WTF Wednesday: My ex’s new family is a hot mess. How can I change it?

single mom advice

Dear Emma, WTF?!

My ex husband and I separated in December, 2012 when our son was 14 months old and he walked out and I moved back with my parents.

Just a few weeks later he moved another woman into our old home. On one hand it is his life to live as he wants, but I cannot get over how his decisions affect our son. The new girlfriend has three kids from three different baby daddies, one of whom is an older boy with whom my son has to share a room. The older boy deeply resented the whole situation and started being physically and verbally abusive to my son.

The real part that burns me is the total lack of communication about this situation. For example, my ex didn’t bother to inform me about his new relationship and cohabitation – I figured it out when she answered the door! Much worse, I did not hear about this abusive older boy until a year after it started. And it wasn’t until after the baby was born that I learned about my son’s new half-sister!

This new couple immediately started shoving the idea of step-family down all the kids’ throats, even though they have split up several times in the past two years. (My son visits every second weekend.)

I can barely get my head around this situation – how can I expect my 3-year-old son to understand his new family?

–Losing it in St. Louis

Dear Losing,

I see that you are trying to make a safe and loving life for your son in the face of the inherently stressful dynamics of divorce. And now his dad has chosen a chaotic life, and by proxy that chaos is imposed on your son.

That is the reality of life: You do not have control over a whole lot. Being a good mom, you want control over your son’s environment. You know that stability and smooth transitions are good for kids. At your home, around your extended family, your son enjoys that. At his dad’s house? Not so much.

It sounds like your ex has addressed the situation with the older step-brother (if it were continuing and/or truly scary you would have lead with that — or called the police). I assume that has been resolved.

This is what you can do now:

Talk to your ex. Send him a text that says: “I have some ideas about how we can make this transition easier for our son. Can you talk later this evening on the phone?”

In that conversation do not attack your ex’s life. That new life is happening – you can’t change it. Trying to do otherwise will shut down the conversation quicker than a nag will kill an erection.

Be specific. It does not work if you say: “I am worried that your new life is messing up our kid.” Instead, say: “I think some of the changes in our son’s life are confusing for him. Can we decide together how to explain it to him so he gets the same messages from both homes?” Then suggest what that message will be. Try: “Families change. Now you live with mom and grandma and grandpa at one house, and on weekends you stay with daddy and his new wife and kids. ‘Family’ can mean different things.”

HOWEVER, I think that the above message is more or less what your ex is telling your son — the dad now has a new family (even if you think it is a messed up one). Which brings me to this:

Check yourself. I think the root of this is that you are frustrated (100% understandably so) and feel out of control. One mantra that has helped me through the past few years is this: Focus on what you can control. Let go of the rest. In this case, keep focusing on being a great mom to your kid, do your best to help him understand his new family, be positive about your ex’s situation (I mean, common, new babies are always wonderful), and hope for the best.

Hope for the best. Given the unstable track record of this woman and the current relationship — the chances this show will last long are nil.When it inevitably blows up, keep doing what you’re doing.

Have a question about dating, parenting, or work as a single mom? Send them to emma at emma-johnson dot net. I will keep your identity secret.

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

2 thoughts on “WTF Wednesday: My ex’s new family is a hot mess. How can I change it?

  1. Emma, your advice on this is sound. I do agree that chances are this show will indeed “blow up” on it’s own, although it could get worse before it gets better. Ugh, I feel for her young son trying to figure out what the hell is going on when he goes to visit his dad. Double-ugh. Three year olds are too cute to be dealing with crap like this.

    “The new girlfriend has three kids from three different baby daddies,” – If there a silver lining, her ex sounds like he has no aptitude to make wise choices for himself, let alone for his kiddo. The writer is likely far better in the long run without him. I will, under protest, agree that this is probably one of those few instances where a divorce should have been initiated by the wife. Hmmm, but is her ex one of those “bad boys” we’ve commented upon so much lately? Stupid bad boys look oh so good now? Score a point for the nice guys today!

    “And now his dad has chosen a chaotic life, and by proxy that chaos is imposed on your son.” – His dad surely has stupidly chosen such, and sadly “by proxy that chaos” gets most seriously put upon her son, but also upon her, the grandparents, etc. etc. By proxy it also will affect any serious relationship “Losing It” might ever have with another man. “Losing it” may be the hottest vixen, best lover, nicest woman, and greatest mom, but any sensible guy looking at a committed relationship with her is also going to see a WHOLE LOTTA MESS. This is the drama that comes with single parents that gets really, really, really…….wait for it…….really old. (Did I remember to mention how really old the drama gets?) Not that I would recommend to any sensible guy that he attempt a serious relationship, but I just know there is some nice guy out there that is just gonna stumble into it anyway. There, I tossed out my warning to all mankind about it (in case “mankind” missed my dozens of other dire warnings in these comments), and did my due diligence to the world at large.

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