I have a confession to make: I’m jealous of my ex-husband’s new girlfriend.
Yeah, I know: Who isn’t? But I’m not talking about the typical you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-‘til-it’s-gone discomfort we all feel when someone who we loved moves on; it’s been nearly two years since my ex and I split, and that particular wound has finally begun to heal. No, this feeling is a completely different animal. I’m talking about the kind of bitterness and anger that blurs your vision and gets steam whistling from your ears. It’s Daffy Duck-level jealousy, and trust me, it’s not flattering.
The other day I was putting away laundry in my four-year-old daughter’s bedroom. She was playing Barbies and explaining why she hated each item of clothing I pulled from the basket. This dress was too long, this shirt too short, most every item far too scratchy. One was too orange. Basically, it was a typical Sunday morning.
“We should really teach you how to hang up your clothes so you can help Mommy with the laundry sometime.” I was speaking more to myself than to my daughter, but she quickly jumped to her feet.
“I already know how!” She yanked a dress from the pile, scattering socks and underwear everywhere, and pulled a hanger from her closet. Meticulously, she laid the dress on the floor as if an invisible person was posing in it. Then she slipped the hanger under the straps and held it out to me like a trophy. “See?!”
My first reaction was pride. My baby girl was growing up so fast. And look how smart she was to figure out how to hang up her clothes all by herself. I couldn’t remember a time when my kids had voluntarily taken on a single household chore.
“How’d you learn that, baby?”
She went on to tell me that at Daddy’s house, she loves to fold laundry. She said that at Daddy’s house she also helps to prepare meals, empty the dishwasher, and she even wipes her own bottom. And it wasn’t Daddy who’s taught her these things — it was his new girlfriend. The one who’d only just moved in with him a few weeks before. The one who was now, apparently, a catalyst in my daughter’s sudden development.
I felt the blood drain from my face and get replaced by piping hot lava. In my house, I’ve barely been able to convince my kids to throw their garbage in the trashcan or walk halfway across a room to fetch their own water bottle.
Is she a better parent than me?
Is she a witch?
Who does she think she is, parenting my kids?
I pulled my phone from my pocket and started stabbing an angry text to my ex-husband.
So I’m co-parenting with her now, huh?
I’m not okay with this…
I’d appreciate if you’d tell your girlfriend to…
I typed, deleted, and then typed again. It’s uncomfortable enough that I have to share my kids with my ex, but now I have to parent with some woman I barely know? It’s too excruciating.
Every cell in my body screamed in protest, and I started compiling a list of all the things I didn’t want this woman doing with my children: no activities, no driving, no teaching, and certainly no guiding them emotionally. My children. Mine. I repeated it like a mantra…or like Golem from The Lord of the Rings. My precious.
But when I finally paused and looked up from my hate-texting, I saw, still on my daughter’s face, a look of absolute pride. Her big blue eyes searched mine for approval, and I set my phone face-down on the floor. I hugged her told her I couldn’t believe how grown up she was. She smiled and we finished putting the laundry away together. Then she helped me put away her brothers’ clothes, too. All the while, we talked, and she told me stories about what she’d done during the two days she’d been at her dad’s.
Over the next few days, the Daffy Duck jealousy subsided, and I realized my ex’s girlfriend didn’t really deserve a cartoon mallet to the face or any other kind of mallet to the face just because she taught my daughter some life skills. Emotions are slippery little devils, and they can’t always be taken at face value — like when your kids can say things like “I hate you,” and you know what they really mean is “I’m exhausted.” Adult emotions work the same way.
So, no, I don’t actually resent my ex’s girlfriend for helping my kids. But I do begrudge every “first” she shares with them that I won’t get to be a part of. I covet every second of the time she spends with my children. Three days out of every week, while I’m home alone, she’s parenting my babies from the other side of the divorce void, and I’m allowed to hate it—that’s my right as a mother. I feel threatened that she cares about my kids and that they will come to care about her. I may never get past this.
But, when I’m able to take a deep breath and reason through the fog of my immediate emotions, I can also acknowledge that my kids are pretty lucky to have someone in their life worthy of my jealousy. My tangle of discomfort and frustration is actually telling me that my kids are in good hands. Just not mine.
And here’s the truth: If my children didn’t like her, if she didn’t appear to care about them, sure, I’d get less worked up. If my children complained every time they had to spend time with her, I’d probably feel a lot less jealous. And, honestly, I’d enjoy that momentary feeling of superiority. But it wouldn’t be worth it. Because the reality is, co-parenting after divorce is more than just two parents working together. It opens children up to new influences and experiences that at first might feel intrusive, but ultimately can be extremely valuable.
If my ex’s girlfriend wasn’t good with my kids — if she didn’t make them laugh, take them places, and teach them new things — that would be the real reason for concern. Not for my own selfish pride, but for my children’s welfare and happiness.
My jealousy tells me that my ex’s girlfriend is doing something right. And I am grateful for that.