The Just Meet Her Challenge
Could a face-to-face discussion with the stepmom or ex-wife in your life improve your situation by opening your eyes and heart? That’s the challenge that was raised on MendingTheNest.com. The premise of this idea is that meeting with a person on the ‘other side of the fence’ can give you the chance to see another point of a view and to gain a deeper understanding. This meeting isn’t meant to be an all night affair, to try and become friends or to solve (or even discuss) issues. Instead the goal is simple – humanize the other person.
It’s very easy to discredit someone you don’t truly know. It’s easy to diminish their role, to judge their actions or to assume negative intent. The relationship between an ex-wife and stepmom is notoriously difficult. The reasons and culture behind this run deep and are difficult to break out of. The labels we give only strengthen this divide – “the ex”, “bio-mom”, “the wife, “just-a-stepmom”. The labels themselves illustrate the dehumanizing of the other person and loudly scream of our fight against a mutual understanding. We create a battlefield in our minds – Us vs Them.
While I don’t believe that a single coffee meeting or 30 minute chat will be a huge turning point, it does have the ability to open a door. Or at least a small window. Getting to know the “other one” as a person and viewing them as they are – a woman, a mother, a wife, a person with the same fears and doubts – can help you to soften your heart, even if just a little.
When we soften our hearts and open our minds we are able to remove some of our own assumptions and it’s easier to imagine less sinister intent. I truly believe that in even the most difficult and contentious situations, both individuals are doing their best. They may later on gain new insight or realize that a misstep occurred, but I don’t believe that the average person wants to intentionally cause stress and instability in their children’s lives. Because that is what a hostile or conflict ridden relationship between the two homes does for their kids. No parent wants their children to have to spend their adult years fixing childhood issues that they caused. And no stepparent comes into a home with children hoping to cause pain or to be hated.
The challenge listed a few guidelines to consider when arranging this initial meeting. They recommend that you meet in person only if you have at minimum exchanged a few pleasantries. If you are in a high conflict situation, they suggest you instead talk to someone who is in that particular role to try and gain an understanding of their point of view. While I think it’s wise to be cautious in a high conflict situation, meeting with an outside person may not lend the appropriate insight to help your situation. Each stepfamily runs a very different course and the histories can vary in every detail. I would suggest waiting to meet until your conflict levels decrease and working instead on your own side until that occurs. Simple steps such as using the other woman’s name instead of the titles we discussed above can help you to slowly begin the process humanizing her.
If you feel that a face-to-face is appropriate, here are some items to think about when planning the meeting:
- Meet in a neutral location and plan for the meeting to be short. Think of this like a first date – a drink instead of dinner, or coffee instead of an outing. This will help to lower tension and it gives you the ability to easily end the discussion if things do not go well.
- Avoid any conflict topics you may be dealing with. This isn’t a time to fix issues, this is just a start to begin getting to know one another.
- Come prepared to listen. Have a few topics ready to discuss, but most important come to listen.
- Have this conversation early. Ideally, it would happen at the start of when the stepfamily is created or as soon as you realize that the roles are getting off track. If this timeline is missed, this conversation is still important, it may just involve more hurdles.
Embrace the Opportunity
If you get the opportunity to meet with her, view it as the gift it really is. It may be nerve-wreaking or uncomfortable, but not everyone in your situation is given this chance for change. Take it in and see her as she is. Instead of viewing the mistakes or the horror stories you’ve heard, pay attention to what makes you similar. Is she just as nervous as you are? Is she also going through this uncomfortable situation with a hope for improvement?
Lastly, even if the meeting goes well, remember that the work doesn’t stop there. There will still be difficult situations you will run into, but hopefully you are now able to see the situation with clearer eyes. Continue to work on improving the lines of communication and challenge yourself to see her as a person instead of a title. If your meeting did not go well, keep trying. A smile when you see each other, a friendly hello or another meeting down the road can help tremendously. This is a process that will take time, especially if you are years into the stepfamily dynamic.