Molly and I always joke about hating Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pies. I have never explained in detail what happened and how pivotal it was in the development in our relationship, and for our blended family.
The girls usually waited for the bus at their dad’s house since my home was not on the bus route. One morning Ali asked if she could have a Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pie. I said she could, but needed to eat a real breakfast at school because I didn’t want her dad to have to feed her on my day. I felt guilty already since they had to wait at his house before and after school. Everything adds up, and I didn’t want to add more to their dad’s plate. Our divorce was not yet finalized, and things were already stressful enough between the two of us without fanning the flames. We hurried out the door and I didn’t give the sugary snack another thought.
Ali arrived at her dad’s house eating her Little Debbie.
My phone buzzed on the dash as I drove to work. By the time I pulled into my parking spot, I had received several texts from Molly. “Really? A Little Debbie for Breakfast? Is that really the best breakfast for a growing kid? Come on, you know better than that. If you’re trying to punish Jeff, you’re only punishing your kid. Why would you make her think we wouldn’t want to pay for the food she eats? And you told her she’s not allowed to eat at our house? She’s Jeff’s kid too!”
My hands trembled. “Excuse me… No! She was told to eat a real breakfast at school! I did NOT tell her she wasn’t allowed to eat at your house! You don’t have any clue who I am or anything about me! How DARE YOU ACCUSE ME OF USING MY CHILD! You need to back off now!”
I sat in my car, thankful I was early for work. My phone vibrated in my hand. “What reason would she have to lie? She said you told her not to eat at our house because we don’t want to pay for food on your days. Why would she say they if it wasn’t true? Don’t tell me to back off!”
“I don’t know why? To play both sides?” I glanced at the clock. It was time to go inside. My heart pounded and I shook all over. Employed in a doctor’s office at the time, I needed to compose myself before facing patients.
She responded again. “Your child was almost in tears because she was worried about getting in trouble for eating cereal!”
I slammed my fist into the steering wheel, stomped into work, and called Jeff. “You need to tell your girlfriend to back off now! She has no idea what is going on. She’s basically calling me a bad mom.” I took a sharp breath, and swallowed my tears.
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” He lowered his voice. “She isn’t used to kids playing both sides. I’ll talk to her.”
“I’m trying to be a responsible adult. I don’t appreciate being harassed by her texts. I told her she needed to back off, and she refused. I’m telling you to get your girlfriend to back off.” I leaned over the counter in the break room, preying none of my conservative coworkers walked through the door.
“I understand.” He paused. “She won’t bother you anymore.”
I received one more text from Molly. “I’m sorry. I guess I overreacted. I should’ve asked first instead of accusing you without finding out your side. I hope you don’t hate me now.”
My morning coffee turned sour in my stomach, rising into my throat. “Okay. Thank you.”
Molly had limited parenting experience, and was suddenly thrown into a house-hold with 50/50 custody. I had no idea how to co-parent with my ex’s new girlfriend. Everything I had seen and heard from other parents about divorce was negative.
I communicated directly with Jeff for a couple of months, trying to avoid Molly. I even tried to arrive at their house at the right time to dodge her. But it didn’t always work, and when I asked Jeff questions he told me only basic information without any elaboration. I knew from the times I did have to talk with Molly that she went well beyond the bare bones.
Molly became pregnant with her first child, Ayden. She was due to have her son around the same time as my first hip surgery. We began communicating more frequently, and as we did we both noticed each household ran smoother. The girls fought less, which caused fewer fights between the two couples (by then I had met my husband, Bob).
Talking to Molly was awkward at first, but not knowing what was going on with the girls, the two most important people in my life, was even worse. So I broached Molly about communicating with her directly. I learned she’d decided the only way her relationship with Jeff would work was if she could establish a co-parenting relationship with me. Being the youngest of five, the child of a messy divorce, Molly had her own life experience to draw on. I was a child of divorce myself. We agreed on how vital it was to raise children as secure, well-adjusted adults. She promised she would do exactly what I wanted with the girls — that I was the boss — and assured me she was not out to replace me, but only as a stand-in when I couldn’t be there.
Molly was true to her word. Whether the kids were at their house or mine, if Jeff was home or not, Molly called me and asked for my opinion. Cami was only seven when we first separated. She suffered from night terrors and nightmares. Instead of only letting Jeff handle each episode, Molly called me to comfort my daughter. One morning the phone rang at 3:00. Cami had a temperature of 101.9 and she wanted to know if I preferred Ibuprofen or Tylenol. Jeff had told her to just give her Tylenol, but Molly wanted to make sure I was in agreement. To her, there were no small decisions when it came to my daughters’ health. I soon found that Molly and I usually thought alike on parenting matters, especially after she and Jeff had children.
The beginning was tough for both of us. It’s difficult for a new stepmom to come into a new role with children who already have a mom. It is equally hard for a mom going through a divorce to let go and allow another woman to parent her children. Kids manipulate and play both sides when they can, which is why communication on both sides is imperative. Our relationship started with baby steps; communicating with one another in a business manner, planning and spending family events together, and finally an actual friendship. Together we have celebrated many triumphs and faced countless challenges. She helped me through the passing of my father, and we comforted one another when Jeff’s brother took his own life last October. Her children call me Mama Trish, and I am one of their favorite people. We are still a family, we just redefined the word to suit us.
Oatmeal Cream Pie Photo by Natasha
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