An Homage to my ‘sister-wife’: What Real Woman Empowerment Looks Like

by | Mar 4, 2021 | Women’s Issues

As an HR Professional/Consultant , I pride myself on practising what I preach, walking the talk and I publicly list my values as “Transparent, Accountable and Agile” . I lead with vulnerability and authenticity, both professionally and personally. I thought it was time to share this story:

So, this is our 32-year love story Dawn Astrid Watkins Tsergas. Thank you for letting me share it, publicly; in honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2021).

Our Story

I’ll never forget the day I met my sister-wife (Dawn). She was younger than me (by 3 years), hotter than me (in my opinion), she had long legs, a beautiful sunny, authentic smile, and a Welsh accent. How on earth was I ever going to compete with that? This is Dawn now, 54 years of age! (Permissions granted!)

I was still carrying my post-pregnancy weight (my youngest son was less than 2 at the time – he is now 34), depressed, scared, lonely, and 25 years old with two kids and a looming divorce on my resumé.

Those were sad, lonely, acrimonious, tough times. In 1987-1988, I was about to sign-off on a joint/shared custody/parenting scenario (well before it was en vogue to do so). My parents, friends, and other, ‘well-meaning’ relatives were mortified. They thought I was “giving up custody” of my children. They encouraged me to “fight” for my kids; to bring up all the acrimony, the many fights, the horrible moments in my marriage; to disparage my then-husband, so that the courts would grant me sole custody, spousal support, child support, and everything else to which I was ‘entitled’ to receive, according to these opinions and unsolicited, ad hoc advisors.

I walked away from my equalization payment (in the 6 digits), my spousal support and child support. My lawyer was not happy. He made me sign the usual waiver and advised me not to do what I was about to do. I disregarded his advice and signed the waiver.

When Dawn entered the picture, I was encouraged to disparage the “new girlfriend”. In fact, society itself encouraged (and continues to encourage and perpetuate) this hatred of the so-called ‘new girlfriend’, ‘other woman’, ‘side piece’, ‘mistress’, etc. [We should not accept as natural this long-standing practice of pitting women against each other and we, as women, need to stop the insanity now. Note that some of the words above which I intentionally used are disparaging to women in and of themselves. Is the only satisfactory word then, “Wife”, “Spouse”? Something to think about.]

I refused to believe that it was Dawn’s ‘fault’. The socio-conditioning did not work on me. In fact, I was curious about this young, beautiful, seemingly friendly woman who had just entered my life (and my children’s lives). I wanted to know more about her; and I was not going to get to know her if I led with my ego or with my ‘encouraged’ insecurities.

I reminded myself (actually) that there was a reason my marriage had not worked out; many reasons, in fact—but none of those reasons involved Dawn.

My love for Dawn evolved over time. It did not happen overnight; and it is borne out of gratitude, mutual respect, a joint commitment to letting go of ego for the better good (of the children involved) and a strong reciprocal admiration for what we (Dawn and I) achieved together over our 32-year relationship.

Some memories: The kids’ (all 4 of them) adolescent years, university graduations, births, deaths, family holidays, weddings, the parent-teacher interviews, and school concerts and field trips; and all the in-between moments are what we share. History is what we created. These memories and shared moments in time and in life are poignant, real, meaningful, and authentic—and we did it together, in a true, female partnership, setting aside any differences we may have had (or still have) and focusing instead on our common goals and our similarities.

Dawn and my ex-husband have two daughters. I have two sons with that same man. My sons have two siblings. We have never referred to, or used the term, “half-siblings”. In fact, Dawn’s daughters refer to me as their “step-mother”. I am not. I am their father’s Ex-wife. One of my fondest memories is calling Dawn’s house one day many years ago and having her youngest daughter who was 3 at the time pick up the phone: when I asked to speak to her Mommy, she yelled out for Dawn, “Mommy, it’s Dad’s girlfriend on the phone!”. That story never gets old. That 3-year-old is now 28 years old. She still considers me her ‘step-mom’. I am family. WE are family.

More memories: Dawn wanted to host a birthday pool party for our boys in July (my sons are both born in December during the time when schools are normally shut down for the holiday break). She invited me over. The two of us supervised and chaperoned the kids (a bunch of 6 to 8-year-olds) and Dawn realized she had run out of hot dog buns. She asked me to watch the BBQ while she ran out to the corner store. While she was gone, my ex-husband arrived home from work – to find me in my bikini, flipping wieners and burgers on his BBQ in his backyard with his wife nowhere in sight and a bunch of kids in his pool. “Hi!”, I said. “Can I get you a beer or something? Dawn just went to get more buns”. AWKWARD.

Over the years, Dawn and I developed a true friendship. Here we are with my 81-year-old mother (Ottawa Airport, visiting our oldest son and daughter in law and grandson. Yes; we are now grandmothers):

After many shared birthday parties, shared Christmases, shared parent-teacher interviews and many, many years of a “it takes a village to raise a child” mentality, something beautiful happened: I realized that I truly loved Dawn. I considered her family; actually, more than that. I recall now the first time I told her how I felt about her. I thanked her for being a part of ‘our family’. I told her I could not have done any of it without her. I got emotional. I told her I loved her; and that day was the day I started to refer to her jokingly, lovingly, teasingly as my “sister-wife”. Those of you who are ‘in the know’ know this to be true.

It was my way of letting Dawn know how very much I love and appreciate her, how much she means to me and how she is and will forever be my co-mom, partner-in-crime, “sister”; and how grateful I am to my ex-husband for choosing this wonderful human being to be a part of our lives and our history, in our non-traditional ‘family’.

My friendship with Dawn really ‘took off’ and developed into something other than ‘shared parenting responsibilities’ when all our kids (hers, mine; ours) entered adulthood. Dawn and I always had similar personalities. We are both Sagittarius (December babies), gregarious, fun-loving women. When I started to pay attention to all our similarities, I said to Dawn once (many years ago), “You’re so awesome; I have to ask: what do you see in my ex-husband?” She laughed and told me that her husband (my ex) had often wondered the same thing about my post-divorce relationship. He wondered what the man I was with at the time saw in me. Different strokes for different folks never seemed like a more appropriate statement; so, I quoted it to Dawn.

When all our parenting responsibilities were basically done, we started going for lunches together alone – just me and Dawn. No kids, no husband (or, ex-husband). Lunches turned into dinners and eventually weekend girls’ trips over the years. In fact, Dawn would come to Toronto and stay with me. People thought we were weird. They could not believe that the ex-wife and the current wife were such good friends. Some disbelievers thought it was too good to be true and all an act. It’s not. Her daughters (with my ex) are 31 and 28. My sons are 34 and 36. We are done with all of that. We (legit) love, respect and, yes, admire each other. This is us (Dawn and I) about a year ago:

Favorite Memory: About 10 years ago, Dawn was visiting me in Toronto. We went out for a St. Patrick’s Day festive pub crawl (just the two of us). Like begets like. When some drunko, partygoer asked us how we knew each other and I tried to explain that Dawn was my ex-husband’s wife, he looked confused and befuddled. He accused us of lying to him, lost interest and eventually moved on (“Yes, Virginia; there IS a Santa Claus”, even on St. Paddy’s Day). When we got home after our pub crawl (having had the best time, as usual), we laughed at that moment. Dawn looked at me and asked, “So, do you want him back?” Total deadpan. My response: “Nice try. He’s all yours, sister-wife!”. (I may have even enhanced my response by giving her the middle finger.) I think we laughed for hours. A tad of a blurry memory (it was, after all a post-pub-crawl on St. Paddy’s Day!).

Family Law Memory: About 5 years ago, I was consulted by a woman who wanted to retain me to provide her with coaching regarding her family law matter. For those of you who do not know this about me, I was a Family Law Clerk for 15 years (in another life—whole other story). This woman was a successful Professional, beautiful, smart, and fabulous (by all accounts). She was going through an acrimonious custody battle and she reached out for some non-legal family law ‘practical’ woman-to-woman advice based on my years of experience attending heated, complicated custody trials, drafting many emotionally charged pleadings, and hearing many family law horror stories.

Her ex-husband had a new younger girlfriend and my client felt that this ‘new girlfriend’ was “sticking her nose where it did not belong”; and crossing boundaries regarding the parenting of my client’s daughter.

I decided to share my own personal story with this woman. This story: about me; and my sister-wife. I hoped it would be impactful. I still, to this day, think about this woman/past client; and I wonder if my story has crossed her mind over the years. I know their family law matters were settled and my bill was certainly paid; but I often wonder how they are getting along now that their tween is no longer a tween and entering adulthood. Was this woman ever able to look at her ex-husband’s new girlfriend as anything other than the enemy? Who was really to blame? Was there ‘blame’ to be attached? Why are we so socio-conditioned by a male-dominated society to hate the new girlfriend, the ex-wife, the mistress, the wife…the woman?

These are troubling questions. I challenge every woman to dig deep, to set aside ego, to empower – not denigrate and demean one another. I hope this story inspires other women in some small way; to think differently, to gain a new perspective about the ‘other woman’, the ‘new wife’ (or ‘new girlfriend’); even the “mistress” or “side piece” (UGH. I hate those words.)

I end with a note which I would like to address directly to my sister-wife: Dawn Astrid Watkins Tsergas, Happy International Women’s Day. You will forever and always be the ASTRID to my ASTEROID! [Private joke.]

I love you; and Thank you.

“Empathy is the most radical of human emotions.”

“One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the Earth!” ― Gloria Steinem (both quotes)

Effie Tsergas

Founding Principal

Effie has been a champion of positive organizational behavior for over twenty-five years. She founded TSERGAS Human Capital 8 years ago. Aside from her “effervescent” personality and unwavering commitment to HR best practices, Effie is well-known for her work with some of the top legal firms in Canada. She assists clients across various industries with everything from targeted recruitment, strategic human resources planning, and growth and change management initiatives. With a wealth of experience in human resources, investigations, law, public relations, and marketing communications, Effie is a seasoned strategist with expertise you can bank on.