Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Ex-Husband’s Girlfriend is Trying to Control My Son”

I have an amazing 10-year-old son, “John.” He’s smart, creative and a really empathetic child. My ex-husband Mike and I have been divorced for three years. Although we share custody, my ex has not been very present in my son’s life. However, since he has moved in with his girlfriend “Sam,” he seems to be showing more interest in our son. I work seven days a week to keep us afloat, so John now spends most weekends with John and Sam.

I’m happy that John finally has a healthy relationship with his father, and it’s good to see them spending quality time together. However, I’m beginning to grow concerned about Sam’s influence in John’s life. Sam has been texting John constantly, and he has been lying to me about who is texting him. She wants to know what he’s doing every day, and a few times she has said things like, “I’m sorry I yelled at you last night.” Or she’ll put undue pressure on him by asking questions like, “Well, why can’t you spend the night on Sunday?” Additionally, Sam has been buying clothes or gifts for John but insisting that he cannot take them home with him and must leave them at her house.

The straw that broke the camel’s back here happened when John had to write an essay to read aloud at an awards ceremony. He wrote the essay at Mike and Sam’s house and had asked for my opinion on it, but, when he requested that Sam print the essay so that he could show me, she refused and told him I had to wait to hear it just like everyone else and that she would print him a copy only when he really needed it.

My heart is breaking. I love my little boy and I feel like I am being pushed out of his life. At first, I thought I was just jealous, but my parents as well as Mike’s parents seem to share my concern. Mike’s parents recently told me that they were afraid that Sam was too controlling with John and that she has a very short temper. I don’t know what to do in this situation. Mike and I aren’t exactly close, so I don’t feel like it would be appropriate to critique his girlfriend. But I feel like we need to start setting some boundaries. Is this normal? Am I overreacting? How should I proceed? — Tired Mom

Um, it is COMPLETELY appropriate for you to critique your ex’s girlfriend as her behavior relates to your son. You are John’s mother and, as uncomfortable as it may feel to go to your ex and discuss the way his girlfriend is acting, it’s your job to protect your son. Please, please express your concerns to Mike and demand that some rules be set in place. (Examples: no more texting John — if Sam needs to contact him, she can call him through your phone; John is free to bring lightweight items, such as clothes and books, etc., freely between both of his parents’ homes despite who purchased them for him; HIS MOTHER IS ALLOWED TO LOOK AT HIS HOMEWORK, Jesus). While you’re talking with Mike, it might be a good time to revisit your child support arrangement as well as your (and John’s) personal expenses. If you have to work seven days a week to keep you and John afloat, it seems like his father could/should be helping out a little more financially. You may also want to meet with a financial advisor to formulate a financial plan. You can’t sustain a 7-days-a-week work schedule AND be a present mother. As much as John needs time with his dad, he needs time with you, too. And if you had even had a day a week to devote to him, your anxiety about his well-being would likely ease up a bit.

If Mike won’t work with you to set some boundaries, or if the boundaries don’t work, I’d suggest meeting with a family attorney to discuss your rights. You say both sets of grandparents have mentioned concerns about Sam. If you don’t have these comments in writing (maybe through an email), try soliciting them so that you can share them with a judge should it come to that. You may also want to talk to John’s teachers, or any other adults who are in regular contact with him, about any changes they’ve noticed since he began spending more time with his father and Sam. Any documentation you can get in writing will help your case.

Above all, know that you are NOT overreacting and that this is NOT normal. Sam is way out of bounds and she needs to be stopped. Perhaps she really does have the best intentions at heart and simply needs some direction (and boundaries). But there may also be other issues at play that you aren’t aware of because you don’t know her well and aren’t privy to the inner-workings of her mind and relationships. John is YOUR son. Sam isn’t even a stepmother. You have every right and every reason to do whatever you need to do to protect your son, keep him safe, and remove from his (and your) life anything that interferes with your ability to parent him to the best of your ability.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

23 comments… add one
  • Lyra

    Lyra January 27, 2015, 10:03 am

    Oh yikes, this isn’t good. I totally agree with Wendy, especially in terms of your work schedule and how you need to work out your child support agreements with Mike. For now, until you work out your child support stuff is there a way that you and John can move in with a friend or family member to get your feet back under you? Rent can be a killer sometimes, so if you can even move in with someone for 6 months, I think that would help a lot.

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  • avatar

    MissDre January 27, 2015, 10:04 am

    Sounds a bit like she’s creeping into psycho step mom territory. Maybe I’m biased because my dad married a lunatic. When my brother and I were little and visiting at our Dad’s house, psycho step mother BLOCKED my mom’s phone number so she couldn’t call us. Then she says to my brother and I, “I guess your mother doesn’t love you. She never calls you, does she.”

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    • Lyra

      Lyra January 27, 2015, 10:09 am

      That’s completely insane. It makes me so sad that someone would do that.

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      • avatar

        MissDre January 27, 2015, 10:16 am

        Yep and when my mom tried to call from the neighbour’s house, crazy step mother blocked the neighbour’s number too (this was before the days of cell phones). For crazy people like this, it’s all about control. They want ultimate control and they want to feel like they are in a position of power over the ex. We had a happy custody arrangement too and then my step mother demanded that my father sue my mom for full custody. Not because she wanted us kids, but because she wanted to do whatever the fuck it took to be in a position of power over her new husband’s ex-wife.

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      • FireStar

        FireStar January 27, 2015, 10:35 am

        I’m not one really to swear all the time but I have been saying what the fuck to my computer all morning. I hate your step mother and I hate this fucking girlfriend. There are children involved – how the hell can you be so fucking selfish and evil.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy January 27, 2015, 10:20 am

      WHAT THE FUCK

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray January 27, 2015, 12:44 pm

      That’s terrible! What did your dad do when he found out (assuming he found out)? Are they still married to each other?

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      • avatar

        MissDre January 27, 2015, 1:00 pm

        My dad didn’t do anything. He just went along with whatever his wife said. They did eventually divorce but many years later and I actually think that she left him.

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    • honeybeenicki

      honeybeenicki January 27, 2015, 12:48 pm

      That is horrible 🙁 How is that even ok? My dad married the wicked step mother who admitted she was jealous of me (WTF?) and once threatened to break my fingers but at least I got to talk to my mom if I wanted to.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar January 27, 2015, 10:05 am

    “I’m sorry I yelled at you last night”? What the ever loving fuck? NOT OKAY. No one should be yelling at the child really. Not okay for someone who is not a parent to even discipline a child- not unless step parents are in the picture and the parameters of how they discipline has been discussed and agreed to by ALL parents. Not okay that she is trying to restrict your input in YOUR child’s life or his homework; Not Okay that she pressures your son in any way regarding adult decisions about when a 10 year old visits; Not any of it is okay. You need to talk to Mike and then to an attorney. Something is off with the girlfriend and you cannot let her come between you and your son. It is disheartening that Mike wasn’t around in John’s life until she showed up on the scene – and who knows what her agenda is – but your job is to protect John. He shouldn’t have to feel in the middle and that is exactly where this woman is putting him with her crazy rules about what happens at her house vs. what happens at your house. I take it back – have the conversation with the lawyer first. Formulate a game plan of what you need to address with Mike (including support obligations) and go from there. What Wendy says is true – your son needs you – way more than he could ever need this stupid woman putting all this undue pressure on him. What changes can you make in your life so you aren’t working 7 days a week? Are you getting child support? If not – you need it now and you need all of the back support too. Your ex’s girlfriend should not be texting your child – especially since she is so fucking volatile she yells at him. No communication with that woman should be unmonitored…who are these fucking people? You aren’t anything to the child – not a parent, not even a step parent and you want to call shots? Unbelievable. Where is your ex in all of this? It is nice that John has a relationship with his father but that does not take priority over everything else. His job is to protect your son from any and all abuse – and yes some fucking strange woman yelling at your child counts as abuse.
    Where are you? Does your jurisdiction have free legal clinics? Is there a law school nearby – law schools usually work with free clinics. You need to formalize the visitation schedule (so that you have time with him too) and child support obligations and that can include rules for what happens at each house so their is some continuity in your child’s life. You aren’t critiquing his girlfriend you are setting rules for EVERYONE to follow regarding your son. I’m so sorry you are feeling like you are being pushed out of his life – no mother should even feel like that – but you need to fight for the best interests of your child now. This is not the time to be passive.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra January 27, 2015, 10:13 am

      Totally agree. I wonder with the texting communication….could the LW block crazy lunatic woman’s number on John’s phone or iPod or whatever? There has to be a way. As his mom, the LW has the right to step in and do that.

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  • chief10

    chief10 January 27, 2015, 11:26 am

    Coming from divorced parents, I know that in a majority of states you aren’t allowed to have your child stay at your place if you are cohabitating with an unrelated male/female ie unmarried. I wasn’t allowed to stay at my father’s until he married my now stepmom. Even if it’s not expressly spelled out in the decree it still may not be allowed. Again something to look into with a lawyer.

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  • honeybeenicki

    honeybeenicki January 27, 2015, 11:41 am

    It took us a lot of time and work to get a nice balance in how our kids would be raised with 4 parents. I think I have a lot more responsibility/leeway than most step parents, but that’s just how it worked for our family. But this is crazy. What in the hell is wrong with this girlfriend? Especially with the not printing off her speech?! Are you kidding me? Not ok. I’ll admit I have a short temper and sometimes raise my voice, but I do my best not to yell at the kids. I wouldn’t want to be yelled at, so why should they be?
    .
    The only thing I will somewhat agree with is the clothes/toys/etc staying at one house for the most part. When my husband and I first were together, we would get them clothes and toys and stuff for our house because their mom often didn’t send them with anything to do and inadequate clothes for whatever we were doing. They would then take that stuff to their moms and we’d never see it again and it would start all over. So we instituted a rule that if they wanted to bring things back and forth, that’s fine but we did not want to hear “I’m bored, there’s no toys” or anything like that because they brought everything to their mom’s place. Ultimately my husband instituted a rule that things bought for our house stayed there because it continued to be a problem. I think the difference here is that it was 1) Not for a controlling reason (like it sounds like with this girlfriend); 2) instituted by HIM, not just me and 3) It seemed unfair that we often cancelled plans because the kids didn’t have something they needed (good walking shoes, long pants, etc) even if we told their mom in advance to pack those things because everything we bought ended up at her house. These days they just kinda bring things back and forth and that’s fine with us because we’ve established enough stuff in our home that a few things won’t matter.

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    • honeybeenicki

      honeybeenicki January 27, 2015, 11:47 am

      This whole letter just keeps bothering me and I re-read it and saw that it is SAM specifically buying the clothes or gifts and not letting him take them home? Not like a joint financial purchase, but her doing it? No. That’s not ok. I must have misread it the first time because I read it as both Sam and Mike making this decision, but that’s not it at all.

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope January 27, 2015, 12:31 pm

    MissDre— How awful! Is your father still married to her?

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray January 27, 2015, 12:44 pm

    What Wendy said times a hundred!

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  • avatar

    RedroverRedrover January 27, 2015, 1:02 pm

    I know a woman just like this, but unfortunately she’s the kid’s mom, not just a girlfriend. She’s horrible. She only wanted girls, so she ignores her son completely and focuses on her daughter. That’s fucking her son right up. But I kind of think the daughter is getting it worse, because she’s getting all the poison shot right at her. The mom gets angry if the daughter talks about loving her stepmom, or wanting to spend time with her. It’s awful. The little girl is only 7 or 8, and she doesn’t know what to do. She’s like, she asks me, and when I answer, I get in trouble. I’m not supposed to lie, right? It’s heartbreaking.

    You don’t want your son to end up in this kind of situation, where he’s so afraid to be himself around her that he doesn’t know what to do. If she’s already yelling at him, that’s not a good sign. I’m sure he’s afraid of doing something wrong around her already. You need to do whatever you can to put a stop to it, as soon as possible. It’s great that the grandparents have noticed too, please do what Wendy said and see if you can get it in writing, particularly from Mike’s parents. Do Mike’s parents have much influence over him? Can they say something? I guess maybe not, if they’re coming to you with it. But maybe you could present a united front with them when talking with Mike. Just so he knows it’s not jealousy of the girlfriend on your part, but an issue that everyone can see.

    By the way, the family I mentioned does the same thing where clothes and toys don’t go back and forth. But it’s because the mom will purposely keep everything that comes to her house, and send the kids back in second-hand, ill-fitting clothes, so the dad had to institute that rule or else he’s constantly buying new stuff for them.

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  • avatar

    csp January 27, 2015, 1:39 pm

    LW, I do think you need to have a conversation but I am not as concerned as everyone else. I feel like there can be innocent explanations of everything. I mean, you have proof that she lost her cool once. Everyone has done that. As far as the clothes thing, maybe she is just trying to make their place a welcoming place so he has things there to be excited to see. I am not saying there doesn’t need to be a conversation but just realize that this woman might have good intentions. I feel like this is a defining co-parenting moment. To be able to calmly bring things up and see how you and your ex can deal with a conflict. I feel like this can be easily resolved depending on how you approach this.

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy January 27, 2015, 1:57 pm

    So here’s my take on the situation –
    Your ex has never really been involved with his son. He gets this new girlfriend and she’s completely shocked that the man she’s dating has a son that he barely has a relationship with. So she sets about trying to change that – encouraging him to spend time at their house, buying him things to keep there, trying to basically force a space in her boyfriend’s life for his son. Maybe one of her own parents wasn’t really involved in her life and she feels some kind of personal stake in the situation. Maybe she just doesn’t want to be the girlfriend who doesn’t want anything to do with her SO’s kid and she’s going overboard.
    And I think that she’s just a little overzealous about it. I’m thinking there are probably good intentions badly implemented, and that everyone probably just needs to talk about boundaries. Since there hasn’t really been any communication with the girlfriend about her behavior for her to respond to, it seems a little unfair to immediately paint her as a ‘Loon’.

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny January 27, 2015, 1:58 pm

    Two words: documentation and lawyer.
    This whole thing could boil down to simple miscommunication, or it might not. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. This woman could become John’s stepmother someday, and it’s best to take care of these issues now than later. Plus, definitely see if you can get your child support payments readjusted- you can’t work 7 days a week indefinitely! The best thing to do is get documentation of all of this just in case you need it. Then talk to a lawyer to see what you can do. It might sound excessive to go to a lawyer right now, but you never know if things could escalate down the road and it’s best to be prepared!

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  • avatar

    tbrucemom January 27, 2015, 2:42 pm

    This makes me so sad and so thankful at the same time. My husband is such a wonderful stepdad and my daughter loves him like her own. She introduces him as her “dad” not her stepdad. My grown son has a stepson and loves him like his own too. There are WONDERFUL stepparents out there and hopefully they’re the majority not like the example here. She’s not even a stepparent, just a girlfriend, which makes it even worse!

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  • possumgirl

    possumgirl January 27, 2015, 4:01 pm

    I strongly recommend reading the book “Divorce Poison” as she is trying many of the tactics mentioned in the book (despite not even being remotely related to your son!). Her behavior sounds dangerous and as if she is “grooming” him for something. Please reach out to an attorney and a child psychologist (to help counteract her brainwashing). Very sorry for your troubles, OP; this must be devastating.

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  • avatar

    Monicah Malejane January 6, 2017, 10:42 am

    I Saw the article below at POP SUGAR, written by Amy Armstrong” Titled “When Stepmoms Go by MOM” and as a mother who is going through what most ex’s husbands or boyfriend’s girlfriends expect our kids to call them am just disgusted. Clearly this whole being called mom by a child that is not yours and especially when their mother is there, alive, taking care of their kids and doing all that she can for kids is right out selfish.

    As a mother you do not want to hear your kids call another woman mom. Period. As much as stepmoms do not want to be called stepmom thats what they are and our kids can call them that. I mean if Amy could cry because she lost her name briefly as “Amymom” to her stepkids then what more if you are a mother and you feel like another woman is taking what is naturally and rightfully yours. Please Amy your article is selfish and its appaulling that for a mother you can be so insensitive to other mothers just because you are also a stepmom. Stepmoms should just be called exactly that and let the real moms be called mom.

    the article begins below if you are interested in reading it

    WHEN STEP MOMS GO BY MOM

    Almost nothing enrages a mother more than the thought of another woman replacing her. When biological children start using any derivative of “Mom” in reference to another woman, many of us get downright territorial.

    “I was devastated when my son piped up about 18 months ago with, ‘Daddy said I can call his girlfriend Mummy,'” writes Brooke W., a member of the Single Moms community. “I thought it was really wrong of my ex to encourage that in a child who lives with his bio mother full-time. I guess to some it sounds silly but hearing your child call you ‘Mummy’ is one of motherhood’s joys, and I believe, privileges. And it hurts to imagine my only child calling someone else that special title.”


    “She was not pregnant with him, [did not] give birth, or spend more hours awake than asleep with him,” posts Jade C., also a member of the Single Moms community. Her son’s biological father allowed her son to call his dad’s new wife “Mom.”

    “I explained to my ex-husband that I birthed these children and while they need to respect his wife, she is not their mother. I am,” writes Elizabeth T. in the Children with Divorced Parents community.

    Keep reading to see more on this delicate subject.

    The question of what children call their stepmom (or stepdad) is a volatile one that can easily ignite when a new baby enters a blended family.

    “This is a tough one,” posts Kathryn P. in the Children with Divorced Parents community. When she married her current husband, she asked that his daughter from his previous relationship call her “Momma Kate.” Kathryn was pregnant, and she didn’t want the new baby to call her by her first name. Her stepdaughter more than willingly complied: she quickly dropped the “Kate” after their marriage and stuck with “Momma.” In an effort to differentiate, Kathryn made sure her stepdaughter continued to address her biological mother as “Mommy.”

    But the momma/mommy solution doesn’t work for every blended family. Kathryn suggests a variation: “There are a lot of people I know that create a name for the step-parent so as not to take the place of what they (the kids) already have (for the biological parent). Something that is respectful to the new adult but doesn’t cast a shadow over you (the biological parent).”

    It’s an idea tried in this writer’s household.

    In the Fall of 1995, when my husband Bob and I married, my stepkids, Josh and Denise, were 10 and 7. Much hand-wringing over what to call me began. Honestly, I hoped to avoid the issue. I knew problems with their biological mother were inevitable. Josh solved it quickly. He told me he couldn’t call me “Mom” but didn’t feel good about just using “Amy” either. With a big grin on his face, he came up with “Amymom.” It worked for me. It worked for his younger sister.

    It didn’t work for their biological mother.

    When the kids visited her the following Summer, she was less than pleased to hear their name for me. And when they returned in the Fall, the affectionate term was no longer part of their vocabulary. It hurt. I cried. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping my feelings private. My pastor wisely told me to not focus on the title, but to put my energy into the relationship.

    Fast-forward 15 years to November 2010. The letters Denise sent me from Army basic training began with the words, “Dear Amymom.” And both kids have since listed me as a “Mom” on Facebook. I cried again. Joyful tears this time. Josh and Denise are now adults, making their own choices about what to call me.

    Some say kids shouldn’t have to wait that long. Some say that despite the fact that divorce and remarriage don’t change biology, these life events do introduce different authority figures and relationships that must be reckoned with. Some say it’s the kids — and not the parents — who should make title choices in blended families.

    “If they (the kids) call a stepparent mom or dad for whatever reasons, then just let it be. It is what they are comfortable with,” posts Tara M., a member of the Children With Divorced Parents community.

    However, she does acknowledge the pain a biological mother is likely to feel when her child calls another woman “Mom.”

    “I understand the incredible pain a bio parent feels when their child calls someone else by their special name. It is important to understand that it is only the name that is the same and not the bond,” she writes. “You will forever be the woman who carried that child.”

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