to the situation should stop and take control of the situation, but seriously, every adult at the house has to stop, pile into the room while a bandaid is placed so that a party goers child will feel loved by all?

Also – speaking as a single with no kids, you do understand that the mama bear mentality means people who aren’t related to your children have to be very careful about interacting with your child since all it takes is one adult and one child in a room for an accusation to be made. Sorry, but I don’t touch other people’s kids unless mom and dad are right there. I’ve noticed for some time that it takes a village to raise a child only when mom and dad want something. When mom and dad don’t need help, even looking cross eyed at a child is an invitation to get slapped by a mama bear.

The Other Elizabeth – I agree abou t the attacks on Melanie over the supposed affair. I’m not denying the possibility of an affair but Melanie is denying it and ExWife very much wants it understood that her husband’s fiancé is an adulteress. My issue on it and the whole back and forth is that it actually has nothing to do with the situation at hand and Exwife’s clearly in the habit of attacking Melanie over it. The first three paragraphs of Exwife’s letter is ExWife establishing how she’s the wronged wife, Melanie had an affair with Phil and Phil badmouthed Exwife as “controlling”… And it really isn’t relevant.

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livvy17 December 11, 2012 at 9:45 am

So glad to hear “The Ex- Wife”‘s response. So glad to hear that this bad situation led to an improvement that the children, and hopefully all the parents will feel. Kudos to you!

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Lilac December 11, 2012 at 10:26 am

To the Ex-Wife–I didn’t mean to make you cry :) Your story definitely struck a chord. Just the way you phrased things really reminded me of my own thought processes. I was hoping I didn’t miss the mark and transpose my own experiences onto yours.
It sounds like you are doing well and trying to make things work. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of time. I was devastated during my divorce and had my screaming “like a banshee in the driveway” moments too. Not quite so dramatic or loud lol, but with lots of anger. My kids were very little then and never witnessed any of that. I had worked things out in my head by the time they were old enough to accurately observe my emotions. I had figured out, for the sake of my kids and my pride, that not being (or at least not appearing to be) bitter and angry was not only right for my kids but also the best “revenge.” This was my reasoning: why give an ex the satisfaction of knowing that he hurt you, broke your heart, and was justified in doing it by how crazy you are acting now? Don’t let them define who you are or force you to become who they want you to be. The new wife calls you a shrew, be nicer. Ex-husband says you’re a b****, be more accommodating. And wonder of wonders, you start to really feel better! The anger fades. Nothing more pathetic than a bitter ex wife or husband. No one is thinking, “you poor thing” years after the divorce. They are thinking, “Get over it” and “I can see why he/she left you.” They feel sorry for you. Harsh, but true. I really believe that making a conscious decision to behave well–and then doing it–eventually affects your mindset. It garners the respect of others, but most importantly it gives you self respect.
It seems like you’ve figured all this out though and are trying to put it into practice. Best of luck to you and your family!

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Lexcel December 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

These women need to stop fighting and blaming each other and take a good look Phil. Why does he get off without a single scratch and these two ladies are ready to tear each other’s eyes out?

You cannot really trust either account to be 100% correct because each woman wants to make herself look like the victim.

Melaine is going to be the stepmom and there maybe a stepdad at some point,too. Instead of the kids being used as a weapon against each other, maybe you should be trying to reassure them. As parents, surely the ex-wife and Phil know how much emotional turmoil these boys are going through.

Melaine- please don’t ever try stop kids from getting to their mom when their is an injury or emergency again. That is the major thing that really stuck out to me. If mom is near, mom is who they go to. It’s not personal, it’s what kids do when they are scared or injured. Hopefully, you were just trying to calm down the child so the Mom could go tend to the other child. IF you said this is Daddy & Melaine time, then I think by now, you know you were wrong.

It is good to hear from the Ex-Wife that they are trying to make peace and maintain a safe, harmonious enviroment for the kids. In the end, that is all that matters. I wish you continued success and happiness. Good luck.

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mpk December 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Rachel – these are not Melanie’s children. Nor are they her stepchildren. Right now she’s their dad’s fiance. They won’t be her children in any manner until she actually marries their dad.
Can’t really add to anything else because everyone has said it all already. but i would also like to see a third party admission – especially if it was from the hosts of the party.

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postalslave December 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm

The Other Elizabeth summed it up perfectly.

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travestine December 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I had the best stepmother ever – still do, after 35 years. Why? Because as much as my father tried to force the relationship, my stepmom never did. Our relationship developed, based on the respect I felt for her as a mother and a woman and her love for my father and his love for her. And in this case, their relationship definitely started with a extra-marital affair. There were times I wanted to hate them, but I couldn’t, because it was so clear they belonged together and my parents never did. And my mother found her soulmate and the best stepdad I could have wished for, so that was great for us kids too.

What I’m trying to say, especially to Melanie, is that her/your relationship with the children will develop as they get to know you and will be entirely dependent on the character you display through the course of interaction between you and the children and you and their mother. The better, more loving and more mature you behave, the more the children will relax and love you. They don’t want you to replace their mother (you can’t, even on your ‘custody days’) – they want you to be a friend, a support and an authority figure in their lives who they can trust and look up to. Be that. And just love them.

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FerrisW December 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm

How funny it is that we all read such stories with our own emotional bias first and foremost! From some of the comments I suspect there are some women reading who distrust any woman their husbands or boyfriends talk to or smile at, for fear of ‘emotional cheating’. How sad that so many still seem to believe the idiotic idea that men and women cannot be friends without it turning into a romantic relationship.

I am neither a mother, nor a wife, so that is my bias when reading this post. I’m surprised so many people believe only the negative things about Melanie from her letter and also the ex-wife’s, and ignore the rest of the content. How quick we are to villainise Melanie for stopping a child from getting to his mother, without actually knowing if that was the case! To be honest, I’m disturbed and disappointed by the vitriol directed at this woman, when we have two very biased stories, and no third party to report on what happened.

Considering how common blended families are, the repeated insistence of so many of a definition of ‘real mom’ and how the kids will never be Melanie’s depresses me. As someone who is hopeful of adopting a child in the near future, it’s good to know that in many of commenters eyes, I won’t be a ‘real mom’ as the child will not be biologically related to me. Knowing someone who was raised by her stepmom and barely saw her ‘real mom’ after she remarried and got a new family, her stepmom is more family to her than her birthmom could ever be. The idea that she won’t be a parent until the day of the wedding also baffles me- how bizarre to not begin a bonding parent-and-child relationship with future stepchildren until after that day. Do people magically earn parenting knowledge when they say ‘I do’?

Both parties here seem to be in the wrong, but the fact that Melanie expressed her (wrong) desire for the ex to leave, while the ex painted herself as being completely in the right and in control in all circumstances until her update (only after other people had pointed out people too eager to pass blame and paint themselves as the ‘good one’ should be taken with a pinch of salt), makes me question how much of the latter’s story is accurate, or whether many of the events were exaggerated.

The fact that we’re given a unique experience of hearing both sides of the story on this site, and yet put more belief into one letter over another with so many conflicting statements baffles me.

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Allison December 11, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I agree with TheOtherElizabeth. Out of all the posts, she hit the nail on the head perfectly.

I also wanted to add that if we are to gy Ex-Wifes second post, the situation doesnt seem to be as horrible as the original story led us to believe. It sounds like they were all thrust into a situation they were unprepared for, and not everyone acted their best that night.
I hope your family situation gets better ex-wife and Melanie, I know you two will never be the best of friends, or perhaps even friends, but you will be in each others lives forever, so for the sake of your kids, you MUST be able to be around each other. My parents were unable to do that, my own mother beign so hurt by the divorce, my dad a weak and pathetic man and my stepmother being just pure evil, that my Dad just chose to leave us kids entirely, that being the absolute worst thing you can do to a child, I hope you can work to make sure that this never happens.
Divorve is never easy, especially with kids involved, but when this is the case, the happiness and well being of the children must always be the main priority.

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Anderlie December 12, 2012 at 12:22 am

‘… so are the days of our lives.’ So much manufactured drama.

On a second, perhaps just as pertinent etiquette point: were these the only children at the party and if so were they invited or just taken along?

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Miss Marie December 12, 2012 at 2:09 am

@Rachel: I completely agree! As I tried to explain many times to my ex and his mother, children of divorced parents don’t always end up disturbed or lacking something! I have four amazing parents and I love them all!
@mpk: My father and stepmother never got married. She became my stepmother because she lives with my Dad and loves him and cares for him, and by extension his children. Not everyone gets married anymore and it’s not fair to make this distinction when clearly Melanie is living with this man and caring for him as a wife would. She is, for all intents, a parental figure to his kids. She just needs a little practice at the stepmom thing.
Good luck to all involved!

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abcd December 12, 2012 at 5:40 am

Do we also get letters from Richard and Phil?

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Rap December 12, 2012 at 8:54 am

“were these the only children at the party and if so were they invited or just taken along?”

According to Melanie’s letter, the friends (John and his spouse/significant other I presume) told them to bring the kids. While other children aren’t mentioned, toys are, which suggests they were in some play area for children. I admit its an assumption but I assumed there were other kids.

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Jen December 12, 2012 at 9:01 am

I’m late to this party and I haven’t, but I guess I don’t understand why there had to be a fight here. Ultimately, I guess I’d have to side with the second LW, I feel like the Stepmom caused a lot of these problems. First, Stepmom Melanie lost me when she said that the ex should have left. Why? That’s just silly.

Second, custody is not supposed to be a rigid – only-spend-time-with-Daddy. If you treat custody like that, you are going to make the kids miserable. Even when with mom or dad, the other person is still their mom or dad. You can’t expect a kid to be cold to their mom just because it isn’t their weekend.

Anyway – stepmom, they are not “your” kids alone because it’s your husband’s weekend with them. Their mom is their mom is their mom. And if you can’t put the kids ahead of your feelings towards the ex and are going to try to make this relationship difficult, please please don’t marry this man.

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Rap December 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

Jen, although I don’t think this is the issue after reading Ex-Wife’s second letter, I know from listening to arguements that a problem that non custodial parents often have is that during their time, the other parent often shanghais their weekend time. Should it be “rigid”? No…with a but. What if you see your kid for one weekend every two weeks and your ex hands your child a cell phone to call if there’s a problem (thereby assuming there will be a problem) and proceeds to show up or be on the scene for for whatever you had planned with the little one, there’s a problem. I will admit, it ringed on my antennae that Exwife just happened to be socializing at a party that Phil and Melanie just happened to be attending with the kids. That can immensely frustrating. As I am typing this, I am actually listening to a coworker explain to a fellow coworker how she arranges to be “around” at an event her ex is taking their child to.

I think we’re holding step parents to impossible standards. They have to accept, no matter how hurtful, that they’re always the outsider and never *really* family but at the same time they have to parent children who expressly remind them how they’ll never be a part of the family, and of course they have to drop back the second a real parent shows up. If Exwife hadn’t been on the scene…who’s job would it have been to deal with the boo-boo? Probably not Phil’s…. yet Melanie has to be subserviant to Ex-wife’s authority whenever Exwife is around even when it’s not planned.

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Paige Black December 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I think @ The Other Elizabeth summed it up perfectly.

I would like to add that it seems suspicious that Ex-wife showed up at a party when she stated that the last name of the host is not a common name and happens to be the last name of a close co-worker of Phil and Melaine. Throw in that the kids are also in attendance at this party and it sounds more suspicious.

The comments that Melaine is not the kids “real” parent- pure BS. What do you folks think of adoptive parents? Parents that go pick up an unwanted/abandoned child from the hosptial and raise them? Because they did not conceive and give birth, does that make them not the “real” parent? I am sure Melaine has made mistakes and will make more but I also suspect that Ex-wife has also made mistakes and will again.

Lastly, where the heck was Phil when all this went down?

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LonelyHound December 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I can kinda of see both sides to this story as I know people one either side of the issue (one is in the ex-wife’s position and one in Melanie’s). From the tones of both these letters I am disinclined to say really anything. Both are very bitter women who need to grow up for the sake of the children involved. Both show the other as the “bad person,” which, in my experience, usually means the truth would lie better in a disinterested third party. Not the friend, not Phil and not Richard, just a person who was unfortunate enough to be there. Besides Little Guy and Big Guy I feel sorry for the hosts. It was too bad that their party was ruined by two girls who could not bear to act like women for a few hours.

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Abby December 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm

This is a really unusual story, in the normally when you hear 2 sides of the same story, person A makes person A sound really good, and person B makes person B sound really good. In each case, both Melanie and the Ex made themselves sound bad.

Melanie, when telling her story, comes off entitled and immature, saying Ex should have left the party, Ex should have left the room, Ex should not have tried to attend to her injured child (based on the whole, Ex snuck out comment). Had I just read Melanie’s side, I would have assumed Melanie was 100% at fault and was so insecure regarding ex wife that their future marriage had no chance of succeeding. Then you read Ex Wife’s story, and while she goes into far more detail about Melanie’s shortcomings then Melanie did, her overall tone is very aggrieved and full of righteous indignation, and her glee regarding the kids not liking Melanie is very clear. That is kind of offputting.

I would venture to guess that in general, both women have routine etiquette blunders when dealing with each other, but regarding this specific holiday party incident *only*, I’d send Melanie to E hell, not the ex wife (who, by Melanie’s own admission, didn’t do anything wrong other than stay at a party Melanie felt she should have left).

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Kristi December 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm

I’m just curious, as it seems so many who responded are in one of these situations or the other (Mom with kids who spend time with Stepmom or girlfriend, or the Stepmom or girlfriend), it really brought up an interesting debate. Does anyone know if there is a website like this one, but which focuses on the ins and outs of dealing with these blended family situations? I feel like I could really use a sounding board, feedback, other points of view, etc. on my own situation.

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kingsrings December 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Melanie lost me as soon as she started referring to her fiance’s children as her children. I can’t stand it when people claim children that aren’t really theirs, or call their boyfriend their children’s father when he isn’t. Unless you’re married, they’re NOT your children, and your fiance is just that and NOT your husband, too.

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Jen December 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm

I’d say my aunt is a pretty successful stepmom, and the way she does it? She never compared her relationship with my cousin with his relationship with his mom. She never tried to claim her stepson as being the same thing as if he were her son right away. That’s like acting like your boyfriend is your husband on the third date. That relationship has to be earned, not forced. And a fiance? Not yet.

Rap, I think you’re being paranoid. Ex spouses know a lot of the same people, and it’s not unusual for both to be invited. People expect exes to manage to be civil. Bean counting and competing affections are not the mature way to do it.

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divorce and dating December 13, 2012 at 6:34 am

I attended a funeral a few years ago where several people had dated before, and I realized that the coupling and re-coupling and exes and drama was still JUST like high school!

Except instead of just dating and then breaking up and hopefully moving on, they got married/had kids, yet when the divorce kicks in, instead of fights over exes and perceived wrongs, now the kids are drug into the mix.

I know there in anecdotal evidence of so so many wonderful step-parents. But…statistics show that second marriages fail faster than first marriages. Be very sure of yourself and the other person before the kids get involved.

Some recommend two years before marriage, and with divorce and kids, longer might be better, so you can learn about yourself and your own relationship with your kids, before adding in 3rd and 4th parties.

A person can put on a nice facade for months. But take the time to see how they handle their coworkers, store personnel, neighbors, etc…how do they act on holidays?

Any of us can get dressed up for the theatre. But it is the show of life that tells the real story.

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Rap December 13, 2012 at 9:06 am

No, I’m not being paranoid in that I have no ex that I share children with. Since I do have friends with ex wives and husbands, two of whom occasionally loudly discuss their plans to attend event X that their ex is taking their child to, so they can “keep an eye on” the kid and then report back on how they were justified to do this, no I don’t think I’m being paranoid in noting that mmm ExWife had some clues that her little ones might be there. Am I certain? No, but the harping on custody time certainly is familiar. And its not an unknown tactic on the part of parents.

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