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."