Coparent Academy Podcast

New Wife Dictating Communication

June 13, 2022 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
Coparent Academy Podcast
New Wife Dictating Communication
Show Notes Transcript

Father's new wife is not happy with his coparenting efforts?  What should she do, and will their young marriage survive?

Ron and Linda discuss healthy boundaries stepparents can put in place to make life better for themselves, their marriage and, especially, for the children.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.

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Ron Gore  
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen a situation in which the father's new wife has been armchair quarterbacking the arguments between father and mother?

Linda VanValkenburg  
You mean like writing the responses for dad?

Ron Gore  
 I mean, try to get your head there if you can. I know it's hard to comprehend. 

Linda VanValkenburg  
Nobody can see that she spells better than dad does or puts punctuation marks in or anything really or has a different vocabulary? Yeah.

Ron Gore  
I mean, what percentage of cases do you think it is? Where we've got that scenario? 

Linda VanValkenburg  
101? I think, yeah, it's, it's pretty. It's pretty normal.

Ron Gore  
Yeah, well, that's something that we have here. And then one of these Reddit posts, there's a lady who's saying that she's got two children, or her husband has two children with his ex and says that his ex is extremely controlling. And she's just sort of running all over, that she's been this step has been, excuse me step-mother has been trying to help negotiate those disagreements with the mother of his children. And it's just wearing her down. She's tired of having to deal with it. And she even says that it's starting to affect her feelings for her husband, that he's being run all over. And she's thinking about leaving him.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Well, and one very telling thing about that is, is she says that -- she's describing the biological mother, the co-parent, that she is telling him what to do. And I'm thinking "and what are you doing, sweetie," you know?  The poor guy just doesn't know which ends up and who he can possibly, please, because it would always come down to every scenario I've heard through these 37 years, it's always come down to I'm going to make this one mad if I tell them what this one wants. And a lot of guys will even procrastinate telling their wife, the stepmom, what the plan is, which is gonna make her even madder when she finds out because they don't want to make her mad because they've agreed to something that will make the mother happy, It is a no-win situation for these guys.

Ron Gore  
Well, having been a stepmother, yourself, what do we tell a gentleman like this? What do we tell this stepmother?

Linda VanValkenburg  
Well so many years ago, I am quite grateful for the fact that there was not email or text. Because I'm afraid I would have been one of these people, you know, because I would have been trying to help. And I, I learned during that process, mainly because I was asked to run a group at a women's listening center is what it was called, it was a not-for-profit place for women to go and get help. And they asked me to start a step-parenting support group there. And I got more information and support out of that, I think, then they were getting out of me as the therapist, and I was a new therapist, and I was the new stepmom at the time. And I had my eyes opened in lots of ways to various scenarios. And when you do just like I hope our listeners and our Coparent Academy members will be doing, is when you do listen to information that's presented in different ways to you, suddenly it will just kind of hit you between the eyes and you go, "Oh my that's me." And if you can hear it and own it and know that it's, you know, presented in the most caring way, because we've all been there, it's the most helpful thing for you.

Ron Gore  
I used to have that. So Rebecca, who joins us on this a lot is my wife and a paralegal of mine. And for years, I would come home and say I had a scenario today where she saw the person in the office I'd be like oh, this is what the situation is and I recognize myself and his wife is leaving him. So, sorry.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Don't go anywhere.

Ron Gore  
Let me try to work on that. And so but yeah.

Linda VanValkenburg  
That goes a long way with any woman.

Ron Gore  
Really hits home when you see that. Especially when you see because it's so neat because it's kind of like being God. Because you get to see the situation is almost like you're outside of it, especially when you see with so many people, you see this person in this moment making this decision. But you see this person who made the same decision months ago and where it landed them. It was sort of feel like you can jump into that timeline at various places and see it all at once. Neat perspective.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Hadn't even really thought about it like that. But you're so right about that. And I know one of the kind of funniest moments I had in that support group was there was a there were several groups going on at once every evening at this place, and, and an older couple, I thought they were older then. I was in my early 30s. And they were younger than I am now, I'm sure. And they came in or they opened the door and kind of looked questioningly and I said, "What group are you looking for?" Because I thought surely they don't have you know, younger stepchildren like we're all talking about. And they said "step-parent support group?" It's like, one of them said, "Oh, you're thinking when the child turns 18, that there's no longer the step-parent issues." And everybody in the group was like, Aha, because we had all discussed in a previous time how many more years we had to deal with the other coparent. I mean, frequently, and would come in and celebrate that the child had another birthday. And so we only had 13 more years instead of 14. And they said no, the problems just change and sometimes get much bigger when you have grown stepchildren.

Ron Gore  
Right and, and grandbabies and all those things.  Well, and all of these complications, by the way, are part of the reason why we have Coparent Academy, depending on when you're hearing this, we either have already added or are soon to add our stepparent, blended family course as well, dig into all of this stuff.

Linda VanValkenburg  
And we figured it was just kind of impossible to do this without having that additional piece to it. Because that was that was the other thing where I learned so much in handling that group was, you know, one person may very easily be a stepmother and a biological mother, you know, I mean, it's just, of course, and in fact, it's more rare for it to be the other way around, I think, where there's someone that is not a biological mother, who's also a stepmother. And so I had to get my head around the fact that, wait a minute, okay, I can't just talk about them like they're the. The other, you know, when it's the same person sitting here having both experiences.

Ron Gore  
Well, and to give all credit to stepparents, they're in the all time impossible position.

Linda VanValkenburg  
I tell them all the time, you have the most thankless job, right parenting, because you do have all the, you know, I mean, my husband and I had pretty defined male-female roles, and he was quite capable of doing a lot of things outside the home. And I was a homemaker in addition to my counseling career. And so, you know, I would do all the, you know, cooking, cleaning, laundry, making sure she, you know, had all the hygiene stuff done and so forth him, especially since it was a girl, and then you get absolutely no credit for that. And no thanks for that. And then I think as I've, as I've mentioned before when she was nine, he died. And so I totally lost, you know, my investment in her, you might look at it that way. And so it's in many times I've had to look at a stepmother who is a little too invested in the outcome of things and remind her that she has no legal rights to this child. And it's, you know, I don't know any that are even getting, like grandparent visitation rights. I don't know if any step-parent,

Ron Gore  
There are some cases. And there's been some developments in law in that area because of all of the surrogacies. Because you wind up and especially when you have the situation in which neither parent is a biological parent, and you have lots of same-sex couples get into that situation. And then they have a child who's maybe they adopted or also adoptions. And so you want to have in the situation in which you have these people in the face of the law are third parties, right. But they've been maybe the primary caretaker.  And so that's led to some developments law. And actually, in Oklahoma statute, there's a specific statute that goes through the order priority for people who should be considered for custody of a child. And it's been expanded to, you know, a source of the parents, it's got grandparents, it's got family, and then it's got, you know, any other person, it's got a catch-all. 

Linda VanValkenburg  
I never thought to ask you that before? That's very encouraging to hear. 

Ron Gore  
When it would be in the child's best interest to have that person and the ideals sort of a quintessential thing is, you know, a same-sex couple's child was through surrogacy and the non-biological parent is the primary care. Right? And then that's, that's just sort of the, that's the crucible that clarifies all the issues.

Linda VanValkenburg  
And yeah, once again, they, they have had all the responsibility or most of it, but have no legal standing or real rights to the child. That is so sad.

Ron Gore  
So getting back to this Reddit, you know, would it be bad, she's asking for me to stop getting involved in disputes with my husband and his wife. No, I mean, I don't think it's bad I think, or, and here's the guy's perspective. And I'm prepared to be wrong. As I usually am, when I delve outside of my area. If I were advising them, I would say it's fantastic to be involved outside of the communications between your husband, and the mother of his children, be supportive of him be understanding of him, if you feel that he has difficulty in finding his voice, help him generally if that's something that you feel like you can help him do or should help him do. But at the same time, don't make him feel as if he is caught between a rock and a hard place, and he has to disappoint somebody,

Linda VanValkenburg  
Or that he is less than a man because he doesn't bear down and make her see the right thing to do or whatever.

Ron Gore  
I mean, you don't want to train him to be aggressive towards the mother of his children. And what if you become the mother of one of his children? You don't want him to be aggressive towards you?

Linda VanValkenburg  
Sadly. And I've I don't know, it struck me one day when I was doing an intake in my office with a father and his stepmother. And she was, they tend to be more zealous. And once again, I was there too early on in the marriage, and I, because they tend to see things between the coparents as issues that, well, if I had been around, then I would have solved that. Or I would have told you to do it this way or that way. And, you know, especially around here, we have the parent coordination and guardian ad litem stuff that many times gets in the way of any of that kind of stuff, which is good, I think. But it does so by limiting the, especially the parent coordinator, limiting the meetings to just the two parents, right. You know, I used to office with an older attorney that did hundreds, if not 1000s, of PC cases. And he would say I would hear him down the hall saying this to a new set of co-parents, there's only one father and one mother. And he called everybody else secondaries, which I told him I took offense to at first having been one of those, but I get it that it really does you do have to understand what your role is and where your place is. And your place is not to have that kind of frequent communication with the other parent. And they can almost every mother I've talked to where there is a partner or stepmother or girlfriend or whatever on the other side will say, I know exactly who's writing his emails or his you know, I've known him for a long time. I know his writing style. I know how he talks, I know his punctuation and grammar, and it's not him. And so it's not very helpful. You may think you're not coming across as that person but of course it's obvious.

Ron Gore  
Yeah. And his term was probably nicer than mine because I sometimes refer to these folks as collaterals, just folks to the side, right? If you look at DHS investigations in Oklahoma, they'll be referred to just as the normal parent as the biological parents are as a person responsible for the child. So the context matters because you can have, you know, a stepparent, who is a FRC person, or PRC person responsible for the child who could get into trouble with DHS for abuse or neglect. Just like the biological parent. So on that end of it, you know, they do have to be aware that they have responsibility. So it is, it's just so incredibly complex for first step parents in these blended families. And you're right, they don't get enough credit. And that's why it has to be such a big decision when you're getting married into a family that has that dynamic already. And that's where I think, it seems like one of the best things that a step- parent can do is to early on, identify for themselves, what are healthy boundaries for them to protect themselves emotionally and their relationship, and then try to stick with it.

Linda VanValkenburg  
And actually, what is a good healthy boundary for that person themselves, winds up being very healthy for the relationship. You know, when I, when I do have one of those fervent couples, in for the first time, it typically the dad's kind of sitting back and is kind of receding into the couch, you know, and the stepmom is sitting on the very, very edge of the couch and, you know, vehemently explaining things to me, and she's doing most of the talking. And so I let her exhaust herself for a while. And then I'll say, how much time out of the time that you guys are able to speak to each other without anybody else around? How much of that time, would you say you spend discussing her? Yes. And I'll tell ya, it gets their attention. Because they don't even realize that the bulk of their conversations because of they're, that wound up or she is in a session with me. I know it's that way a lot at home. 

Ron Gore  
Why do particularly I think step-mothers get so wound up like that.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Well, it's a girl thing. And it's a competitive kind of thing. You just kind of, like the difference between adolescent girls and their mothers versus adolescent boys and their fathers, you know, a couple of women, you may have quite the competition and jealousy. And there's a whole lot of things that come into play here. I've heard stepmoms say before that they wish that they had been the first one to give birth to his child, you know that that's a down deep kind of thing there with a lot of them. I tried a few times to have sessions with stepmoms in biological mothers in a case. Finally decided that was a no-win situation, it was just not gonna go anywhere. 

Ron Gore  
And the ones where would didn't need you.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Well exactly. They already had it figured out. But the others, you know, we're pretty much just screaming matches. And the last time I had one, the stepmother screamed at the mother that she would have done a much better job having been this child's parent from day one. So I thought, well, that's what we don't need to be. And that's where it can deteriorate really quickly between the two women. Now, I do know some cases where the two women communicate better than the dad and the mother did in the first place. But I think too, that that's kind of just making it too easy on the guy. And it needs to be where he's still, you know, being the coparent. 

Ron Gore  
And a lot of times I see these gentlemen who are getting married and they're in that honeymoon phase, and just like she is going out of her way to do all these things, for him. She's going out of her way to do this parenting issue. And eventually, she's gonna stop doing some of those other things and she's gonna stop doing the coparent thing too.  But in the meantime, you as the dad who's allowed his new wife to take that active role. One, you've kicked the hornet's nest, because just having her interact very often is going to be confrontational, just having participated in it. Two, you've gotten out of the habit of doing it, of being the one who co-parents, you know. Three, you've started to think of yourself as somehow above the coparenting communication, you shouldn't have to do it. 

Linda VanValkenburg  
Sometimes they don't even know what's going on.  They are, even if everybody's seeing each other, or in a group text or whatever. They really aren't, paying much attention to it.

Ron Gore  
And then what happens when maybe you wind up getting divorced from your second wife, and then it comes down to a situation where maybe there's a modification at hand, and the biological mother can show the judge, look, he hasn't coparented with me in three years, I haven't had a single conversation with him. So de facto I've been, of the people here that are left, I've been the only custodian of this child. I mean, I've made that argument. 

Linda VanValkenburg  
And imagine when that does happen, that the exes get together and decide they're going to gang up on you. That's never happened has it?

Ron Gore  
Yeah, and any guy who's had the situation of seeing a few people that they've dated in the past, standing in the corner, looking at them talking and hopefully not laughing? But most likely. That's, yeah, that's not a great feeling.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Speaking of the PC in the office with me, one day I passed his open office door and there was a woman sitting on one side of his rather long conference table and three men sitting on the other side. And, and I asked him after they'd all left, I said, What was that about? Because it's always just one man, one woman sitting there, you know, he said, all three of those guys were married to her at one time and had a child with her at least one. And she's remarried again. And they're recruiting number four. And each one of them had gotten him appointed as their PC in their case, so they could just, I said, gosh, they're paying like, what 20 bucks apiece for your PCs. You know, but it was it was really they were they were all splitting the bill, because they all had the same issues with the co-parenting situation. I know, that was the funniest one I've seen. But it's also how. And I realized this in my situation, one of those arrow between the eyes things that it's not just about all the adults, it's also. And that part pretty much gets left out of this Reddit post. It's also about, like you said, when they're, when they're in the honeymoon phase, they're very fervent about being helpful, and so forth. It's also the phase where you're trying to do some love mapping with a child and getting to know them and coming across as a good human being. And, you know, hopefully, somebody that's worthy of them finding some positive regard in and so forth. And then if they get wind of or, you know, outright have proof of the fact that you're fighting their mother.

Ron Gore  
Right? Yeah, even if you're on the quote-unquote right side, it doesn't matter. 

Linda VanValkenburg  
Yeah, it does not matter. And so why did they and they may have already felt like their father and their mother were fighting each other. So why did they need another participant in that battle?

Ron Gore  
And why are my father and his new wife teaming up on my mother? So there's just no good scenario.

Linda VanValkenburg  
And then it does start to affect, not only are you leaking all this emotional stuff out of your relationship as a new couple, but it does just like she said here, and that's the part that really grabbed me when I was reading it that it does definitely change the way you see each other. And if she's saying he comes across as a pushover with his ex-wife that says, A, she probably is not happy with him ever agreeing to do anything that the coparent wants him to do. You know, like, it's, it could be something as simple I know, some of our stuff was about exchanging a weekend. There would be something that came up on a different weekend or something, exchanging a weekend. And you know, if the dad agrees to it without checking with the stepmom to see what their schedule is. Oh dear.

Ron Gore  
Or even a transfer even agreeing, hey, you know I need to be 15 minutes late to the transfer and he says okay, and then tells stepmom and now she's sitting in a car for 15 extra minutes. And she's just fuming the whole time. The child maybe gets into the car. And that's the situation.

Linda VanValkenburg  
That's a very normal kind of thing. And since the stepmom or the stepfather are not in the meeting, with perhaps the therapist or the PC, or even in the courtroom, because frequently, they're the ones sitting out in the hallway. They really don't hear all the ins and outs of everything. And all they hear is when you come out, "well I agree to do this and so" and then that's probably just the opposite, or not nearly what the step-parent wanted to have happen. If they don't get it, that there was a lot that went into that agreement.

Ron Gore  
Right, stuff that and, you know, this is where being a good attorney comes in, because shouldn't be a surprise. When they come out of the courtroom, it should have had the ability to think on things for at least, you know, a couple days hopefully, so what the likely scenarios are these are areas where you might have to compromise, these are potential compromises you maybe want to make. Or these are the things that you have to think about whether or not they're deal breakers, you're not going to do this under any circumstance. And if you just get sort of caught unaware on the day of the hearing, that's when I think it can really get difficult. And, you know, on many occasions, I've told my clients, you know, don't have your brother, your mother, your sister, your whoever in the courtroom, right? Because the judge is seeing a lot more than we think, and they look back in the cheap seats, and they see somebody making a face or, you know, making sounds or doing whatever. Yeah, and you know, we have some judges, one judge in particular, I'm thinking of you will look back in there and say, ma'am, I don't need anybody shaking their head in the courtroom. So you just, you don't want all those other people. Right, it can't help you. So, all right, well, let's wish the best to these folks.

Linda VanValkenburg  
Just to answer her original question, would it be bad for me? No, it's going to actually be great for you in your relationship if you quit being so involved in those disputes.

Ron Gore  
Yeah, and I think we have to define what "all" means. So that means not only, you know, elbow deep in it, but also not controlling him from the sidelines, right. Just sort of create those good fences make good neighbors have their good boundaries and then just enjoy your relationship. All right.

Linda VanValkenburg  
I keep bringing the child up. Yeah, that's the main thing is please enjoy the child and not be thinking about a dispute between the parents.

Ron Gore  
Right and giving the child to place, a person, an adult person who can they can feel sort of safe with.