Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"All My Children Have Paws"

I have so much fodder for the blog now. It's just a matter of which topic to go with first.

Stepfamily Christmases are just bizarre. I don't know if it's ever going to be normal ever again. I'm thinking not. I think this was the most successful year yet, somehow. And yet I still come out of it feeling like everything is just wrong.

We have this cat we adopted when she was around 10ish from a no-kill shelter. I nicknamed her the Queen. She is a bossy old lady who lives to complain. She has moments of affection that are decreasing steadily as she ages. Her quarterly 2 minutes of playtime have decreased to non-existant, maybe. It's enough for her to deal with kittens and a dog. Primarily, she wants to sleep. She may cuddle a little during the day if I work from home or take a nap, but I'm pretty sure that it's only for her warmth or a nice back rest. She rarely exits our bedroom, let alone our bed. When she speaks, it's to demand food, water, or a halfway decent litter box. Sometimes she amusingly jumps in the tub.

That completely describes that cat. And I realized sometime around 3am that she loves me more than my stepkids. A pea-brained cat. She may be soft and cute, but she's still only an animal. I even rescue pets, but I am still aware that they are only animals with needs, and we are there to fulfill them. We can give them homes, care for them, and love them- and we perceive their affectionate moments as love. Which are probably only necessary signs of thank you or requests for continued petting, food, and shelter. I still love it, knowing that I am simply caring for them. I can pretend all I want that they love me back and know how much I alone mean to them. Ha. Yeah. My mom would spoil them more than I ever would.

A coworker told me about how she owned a dog with her family for years. They went on one single trip for only 2 weeks and the dog stayed with her mother-in-law. When they returned, the dog hated returning home and decided it wanted to be with grandma from then on.

Again, I'm talking about animals here. They may miss us, but we're not talking about destiny or soul mates. They are animals.

But when the Queen, after only a long weekend of being gone, climbed up on top of my husband and I last night and wouldn't leave, and then hooked herself to me the rest of the morning... I realized she loves me more than my stepkids do. This cat has shown me repeatedly she has no need for me other than to fulfill her demands, but for one of the only times, she showed us that she missed us and was glad we were back. I couldn't believe it!

I'm sure you're thinking that stepkids are the same- They act cold and just needy but they do love you and just are bad at showing it.

My reasoning is more along these lines- This cat pretty much knows she doesn't need me, especially not me in particular. I don't know why she missed us so much and was so overly affectionate last night. It will disappear today, and in the meantime I will know that she is not betraying me daily. The affection and message from an animal last night was simple. "I missed you, and I'm glad you're back. Please let me be with you." She will go back to being demanding, but that one morning of affection still exists and doesn't go backwards.

Humans, on the other hand, can purposely not like someone, purposely hate, purposely ignore simple truths of how much a caretaker does for them. "Someday, someday- they will get it." Ask my friend who's husband has an adult child from before their marriage who only demands money. Literally. The latest was when the daughter demanded their social security numbers and other identification information to apply for college funding which she was no longer eligible for. My friend was uncomfortable with this and afraid her social security number and other information could be misused, as she doesn't even know this person. I told her about how my parents always filled my applications out for me, which meant that they could do it for her. When they requested that she simply give them HER information so that they could do it for her, she disgustingly refused and stopped talking to her father.

At least my ornery cat knows who gives her food. I'll take the pure affection of my fur-ball children.

Best Cat Mom
All My Children Have Paws

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Follow-Up: The New Plan

A follow-up to my posting on December 4th has been requested, as well. Two posts in one day...Aren't you excited!?  That's what you get when I take a break. It all builds up.

So I wrote that long letter to the kids about my feelings and their actions' impact on me. It did have an interesting result. Keep in mind that reading that letter was a week after also talking to my oldest stepdaughter and telling her I would no longer accept her lying to me.  Because of the first conversation, she was already being super nice to me and trying to win back favor. She always does that. She acts like she's trying, and then I find out about more made-up stuff later even during the time she was trying to act perfect. My husband calls her mom's behavior "a show." I think this kid has completely picked that up.

Also to set the atmosphere, I had been gone for a day and a half at a retreat for all the 7th graders in my church, which my stepdaughter could not attend due to her custody schedule and their mom's disinterest in meaningful away-from-home experiences for her daughter. So yes, I'd just spent the night and 2 days with all the boys and girls she wants to be friends with, some who go to her school.  (The van full of boys I drove also discussed who they like and who they want to ask out. Yeah, she missed that. Hahahaha...) We all went out to pizza afterwards, and she was able to see the kids interact with me some. Again, like soccer, another way in which she can see other kids respecting and even loving me. (I got a lot of comments from parents that their kids loved me or said I was the coolest. Pretty confusing for me considering the ones who live in my house. Makes me feel good and strange at the same time these days.)

So that night was the only time we had, before it got too close to Christmas, for me to read my letter. My husband set them up and asked them to pay attention to everything I said and then I came down when he was ready. Then I read it. I purposely didn't look at them, because I wanted them to feel like they were hearing it away from me, without needing to respond to my looks. And I didn't want to be upset by their reaction, either.

Interestingly, my younger stepdaughter is the one who cried. I don't think she'd realized. She is usually the good one and knows that we get along fine, but I also know that relationship has changed in a negative way and we've lost the closeness and trust we used to have. Something happened before court and I lost her. I miss her and our talks, and worry about whether I can trust her now. She has learned to hide and lie like her sister, though does it much less overtly and usually out of fear.

My older stepdaughter acted disinterested. My husband told me later that she continued to after I left. She acted like nothing was said, that she simply didn't like it, and didn't care. My younger stepdaughter, on the other hand, talked to him about it some. He said that when they went to bed and she saw how much her sister didn't care, she seemed to realize how wrong it was. She turned around and asked him if she could say something to me. My husband came into the bedroom where I was hiding out and asked if she could see me. When she came in, her face exploded into tears and she threw herself into me. She threw herself hard enough to nearly knock me over or bonk me in the head. She cried into me and said I'm sorry and kept crying hard. I held her hand and told her she is a wonderful and sweet girl and I know that everything is hard, and everything is hard for everybody. I don't remember if any other short things were said, but then she left and went to bed.

And the next day, my older stepdaughter continued to act like her better self and the good kid she wants us to see her as. She continued to touch me and act like my buddy, like she did the night before after I spent all that time with the other 7th graders.

I know I'll hear about what the other family thinks or has turned it into, but it is all written down. Words can be twisted but we have proof of what I said. It wasn't about how bad the kids are, but simply how I feel and how I have tried for their sake. How I wish we could have a real relationship but the lying to me and about me to others kills any trust. It wasn't about how bad they are and how I hate them, or whatever we're going to hear it turned into.

They are my family, and I have to try. If I don't try, I will continue to feel trapped. I always aim for progress and change, and I cannot handle stagnant complacency or repeated painful situations when they can be confronted and maybe even stopped. The other family can keep telling the kids that I simply don't like them and just try to make them uncomfortable and unhappy, but I have to be real and not fake. You all know that someday the truth should be known or be clear.  You could even say that sometimes we avoid the truth, but eventually it wins. 

Overall, it made me feel much better. It is always a release to finally tell someone your feelings and let them know where you're coming from and why you act the way you do. I felt better writing it, I felt better reading it, and I felt better finally letting them know what it has felt like for 3+ years. I'm grateful that my younger stepdaughter "got it," and I don't really care that my older stepdaughter is blocked. Not a big surprise. I hope that some of it sinks in someday or that she remembers some of it correctly. Or that when she lies about it to her other family, she'll know the truth somewhere inside.

And if anything, they learned one way in which they can communicate their deepest feelings or hurt to someone else through words and not aggression, screaming, glaring, retribution, or the silent treatment. I know they at least can take that with them.

A Split Christmas

This morning, I received a direct request to post more and bring back the biting sarcasm. (Sorry Mom, but it is one of my strengths.)

December is always a weird month now. We have kids in our lives, which for me would mean ice skating, boutiques, festivals, plays, caroling, crafts, and a ton of other things I can think of where kids can prepare and experience Christmas. Either my parents did a great job of making the season special or those activities just very clearly stand out in my mind. I also had Christmas pageants and choir performances in school at the holidays, something my stepkids had never heard of before I asked years ago. But strangely enough, the custody schedule has only ever allowed us one weekend with the kids before Christmas Eve or Christmas, which switched off every year. It's never enough time to prepare for Christmas with them, let alone try to do Christmas-time activities. We usually somehow squeeze in a play about or somewhat related to Christmas. If we see them for Christmas Eve, then we are able to take them to the Christmas Eve service at church. If we don't, then they don't even get a church service about the holiday and its meaning.

They're off of school right now, and I would be taking them to shows, having them finish those crafts they started and never finished, teaching them to skateboard, or whatever else. Their dad, if he was home with them, would be taking them to parks with their bikes and other equipment. Usually, we take them up North for about 4-5 days to see my husband's large family for a portion of a week. But this year...

Their mom decided to schedule her first vacation week with the kids during the winter, ever. Meaning, my husband had to fight for one extra day this entire month to even have enough time to see his family at all. Her comment was, "I am not forbidding you from seeing your family..." knowing full well that her "vacation" request would cut out any possibility of 2 sets of 10 hour travel time. Because of her generous extra day, we're planning to drive at night and hope that our route doesn't get shut down due to night ice.We may not have time to go to snow, the only snow these kids have ever experienced, given the rushed schedule.  So, the kids get 2 weeks with their mom and stepdad doing nothing, just like the other 75% of the time, with one insane weekend of their big family up North, and an insulting amount of Christmastime with their dad overall for the month of December.

I'm reminded of how sad this is. My husband said it is most of all sad for the kids. I don't know why I feel like they deserve more and should have the opportunity to do more enriching things. Shouldn't I just plain not care, given how much they care about me? I've done all these awesome things with them before, and its not like its had an impact. So I should just want them to sit there and do nothing at their house. It was technically their choice, despite how much we offer them. Saves me money, anyways.

Then I'm reminded that the court had the biggest influence on this. Some people believe that the parent with the most money gets the kids. This is simply not the case, as anyone familiar with a divorce-with-kids situation knows. In our case, it's not a money issue but more of what can be offered. The court chose the parent that would do the least for the children's upbringing. I remembered he tried to express all of the things we do for the kids, what we bring into their lives, at least one time when preparing for court. The lawyer cut most of it out. It has no worth.

Or, this is what I have to figure, that is. My logic is constantly trying to get a grasp on how if he has done nothing wrong, does not abuse them, hurt them or upset them, but simply fathers in an exceptional way, does everything he can to teach them about life and themselves, tries his hardest to see them- then there must be something to courts having a mother-bias or any of the other theories you can come up with about what's going on with the system.

It's Christmastime...and none of this makes sense. A great father not being able to see his kids doesn't make sense to me. A mother trying to deny her children their wonderful father and his family due to her own bitterness and desire to win and control- when does it end, if not at Christmas? If the state and courts and psychologists are aware of the impact and difference in the lives of children who have both a mother and father, even if separated, then how do these decisions even come about? He lives miles from them and wants to see them more, but is denied for absolutely no reason.

I've maybe never been more aware of the evil of people than this Christmas. This is usually when I am pushing myself to have faith in others and remember what joy we can bring each other. I saw a single mom and her girl buy a Christmas tree at Target last weekend. They shoved the little, somewhat sad tree into their little compact car. They weren't talking, but simply smiling. They both got in the car, and I could see them directly from my car. They were just happy to have bought a tree together, to take it home, no matter how small it is or how silly it is that they had to shove it in that tiny car. Any teenager would have mocked it, that's for sure.

Directly after that, a lady came out of the Target Garden Center shouting across the parking lot, "These trees are sh*t. They're horrible. They're the worst trees I've ever seen."

After I bought what I needed and came out, another family was buying a tree. Again, all smiles. One boy was talking endlessly about all the things he wanted to do and the decorations and lights and this and that.... Simply happy to have a tree, again. That it is simply Christmastime, again.

One person sees something ugly and unfit, another sees something that will make everything right and better again.  Where is the middle, the happy medium, the actually mediated solution seeking the best for all? Will it always remain dichotomous, as long as people are just people and can't look to a bigger meaning?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Two Faced or Double Sided

I've heard all of my life that you can do everything for someone, but it doesn't mean they'll change. Some people believe that people never change, others claim they can. I lean towards the latter and want to believe in faith in others, but have seen many people not change. I can't trust that they will. Also, people can easily treat you one way, say that they believe you, and listen to you for hours- but still turn around and tell someone else that they think you're full of it or doing it all wrong.

I grew up in the church. I have worked with youth for a long time. At camps and retreats, you are getting kids out of their element and purposely confronting them in striking and memorable ways to help them "see the light" about themselves and their world, and hopefully faith or God drops in there somewhere behind it or in the middle of it. Christian retreats and camps serve as a wake up call to youth, to confront themselves and confront the world. It's character building, lifetime relationship building, and extremely memorable. We also have a ton of fun- because you can't get anywhere with youth if you don't start with what us corporate adults call "team building" and in youth ministry, we call games.

I can tell you that those trips can make a huge difference. They write letters to family and friends confessing their feelings and asking for help with their addictions and problems. They return home, asking their parents for hugs and to be listened to and promise to change. They look to a higher power, a guidance book (the Bible), and awesome leaders and counselors as role models. Sometimes the camp "buzz" is only temporary. But I've seen it change lives, and mission trips serve as major wake-up calls to spoiled teenagers who for the first time are confronted with a life different than their own where nothing can be taken for granted.

Now I'm in adult world. Married, a stepmom/parent, in suburbia, worry about my house, my job, and wonder how to get out of a cubicle. Nobody confronts anybody. I only hear about adults laying it out clear in church communities. I hear some families still do that- tell their loved ones that they're hurting themselves, need help, or should stop doing what they're doing. But mostly, I read and hear about overacceptance of people hurting people or living a double life. I say it all of the time: "Some people are just like that." I say it because I've been hurt so much by friends over the years, that I've learned that people like that need to be avoided or dropped- not confronted. My inclination is to confront, but I also don't like the frustration and sometimes the heartache.

A former coworker told me her dilemma in an Ikea store line once. She saw 2 little boys hurting their tiny baby brother, who was unaware- not even at the age he could walk yet. She said she was so upset watching this happen and the mother ignoring it, that she so badly wanted to call the police or social services. But her husband told her to not get involved and reminded her of how bad things happen when you "meddle". Bad things happen to you, maybe- because you took responsibility. But what about the good to the people/person being hurt?

I refuse to believe that we are supposed to not meddle. I refuse to accept that people should just hurt others, because it's their perogative, their job, or what they learned from someone else.

Be one person. Be your beliefs. Stand up for what you believe, and don't let others convince you that "both ways" are right or that any type of damage is acceptable. Challenge each other, and stop the continuation of abuse, addiction, or general ignorance with anyone who matters to you. Those people need you, someone, to care. Otherwise, they will teach the next person, the next person, and their kids to continue in their ways and accept it as "just the way things are."

Also, DVR the World's Strictest Parent show on MTV. (Yeah, MTV...I know!). Maybe, find it on YouTube and send it to a couple parents you know... Encourage them to be stronger examples for their struggling pre-teens and teens. Oh, and send some camp info to them as well.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The New Plan

When we have something important to deal with with the kids, my husband and I come up with a game plan. It always works while the kids are in the house, but at some point they have their memories twisted and it's turned against us. We don't care about that other than how the kids are taught to lie about us and are encouraged to only think badly about us and what we do with them or tell them. Another way to put it is that my husband's parenting is not respected by their mother and her located-all-in-the-same-town family, and they do everything to teach the children to not take any character, moral, or virtue lessons from their father because "it's silly" or more commonly, "ridiculous". Because whatever everyone else does...is right. Of course. Being yourself means being thoughtless and living selfishly- didn't you know?

I have my own plans sometimes. I usually revise them a few times before it happens, or it changes on the spot. As I get less upset, I come up with more clever things to do or say to handle a new issue. I, of course, take the female role-model stance. My husband always takes the fatherly stance.

I hit my end with all of the lies. I had to do something to tell my stepdaughter that I would not tolerate her lies to me anymore- while also confronting the lies about me and her little sister's new inability to tell the truth or point out her sister's lies. And, I really wanted to bring it home. I wanted her to internalize it.

I asked her to look in a mirror after I briefly talked to her younger sister about what lying is. I asked her to describe how she feels and what she thinks about herself. I asked her to share what she wants to be and what she wants people to think of her. She had no answers. She just shrugs. I has her sister share her thoughts, before I said what I needed to say. I told her how I see a beautiful girl who doesn't like who she is. She doesn't like how she looks so she wants to hide herself with big jackets and sweatshirts, no matter how hot it is. She wants to be someone else or look different, so she is only 12 and wearing thick, dark make-up. She wants to blend in and look like everyone else, because she wants to be normal. She wants to be normal because she feels like her life isn't normal. She is hurt and confused inside because she has 4 different parents who tell her different things. She has moved so much and has had too many homes, and she wants to hide that she's not normal. So she lies. A lot, to cover up who she is. She doesn't know how to answer or who she is and who she should be, so she lies. She tries to make people happy with her just for the moment, so she lies to get out of the moment, and doesn't care what happens later and who it hurts.

Her eyes teared up the moment I brought up the divorce of her parents. I asked her what people would think of her if she lied to them a lot, for years. I asked her if people who love you ever lie to you- and when she nodded no, I said that they do. I said, "And people who love someone but are lied to for so long- How would they feel? They lose trust in you, even if they love you, it will take a long time to trust them again." I then told her that I will no longer let her lie to me, and she will no longer lie to me. I told her that the thing I hate the most is people who are fake, and lies are making her fake to me. We just told her the week before that she is better than that, that she is not fake, that she is beautiful and smart and has more to offer. So why is she choosing to be fake?  I reiterated no more lies. As I left the room, I said, "And you taught your little sister to lie for you, too."  Then their dad took them to dinner.

He got the gist pretty quickly and later picked up where I left off, very nicely and in his own way. He's not only fantastic at my damage control, but he also sometimes chooses to go the Dad way and nail it home. Oh, I love him. But he doesn't blog, so he can't pick up the story from there. One thing to throw in: She lied to him a few times at dinner.

We discussed everything after he'd dropped them off back to their mom, whom they are learning the lying and fake behavior from- which they talked to us about how fake she is the week before, actually- Just without that word. Then I told him I had started writing to the kids. I have since added to it. It's this long letter I will read to them the next weekend they're with us, on the first night. It started as me telling my husband I don't want to buy them as many Christmas gifts because of all of the events of this year- which means their pile will severely drop off. I am a gift giver type, so I always overdo it and spend way too much. But I want to. I wanted to show them how much I care and think of them..... Ha.

But I decided to write a letter about everything I feel and experience instead. In their words, I describe how hurt I am and remind them of a lot of things I've done for them- since they admit they don't remember or ever think of anything I do. I'm like a ghost that gives them things and takes care of them.  I describe how much I've tried, how much I've cared, and illustrate it. I also illustrate what its like to be me in this position, living with two people who continually act fine with me but then lie to me and about me to everyone else, making me look like someone I'm not. I have written about how I am losing me- because the more you're sad and hurt and allow others to continually hurt you, the more you lose who you are. I wrote about how I want to be myself and not be sad so much so that I can take care of everyone who does love me, love everyone who wants me to love them, and do all of the volunteer activities I do for others where I help other kids and homeless animals. And I state that I want to have a relationship with them, want to be treated like what I am- family- and that maybe one day we can be friends when they stop believing what someone else is telling them but only sees me for me and knows me for me. My husband cried when I read him what I'd written so far.

And that will get us goin' for Christmas. It's the time for caring and sharing. And they think they've already heard what we're upset about....But the tears won't last long. They'll remember they barely see us and move on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Time Delay

When you're a stepmom, you drink when you know you need it. There are times when you are so upset, about children's doings, and there is nothing in the world you can do about it.

Well, except blog or post on a stepmom's site, hoping for someone to come up with some ingenious comments that will make it all better. Yeah, ok, unlikely. They'll try, but it won't help allllll that much.

Drinks are like anti-depressants or pain killers. I know, not what you want to hear me relate it to, but it's true.  It takes the edge off, as my doctor says.

You need to take the edge off, because there's absolutely nothing you can do. When they are not with you, and you find out all kinds of things that would drive you nuts, you can't do a thing. You can't talk to them. You can't ask them. You can't ask your husband to handle it. You can't tell them to at least think about what they did. You can't give them a note about how much it hurts when they do whatever it is you do. You can't give them a parable, ask them to read a Bible verse, or give them a time out. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

You find out about something terrible. You hear about how your stepkids lied to your face or your husband's face repeatedly, while doing something that took a lot of time, that seemed like a fun family event, that cost a lot of money. Guess what! They didn't care! That's what you realize later when you hear all the lies.

I spent the majority of my life avoiding fake people. I despise people who have to be fake. We all have gone through a phase of being fake, usually in junior high or high school, I would hope, but at some point we start to realize that those people don't have depth or anything to offer us anymore. There's nothing there, or we can't trust it.

I never thought I'd be the pseudo-parent of one. She's just a kid. It still sucks. Junior high is when I came to the realization that being fake just hurts. That the guy who stood up for everybody was my school hero. That lying about yourself and trying to be something you're not just pisses everybody off.

But here I am. With a person who comes over to my house, who I take care of, who I think about all the time, who I worry about, who I talk about, who I buy anything for- Who is completely, and totally fake. She lies like some of the ex-boyfriends I had. Yeah, her continual lying is now relating to ex-boyfriends in my life. That's the point it's reached.

Friends that lied incessantly and boyfriends who hurt me one too many times were kicked out of my life. In this case, I can't kick her out of my life. There's this stepmom concept of distancing yourself from the stepkid portion of your family, but God, how that would hurt my husband.

I'm stuck. I hit my limit. If you're an adult, you know that sometimes one too many lies is just enough. You're just done. Three years of lying after one year of her obsessing over me- and I'm just so sick of it I can't stand it. Remembering how much she followed me around and copying me- just makes how she is now hurt that much more.

I do not have that instinctual love of her as a parent. I am not her parent. I will never have it.

So, with all of this emotion, and the inability to talk to her or ask her dad to talk to her, or do anything... I blog. And drink a lemon drop.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Totally saw that coming, Mom

I was totally just waitin' for it. This past Saturday, my mom stated that she liked the blog and how well I write, but "when are you going to write something positive?"

My husband's immediate response was, "When something positive happens."

I explained to my mom, in typical kid-manner, "That's not the point, mom."

There are multiple points, besides something positive. The stepmom world is rough. Stepmoms are misunderstood. Every stepmom can relate to that, and every stepmom needs someone to relate to. I am information sharing- It's to inform, educate, and to simply tell my friends the latest without having to repeat it over and over to different people. Which is kind of a downer after a while. Now, I can just send them a link.

I don't feel it's entirely negative, either. The mere fact that I'm writing a blog, progressively thinking through the situations, and documenting the reality are intellectually positive for me. As soon as I told a co-worker friend that I had started a blog, he immediately exalted the decision as wonderful for me and cathartic. He's a writer, of course.

I also know of the positives in the situation, but those positives would not necessarily be apparent to anyone else when sharing some of the conflicts or situations I'm in.  For instance, I am fully aware from reading so many other books and stories that it is fairly rare to have a husband like I do. Husbands/Dads struggle in their second marriage, dealing with the pain of their children, the pain of a divorce and past decisions, plus the pain of a new wife they just want to be happy. They are stuck in the middle of so much trauma, and for my husband at least, too many women. We even only have one male cat- all of the rest of the pets from mouse to dog are female.

His support, understanding, and acceptance are extremely rare. He gets it from his mom, an inherent presence of God who created him and his character, and his love of his daughters. He makes his love for me clear on nearly a daily basis, and knows that the marriage has to come first in order to make this split family work. He never takes me for granted and does everything he can for me. He is pained that I have to struggle with this, and that his ex cannot move on and let him have love and a relationship with his children.

I am so lucky to have him, and I am dealing with being a stepmom because of my love for him. It's all for him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stepmothering: A Feminist Issue- From Psychology Today

What Makes Stepmothering a Feminist Issue- Psychology Today

My chosen highlights:

"Finally, any complaints about her situation are likely to be met with suspicion and a lack of compassion, even by friends, who might say, "What did you expect when you married a guys with kids?" or "Why can't you just be nice?" Such ignorance, judgment, and gender bias can increase the stress and disempowerment of women who partner with men who have kids.

The final bias here is huge: we don't know how many stepmothers there are, owing to the way the U.S. Census counts stepfamilies (only the family where the child is in official residence post-divorce-most likely to be with mom, even if the child is spending half his time with dad and stepmom). And since research dollars follow the numbers, there are twice as many studies of stepfather families as of stepmother families."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Timely... Article from the NY Times

Fathers Gain Respect from Experts (and Mothers)- Article from the New York Times

Well now, doesn't this article go well with my last post...

Some notable selections:
"As much as mothers want their partners to be involved with their children, experts say they often unintentionally discourage men from doing so. Because mothering is their realm, some women micromanage fathers and expect them to do things their way, said Marsha Kline Pruett, a professor at the Smith College School for Social Work at Smith College and a co-author of the new book “Partnership Parenting,” with her husband, the child psychiatrist Dr. Kyle Pruett (Da Capo Press).

Yet a mother’s support of the father turns out to be a critical factor in his involvement with their children, experts say — even when a couple is divorced."

"Uninvolved fathers have long been accused of lacking motivation. But research shows that many societal obstacles conspire against them. Even as more fathers are changing diapers, dropping the children off at school and coaching soccer, they are often pushed aside in ways large and small."

"Fathers tend to do things differently, Dr. Kyle Pruett said, but not in ways that are worse for the children. Fathers do not mother, they father.

Dr. Kyle Pruett added: “Dads tend to discipline differently, use humor more and use play differently. Fathers want to show kids what’s going on outside their mother’s arms, to get their kids ready for the outside world.” To that end, he said, they tend to encourage risk-taking and problem-solving.

The study was financed by the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention, which is looking for ways to involve fathers more at the state’s many family resource centers. Experts say improving the way fathers are treated in many settings, public and private, is an important public health goal."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ownership- of children?

When did parenting become more about ownership and less about raising children with the hope that they would be great or meaningful people?

When my husband asked for a divorce from his ex, she didn't cry, ask him to change his mind, or even argue with him over it. She screamed, "You won't take my babies!" and dragged the kids out of bed in the middle of the night, on a school night, crying their heads off in fear, and took them to her parents' house. (Turns out, that one action alone could have guaranteed him the house...But he didn't get a lawyer.)  Their only discussions were about dividing stuff. Eight years- and all that mattered was the stuff and who controlled the kids. He has said many times that it was like she was just waiting for him to ask for the divorce first.

The more I read, the more I see, and the more I learn about divorce cases, the more it seems that children are possessions or trophies. There's a difference between a child being a "blessing" and a child being your entire identity, self-esteem, and friendship support circle.  My husband had to specifically ask to be included when his ex was pregnant, because she wouldn't talk to him about their shared offspring. That continued after they were born, in marriage and divorce.

That first year, my husband's ex-wife just didn't let him see the kids before, at, or after Christmas. He didn't go to visit his family on the off-chance that she would let him see them. He cried on Christmas Eve during the church service I took him to in my home town and cried after talking to them on the phone. I'm sure he cried more than that, but he doesn't want you to know that.

California law says that if the parent is fit, willing, and able, then they will be granted time. If both parents are fit, willing, and able, the time will be split equally, or as close to that as possible. But as Alec Baldwin keeps informing us on television interviews, you have to fight for your equal time if you're on the father's side of the battle.

My husband has explained his emotions and beliefs about time with his children in this way- If they were fine, if he knew they were being encouraged to succeed, learn, and grow, if he knew they were watched by stable, God-fearing people, if he knew they were happy and treated well- Then he doesn't think he would have to fight for at least the right to be a parent to his own children, considering he is overly "fit, willing, and able."

People always talk about how dads spent less time with the kids before but took on new tasks or realized how important his time was once there was a divorce. In my husband's case, he was completely aware of how much a joy his children were, and that is why he couldn't keep them in that marriage. He couldn't continue to support what they were learning from his ex and subjected to. He no longer had any effect on change while he was in the same house.

One of the hardest things for him is the simple fact that he doesn't actually know where they are at night. He can't check on them at night, hear them breathing, or give them a kiss. Possibly, his most important element is security and safety.  In other words, he didn't consider years of nights in the same house with them as time separate from them. Work is necessary, but coming home each night, it was his job to make sure everyone was safe and secure. He was, in fact, "with them" every possible chance he had.

When we were granted extra custody for a few months, before a different mediator swapped it around, we saw how different things were when the kids were with me before he got home from work. Just the mere fact that they were out of their mom or her boyfriend's grasp meant that they could call their dad (very hard for them to do normally), that they told us about things at school they never remembered before, that we saw schoolwork we had never seen before, forms, papers, and most of all, a major increase in comfort at our house and with us. When he was home from work or needed to go to an appointment, he picked them up. If I couldn't make it, he would get off of work. The time spent with him in numerous different ways went up, even if I was mostly picking them up. It was great. Most importantly, both children made some significant behavioral changes we'd been telling the courts and their mom about for years. I haven't read it yet, but I'm sure this would support the book "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters" by Meg Meeker.

But in our court case, the mom somehow means stability despite the huge and continual life changes and extra unnecessary fear, stress, and anxiety. My husband has done nothing to show he is unfit, unable, and everything to show he is completely willing. On the other hand, she knows she can barely handle her life, but must "keep" "her" children.

The different value sets offered by mothers, fathers, females, males bring balance to any child. Whether its security, affection, playfulness, discipline, lessons, religious, cultural, athletic- children need it all, regardless of severely outdated stereotypes of roles. If it can't happen in the same house, then it needs to happen in a way that doesn't punish completely capable parents- or the children who need both parents to succeed. A one-sided parenting agreement should happen when parents are not, in fact, willing, fit, or able.

Great Post about the "Stepmom Angle"

"The Stepmom Angle" by "A Stepmom's Say"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The End of the Weekend/s

This weekend we:
 - Went trunk or treating at church, which included a mad rush to buy and carve pumpkins in the "dinner visit" time on Thursday night and finish after school Friday, picking up an extra child, getting the costumes together, and also decorating the trunk as a makeshift Bat Cave.
- Coached/played in 2 soccer games that took up the entire day.
- Dropped off one kid to a friends' and then took the other to dinner and trick-or-treating all over (her mom's) town.
- Picked up another extra kid and hosted a sleep over, after tons of candy obsession.
- Got up early to drive to a theme park and be there when it opened as birthday gift to oldest kid.
- After two past-birthday-girl breakdowns and one anxiety attack/mild depression from the youngest, we had dinner and drove home.
- Youngest got help from Dad with a book she doesn't remember anything about but her mom says she has to take a test on tomorrow, which she conveniently remembered while on a multi-story, sudden drop ride with me at about 5pm an hour away from the book.

We like doing a lot with the kids. We like doing a lot period. My husband found his previous life and marriage rather boring, besides the kids. He still hasn't complained once in 4 years of me keeping him extremely busy, even though its clear that his usual inclination is to sit on a couch.  He says he loves it, in fact. We don't buy expensive clothes or (electronic or motor) toys because we love doing things. Lots of things. Any type of things. Cultural things, music things, plenty of sporty things, theatre things, volunteer things, church things, festival things, outdoors things, animal things, or just whatever. My husband and I love hanging out in bars and watching a game, which is really a version of our relaxing time together. It means we can't fall asleep on each other on the couch and can actually keep talking.

A long time ago, we realized we were the only ones that would introduce the kids to the many things out there- and hopefully cut away at their increasingly negative and closed attitudes at such young ages. It took about a year of them repeating their moms negative comments before they completely accepted that we were going to "do things" together. Church became something they did every Sunday, and finally my oldest stepdaughter admitted that it was better to be in Sunday School playing games, learning, laughing, and making friends than sitting at home watching the same TV shows for hours on end. (This seemed to shock the pastors, amusingly.) They learned to love hiking and trying new things without freaking out and expressing ultimate fear of the unknown. They accept surprise adventures and unusual visits to places they've never been, like an old Victorian-style house on the Historical Society list that had the most boring tour we've probably ever experienced. They should have learned by now that beach visits are for the entire summer and then some- and not just for once a year when you live only half an hour away from it. And, museums and plays are not dirty, boring words. Plus, new restaurants are not just new places to complain about every time you drive by it. 

Their doctor told their mom a year or two ago that the children were overweight. This upset her, according to the children. It didn't shock us. We knew it was related to a lack of outdoor time, playground time, and general childhood activities at home- and healthy eating. Their mother continues to fight our lifestyle with them by teaching them that they need to "relax" (aka TV for hours, after nothing strenuous or tiring or requiring mental energy). I've never heard the word "relax", meaning TV-zombie-time, so much from children in my life. I remember relaxing after hours of high school practices or cross country practice, followed by hours of homework. I relax from work stress and hours of driving in traffic. My body hurts more than it used to, so I need to relax for the next long, long day. Children need breaks or rest times, but we're pretty well aware that in these childrens' lives, "relaxation time" is simply a reflection of their mother's stress and inactivity, along with their new stepfather's physical ailments. In summation, the concept of relaxation has been turned into generalized laziness for 2 children.

Sometimes people ask us if we ever have down time with the kids. Even the kids say that they do fun things with us and "relax" the other weekends. I explained to a family member once that after years of thinking about it, we bond much easier with the kids outside of a house. In the house, stresses, messes, and responsibilities are important. The pressures of working together as a house led to many stressful events. Being outside of the house was, instead, a shared experience for all and led to many memories we hope that they remember when they're older. It makes sense- Indoors means smaller spaces and conflicts over perceived space and rules. Outside time only included some parking lot, street, and wandering-off etiquette (unless bigger issues were at hand at that time). And overall, why should the children spend 100% of their time not exploring, playing, and going on adventures of all kinds? Why can't the 30% of time we give them be exciting, fun, or at least different? Plus, a recent study I read about said that children are stressed by the parents during their busy schedules- not by the activities themselves.

My husband said after the last court visit that, "If they want me to be a Disneyland Dad, then fine, I will be. I'll give them what they want."  That's exactly what happens to a lot of dads. They have so little time with their kids, that they want it to be fun, memorable, and special. We learned the hard way- All of the work at our house on their homework and increasingly destructive and scary behaviors completely backfired on us, made us look like the bad guys, and let the kids be manipulated to think that minimal supervision, continual TV time, and surprise harsh punishments (related or unrelated to something deserving) means stability.   But he can never just be a Disneyland Dad, whatever that really has become to mean. He cares too much. He has too much to give. He has too much knowledge. He can't let one child hurt the other, or one child lose her willpower. He just can't.

And he chose this new life for them, even if they may not be manipulated to choose it. As he reminds me all of the time, he chose to marry me. He chose me to show his children another type of female, a new marriage, and another style of life. And folks, that means busy. I consider lunch, dinner and movies downtime. Oh, and what about all that daddy-cuddle time they have with the Cartoon Network for hours most weekend mornings...? Some weekends will be busy. Some will be less so. Let's save those weekends for the rain. There's a reason why we still use the saying, "Save it for a rainy day."

Monday, October 26, 2009

But really, *what is* punishment anyway?

The only form of "punishment" we used on the kids for a few years was talking. We would talk to them. Sometimes they would respond or talk with us, but mostly they remained silent, nodded their heads, looked away, or just cried even if they weren't in trouble.  My husband mostly would talk to them. Sometimes the talks were lengthy and important. Sometimes they were shorter and to the point. That was it. We told them we talk with, not yell at.

Then we realized the older daughter was having severe issues and didn't care about what we talked about, even though she would cry or nod and seem to be understanding. It was either all an act or she just didn't care, or could be both. We realized she would sit through the conversation, then go do whatever it was again. Then she started severely embarrassing and hurting her sister and completely ruining entire days, nights, or events for everyone- And given the small amount of time a partial custody father has, ruined time is literally painful. Then she stopped respecting every adult on our side of the family, and showed how much she didn't care about them. Around that time, we also realized that after years of being yelled at- she just didn't care unless you scared her like her mom does.

We refuse to simply yell like insane people over little things as punishment. We know they have grown up with it but we want to show them you don't have to yell. We'd point this out- that we don't just yell at them but try to talk to them. When we saw it wasn't working at all for the older daughter, my mom, a MFT, recommended removal from events or special activities.  Before an event, we warn her that if she does _____, then we will leave, go home, etc. If she hurts or uses others or doesn't listen to adults, she will not get to do the next event or fun thing. So at a church Christmas party we were so excited to take the kids to (at a Pastor's house, mind you) she attempted to make everyone miserable.  She was immediately removed from the event in front of everyone, her younger sister crying her head off from the humiliation she was served by her sister's hand in front of everyone at the party, and she went straight to bed when we got home.  Then one night, months later, she lied so much and about something very serious that she did get a little bit of yelling and the computer taken away. It was something serious enough that my husband just had to get through to her. Still, his yelling is simply raising his deep voice. I don't know that he really can yell... When she road her bike into a blind turn street, he yelled. Yeah, he yells when they run into streets... But a stern father's voice can be the same as yelling to a child because of how much power it has. Inside a house, that's all a child could need when they really need to know its serious. She knew how badly she'd crossed the line, and her behavior has improved overtime from the consistent event removal promise and our years of (compulsive) lying intolerance.

Somewhere along the line, the kids were convinced that our "talks" about things were lectures. So then they started telling anyone who matters how our lecturing bothered them and somehow hurt them. Yet, their mom's style of harsh punishments continued, and no one heard about that. The children's psychologist told my husband that the children "really don't like [our] lectures", in a disapproving tone at the beginning of the summer. My husband then asked her if she's heard about their mom purposely ignoring them, screaming her head off when they'd done nothing wrong to the point of making them cower, shake, and hide. No, of course not. She seemed rather surprised.

So, there's a difference in visions in punishment between the two houses... There also seems to be an acceptance of what biological moms are able to do for punishments, even if completely demoralizing and insane, versus what a partial custody father is allowed since he's not the primary parent. Most people assume a father is more harsh, except anyone who has grown up with a somewhat psycho mom. (Not referring to my own. In my 20s, I've had a lot of friends talk about how insane their mom is and how they don't want to be like them- and many of them realized why their parents got a divorce now that they're adults. I also work with high school youth, and many will tell you about the games their moms play on them or their dads.)

I see moms in stores grab their children, and quite literally throw them around. I see moms in public scream cuss words at their children, or completely ignore them- letting them physically destroy a store or even hurt their younger siblings (including babies). Then I know what my stepchildren have told me: they are simply used to the screaming from their own mother.

Let's put this back in perspective. I have a good example from my husband and youngest stepdaughter. He asked her one time why she claimed I was mean. She said that it was because one time, years ago, I had told her to eat with her utensils. ...Think about that for one second... Somehow, when I tell those 2 kids whom I've lived with for 3 years to stop something they already know they shouldn't be doing, I get a strong sense from some other adults that I do not have the authority, they think I am doing it wrong, or I should be more loving. And yet, I know that these same people are aware of how their actual mom punishes them.

When we were married, my husband asked me to help him. He asked for help parenting. He specifically stated he did not want me to sit in a corner and let him do all of the parenting. He said he would help me, and that I could only do what I was comfortable in doing. He said he trusted me and wanted his girls to be raised with someone intelligent and different from their mom (therein lies the ultimate problem, doesn't it?).  As situations came about, I had to take on more and more responsibility and authority.  Only natural, considering these 2 children live with me regularly and I care for them quite often. As I got to know them, I felt more comfortable. And what my husband and I have seen is that I only look harsh out of context or false twists of words. The children were encouraged to tell their mom bad things about us, and to please her, they spent years telling their mom things I never said.  Then, to garner sympathies from other adults and continue loyalty to their mom, they have exaggerated things to make me seem like a thoughtless stepmom who doesn't know them or understand them.  This works on many adults who already believe stepmoms are harsh or don't understand children.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How will it go?

Recently, a family member implied that I need to open my heart to the children.  I only receive comments tied to assumptions that I am cold or unwilling from extended family members when I share completely logical thoughts or my very valid feelings. Yet my friends and people I talk to everyday- most of whom live here- are constantly saying how much I give, how they can't fathom my depth of compassion in this situation, and also understand the constant pain I deal with.  The day-to-day of my life and the bravery I've shown impresses everyone I know, including my husband, except for the extended family of my stepchildren. They seem to readily believe the children's complaints, rather than recognize that children in a stepfamily situation where their mom guilts them and severely punishes them for disloyalty may possibly effect their statements about a stepmom who tries very hard.  I was told yesterday by a psychologist and a stepmother of 3 herself that it is actually a compliment- that the children are able to complain about me but can't even voice thoughts about their mother, out of fear. In other words, they fear her but not me.

In the meantime, the children's comments or strongly influenced beliefs continue to hurt our relationships with them, our marital life, and my husband's opportunity to simply be their father. My heart is open. And hearts that are open, can also be bruised, scarred, and should be allowed healing time.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I haven't done any research on "normalization", but I've recently been told by a psychologist that this is what our household is going through right now.

It's common for stepparents, but especially stepmothers, to go through a period of trying their hardest. They are either trying their hardest to repair the parent-child bond, to show that they too can be a parent, to create a bond with the children, or just trying to make the family work. I would say that I was trying very hard to be a parent and make the family work. And the psychologist said that this ends and the normalization process begins after the stepparent is either massively burned or after one too many burns.

I'm still trying, but I'm conflicted and backing down at the same time. Not only is this normal, but it's also healthy. Working so hard for something that wasn't working and was apparently worthless to the children isn't healthy for me. When everything was reversed in court, I backed down on a lot of the effort I was making. I stopped cleaning their room, making their beds, putting away their clothes, cleaning up after them, making as many dinners, making lunches for school, and buying them stuff- fun or otherwise, unless necessary.  

The downfall of all of those efforts can be listed:
- I often cleaned up their room because I thought that this is what was happening at their other and past houses. I think I was wrong. Result: When I clean their room, they have no clue where anything is or even what they have.

- When I made their beds, they couldn't have cared less. They're barely in them anyways, and they seem to like dirty clothes and sheets anyways.

- I also assumed that others have always put away their clothes. Since I stopped, my husband discovered that in fact they always put away their clothes at their other house and nothing is folded for them. It's simply dumped on their beds.  Result of my actions: I put away their clothes, so they didn't have a clue of what clothes they even had. I was always reminding them that they have other things, which they would then sometimes wear out of guilt or thinking it would please me.

- Cleaning up after them is just stupid. Sometimes necessary, but it's the fast track to resentment.

- I'm still struggling with the making dinner part. I made dinners to give them other options, so that they can eat with us at the table, and we often used our meals to teach them about healthy choices (like sauces, butter, fresh foods, etc. since I can't eat a lot of bad foods). Dinners were also my attempt to show them my capabilities, that I can make food they like, and that I am also fully capable of doing a mom-like thing. It also was to allow for a setting very close to a real family. And, it took the burden of providing food or cooking off of my husband, so I've been doing this since we were dating.  I've been cutting back on that, because it sort of sucks to cook for them. I love cooking, and I like cooking for my husband and I. But the final sting was going out of my way (and price range) to cook them crab legs the night before court. They were so happy that I finally made them shellfish, which they knew I sometimes made and they wanted me to make for them. The next day they told the mediator that they didn't like being taken care of by me.  I'm never making shellfish for them again, unless it's frozen shrimp. (If I want it, of course.)

- Making lunches for them was along the same lines as making dinner. Showing capabilities, giving them healthy options that they chose or claimed to like, and showing that we can provide, just like a real family. I even decorated the lunch bags. I've been doing this for years now, and after at least 2 years, we found out that their mother had told them to just throw away my lunches. She provided them with money or possibly brought them other lunches while she wasn't working. So now my husband gives them money or I pick up some pre-made lunchables. I just don't care. I wonder if they'll forget the years of decorated lunchbags?

- I made it clear that I myself often provide for them, with my own money, just for them. I took them to get things they needed, had them in mind all the time, and helped them plan for events or occasions. I bought them fancy kid-coffee drinks and smoothies all the time as treats during time with me and then anything else that they needed. I bought them and took them shopping for sports equipment, last-minute panic-need-items, school things, clothes, bras, shoes, food they want, and on and on and on.  This obviously also helps my husband tremendously, lightening his burden. But I'm sick of giving.

Normalization is when the stepparent, usually stepmother, stops trying so hard. This then causes the kids to take on tasks that they should have been doing anyway, or normal family rules to be enforced more consistently when they should have been enforced all along. (Usually these things were not done because of fear of upsetting the children or pushing them away, because the other parent/household is more lenient by contrast.) Everyone adjusts to the stepparent being less a part of the picture and a new house order with more responsibilities for the children and biological parent.

I've been badly burned. My stepdaughter completely forgetting how close we'd been, the things we'd talked about, and things she'd loved- along with treating me like an almost stranger- was so hurtful, it repulsed me. I've never understood how parents can handle their children turning against them, but not being their parent makes this treatment similar to a betrayal by a friend you trusted. If you're in my shoes, it does not feel like "actions by an innocent child." It is a horrible, horrible feeling to bond with a child and then know that the child purposely or was convinced to either tear themselves from you or even tear you apart. It makes me doubt every other interaction and distrust every positive action. And then I feel sick and want to hide.

It happened in a different way with my older stepdaughter. She would report everything I said (or anything her dad said or did that she didn't like, turning it into something I did or conceived) to her mom in a twisted form, and then allow her mom and other family to twist it further, thereby embarrassing me and opening the door for harassment and confrontation by their mother. It created a distrustful chasm between my previously obsessed-with-me stepdaughter and I that still makes me nervous.  She's now pulling away in general, hopefully from everyone, because she's a pre-teen and has learned how to work situations to please whoever she's with. Makes her more pleasant, and I go along with the mostly fake behavior for the sake of temporary pleasantness.

And this is how you become an increasingly distant stepmother, internally conflicted by the love of your husband and the messages you receive from others that "children just need love." I'm getting a whole lot of other messages that say they don't need love from me. Maybe there can be less blame and less hurt if the target stepparent just backs out of the way more and more.

Psychology Today Article/Blog on the Hatred of Stepmothers

The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate Their Stepmothers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What a Difference a Year Makes

Last year, our/my focus was making sure my oldest stepdaughter knew we would provide for her just like her mom's family does.  We didn't want the kids to make an argument that they needed to be with mom because she gave them the clothes they want or the gadgets they think they need. We don't need petty arguments like that crowding out the real stuff. We did a great job since the recession has been giving us ample opportunities at big clearances, store closings, and major discounts. We were able to get the kids brand name things for the same price as Target stuff! I, personally, find that to be a success. We were also clever in our gift giving. We gave them things with thought, to show them we know them. We mixed those with the gifts we wanted to give them for our own parental reasons and interests. Smart, right? Well, we didn't expect the people with a whole lot less money to buy her her very own flat screen TV for her room. In the long run, the TV and her own room win out over thoughtful gifts or attempts at perceived equality. 

Last year, I was home somehow and decorated the house for her birthday. I hung up blue streamers (fav color), made a chocolate cake, wrapped all those gifts... This year, I barely cleaned the house. Yet, we're going to see her for 2 extra hours (wow!) on her birthday. It just doesn't matter much. She's treated special almost all the time. On her birthday, she is happy to get a hamburger, steak, or ribs and some dessert. She is happy playing with her dad. She's a kid. She's bossy to her sister. She wants to get her way. Those are her priorities. Not anything I do. Not anything I give her. Whatever I give her, usually just upsets me in some way, anyways. It ends up lost, unused, misused, forgotten, or in a litter box (without an attempt to retrieve it). 

This year, she's just getting a few small gifts from us and then we'll take her and a friend to a fun theme park. She's of that age where "toys" are less important than digital things we can't afford or don't want to buy, so I remembered how I started asking for theme park passes or birthday parties at theme parks or special places. It works- her big gift is really a special day on our time. Her birthday party with her mom wasn't much of a party this year (one friend, 2 canceled, and a movie with her mom?) compared to last year's Halloween-extravaganza-boy-girl party, so a theme park should be memorable. Or so we hope. 

This posting illustrates "normalizing", common to a stepparent dealt a big blow. To be continued next time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does "youth" and "stepmom" go together?

Everyday, I feel very young. I feel too young. I'm not sure I want to know how often I think, "I'm too young to be dealing with this." Sometimes, I ask myself "Right?" as if I'm not sure I should ask that question.

I picked up the kids from school in the Spring twice a week. I worked from home in order to pick up the kids. I stood around with all the "real" moms. It was mostly awkward. I felt way too young (and professional-ish) to be standing at a school gate, with little children running around with brightly colored backpacks and kicking their lunch cases around. The amount of screaming and yelling is also something I wasn't used to. I have generally tried to avoid schools for the past so many years. They took on a new meaning when I moved to LA for grad school- Ridiculous side-street traffic. Mini-vans. Sudden stops. Jammed turn lanes. And I still feel that way about them, just with some more depth.

But then I think about how my old (not "older") friends are having babies now. Some of them have toddlers. Maybe I'm not "too young." But then again, I also am seeing that a lot of my old friends are just now getting married. I'm also not raising my husbands babies- I am helping to raise 2 older children. They are only sort of growing up with me but don't accept me as someone that has always been there. I have started later on the timeline, which means I face completely different issues than any of my friends with babies or new marriages.

I am still thinking of myself as "younger", "twenties", and recently out of college. The twenties part is definitely true, but when do you stop being younger? What's "recent"? They say that children of divorce are forced to grow up faster. Same thing for no-bio-kid stepmoms in a first marriage?

There have been plenty of instances where moms have given me dirty looks and teachers have expressed shock that I am a stepmom. Ridiculous, really, since there are many young moms and stepmoms out there, and all of the instances were in the latter half of my twenties. There have been only two times where I've been respected as a legitimate source of authority by others outside of family and close friends: First, as a soccer coach. The parents look to me for advice about soccer, injuries, and feedback about their children's progress. Second, a mother who decided to get over her prejudice told my stepchildren to respect me and say. "Thank you," when I bought them snacks in Target. Very gratifying, but moments that are noticeably few and far in between.

Is it really my age? Am I actually "too young"? Why should a stepmom be older? Moms are able to start young, and it's considered healthy. A stepmom picks up at a later stage, missing things no matter what age they are. Is there an expectation of age for stepmoms no one mentions? And besides all the societal ponderings, do my feelings of being too young actually reflect a desire to be less responsible and mature?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stepkid Birthdays

My stepdaughter's birthday is coming up. Last year, we tried very hard to make it clear to her that she would get gifts that showed we could give her as much as the other family, things she wanted, things that supported what who she tried to tell us she was or wanted to be.

It wasn't enough. What she really wants is her own room, to be left alone, and her own TV. We found that out later, when it was too late- and we wouldn't give her that until she was older, anyways. We own a townhouse and can't give her her own room until she's older, but then- Why? If she won't live with us more for shallow reasons and she tells everyone bad things about us that aren't true so that a court or psychologist think they shouldn't live with us anyways, why should we stress and spend more to get a 4 bedroom house in the hopes of her wanting to live with us?

There's this constant split between letting them know we can provide for them in the same way and just letting go of any hopes of an equal or better relationship in order to move on. But it always comes back to the same thing- We will not give up, because they are just children. They need us, even if they make the bad choices (and are being manipulated to do so).

Let me turn this to you for a second: If a child, who is not your own, said bad and maybe even horrible things about you to a court of law representatives and your extended family members for years, what would you be willing to give them for their birthday?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I'll slowly explain the title of my blog here and there. I decided to start with here.

My husband wants me to be a good, or maybe all the way to great, stepmom. . He's a supportive husband, a loving husband, and an understanding husband. He wasn't wrong to expect the most from me, because most of my life I've prided myself of going "above & beyond"- or at least trying really damn hard. I expected the same of myself- to be a good, or maybe great, stepmom.

But I'm increasingly thinking I need to back down from all the "trying" and come up with other things to do, like hiding in my room writing a blog, perhaps. Facebook games have an amazing appeal at this juncture. I've hit that point where maybe trying to be a good stepmom is causing backwards progress. Being present is more than likely hurting his relationship with the kids.

So I wish I were a great stepmom. I wish I could be all the things my husband knows I could be, or maybe was, capable of. But I'm falling short, and I don't know that there's a recovery other than changing myself or increasingly fading into the background.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Beginning

I probably should have been blogging for years now. I was confined to MySpace, but with the FB & Twitter rages I guess it is time to move on.

There's a lot of new stepmom books out there all of a sudden. When I looked for books on Amazon about how to be a stepmom in 2006, there were about 5. Four looked dreadful and 1 was fun. I bought the one. Now there's, what one could call, a plethora. It's still not it's own section yet; definitely not. But now I have to read all the reviews, trying to decipher whether there will be something new in the new books. Will it help me? Will it frustrate me?

The fun book I read in 2006 cracked me up and made me feel determined. My new family pursuit would be possible and nothing could stop me. But the author did say that most of the scenarios and advice could apply to most stepmoms and their situations...Except for the one type of bio-mom that never backs down, full of hate or insane.

I laughed at the description at that time. Realized that that was my husband's ex. I called him up and read it to him, saying "shes says it's the worst kind!" Three years later, I can't believe I found humor in that. We should have been planning a war plan, even before our wedding.