Gil and Brenda Stuart
My dad (Gil) was an infantryman during World War II. He drove ammunition trucks with live stuff in the back truck bed to the front lines then drove casualties and wounded back to the support lines. Immediately my imagination sees bombs exploding, bullets whizzing, fighter jets zooming overhead and tanks rumbling over buildings.
Dad did not talk about his tour of duty much for good reason due to the memories of war. The pain and loss of life was too much to bear and not a happy time. In odd ways, the remarriage / stepfamily tour of duty has its Foxholes similar to what you’d find in a combat zone. Maybe not as highly a risk of loss of life, but certainly the quality of life can get hit with shrapnel that puts the family into a war zone.
The phone rings and your ex is on the line. He/she forgot to mention they will be out of town this weekend and you need to take the kids. This was their weekend. You have reservations for a night in the city at the Hilton and show tickets. This is not the first time this has happened.
The continual lack of respect that exudes from the ex is beginning to create a combat zone between you and your new spouse. Their understanding is stretched beyond being patient, even though you’ve tried to get your ex to plan ahead and communicate better. The ex was never good at planning ahead before and now this trait affects not only you but a new spouse and all the kids on both sides of the family. You are helpless to change the pattern, so now what do you do? This is a Foxhole!
Your spouse is dealing with situations at work; they lost their job; or, they’re looking for a job. All the while the rest of “life” is going on. The stress can cause conflict between you. This impacts your ability to keep a positive attitude.This is a Foxhole!
Drop off and pick up routines are often settled in the child parenting plan via the courts; as well as which weekend and holidays the child will spend where. But, your ex spouse does not uphold the plan. So you or your new spouse choose to pick up the child. You offer some slack so the children don’t have to take the brunt of an unmanageable “co-parent.”
Coming up with options for kid transfers so they don’t feel the discomfort is one thing. But your sanity, time and sense of private space can turn into a Foxhole. Past positions of control between the ex and now the new spouse can be very awkward to work through. What can you do?This is a Foxhole!
By definition, a Foxhole is a pit dug hastily for an individual to take cover from fire. These holes are regularly dark. You can’t see that what you are doing is going to change things other than offer some personal protection for a short time. Sometimes the hole is muddy and a sticky situation and there’s no clear cut option on what is the right thing to do. A foxhole is never comfortable because the situation or circumstance is difficult. No matter how hard you plan or prepare to avoid these state of affairs, the “in the moment” is explosive for you or those in the stepfamily arrangement.
Foxholes are emotionally and relationally charged. They can be hurtful to those feeling stuck in the middle trying to find peace. They can be a place of remorse because they are scary and the outcomes unpredictable.
Our suggestion? Dig in for the short run and ride it out. Hunker down together, out of the line of fire. Get some perspective. Then make it very clear to your spouse you’re not going anywhere and agree that you have one another’s back. You’re in this together. It’s not me against you…it’s “us”.
When either of us mentions that we are in a Foxhole we know exactly what that means. We kick our listening skills into gear and begin to ride out the situation. Having trust and honesty with each other is vital.
Let’s return to our first scenario. When a curve ball from your ex comes at you, acknowledge how you feel and work through it together. This includes respectfully communicating how you’re feeling. Anger, frustration, and disappointment are reasonable feelings, so is realizing that the situation is outside of your control. Communicate these, but don’t let them divide you; remember that you are on the same team and work to protect your solidarity.
In addition, strive to not put your child in the middle. The problems with your ex are not their fault! In addition, remember that every time you make a negative comment about your ex, you are indirectly saying the same thing to your child. If you have something negative to say go somewhere else and release your child from having to hear it.
Living in a step family is like being in a war zone; foxholes abound. Intentionally strive for damage control to avoid relational casualties and maintain a long-haul mentality. If you find yourself in a foxhole today, remember that tomorrow you may be able to climb out. And always remember, “if you ain’t got the marriage, you aint’ got nothin.”
Adapted from Restored and Remarried by Gil and Brenda Stuart.