The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy’s house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, “Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter’s nails?”
What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.
Instead, I told myself it was my “mama lion” coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using “it’s for our daughter” as an excuse to play out my pain.
It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.
I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy’s house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.
Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren’t made by us.
It is programming, but that doesn’t mean it is permanent. It also doesn’t mean there isn’t pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child’s life with grace and forge new relationships.
It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.
Ashley only painted Olivia’s nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter’s life. When he met Jessica he called me, “I’ve met someone and I’d like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it.”
My only question has ever been, “Is she a good person?” We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, “I like her. Don’t mess it up.”
Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, “You are always the mom!” I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she’d thrive having Jessica in the same house.
Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia’s life that I’ve never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.
Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with T-shirts announcing “Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave.” We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.
When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia’s parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia’s guardian? It’s important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.
There wasn’t a missed beat, “Absolutely. I want them to stay together.” While Luke doesn’t care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, “Sissy mommy, go home,” we work.
We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.
A version of this post was originally published in Lore: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future. It has been updated.