They're the times of celebration and rejoicing: family weddings, graduations, your partner's parents' 50th wedding anniversary. But complications also loom. Who'll host the graduation party, Mom and her partner or Dad and his? Both? Can they really get along that long? What about weddings? Who'll stand up with the bride, her biodad (who she's seen two weeks a year since she was 3), or her stepdad (who taught her to ride a bike, shoot pool, bake cookies, solve an algebraic equation, and water ski)?
Catch my drift? You should be celebrating, but instead your dentist is threatening to put you in a jaw brace to keep you from grinding your teeth in your sleep.
You, the new step, may be on informal trial, or at least close scrutiny. Everybody is watching to see what the exes do when they see each other. So what's to be done?
- Choice #1: Opt out of the big family hoopla and do a couple of smaller family hooplas.
- Choice #2: Do the big family hoopla, plan within an inch of your life, and then practice your meditation and let go of the results.
If your partner and the ex can agree to disagree enough to negotiate who gets what event (he'll do their son's baseball awards ceremony, and she'll do their daughter's godmother's second wedding), the calm will do the kids a world of good.
Who's Coming to the Party?
If there's acrimony between the exes (as there often is), relatives and friends of both exes have a tough choice. Which one to invite? You and your partner may find yourselves excluded from other people's special events at times. It's tough deciding whom to exclude, and it's hard to cope when you're the one who hasn't been invited. Try to be generous. The choice is often made not on a basis of whom the host likes better, but for many other reasons. Try not to hate the host, and don't use the disappointment as an excuse to become hermits. Get out and do something else fun! There are, no doubt, events where you make the A list and the ex does not.
Remember that “parent” is not just a noun—it's also a verb.
Snubbed and Heartbroken
How can you take it when you, the step, is snubbed by your stepchild for the bioparent who didn't put as much time and energy (or money) into her upraising? It's hard to be left out of the graduation pictures and the wedding party. But it is the child's choice. Enlist your partner for understanding, love, and support during this tough time. No matter how hard you try, and no matter what you do, you are not the parent. It hurts. Try to suck it in and act noble.
Being Gracious When Nobody Else Is
Wanna chalk up some good Karma? Here's an opportunity to show how noble, sophisticated, big-hearted, mature, and elegant you are. There will be times when you must attend an event with the ex. Rise like yeast dough above the rest, practice your serenity, and be utterly and infallibly gracious. You'll drive the petty ex wild and gain major points with everybody else. You'll also give a wonderful lesson in modeling to the kids.
Maybe the honoree (the birthday girl or the graduation boy) can celebrate twice! Mom and her partner can host the pre-dinner, and Dad and his partner can host the post-dinner—this way, the kid gets lots of attention.
When Not to Attend
Sometimes you'll all be invited to an event and, for whatever reason, you know it would not be a good thing for you, your partner, and the ex to be in the same room. It may be too hard on you, or it may be too distressing for the kids. This can be particularly hard when it's a child's special event, such as a wedding, graduation, birthday, or award ceremony. Sometimes your partner should go and you should not.
If you and/or your partner decline, send something along to show that you are thinking of the child at his or her special moment. It's easy for a child to interpret physical distance as a lack of caring, and that certainly is not what you want the child to feel.