The Other Woman

I love Nina Simone and Rob will often have her music playing in the background while we get dinner ready. I have a couple of favorites that she sings. One is called “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Please Don’t Leave Me), and the other one is called “The Other Woman”. Ironic, huh? Here are the words to “The Other Woman”:

The other woman finds time to manicure her nails
The other woman is perfect where her rival fails
And she’s never seen with pin curls in her hair

The other woman enchantes her clothes with French perfume
The other woman keeps fresh cut flowers in each room
There are never toys that’s scattered everywhere

And when her baby comes to call
He’ll find her waiting like a lonesome queen
Cos when she’s by his side
It’s such a change from old routine

But the other woman will always cry herself to sleep
The other woman will never have his love to keep
And as the years go by the other woman
Will spend her life alone

It’s just such a sad song, and I actually love really sad stuff.

So, when I came across a movie with Natalie Portman on Netflix called “The Other Woman”, I was drawn to it. So we watched it. And I really enjoyed it, mainly because it was very thought provoking. I could also relate to it.

The movie itself got horrible reviews, which I only found out after I had watched it. I wasn’t surprised though. I think the message, the complexities, and the relationship drama are bang on what reality is, and I daresay a lot of people will not be able to relate. Reviews said it was “Melodramatic” and they basically tore apart some of the portrayals of the characters – which actually, I thought were quite realistic. But until you’ve lived it….

The story is essentially about a woman (Natalie Portman) who is “homewrecker” and who steals a married man away from his wife (Lisa Kudrow). They go on to be married and have to cope with the complexities of a second marriage: dealing with the bitter ex wife, and then bonding with her new stepson. Unfortunately in the mix, they also have to deal with the death of their newborn baby. So, quite the drama.

What I found ironic, was how much I could relate to the characters of both the “Other Woman” and “The Bitter Ex Wife”. The Bitter Ex Wife part didn’t surprise me. Having gone through a divorce not initiated by me, I could identify with the feeling of betrayal, anger and pain. Especially when it came to me coping with things about my boys and my role as a mother. I initially felt so much anger that I was losing time with them, and that another woman would be spending MY time with them.  However, what was so apparent in the movie was how damaging the bitter ex wife was to her own child. Divorce is pain enough for them. But, the ongoing spite, revenge, bitterness and anger only serves to create confusion, sadness and pain for the kids. I’m just glad that I didn’t seem to get stuck in that phase. Did I go through that phase? Honestly the first couple of years are a blur, but I’m pretty sure I went through that phase, and hope I didn’t scar my boys too badly:(

But how could I relate to “The Other Woman”? I was not the “Other Woman”  – although really, in my reality, the way Rob’s ex has treated me over the years, one would assume that I was!

What I realized when watching the movie, is that society treats “The Second Wife” or “The Stepmom” AS “The Other Woman”, regardless of the circumstances.The hush that goes through the crowd at school when you pick your stepkids up. The awkward silence and cold wall that goes up when you tell someone you are “only the Stepmom”. The assumption that you are not acting in the child’s best interest. The criticism of everything that you do. The assumption that the birth mother is always acting in the child’s best interest and that she knows best (and not motivated by some underlying issues). The way the rudeness and  abuse towards the Stepmom, from the ex wife and even the stepkids (luckily something that I don’t experience from my stepkids) is passively accepted as a fact of life. The Stepmom is expected to fulfill a certain role, and take on numerous caregiver responsibilities, but she is not accepted into the “parental world”. She is an outsider.

I tell ya, my only saving grace is the fact that I am also a “Real Mother”. Because just being a Stepmom, it’s a tough gig. As a “Real Mother”, I receive a friendly hello in the school yard form other parents and I am part of the greater “parental club”,  I hear about things directly from teachers, I don’t get questioned (or slandered) when I make decision regarding my children,  and I can definitely set my child straight when he is out of line without any fear that someone will be judging me, or it coming back on me in spades.

But, I seriously feel for childless Stepmoms. They don’t get  that saving grace.

However,  hopefully they can get that other saving grace that is out there: the husband. For me, he plays a pivotal role. He can’t solve the school yard drama (he’ll likely be just as criticized for allowing the Stepmom to have any domain), but man he can set the tone for dealing with the bitter ex wife and the step kids.  Unfortunately, in this movie, he didn’t set a great tone and let his new wife be thrown under the bus on numerous occasions. In fact, he even at one point told her that his son was “his family”, not her. Ouch. How are you planning on making your marriage work again? But, sadly, I don’t think his portrayal of the husband role is that far off of what many Stepmoms contend with. I count my lucky stars and my blessings, and say a prayer of gratitude that my husband has got this right. He has figured out the secret to being happy with me, and happy with his kids.  And we are happy with him as a husband, father and even stepfather. I guess he just hasn’t quite yet mastered how to deal with his ex (but we are getting there I think:).

Which brings me to the last character: the bitter ex wife. Ok – I already talked about her, but I think it is such an important role, that it deserves a second look.  Maybe some who don’t live in the divorce world would think Lisa Kudrow was a bit too dramatic, but I gotta say, I think she was bang on. Sadly. Because when you see it up close on and on the screen like that, you see some mean stuff. Towards the Stepmom and the the ex husband, but the real consequences lie with the child.  What’s pretty apparent is if the ex wife can pull herself together, for the sake of her child, life could run a lot smoother – for the child in particular.  I think that is the part that gets missed. I know, because I did it. My anger and hostility initially towards my ex and my children’s Stepmom might have affected them and caused them some grief, but really the only people I was hurting long term, was my own children.

So there you have it. The movie did make me wonder what “the solutions” are? With more and more blended families popping up here and there, there’s got to be some secrets to successfully working together? My personal take, which I think was reinforced for me in the movie is that:

1) We need to get rid of the label “The Other Woman”. Regardless of how the divorce went down. It takes two to tango always, and the reality is there was a divorce. You can only hang your hat so long on to blaming “Another Woman” if in fact there was one involved. And not every woman was even “Another Woman”, so it’s often even an unfair label! We need to take the darkness out of being called “Stepmom”.  I think the Step parents need to be included in the “parental world”. No, they are not “the” parents. But they take on a very special role, that I think need to be recognized – and actually celebrated.

2) The men need to step up and take a stand. They need to prioritize their new marriages, and need to prioritize their children. But not one over the other. They aren’t in competition. There is room to love your wife and room to love your children. They also need to establish a new relationship with their ex and need to secure some pretty strong boundaries there. They need to make sure they know who they need to be “aligned” with – and that should be the people they value most in their life now.

3) For the sake of her children, the bitter ex needs to get over her bitterness somehow, and needs to try to build a  new relationship with her ex, and again, establish some boundaries. Now here’s the other part of the equation: she needs to set the tone of the relationship with the new Stepmom. Yup. I said it. I think it’s on her to reach out. She needs to develop this new relationship with civility, and make it very clear to her children that she is OK with them having a loving relationship with their Stepmom. She is key for this dynamic to be successful.

Would love to hear your thoughts on these roles, and what the solutions are for making it all work….


The Other Woman — 4 Comments

  1. As a Stemother to 2 kids and 1 of my own I can relate. My friend at work has sent me your blog and I have been reading it for over a year now. I love that you are open about how hard this role is. I agree never any gratitude and never any thanks. I do understand that as before I was a Stepmom I never understood the role at all and I would often be the one in the schoolyard wondering why the Stepmom would be trying to take on so much motherhood when the kids had their own Mother already? Now I understand it a bit more and wish that people were softer with me.
    It sounds like with your ex there is alot of love and I hope for you that with your new husband’s ex that it gets better with her.

    • Thanks for your comment! It’s so true that I wish people would be “softer” on stepmoms. But until I was one, I also had no idea! Glad to share our common lives:)

  2. Hi I love that in the last months especially, you have explored your role of Step-Mom so openly and so honestly.
    I think so often it is a role which is not discussed enough..and misunderstood..and unappreciated and it is so good to read your honest and true thoughts on the subject and to learn more.

    You have taught me so much about being a SMom…its great to read these posts.
    Let’s see if it makes me put a password here…….crossing fingers it works!!! hahhaha

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