By Alma Gill
My stepson, who I adore and have known most of his life, is getting married next summer. I love him and love the girl he is getting married to. Here is my problem. There is bad blood between his mother and me. I tried for years to get along with her and even acted as a buffer between her and my husband on many occasions. I did this to the point of causing myself anxiety because I just wanted everyone to get along so badly.
About three or four years ago, after being married to my stepson’s father for almost 17 years, I snapped. I lost my temper with her; there was a very ugly scene that even took place in a courtroom in front of a judge. It was something I will never forget. I haven’t spoken to this woman since. When my stepson visits, he shares comments that she continues to make about me to this day. I don’t engage at all. I will not let him hear me bash his mother in any way. If this was any other woman, I would be out for blood, but I realize that the people who would get hurt are my stepsons, who I love so, I suppress my anger.
But back to why I’m writing: How do I attend this wedding with a woman that I know does not hesitate to start fights, regardless of who is around. She will be surrounded by her very large family, and I will basically be there with a small handful of my family members. I will be outnumbered. And did I mention that I am estranged from my husband, too? That I’m not so worried about, but it still causes tension. And, Alma, where do I sit?
Jackie B., South Carolina
OMG Jackie, sounds like you’ve already lived through one Jerry Springer moment, and you don’t want to participate in another. I don’t blame you, girl; it can suck the life right out of you. Congratulations on the upcoming wedding of your step-son, and congratulations to you for loving him unconditionally. The one-on-one relationship between the two of you is special, and that’s how it should be. Step-parents are an extension of original parents. A relationship with step-children cannot be defined by the relationship you have with the original parent. Once you commit as a step-parent, you commit to that child for life.
Now, back to your dilemma. I applaud you for taking the high road, which most times, as you know, is the road less traveled. The high road can be a lonely place…it’s usually not where you find the fist bumps, the I-got-your-backs or the you-go-girl road signs.
Now here’s where my advice gets a little tricky — I want you to stay on that road. It’s great that your step-son is able to include you and wants you to be a part of this most special occasion. But you need to lay back. You know how there are different levels of guests at a wedding? You have the “family” guest, the “really good friends” guest and the “friends from work” guest. For that day, I’d like you to participate as a “friends from work“ guest.
I say that because, from what I read in your letter, there’s a chance for Jerry Springer – Round 2 moment, and you certainly don’t want that to happen. I’m a step-mother, so I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do. I love my step-daughter, TaKisha, with all my heart. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her, so I sympathize with your situation. There was a moment in our lives when I had to take a step back. I took the high road. I took the blame and all that extra madness that comes along with it. Yes, it broke my heart. Yes, it made me sad, but those are the yield signs along the way on the high road.
Be mindful, be guideful (is that a word? LOL). What I’m trying to say is, you can control this. You know the rituals of a wedding. They’re all basically the same. I’d suggest you arrive on time, sit down with five minutes to spare. And since you asked, sit five rows behind his mother. You don’t need to get there early and stand outside with the smokers checking everything out. Take your seat, smile, and shut your mouth. Don’t chime in about anything, not the wedding colors, the bridesmaid dresses, the soloist — nothing.
Remember, you’re on the high road. Once the couple exits, smile, smile, hug, hug and go get in your car. Make your way to the reception. Walk in and find your seat. I’m sure they’ve made appropriate arrangement for the reception seating. If not, since you asked, sit on the opposite end of the hall from her.
You don’t have to be seen. You don’t have to be all up in the middle of the mix, and you shouldn’t. He has a mother and a father. Both, I’m assuming, will be front and center at the celebration. You’re no longer with his father and you don’t want to throw down with his mother, so step back.
Repeat it with me: “I’m taking the high road.” If she heads in your direction with some foolishness, that’s your cue to leave. Please, please don’t engage this woman, no matter what. If tensions run high and things get out of hand, take a deep breath, grit your teeth and keep it moving – down the high road!
Alma Gill’s newsroom experience spans more than 25 years, including various roles at USA Today, Newsday and the Washington Post. Email questions to: email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at “Ask Alma” and twitter @almaaskalma.