4 Ways to Gracefully Co-Parent with Your Spouse's Ex
- Heidi Vegh Contributing Writer
- 2022 7 Jun
Before I lost my husband to cancer in 2013, I had a traditional, nuclear family. Dad, Mom, two kids, and two dogs. Life was simple and uncomplicated. It wasn't without its share of difficulties, but my family life made sense. It was how God had intended family life.
When I was left alone with my two small children, I was left without hope for a future. However, in time I saw the hand of God moving in my life. He brought me a new husband only 18 short months later, and with him came my stepson. He was three years old at the time, and he and my boys were instant brothers. I was now part of a very complex family unit that I never expected when I envisioned my family.
The blessing of a new family has been tremendous in my life, and God has done exceedingly more than I could ever have imagined, just as He promises for those who love Him.
"God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think." Ephesians 3:20
With the blessing of complex blended family life came a complex and very unique family dynamic. I was now a second wife and stepmother, which of course, means there was a first wife and mother of my stepson. The unique job of parenting a child that you did not bear has had many challenges. I needed to learn a new personality and become familiar with my husband's parenting style. My husband also became a step-father, and many challenges came with that.
The difference was that my husband became my children's only father figure, but I had to come face to face with the fact that I would be mothering with another woman. This new, uncomfortable dynamic threw me for a loop in many ways. I needed to figure out where to put her in my life, mind, and heart. I needed to overcome feelings of jealousy as she had been married to my husband. I needed to process how to parent with someone watching over my shoulder, questioning our parenting choices, and I needed to figure out how to move forward in my life and marriage with her involved.
This was a challenging process, but I have come out on the other side with a wealth of experience and knowledge. I have created a space for her in my life, and she has become one of my closest friends.
Here are four ways that I have learned to graciously parent with my husband's Ex-Wife:
1. Don't Allow Jealousy and Comparison to Creep In
I was jealous and compared myself to my husband's ex-wife. I hate to admit it, but I truly was. I had never experienced this intense feeling of jealousy ever in my life. My first husband was my one and only in every way. We were high school sweethearts, and we had never been with anyone else. Our relationship grew through our teenage years into our adult years. We never had to deal with past relationships and never had to step-parent. Our boys were our own. Our parenting was our own.
So coming into a marriage with another woman attached was not something I was prepared for. I knew full well she would be in my life from the moment we started dating, but I wasn't equipped for the deep and ugly emotions that followed. One mistake I made was going deep diving into their social media history. This was by far the biggest mistake that I made. If I had to do it over, I never would have allowed myself to do that because the consequences were deeply damaging. Avoid this at all costs!
Don't allow the enemy to ruin what you have with your husband by imprinting images in your mind of them together. I let curiosity get the best of me, and it was a struggle to pull myself out of that pit. When I came to terms with their past and realized that my husband ultimately chose me over her, I began to heal.
Allowing feelings of jealousy can be incredibly damaging. If you are dealing with this ugly sin, give it to the Lord. Ask Him to forgive you and give you strength over your curiosity and allow Him to fill that with truth. Do not waste your energy sifting through the past. It does not matter and never will. Focus on what is happening in front of you. Focus on your marriage and the relationship that God has created to form a new family. That is where your energy needs to be. The enemy will strive to pull you down dark alleys of jealousy, but you can overcome them with the Lord.
2. Don't Let Resentment Grow: Be Gracious in Your Response and Dealings
The ex-spouse will most likely be very opinionated in how you parent their child. And rightly so. It is her child. Put yourself in her shoes. In your particular situation, you may already be. If you share your own child with your ex-husband's new wife, you can relate to her. Either way, this can be incredibly challenging. No one wants to parent with someone watching them and giving their opinions. In the beginning, I took this very hard. After all, my own children were older than hers; I was older than her, and I had been a parent longer. I didn't need anyone questioning my methods.
Resentment began to grow in my heart. I loathed being judged for how I mothered. I was selfish and annoyed. I spent a lot of my energy enabling feelings of resentment that led to a life of animosity. I felt like I was walking on eggshells and hated every minute.
However, over time and with the graciousness of the Lord, I began to become more compassionate and was able to see her side of things. It took a lot of work in my heart, and the Lord has brought me leaps and bounds in my dealings with her. However, this was not all me. She has grown and matured and began to understand my take on things, and we have actually become quite good friends.
This has not been easy, but when you allow grace and understanding to override feelings of bitterness, you will see things change. The change will start in your own heart. Give these ugly feelings to God, ask for forgiveness, and move forward with your guard up against an enemy that is aiming to destroy your beautiful new family.
3. Consider Her Family
She is not your enemy. She may treat you like an enemy, and she is certainly dealing with feelings of jealousy, resentment, and bitterness, perhaps more than you, but you can pave the way for a loving relationship with her. If you pursue gentleness and kindness, she will likely follow suit. Treat her with respect and love her when it is difficult. If the challenges with her are more than you can bear, remember that God is bigger and that He has placed you in this family for a reason. Be the change. Be the one who is exuding the fruits of the Spirit in the relationship.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
Allow this situation to be a beautiful opportunity to be like Jesus. She may not respond in the way you will but knowing that you are living in love will give you the strength to push through.
Whether you like it or not, she is part of your family, so treat her as such. Share pictures of her child with her, and send updates and stories of things going on. Go out of your way to include her as much as you can. I understand that there is limited contact in some situations, and it needs to be done through a third party but even at that, have a heart to share and a heart to love on her. This may seem ridiculous and impossible in so many ugly family situations, but with the help of the Lord, you can be the beacon of light for the family in whatever way is possible.
4. Pray For Her
This one is the most important, especially if you are experiencing anything that was mentioned before. No matter the family dynamic or familial situation, prayer is the one thing you can always do.
Lift her up in prayer if you have a strained relationship, and lift her up in prayer if you have a good relationship. Praying for someone changes your heart in powerful ways. You begin to see the person as God does. A beautiful and cherished child of God.
When we shift our view of anyone that brings challenge and complexities to our lives, it helps us process difficult situations with grace and understanding. I know this is not fair in a lot of circumstances; in your eyes, this person may not deserve your love, respect, or prayers, but God would beg to differ. If you allow God to shift your heart and your view of this person, I promise good things will come, if only in your own heart.
Parenting a stepchild with your spouse's ex is not for the faint of heart. It is challenging and will force growth lessons like no other relationship. However, remember that God placed you in the unique family for a reason. So be the light, be the love, and learn to live above the circumstances, seasoning everything with grace!
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/GalinaZhigalova
Heidi Vegh is a writer, speaker, and ministry leader living in Gig Harbor, WA. She is a remarried mother of four, navigating the blended family life after the loss of her first husband to cancer in 2013. She longs to use her writing as a way to encourage others who have experienced loss and guide them on the road to healing. She contributes to her blog found at thebreathingmama.com, sharing stories and devotionals of faith stemming from her loss and healing, mothering, and her blended and complex family. She graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a degree in Creative Writing and English and is working on her first book. Heidi is the Women’s Ministry Director at Gig Harbor Foursquare and has a deep heart for sharing Jesus with women and encouraging them in their faith walk. When she is not writing she loves to travel, read, craft, and experiment in the kitchen. Visit her Facebook and Instagram (@mrsheidivegh) to learn more.