Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It's typical for PAS kids to just simply not recall what the "other" parent's traditions are. Although the kids split the holidays equally with us and their mom, they have never once remembered what we do each holiday. They should have an equal memory of what happens at each house, but they've given us dumbfounded looks every time we've been shocked that they don't recall such simple things as always going to church on Christmas Eve, seeing family, dinners, etc. Memories just... vanish.
This was the first year that both stepkids remembered and planned for their birthday dinner with their dad and I. They knew that we would take them where ever they wanted to go, and had back-ups. That's extremely encouraging. They just know what to expect, which means they also are looking forward to it. Years past, we'd done bowling, arcades, and the like, and there was no recollection. A special dinner of their choice always followed, but all they would ever recall is the family dinner with their mom's family- which was never on their birthdays.
(That would be because we always have custodial visits on their birthdays, since their birthdays have not once landed on one of our weekends/days. My husband never sees his kids in the morning on their birthday or puts them to sleep at night on their birthdays. Thanks, mediators. Way to take away simple moments of life... When all that has to be planned is a half-day switch of some sort every year, just like Christmas...)
Anyways... The benefit of this bizarre custodial visit schedule is that the kids will always plan on dinner with their dad, at a nice restaurant of their choosing, every year. Maybe that's what helped them remember- the consistency of him never having custody on their birthdays. Ironic.
And I'm pretty sure they know the deal with the rest of the holidays- that church will fall in there somewhere, my family visits or we go to them, and they may be starting to remember family dishes my Swedish family serves- since they've had them over and over again. Studies say it takes something like 5 tries (? Maybe more?) before a kid begins to like eating a certain type of food. It's simply exposure.
But in our case, it also doesn't hurt that they're learning that things we do with them are simply more memorable, different, and even exceptional. And that's what my hope has been all along- that one day, maybe one day, they will remember that all of their hikes were with me. That the first time they did a whole multitude of things was with me. That their dad and I dragged them to all of their theater experiences, snow, and to rare places they never would have been. That my family and his family offered them special experiences they never would have had, outside of their mother's town. But if PAS wins, then they'll only remember that they can do those things, but not why or who they learned it from.
So here's to memories. Long, strong memories that fight hatred, jealousy, and selfishness.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
And every damn year... the kids are almost, total, or sort of snots. And I rethink everything. Like why do I think about them so much, but they can't even treat me like they've lived with me for years? Why can't they respond to my text messages? Why do they act like I'm a stranger when their mom is around?
Last night, I dug out one kid's gifts and put them in a pile. This pile, in my head, is to return.
I probably won't. But I am so tempted. Why the hell does she need anything at our house if she doesn't want to live there, can't respect us, can't even communicate with us?
Funny thing is, if I told anyone else in our world about wanting to return their gifts, I would be told that they're just kids, but it's Christmas, and as my husband said, they act this way because of their mom- not because of them(selves).
Which after so many years, that excuse is becoming more and more bogus to me. They know better. That's what I think. I know they are manipulated, scared of displeasing their mom, and totally messed up thanks to her, her husband, and court- Yet I don't really care. They should show affection to their dad no matter what, because he's their dad and they clearly love him (when it's just us). They are fine with me and know me, yet they like to pretend like they don't know me and even hate seeing me when out in public around their mom, mom's family, people who know their mom. I'm so sick of it.
So every year, I wonder about those gifts. Then I get caught in the circle: if we don't give them crap they want, then they think we don't give them what they want. If we don't provide for them as much as the other house does, then they can't say that they have what they want and need at our house as well. Then our attempts to get them to live with us more become null, as we wouldn't have made the houses equal despite the current custody arrangement.
This all blows. Merry Christmas.
Monday, November 29, 2010
This even presents itself in small ways all the time- not always with big rule breaking or offending behavior. Sometimes it's just that they didn't do something you asked them to do repeatedly and had incorrectly assumed they had done. Easiest example of that is cleaning their rooms, putting away dishes, finishing a task. I often discover many of those types of small things were not done like we asked, but now they're gone and I can't remind them for possibly up to 2 weeks.
Then you have choices to make: Do you just clean it up or finish it right then because it will seriously bother or annoy you for the entire time they're gone, make them do it when they are there for only a short, rushed visit, make them do it the moment they walk in the house after being gone for up to 2 weeks, or make your spouse do it- since they're really his kids anyways...?
Of course, there are some things you have to do immediately. That is the most frustrating, of course. You are left only one option: do it now, or ants will take over your house. Do it now, or you will trip over it, like you told them when you asked them to pick it up. Do it now, or the dog will chew it up. Do it now, or you'll be embarrassed when your parents come over to visit. That's the worst. You feel like you were pushed into a corner by unwitting, absent-minded children. Normally, if they were there, you just yell up the stairs "Somebody left their socks down here!" or say "You forgot your plate"... Mission accomplished. But when they're gone, you're the maid or you have to deal with the mess.
And that's how resentment can also grow- When the kids aren't even there!
You could come up with punishments, make them do more when they come back over, or save the work until then. We try to do the latter, but usually we're simply left with telling them that they left a mess for us and that I had to clean it all up because I had no choice. Let me tell you- that has absolutely no effect on kids. They weren't here to see it, witness it, hear my grumblings, or clean it- means it didn't happen. Their world is here and now. Occasionally I see my youngest stepdaughter feign sorrow over such events, but it's primarily because she's super empathetic. She just wants me to be happy and be happy with her, but she still will not catch whatever it was she was supposed to have done. Hence, the child's understanding of responsibility.
Inevitably, one parent is less OK with dealing with the problems from last time when the kids come back. Usually the birth parent, of course. They finally get to see their kids, so they are uncomfortable or worried about dealing with the "dirt" the moment the kids come over. But if it's not dealt with, stepmoms feel more and more like maids. It's a trade-off- help your kids learn responsibilities in their "other" house, or let your wife feel like she picks up after your dirty children.
So we eventually came around to making them put away things the moment they had time or having them clean up, if it was able to wait. When it can't wait, we do it...and sometimes we discuss repercussions. Usually it just materializes the next time they come over in more strictness on those things that were left undone the time before. Then they're not being punished, but the expectations are made loud(er) and clear(er). All in all, the more we're on top of it all, the more they're on top of it. They reflect what we make priorities. We tell them that they will not go to their friend's house if their room is not cleaned, and it better be more clean than the last time! They will need to forget that movie they begged to see if they can't pick up after themselves..etc. So instead of punishments, it's more of a follow-up code enforcement the next time they're over.
It's much harder to deal with the bigger issues, hurt feelings, or ignoring during the off-time, though...
Monday, November 22, 2010
Their mom didn't take her 4 "vacation" weeks this year. She saved them all for now. We literally now have had every visit with the kids cut out for the entire holiday season except for 2 days for Thanksgiving and one weekend in December. They're still in school, she's not taking off work... Talk about "vacation." They won't be going anywhere, they won't even do anything special. They leave that all up to us to shove into our short periods of time.
My husband requested one whole week during December to try to make up for it, and thank goodness he had "vacation weeks" left with them. She hasn't denied it, which we expected, so maybe it will happen. During that time, the kids will still see their mom during soccer practices and a soccer playoff weekend. My husband is going to take the whole week off of work just to take care of them. He's excited and will love it. I'm sure they will also get some spoiling that week, because he'll just be so happy to finally be with them on a school week. It will be the most time we've had with them in months, since summer.
And, our allotment of 2 days at Thanksgiving is coming up. We wanted to go out of town to spend time with my family, but we don't think we have the time given how little we see the kids. In the meantime, my husband has not heard from the kids. More specifically, he hasn't heard from his 13 year old daughter even though he's called multiple times to both the kid's phone and their mom's phone. Although court orders say things like parents need to allow communication, the parent that has the kid wins. They don't have to allow anything, and they can lie about it in 15 different ways. They can take away phones, claim the call never made it and they never got the message, or just say they were "busy." Pretty common for those of us with the blended families, and we all have experienced that.
What upsets me more is that it's the holidays, he won't get to see them on Thanksgiving itself, he'll only get 2 days to see them in between 2 "vacation" weeks, yet he hasn't had private, regular, court-ordered communication with them in almost 6 days. He called Saturday, he called Sunday, he sent messages today. He saw one kid briefly at a party, but that definitely does not count as parent-child private communication time. (You'd know if you've ever been to a kid party before.)
It's amazing that this game-playing can go on for so many years. People expect adults to be adults, parents to be parents, and things to normalize after a bit. But more and more, that isn't happening. One ex-spouse can decide to continue the war and keep it alive as long as they believe the kids "should be theirs". And there's no proof, no way to get it to stop. You just continue to lose your children.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
"In my ever present quest in the pursuit of perfecting procrastination (try saying that three times fast) I have found myself trolling blogs and articles about stepmoms. My favorite part about articles and blogs is reading the comments section. Usually there I can find some funny story or a new perspective on life. However after this past week I. Will. Never. Do. It. Again. The amount of hate and mean spirited comments directed at stepmom articles is amazing! You would think we all ride brooms and snatch babies from their cradles!
Friday, October 29, 2010
We told her that the lies and left out truths just led to high conflict that she was making everything horrible for all of us, especially her and her sister. We were not only trying to teach her that lying was making things more complicated and her life worse, but also trying to get across to her that she was literally often causing these big huge flare-ups that led to court and anger.
She hasn't been causing the flare-ups as much lately, or their mom just hasn't cared. Not really sure, can't really know. But things have seemed better mostly. Then in one week, we get two nasty communications with their mom. But one was clearly triggered by my stepdaughter, and was completely unnecessary. It's clear that this time, it wasn't to avoid punishment or bond with her mom in the perverse way. This time it was to get mom mad at dad in order to get what she wanted. So literally, the brand new teen, has just done what I usually read about children of divorce doing- using the parents to get what they want.
It didn't work very well, of course. But this was the first time where my stepdaughter was directly involved and caused the fighting and nasty communications by going to her mom, in order to not have to do something when she was in our custody.
I'm pretty pissed about it. Before, she was emotionally confused by her mom's messed up mind and easy anger. Before, it was to please mom. We're pretty used to that old story. This, though, was to selfishly try to get out of something by using her mom's ever-present anger against her dad. I see this as worse, but I guess the good thing about this kind of behavior for us is it is much easier to attach repercussions to. And we've found that to be a lot more effective then trying to reason with them about the logic of playing their mom's emotional games.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Stepmoms, we fell in love. How horrible is that? Why do we have to be someone we're not, because your husband's ex thinks whatever she's made up about you and then has impressed that upon the kids? The more it gets to you, the more it makes you crazy and self-doubt. You start to question whether you should change, and if you do change, the resentment starts to build....
It's one thing to believe in self-improvement, but constantly ask yourself if it's self-improvement or trying to live up to another person's standards- whether it be your husband's, the kids', your in-laws'... You need to maintain your own standards. Let your stepkids learn from your standards, which is why your husband fell for you in the first place.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
I learn that lesson over and over again. My stepkids aren't that bad to me anymore, though sometimes they hurt me a lot more than they know and it's usually not intentioned now. I guess it could be more related to age, maturity, and the person who's primarily raising them now.
But still, I see them pick up things from me. They may have resisted me as much as they could those years that their mom was manipulating them the most, but I was still there, a lot. They're still going to pick things up from me, just because I'm an adult in their lives. Now that they're on better behavior, I'm seeing a lot of that seep through.
Once again, I'm seeing my oldest stepkid copy things I do and say. My husband and I have also noticed a continuation and increase of the girls seeking my approval or help before their dad's. Sometimes the youngest will turn to me and ask for something, even though her dad is right there. His shock is quite funny, and I have no idea why she does this. She could tell you that I very often tell her to ask her dad about most things, yet she comes to me first. (I'm starting to think it's more because she knows that if I disapprove, I'll probably win out later... She's a smart cookie sometimes.)
I took my oldest stepdaughter to get some new jeans that fit whatever style she wants this year. Most of her jeans were family hand-me-downs from her cool beach cousin, and she's been quite fine with those. But she's now the same height as that cousin, so we've been taking her out for new things more and more. I told her she just picks what she wants and I'll buy it, just as long as it actually fits and she won't outgrow it in only a few months. I specifically told her she didn't need to "show" me what they looked like- just tell me what's good or not. Yet, sure enough, I hear my name being called. For both pairs of jeans she picked out, she wanted me to see how they looked and tell me why she liked them- and I noticed it seemed like she was trying to convince me. I really couldn't care less- I even told her she could get jeans her dad would complain about if she wanted. Yet, there she was, showing me jeans and looking for my approval.
I know that their mom is pretty much all that really matters to them- with her love being somewhat conditional, they have to get her approval first and foremost, even at the cost of others like their very own dad's. But I am glad to see them be comfortable enough with me to at least act like they want my approval. It does show that my female role-model and "other mother" role is legitimate to them, for right now.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
There's all these books out there to help stepmoms learn, adapt and be better.
You know all it is? You want to know what it takes to be a good stepmom?
When your stepkid treats you like crap, embarrassing you in front of others- kids, adults, teachers, coaches, friends, family- You don't tell them how you really feel, you don't scream at them at the first chance to tell them how horrible they were, and in fact, you stomach nearly all of it.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
In our custody arrangement, we now have every other week with the kids, but only during the summer. The moment the custody changed, they were happier, looser, more normal with us. We've noticed this year after year: If they know they will be with us for a longer amount of time than those weekday "dinner visits" or the short weekends, then they become themselves. They are suddenly fine with everything. They aren't rigid anymore, aren't fighting everything. My husband has tried to tell court mediators and the therapist this, but we don't think anybody listens or believes him. And I guess they don't see that this is why experts recommended that (caring, healthy) parents have equal time, and why our legislature passed a law saying courts should make decisions in that vein.
We've seen some majors shifts in the kids this summer as well. Thank goodness that they are getting older. I've been waiting for a time like this, when I can see glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll be aware enough to fight the extremely negative, unhealthy tendencies and habits they've learned...And just maybe, be their own people.
I have always said that I invest so much time, effort, and care into them- Not out of love, but because I want to actually like them when they're older and adults. This is my way of saying that I want them to be smart, healthy women, decent people, and help society rather than hurt it. I know that marrying my husband meant they would be in my life forever, and caring for them was a part of my vows. I do a lot of "loving" them, but it's not a normal sort of love. It's a caring love that results from the immense, unending love I have for my husband. I definitely see them as a part of him, something that comes with him with no choice, and therefore I need to do as much as I can to make the best of it. If I love him, I will do what I can for them. And for me, making the best of it involves a lot of work to hopefully show them different things in the world.
And what I've just described, whether you recognized it or not, is a war against their mom. As a stepmom, I'm not supposed to war against their mother. In the perfect world where parents are all wonderful, I am simply supposed to let her teachings be it- because she is their mom. And I only support the parents and their wishes. If only it were that easy and I didn't have any morals, values, or general obligations as a citizen and Christian....It wouldn't have to be a war, and it wasn't my choice. Their mom is mad, angry, furious that I am a part of their lives. There's jealousy and other typical ex-wife, bio-mom sentiments there. But it really boils down much more to who she is. And who she is...is based off of her children.
Her self-esteem has always been so low, from the way she was raised. Not her fault, really. Her kids are her everything because- they will be her friends. She doesn't have many, and her friends are her family members- who only respect her to a certain degree. She has the old fashioned way of understanding kids to be who takes care of her when she's old, as well. She's never looked to a husband to do that, though she does have financial dependencies on them. Her goal has always been to have two mini-hers, without (some of) her mistakes. She was most happy when pregnant and showing off her infants, because it was the most attention she's ever had. And, she had control over others for once when for so long, her life was always out of her control. They are her pets, her prizes, and her reflection. And the reflection issue is what causes the war.
In wanting them to be her friends, caretaker, and a continuous reflection of her, they end up being- well let's make it simple: not themselves. They are (very quickly growing) children; they need to live, explore, play, question, grow, and learn. But if they are a reflection, they do not. If they're busy "stepping on eggshells" with a narcissistic parent, they will in turn lose their own self-esteem. They will end up modeling their needy parent, and unfortunately become not "like their parent" but also the full reflection. Which, in this case, is dangerous.
So, she sees me as the enemy. I pride myself on being different, learning more, being an activist, and exploring. She wants to keep them near her, to do only what she does and did, and not expose them because she might lose them. Her biggest fear is losing them, as she has openly shared in the past and continues to show in every action, email, and in the manipulation war she wages.Within the first year, I was sick of my stepdaughters' fears, inability to try things, quick judgments at such young ages, and lack of curiosity. I was scared of the nasty faces they made, which my husband recognized as their moms. And I was most alarmed by their complete lack of belief in themselves and inability to have goals. Two children, afraid to commit to themselves, afraid to believe in themselves, and unable to separate themselves from what they'd been told they were. Quite, quite literally.
Most moms would be happy that their children could try new things, visit new places, learn more and more- and not on their dime, either. We go to museums, historical parks, and teach them how to do things. They try new foods, so that they don't freak out later on when presented with it, and they change their minds about restaurants they previously claimed they "hated" because their mom and her family said they did. They were talked out of music lessons, so we signed them up with a friend- and now they're proud that they can play guitar. I have a million other examples like these, and I'm seeing their fear of the new and the world start to dissipate. We're finally seeing them be willing, jump forward to try things, and eager to leave the house. And, they've made new friends. Lots. They have an entire community at church and made special friends from camps. They have lots of family in other places that they can visit and who love them so much. What a world they (can) have.
But, don't you get it? A mom who wants her kids to be just like her- this is all her worst nightmare. Absolutely scary. I am not being facetious or sarcastic. If your world is limited and your self-esteem is low, you need your children to relate to you and still want to be with you. If they want the world and more, how can they stay with you or be there when you are alone? She wants them to be successful(ish), but not too much more than she considers herself to be. She wants them to have low goals like her, so they stay. She wants them to be friends with her, not new people or kids where she can't get to know the parents or cast her judgment on them. She doesn't want them to experience things she never experienced, because she doesn't understand it- and fears it herself. That separates them from her, ever so much. Their grades aren't important, as long as they're average- like hers were. They don't need to work towards goals, because she didn't have many- and she has goals for them, anyways.
So she hates that I entered her ex's life and then introduced him and her kids to new things, an active life, faith, and all kinds of things she doesn't understand or want for them. Pretty simple when you get it. Otherwise, you just shake your head, wondering why she's so mad and angry all the time- why she is constantly fighting us all the time. She fears what I and we offer them. She hates that we can offer these things she doesn't know about, and therefore doesn't want her kids to know about either.
My fear is that they fear life and never learn how to grow. That's what I want for any youth I encounter and work with, not just these two. (Which I believe is something they may start to understand, but their mom thinks is just my attempts to tear her children from her set lifestyle choice for them, and thereby tear them from her.) I definitely have a clear purpose in their lives, my husband supports me, and I am motivated continually by their joy and what they learn/experience. I've never been a bystander, and I've never believed that people should take on the negative habits that will hurt them later in life. I have been brought into their lives, I am not perfect, but I sure want to offer anything that I can. If anything, I want them to have the pure and simple choice between some things versus other things, this lifestyle versus that, and "good" versus "bad." You have to be informed if you're going to make decisions, and I consider myself to be an informant.
And really, this is just who I am. Fight on.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Family visit-vacations remind me of one of the biggest discoveries my husband and I made in dealing with our split family. Let's step into the normal family dynamics: Grandparents love to spoil the kids. The kids can "do no wrong." Grandparents and Aunts & Uncles sometimes like to make time with them extra fun and break a lot of the parents' rules, because it's sort of like "party-time" and they don't see the kids that much. And sometimes grandparents and aunts and uncles mock parents as being too strict or question the parents, sometimes in a joking or teasing manner.Or, when a parent needs to lay down the rules and enforce the standard punishment (aka handle the situation when the kid is being absolutely abhorrent), extended family often tries to "make it easier" for the kid or say, "no, no, it's ok" and proceed to do the opposite, thereby completely negating any parental enforcement. We saw this from my family and my husband's.
What our families, both mine and my husband's, didn't realize was that this really, really hurt our blended family. Given the manipulation on the mom's family's side, joke-mocking and breaking of rules solidified their mom's take on us. One of my stepdaughters went so far as to interpret it as, and then proceed to tell everyone else in her life, that nobody likes me on her dad's side. Which, was completely bogus- but what she was seeing was people teasing me or seeing everyone disagree with any parenting I attempted.
The extended family teasing and mocking of parents, plus the "party-time-with-us versus parent rules" thing just shot any respect of us by the kids down to nothing. We ended up arguing with them over simple table manners and basic respect for others. Things that were normal at home were suddenly things the kids could argue with and whine over in front of our entire families. Like, take vegetables. At our home, we might hear some complaining about having to eat something they don't like- but it doesn't take punishments or an act of God. (Maybe some light "no dessert" threats...) But suddenly amongst our families, it became this huge embarrassing fight with them, making us look like jerks and making the kids look like they've never dealt with the situation before and had never before been told to eat their food before.
Also, extended families very often are out of the loop on the ongoing issues you have at home. We've had so many instances where our families have questioned us, and we've had to explain at length how this was not a new thing but something that's been a much bigger deal than you'd think- And often just because of our split family dynamic and the attempts of manipulation on the other side. Very normal parenting is turned into big issues in a badly-handled-court-custody family, so something that seems harsh to an outsider may be because we are so unbelievably fed up with that one little thing that has been discussed ad nauseum with the kids, and the kids KNOW it.
For example, we had an entire year of telling the kids about the merits of socks. They just refused to wear socks. We had no idea why, and we could not understand why their mom made them or let them wear flip flop sandals when it was raining, freezing, for running and playing, etc. They were rather young then, and my youngest stepdaughter was constantly hurting her feet. Plus, they wouldn't wear socks with shoes, and then they'd get blisters and cry or complain about whatever we were doing and we'd have to go home. So we spent an entire year trying to explain running shoes, how socks keep your shoes from getting smelly and dirty, how they keep you warm, how you need shoes for those playgrounds with the wood chips, and how running in flip flops could result in injury. Honestly, simply telling them to put on socks and shoes for walking all day was an unbelievable nightmare. (I could understand if these were beach kids, but they're not. I know about beach culture and grew up with it, and they still act like sand is going to devour their toes after a day at the beach.) So, we were about to go on a whale watching trip in the winter on the coast, and I simply said "put socks and shoes on." My oldest stepdaughter piped up with a loud whine, in front of everyone, "But WHYYYYYY" and started to put on a show. All I did was get down to her level and put my hands on her shoulders so she would look me in the eye, as she's very good at the avoidance tactics and likes lying while using such tactics. I just said to her firmly, "We are going on a boat, in the ocean, where it is wet and cold. The boat is slippery, you are going to get cold, and you are going to wear socks and shoes." It worked. She turned around and got her stuff on.
Totally normal for a regular parent, right? You should have seen the looks I got. I was the newer- 1 or 2 years in- stepparent, and apparently, that was too harsh given the way the room cleared. I didn't use a nasty voice, but did have to use a firm, no-nonsense voice to stop the scene and endless arguing that was about to happen. But the rest of the family had no idea that we'd been fighting with them all year about socks and shoes. My stepdaughter definitely knew better.
My husband and I realized there is this clear double-standard- Moms can be harsh and strict, but stepmoms cannot. I wonder if they ever think about what their real mom would have done... One word: ballistic. But also, we noticed that lots of people seem to think the kids are perfect, because they never see them. So they almost respond to things we tell them about what goes on at home, in our day-to-day lives, with complete disbelief. I would explain something going on, and the responses I received from family were sometimes along these lines, "Oh, well, the divorce is hard on them..." So, we shouldn't teach them anything? Parent? Nothing? You feel bad for them, so their mom should just keep them from their dad or make them feel like their dad isn't worth beans? We shouldn't expect them to respect us or listen to us? We shouldn't talk to them about the truth of things, restrict them from things we think are dangerous, or just parent overall?
Reading Divorce Poison New and Updated Edition: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing it all came together for me. Towards the end of the book, Warshak covers a way in which your families can help you battle alienation and the other parent's manipulation. It's simple: They need to support you. They need to treat you positively. They must compliment you, bring up positive statements like, "Wow, your dad must really love you" or talk about good memories they have of the kids and their alienated parent (and his spouse...). They can talk about your accomplishments, talk about all the good things, and validate your opinions and consequences for actions. I don't know why that was such a big revelation for my husband and I, but it clicked when I read that. We realized that the mocking and "don't listen to your parents" parties were really hurting us. It all suddenly made sense to us that the main people the kids saw us with weren't even supporting us as parents in actions and words. If you want your kids to respect you, how are they supposed to when every other adult in your life doesn't? If their mom and her family is telling them we're wrong or dumb, or "ridiculous", then they see our very own families teasing us... As far as they knew, every adult thought we were terrible.
But our families didn't realize. They were just acting like they did with all the other grandkids and parents. So we talked to our moms and let them know that we were struggling with them, one kid was really dealing with problems, and we just needed their support, as the respect for us was dwindling given other adults weren't even respecting us- especially when with our families. We explained what the kids were seeing, and that adults who support us need to show that to the kids. Both of our moms accepted the challenge immediately and completely understood, and they now enforce whatever rules we have except for a few (as a part of the "special grandparent time"). The kids still get spoiled, but it's not at our expense. Grandparents can be grandparents to the kids without undermining the parents. All they have to say is, "Your Dad and Stepmom say..." and enforce things like it's external to them, but without throwing it completely out the window. They still can be loving, fun, and crazy grandparents. The kids can still gain from them, but also see respect granted to us.
I wouldn't say that this has completely extended to everyone, but our moms are pretty much the leaders of our extended families and lightly give "advice" and make nicely timed comments that hint to others that they should maybe follow suit or consider what we're dealing with.
It's a weird area, I know. It's hard for me to write this little, as even more elaboration could probably be in order considering you're probably not in the same situation or may be questioning whether I am too harsh or something. But I can tell you, even the kids now profess that we're definitely not as restrictive and do not scare them, like their mom. If they get it and know the truth finally (even if momentarily...), I feel pretty well vindicated.
Friday, June 25, 2010
We let them do a ton of stuff, sign them up for things they love, and organize all kinds of things with their friends. But thanks to actions on Father's Day, they were grounded for their first week of summer with us. My saying previously was that only cats get grounded in our house (when they fight), but now we've had to move past that. Our grounding isn't ridiculous, though. The kids' mom, when she grounds, takes away the only things the kids do in their house. They're basically left with their room and cut out of family activities, and I think that's pretty cruel. I told my youngest stepdaughter once that we would never do the same as their mom because punishments are too harsh and cut the kid out of family life and routine.
This, on the other hand, is literally a grounding in which they're doing TONS of fun stuff still, but just can't do a sleep over or play date at a friends house. We had planned for them to go to Vacation Bible School every morning and then get picked up by friends or dropped off at friends' houses most afternoons. But instead, they ruined Father's Day for their Dad so we took the afternoon stuff away, meaning they'd get to go to work with me instead. It hasn't been so terrible at all, since they've been able to still go to one of the most fun things all year everyday, plus other church events with tons of people and best friends. And I arranged to have one of their favorite babysitters over yesterday, which they loved because she took them out. We never give them boring weeks, ever. That's just unnecessary. Even if they're not thankful.
But they're asking to go to friends houses now that it's the end of the week. Yet my husband realized- they still haven't even said sorry for what they did on Father's Day. Not once. So they're starting to make comments about their friends longingly, and he is going to have to sit down and tell them not a chance. Not only do we let them see their friends constantly and set up all kinds of events and activities for them and the friends, with their parents even, they never say thank you. They don't get it. We go the extra mile in arranging playdates, sleepovers, and lots of activities to allow them to associate with their peers more and be more rounded and positive, and active, than what they're being taught in their other family: Judgement, rudeness, criticism of others, desire to do less and fester.
But I'm not sure they even realize that their mom hardly ever does anything, and that they expect such things from us. Their friends have started to call my husband and I for playdates and not their mom. More than once now, when a friend has asked to see one of the kids to my husband and I, they'd expressed disappointment, like a failed attempt, when we've said that they're with their mom that week. So, even their friends get it. (Or, it has something to do with the weirdness, negativity, and overt Satanism at the other house that we can tell other parents are now finally picking up on.)
Somehow, this "grounding" of minor proportions will turn into "cruelty". Their mom yells, screams, throws, severely punishes (and other extreme antics). But somehow us taking away sleepovers during one week, while also doing special activities every single day (including a half-birthday celebration at a nice restaurant and another made-up "special occasion" another night) and letting them play with friends everyday at VBS with games and crafts, will somehow turn into unusual cruelty and punishment. Somehow, whatever Dad does with Stepmom is worse than anything Mom does that makes them cry in fear before they even see her.
And that's our reality. We just accept it now. We try to fight it with the kids by explaining and comparing, aka logic, but I'm sure many of you know how that goes with kids. Throw in manipulation and fear, and it has even less impact.
Oh, summer. Thanks mediator for giving us every other week with the kids this summer, but before we know it...Everything will be forgotten.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Kids getting treated to special stuff for the family Father's Day outing. Blatantly lied to Dad about serious issue, led to long discussion, and even worse revelations. Then, at the event we attended, a fight in the crowds broke out and the kids themselves were traumatized.
This year's Father's Day:
Agreements were made ahead of time about certain things being said and done on Father's Day. I told both kids last night to be happy all day, do everything for Dad, and remember it's Father's Day. Oldest kid got a lesson about Father's Day in Sunday School. Yet, just as we got to the family outing for this year, we find out both kids are lying and hiding stuff.
This holiday sucks. We get custody of them for Father's Day, but they ruin it. Their mom has so much control over them, that it even manages to infect his one and only day where Father's are honored. I got him gifts and cards, from the kids to him, and I feel like it was all a waste. What matters is how they are, who his kids are, and how they treat him and love him. Gifts lose all meaning and importance when the actions with them show that you don't mean much.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
The weirdest holiday for stepparents.
I almost wish it didn't happen. I love giving attention to my parents, but being a stepparent on those holidays generally makes you feel like crap.
And, being the actual bio parent can make you feel like crap, too. That would be because it really ever isn't just Father's Day or Mother's Day when you have two sets of parents. There's always some sort of split, some sort of favoritism. There's possessive parents who refuse to let children recognize the stepparent as anything in their childrens' lives, and then there's hurt parents who struggle with how much their kids are forced to be taken care of by the stepparent- and not by the actual parent who wants to see them more.
It's always a somewhat sad thing- because you know they're being "returned." For us, we go a little over the top with Father's Day on purpose to accentuate the fact that he is actually their Father and deserves the love and respect, like a father- Even if the courts decided their stepdad, who was forbidden to see his own kids without direct supervision, would take care of them more because he's with the mom.
We're always split and confused as well. We want things to at least be tolerable and everybody to accept and respect each other. But because we are absolutely not respected and the kids are told to completely disrespect us and treat the other parents as the main parents...We end up hurt, naturally jealous, and, it seems like, fighting for their attention. If "the other side" could simply let things exist in a normal way for the kids, there wouldn't be the hurt, confused kids, and anger. But because one side maintains a war, we maintain a defense. As long as one wages attacks, we must do what we can to bounce it back- some and somehow in a humane way that doesn't show us as bad examples to the kids.
It's frustrating. It's hard. We're all in a tough situation- not just the kids. The kids often whittle it down to making their mom happy at all costs. She scares them, so that's what is most important to them. They fear the repercussions and her not liking them. So they do acts of favor to their other family. The courts set this up by letting kids primarily be with one parent, which only makes sense when there's a real safety concern or a great distance between the parents.
We tried in court to be "equal". So we're left with trying to teach the kids about how to think about fairness and treating others equally. We use examples about their friends, their situations, or their feelings first and then try to segue into a discussion about how it relates to our family situation.
One kid always feels bad, but she almost never changes her actions afterward. She sincerely says she's sorry and looks guilty. That's about it. Sometimes she makes some extra effort a couple of times that feels good, but she always goes back to only pleasing her mom. The other kid couldn't care less. Sometimes she strains herself to make her face look like she cares. Would be amusing if you just studied her. But really, she knows she gets stuff from us no matter what because we want her to learn and grow and do cool things to experience life outside of her bubble. We bend over backwards for her, and she pretty much knows that won't change- But most of all, she knows she barely needs to live with us. Like we're a cold. We come for a while, you get some perks like some special treatment, and then it goes away and you go back to life as normal.
And those are some of the things we have in mind every year on Father's Day.
May you part-time fathers out there who have never hurt a fly, let alone your very own children, yet who are told you can't see them- May you be treated with as much love and affection as the court papers allow this next Father's Day.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
It's been so many years since my oldest stepdaughter sincerely liked me. I'm afraid to say this, but I think it's coming back.
My proof: She actually is immediately wearing hand-me down clothes from me rather than tossing them behind something so she doesn't have to see it until I find it a month later and ask how it got back there. She is laughing at jokes I make. And she's even repeating funny things I say and laughing, like she enjoyed what I said.
It's shocking. Unusual. Strange. Confusing. Cool. But I'm still wary.
I'd like to say it's new, but it's not. When she was about 8 or so, she treated me like the cool babysitter or the "older" girl. She would wear my stuff, especially when I didn't offer it… And I wasn't always so happy about that, because I'm pretty clear on how gross kids are. Though, I recognized that she was trying to emulate me and wanted to share my things. And my husband knew it was a sign that she really liked me. She would follow me around, too closely often. She would touch me, like by bugging me somehow or play with my hair. She'd lean against me whenever the opportunity arose,despite the fact that I didn't have a clue what to do in response and felt very awkward about it. She'd listen to me earnestly and copy what I said. She would beg me to stay over, stay longer, and try to talk me out of my obligations and reasons for getting back to my life, and my cute apartment.
That all stopped abruptly a few months after my husband and I were married and living together. There's lots of theories about why, but primarily there was strong and steadfast anger and hate flowing from her mother.
You'd think that a child does not simply change how they act. In fact, most people believe that. That children are innocent and pure and never hide their true feelings or quickly and completely change how they act and who they like or hate. Especially when it comes to their only parents. I could see someone thinking that that's much more of a Junior High thing laced with adolescence or High School angst. Sure.
Anyone remotely in my situation knows how quickly a child's affections for you or one biological parent can change. Instantly, as a matter of fact.
Have you ever seen a child change their entire behavior the moment someone else walks into the room? Most children are distracted, playing, busy, something- being themselves in their own little world. But a child who's been convinced that affection from one parent wanes if the child cares about the other parent as well causes that child to change everything instantaneously. Even if the other parent is simply in eyesight. Even their car or other family members of that parent can change their entire demeanor in one second. Their mood immediately changes, their facial expressions, their words, their actions. Imagine a child in the middle of play and laughter suddenly dropping her shoulders, changing her face to a full glare, and suddenly ignoring whatever they were doing. Even being a little violent in their actions. It's maybe hard to believe unless you've seen it.
Things they want even change. They aren't "themselves". But one day, that version can turn into the only version you see.
And that's who my stepdaughter was for about 2 or 3 years. She sometimes goes back into it, and I have a very hard time trusting her. I know that we can have tons of fun and they'll give me hugs before bed, but then the next time I see them, they could be spitting venom. We used to think that consistent behavior was a sign that things changed. Oh, totally wrong. Totally, totally, totally wrong. Consistent children come from consistent parents. If one parent is unstable… Well, you see where that's going. Children can be healthy in divorce situations, but not if their primary example(s) in life is completely or emotionally unhealthy. Especially if the child is of the same sex of the parent who is unstable. Who do they emulate most during the childhood years, before they turn to their peers?
She's now in the pre-teen years, and I forgot that she hasn't even hit 13. She's easier to deal with, work with, and talk with. She's either realized that things aren't changing and acceptance is sinking in, or she has a split personality. Which, is entirely possible. I'm not just being mean. She has tried to maintain more than one version of herself since she was 9. This is her coping mechanism, although it's extremely dangerous. She thinks that in order to get through the differences in the two houses, she needs to be two different people. But I don't know if she realizes that her other side slips out regularly, because she's really not that good at hiding anything. (That training and perfection comes in the teenage years.)
But these new things, or I should say the comeback, is much more encouraging than previous "comebacks". The signs I listed at the beginning of this post are special and herald back to that first year I knew her.
I sure hope it's not just because I'm super sick. My stepkids are always much more caring about sick and elderly people, and a therapist once told me that maybe I could resolve all of the issues with my stepkids by being sick all of the time or acting like it. Ha. No thanks. I make my stepmom title by being adventurous, active, special, and different. Sick, weak, and needy… Aren't my things, ain't my game. Plus, they already have that example…
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
If you're a stepmom in the middle of nastiness or often the brunt of said nastiness, do you have paranoia about what you do and write online- Just like when you're at your stepkid's school and feel the looks and distaste from the other moms? Should you?
Of course, you're going to say yes, that you should be worried about what you post online. If you're not yet, you'll learn sooner or later that what you put online may be found out. It may not even be by the person you expect it from, like the ex-wife. Friends get caught up in these back and forth stories of family drama, and sometimes they look you or your family up. It may not be the ex that looks up your posts and sites, but the kids. I was on a stepmom community site for quite a while that required some level of background check. Other stepmoms posted that their stepkids would wait til they walked away from their computer to jump on and see what their stepmom was bitching about or writing about them. They have even had stepkids find out their passwords so that they can log into their stuff.
What about Facebook? It's all over the news right now, since they keep changing their privacy settings. My husband and I are big web and tech users, so we've been concealing our info on multiple sites since day 1. Sometimes he even interrogates me about my settings or posts, which I usually assure him I am aware of others possibly seeing what I say or passing it on.
For the most part, we hide sensitive information or completely omit it. Something that helps me refrain from overtly describing what actually goes on is that my friends on Facebook vary from friends, family of all ages, people from church, and soccer or work associates. I want to have this network of different types of people, and therefore I need to "keep in mind my audience". Just like every paper I've ever written, every article or publication I've ever worked on, and every presentation I've ever done. They teach you in school year after year: Keep your audience in mind.
I have actually found Facebook quite helpful compared to every other site. Did you know that you can actually hide certain pieces of information on your profile?? You don't have to hide the whole thing or even omit. So this blog address itself is specifically omitted from my stepdaughter who has recently joined Facebook. I also hid it from view of her best friend, just in case. I could also hide it from my in-laws or other moms of the kids' friends. But so far, I've just blocked it from the two kids who look at Facebook from within the ex's house.
You can also block specific people. Sometimes, you won't even be able to locate them because they have already blocked you! That happens when you know that someone is on Facebook, but you can't search for them no matter what combination of names you use. Yep, they blocked you already. Facebook set up those controls so that if you block someone, you also won't see them. It's a 2-way street. I find that to be fantastic. =)
So yes, privacy settings may change on a site like Facebook, but if you're in custody wars or could potentially be in one one day, you should already be aware. You should already know your settings, which sites to stay off of, or be watching what you say anyway. It's just like not talking about the ex with one of the kids' best friends' moms. Be aware.
But don't limit yourself, either. Thanks to those Facebook settings, I can even post a message and block particular people or groups. If something is sensitive, inappropriate, etc., then go ahead and block it! There's a little lock symbol at the bottom of each status/comment box before you click the post/submit buttons. The biggest problem there is that you have to do that setting before you click the post/submit buttons. Afterwards, it's too late. You can delete it, but I know that in the past, those still showed up on the News Feed.
Even so, I believe that you should make your community be what you want it to be. You should be able to talk about things, share what's going on in your life, or share information about yourself. If you get so bogged down in pretending to be perfect because there's an ex out there that wants to ruin in your life, then you stop living your life. You can choose to completely stay out of these networks, but I think they are so supportive to my life and overall well-being, that I would never forgo it just because there's a (valid and definite) fear of another. I want to still relate to everyone on my list, message them, post and share pictures... That value is much higher to me than a person who can't get over my existence.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Today, we had a very big talk with the girls. It started as one kid saying her dresser drawers were too full to put away her clothes. Simple, I guess. But it triggered a few of the things I mentally fret about when they are not here. When stepchildren are out of the house, I think about them more than I would like, good and bad. Even when not present, stepkids are more ever-present when you have one of those weekly strange agreements of back and forth and dinner visits, mixed in with sports and school events. It's never long before they're back, so forgetting about them temporarily is not an option. Even on trips without them, we talk about whether they would like something, should see something, and debate souvenir options as if it really matters... If I ever asked them what's what and from where in their room...Yeah, I'm just not.
So comment about the dresser drawers and their clothes...This leads to me bringing up how if they lived here more, we could get more storage and afford it, but it's difficult to focus on buying them big things anymore when they are hardly here and wanted it to be that way...And they have so many clothes in the first place because they were supposed to be living here more and we bought so much for them when they were here more and, and, and...
We were able to discuss how we tried to do as much as we could for them so that they felt at home here just as much as they do at the other house. How we made sure it was as equal as we could make it and that we did everything we could. That they never told us anything was wrong, that they needed something, and yet somehow they didn't want to be here. Essentially, we didn't know what went so wrong for them. (And it's rather likely they don't have a clue either, as it was most likely manipulation that led to the change in custody. And manipulation seems to never be remembered. Somehow things were discussed and they were given adult words and things they've never said before or never heard from us, yet they would claim 'til death they came up with it themselves.)
Eventually it ended up in the full divorce story. That just happens sometimes. You seize the opportunity when you have it and they're receptive. Happens like less than .5%. My husband and I got just about every major thing out at once, in just one afternoon, before lunch and after church and a softball game. Amazing. Fastest it's ever gone and without a ton of "Are you even listening?" They chilled in their room and my husband and I discussed things, in and out and around.
And they interacted! Can you believe it? ("No!" you say.) It was the first time that we went through everything without one particular child violently starting to kick or hit or whatever something and the other one falling asleep. They followed, they spoke up, they discussed. They listened and paid attention. One even moved towards us at full attention. Shocking.
So he was able to cover the entire story for the first time, as well. It wasn't rushed and taken up by distractions or a tight schedule. When you barely see your kids every other week, every sincere or meaningful moment disappears before enough is covered. They handle so much more now, and so much more calmly, that he can cover things they would have mis"heard" before. We're even less concerned about misuse. I'd like to say we're used to it, maybe.
Somewhere in there, their dad brought up that there was a lot of stress from my place of work and it made everything a lot harder for me and at home. That I had so much stress at work and having it here at home was hard, too. He was probably also inferring the stress from the times interacting with their mom. Everything can be just too much when both places you spend most of your time are so hateful and frankly, evil. I think the message he was so, so delicately making, maybe, was that I haven't been my best or happiest sometimes and now that I am out of that job, I can be even better.
Maybe that's what he meant. Whatever it was, it was enough to make me smile on the inside, knowing that he was oh-so-sensitively telling them that if I wasn't the best sometimes, it sort of wasn't my fault. =) Not sure a clear message was made because I was right there and he knows how much I struggle in general in this situation.
We'll see if he clarifies what he said in a different way when he remembers the blog's address and reads this post. But really, he should just run with me accepting this interpretation. And, I know he's too smart to give up any praise or positive misinterpretations. He knows the way of keeping his wife happy.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
First, it depends on your "agreement" with your husband of what they will or should learn and how you are going to parent together. That always comes first and foremost, as long as your husband does actually discuss agreements with you and listen to you. (I know that many stepmoms out there are not in my lucky situation and do not have husbands that will listen or support your thoughts in many things, so this may not be the "first and foremost" for you given that situation.)
Second, your opinion and thoughts and experiences do matter. But the debate really comes in when you start to wonder, and second guess yourself, and argue with others about what should and should not be expressed or important to raising the stepkids in your home. That's the hard part.
We each have a lot to offer our stepkids, whether you, they, or your in-laws think so or not. You are in their life for a reason, as I posted in the past. But it still leaves a lot of us wondering, and even debating ourselves internally, about whether or not we should stress certain things to them or enforce certain rules to the extent we want to.
I'm hung up on that all of the time. Sometimes it's as an after-thought where I'm wondering if I should make such a big deal out of something. Other times, I'm thinking in that lull period between seeing them about whether it would be a mistake or not to confront (or attack) some certain issue.
At other times, I let others give their opinions. I welcomed feedback from my in-laws and others. But overtime and many conversations, I've realized no one is in my situation and their advice usually does not apply. I hear them and realize they are just wrong, sometimes. I can see how much they don't understand and what they are definitely not experiencing with me. This is not to say that what anyone else says it useless, but stepparenting is so weird... It really is an exceptional (as in rare, yet isn't) experience. I have met many, many other stepparents. But each situation is ENTIRELY different. Even the details in a stepfamily make every instance and situation different.
The best is simply relating to each other that it is a struggle and sharing some stories. That is the best we can usually offer. We can share our experiences to each other, but expect the other adult to make their own decisions or say what they need to say. Just like a regular parent would. Parents do things their own way, and stepparents, frankly, will as well.
I've come to realize it's much less an issue of making right choices or decisions on what to enforce and not enforce, what to talk about and not talk about, and more of an issue of acceptance. Many adults, like the kids, do not see stepparents as official authorities. And, I would say, not even secondary. I think many parents that were not stepparents themselves believe that stepparents should be somewhat voiceless bystanders. (Again, a situation in which if you summarized it in that way, the other person would completely deny.) In many of our situations, though, that is not possible. We are an assistant parent, if you will. We are often the only parent present. We are the one there. We are the one responsible for them. And if we have personal standards for ourselves or others in our home, then we will likely express them.
The absolute best advice I've ever received about making stepparenting decisions is: BE CONSISTENT. Within the same week or so, multiple stepparents/parents expressed this to me in different conversations. I was struggling with all of the mixed messages out there and how to live in my own home and *not* express or enforce certain things I wasn't sure about. Finally- and I really mean "finally"- those few individuals told me that the absolute best thing I can do, and with my husband, is to just be consistent.
So often, the parent with the problems, with more time-share custody or not, is the person who is in some way unstable...And therefore inconsistent. The inconsistency is what makes the kids so confused and effects them so badly. It causes so many problems. Yes, there are a lack of values and other significant concerns usually with a problem ex-spouse/bio-parent- but their parenting style is not *consistent*. Others have put it for decades as "kids need structure." And many parents know that structure includes levels of consistency for discipline, life, teachings, parenting, etc. It's a very good and simple way to explain a lot of the problems with the 2 household life. Kids are torn between two homes, with different values, standards, and even schedules.
But when I started expressing my confusion and second-guessing-myself troubles, those few individuals out there used the same words- That my husband and I can offer consistency. It's less about what you talk about and what you care about, they said, and much more about being consistent with what you care about and talk about. The kids may not value what we teach or may be told something different when we leave, but if they can expect the same things from us now and in the future, then it shows our character, makes it more clear to them who we are, and teaches those same lessons over time rather than sporadically like an inconsistent, unstable parent and household.
That gave me relief, and I wanted to share it with you. Be consistent. Try not to worry so much about what you do and don't say. You are awesome, can be awesome, and you have something to offer them whether they want to realize it now or later. Be consistent in yourself. You may need to rediscover yourself. And when you find yourself second-guessing, ask what's important to you. Don't ask your in-laws or non-stepparents. And if you have to ask, ask your husband or another stepparent in a similar situation.
Overall, be yourself. And that will be consistent.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
There's a song in the movie that you need to hear. If you have great speakers, download it and turn up the volume. I found the song and lyrics on YouTube for you, though.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I believe that there is a difference in respecting the other parents' love and place in the child's heart and knowing that one parent blatantly misuses and harms the child. It seems that quite a lot of people out there, that usually fall into the group of mediators and therapists, recommend keeping the children happy, not fighting, and not being upset about anything. I read so many posts about stepmoms feeling wrong or confused because they know that something horrible is happening yet they are told to feel guilty for not just letting the child be.
It is not wrong to teach children values, morals, introduce them to beliefs, introduce them to new things and new ways of thought, and generally be a parent to them. If you are their parent, you will always be their parent. If you parent in a way that is not illegal or abusive, you should be allowed to parent. That is what this state's law says (California).
Instead, court boils it down to which house the child enjoys more (which does not actually mean which house is safest or filled with the most love, parenting and care) and has little to do with parenting. Especially if the child is manipulated or confused and just wants the stuff or to please one parent, usually the parent who makes their love conditional.
If you are seeing that you stepchild is not taking medicine, should see a doctor, needs guidance, can use some cultural awakening, could be introduced to church or new things, can learn about hygiene.... Why should you be afraid? You are in their life for a reason, and they could benefit. The greatest benefit a child could have from a divorce is the introduction of new things from the new people in their lives. Sometimes they won't like the new things, but as any child development expert knows, exposure is key. Without exposure, we do not learn.
Of course, it's best to have your spouse cover as much as possible. But my husband often lets me do the talking when he knows I am more of the expert on a topic, or if something is a little more of a girl issue as we have two girls. I talk to her about bras, we both talk to them about make-up and keeping their bodies covered, we both talk to them about allergies, I primarily talk about food and fitness health, on and on.
Then there are values. Who decides what to teach about hygiene and religion and morals? It only falls on social and child services when it's really too late. Who decides? Parents. If you are a parent, you stay a parent. Your say, your values, your opinions- They go to your child. It is your job. We all know and accept that, except for seemingly ex-spouses and their families. Oh, and family experts who just want the kids to exist and "have fun". The value of simple learning has fallen off the priority list in a lot of articles and books I read...I can tell you I didn't go to two of the best universities in the world by not learning any dedication and values from my parents. I am who I am because of the seriousness of my parents, their support of my hard work, and their encouragement to achieve more. I am very much defined by much of their instruction of values, and I am quite proud of this fact. Not to mention, I know *quite* a few adults and teens who wish their parents had been more value and instruction-driven in their lives rather that concerned about petty or selfish interests.
Your spouse needs to back you, or you need to discuss it first, but this is one of the few places in which sitting back and not taking action is one of the hardest things to possibly do. Why should you not ask your spouse to talk to the child, write an email to the other parent, or contact a doctor if you know that the children are taking the wrong medicine or being ignored in a certain area? The court may not care, but when you married your spouse, you promised to care about him. And with him, come his children. Sometimes you need to not care as much, and I understand that. But there will be plenty of times where children will need guidance and your type of love, whether they respect it or not.
You are a blessing to their life, though they do not know it most of the time or at all. You have a lot to offer, and that is why you are in their life. I'm clearly not advocating suffocation of your lifestyle, but I am tired of hearing and reading silencing messages from non-experts and experts alike. You are not a helpless bystander, but you are in fact tasked with sometimes, or all of the time, caring for these kids. You are important, and your knowledge does differ. They are lucky to have you.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
A lot of stepfamilies find that that's not how things go at all. I think that couples fall into roles when they're together, but once separated and fully divorced, they start seeing holes in what they thought was typical upbringing. My husband assumed his kids learned all kinds of things from his stay-at-home ex-wife. Like learning to read. Learning how to get along together. Learning how to clean their rooms.
During the divorce, things were just rough. He just wanted to see his kids. He just wanted time with them. Then things start to fall into normal life, court fights and visits happen, structures are set. Then people start dating, introducing people into their lives... And the stepmom either doesn't care or sees lots of things kids are not learning.
This is where stepmoms become a threat, definitely. Moms are threatened by a stepmom telling their kids things like "you need to change your underwear" and asking why they still don't brush their teeth everyday. Kids are mad that a stepmom or "dad's house" tells them things like they need to wear belts so that their butt cracks don't show to the entire world anytime they go everywhere. They are mad and make glaring faces, as if to say, "how dare you tell me to not show my ass to the universe at-large!" If you tell them things about allergies and medicines, they might tell you, "That's not what my mom told me," even though you already know that their mom has never had any allergies but both you and your husband have lived with allergies your entire lives. The list goes on and on.
As a stepmom, you wonder what the heck a mom is like that doesn't have her children shower, doesn't tell them to change their underwear, doesn't teach them to brush their teeth everyday. Oh the hatred we have seen from these two girls when we've told them they need to shower. It's years later, and the hatred towards us plus the glares may have diminished, but the holes have not gone away. There are still somewhat to very disturbing things we learn these two growing girls, on the breach of teenage years, still haven't taken into daily actions, hygiene, or plain consideration.
At times I've figured that my oldest stepdaughter would just at some point be embarrassed and change her habits after friends told her her breath TRULY stinks or there's a funny smell whenever she is around. But, it's been a long time, and I guess not. I often can smell her from feet away and have to mouth to my husband "showers!!" in which we then find out they haven't showered for 3 days. Very typical for suburbia? No...
The older one still just lies about what she knows to do everyday. If you tell her to do something, she usually yells back or tiredly says, "I know!".... And then the toilet isn't flushed and you definitely didn't hear the sink turn on... The younger one says, "No, mom never talks about it."
We know their mom doesn't handle much, much at all. Like, she's working now, so that means we know that she's going to miss a lot of stuff. Her husband is bedridden and sick continuously...So we're not really sure who's taking care of them most of the time. We know they live in fear of their mom's dislike, so they act in order to avoid her wrath. Works most of the time for the important things, it seems, but they also just lie a lot to get out of things. And we can't imagine her husband doing much to stop her wrath considering he himself attacked his ex wife multiple times and was forced to take parenting classes.
But the courts don't care. We've heard lots of other stepparents and part-time parents say the same things about their kids- Wondering what they're learning about basic things, seeing holes in their kids' upbringing, wondering if they have ever been told about belts. This is one thing agencies and news stations don't talk about in their stats about divorced kids- How many don't shower? How many aren't learning anything about life? How many are ignored? Maybe we can use the latchkey stats to determine hygiene standards and values not taught? Quite a jump if you ask any researcher.
These seem like important to small things, depending on the person. Courts literally couldn't care less if you tell them your kids are gross and you're not sure that they really have a parent. It seems more like if the mom is alive and breathing, then they must be in good hands. Harsh to say, but anyone who's been through this knows I am speaking almost literally.
So if we follow courts, it's ok. I need to not worry about it. Their mom wants them to smell, so be it. But...I don't want them to smell. I don't want to see my stepkids' butts in public. I want to save them from embarrassment and let them know. And, I don't want people saying anything about the kids being on my husbands' time and a stepmom's, so that's why they're falling apart. So, we have to tell them about how to take care of themselves, I have to remind them that they can get bacteria buildups if they don't shower, and sometimes I have to deal with the faces they give me if I tell them they're rather smelly (though my husband has mostly taken over this direct duty).
But in the end, we're only with them 25%. We're not the "real" parents.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
For some people, the concept of family is pretty concrete. It's those people you have to see at holidays or who call too much or who you have blood ties to. My family is very important to me- this one in my "adult house", then the one where I grew up and my immediate blood family members, then my in-laws. My family has definitely expanded, and I feel like all three of those are "my family." I `can't not include any of those groups.
I went on a senior high school trip this past weekend, and I was reminded of how important the church family is for teens. In a time where your family often seems to waver, or you're not sure if you trust your family, I don't know how other teens without churches even get through it all. I passed out my phone number and email to my cabin just in case- just in case they have to talk to someone different, just in case they need a ride, just in case of anything. I remember how important that was to me when a counselor told me I could call them anytime, or whatever.
Family should be a term that you can "spread out", if you will, when your own family is confusing. We joined a church so that my stepkids can have that alternate, somewhat unchanging family as they grow up, since we knew that their life was going to continue to be confusing and unstable. So although they won't know who to trust sometimes or what their family means, at least they will have a place to go to of people who have known them for years.
Thanks to Facebook, it's even easier than it ever use to be for me to keep in touch with the youth I've gotten to know over the past 3 years of my marriage and joining this new church. It's IM, board posting, picture sharing all in one. I can see how they're doing just from status messages, without them even having to reach out.
Then there's my in-laws. I'm pretty sure all of them are on Facebook. The moment I post anything, people from my husband's family that I don't even know are commenting on stuff or asking how it went. I also play games with them all, including some of our nieces that have sites mainly controlled by their parents and only for game use. I just love that I am technically playing with my 5-9 year old nieces everyday, exchanging fake stuff... Yeah, ok, strange. I still think its cool.
We'll be letting my oldest stepkid start her account soon. We're trying to stick to the 13 rule, as stated by the sites themselves and after she signed herself up on the YouTube pages as 23 years old. We'll also be sure to have our kids understand that Facebook is a connection to everybody- ALL their family, beyond and beyond. With that connection to all of these in-laws I've mentioned, maybe they'll start to see that their world is a lot larger. Then throw in the church people who can see what's up all the time and maintain a steady connection... And we've got a solid front finally coming from our family- or should I say "families"- but in a cyberspace sort of way.
Maybe its one new, big way to fight parental alienation and manipulation. Most manipulated kids just block the parent they don't know and their families, but my husband and I are the tech ones. We made sure to set them up with their first emails, laptops, Wekbinz, iPods, etc. first. My husband and I also know how to get around everything possible, even if we were blocked. Sneaky, that man I married.
I think one of our biggest hopes is that both kids see their family as larger than the divorce, larger than mom and dad, larger than their town. We've tried to get this across in a lot of different ways, from talking about how one day they could go to college in any number of towns where our families reside, to reminding them that there are many people outside of their mom's town who are their family. We have even used Facebook to show them that they have a ton of cousins they've never met. Family is everyone who loves you, who supports you. Family includes those who are different from you plus the ones that you barely see. Family is your church, family are the people who stand up for you, family is online. Family is bigger than just you, and any stories you may have heard. Family is bigger than court and the pain. Family is there, family is wide. And even if one family tells you to ignore all of the rest, the rest won't give up and won't shut up. We'll show up. =)
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
It's difficult to teach children and teens about love. Teens fall into love hard when they are too young to handle it. Even adults often can't handle it, or it's repercussions.
Then we're all familiar with family love. Some of us know it, some of us don't. Some of us think family TV shows don't resemble anything except cheesiness.
If you're a stepparent, you know that no show really shows what its like for over 50% of the families that exist in our nation- the blended families. (Maybe Modern Family will prove that statement wrong in due time, but there is only one blended family. The irony exists in Al Bundy playing the stepdad.)
Stepkids don't recognize the love or love acts that a stepparent give them as love. It can't possibly be something of love to them, because it's different. They don't hold the parent or grandparent title. It's sometimes a forced, but attempted, type of love. Sort of like their siblings' form of love... They don't recognize that either, frankly.
My husband and I have found that we have to teach them about love. Maybe every parent should directly teach their children about love- real love. No one really talks about that except churches, maybe. I covered it in school because I went to Lutheran private schools. I already knew I wanted to teach my stepkids about real love when they started talking about a boyfriend, but it occurred to us that we needed to teach our stepkids about love in general. Every type of love.
These kids are a little different from most. Their mom has yelled and screamed at them if they didn't give someone a hug. People they just met, sometimes. They grew up with parents who did not love each other at, and now they've witnessed two remarriages. We know for a fact that our love and marriage is very different from their mom's remarriage... And at times they have been able to avoid their father's unconditional love to support their mother who uses fear in her love. They've seen adults debate the love of their parents' for them and argue about how love is shown. Love must be a somewhat terrifying concept beyond the common "I love you, too" they automatically respond with over the phone.
We introduced them to church and the concept of Godly love. We've read to them from 1 Corinthians 13 when certain conversations have come up. They've learned that a church family exists and that the love that comes from the people in the church is something they've never seen from near strangers before. Church has also introduced them to love for others, strangers. Helping someone clean, helping the poor, helping a school. They've learned servant love, and will continue to from our family and our church.
Loving my stepkids is very difficult sometimes, and not at other times. It's jarring for them to come back to my house sometimes, while other times I feel like they should be here. Social psychology teaches us that emotion actually follows action. For instance, giving actually can cause affection. Strange, but true. We mentally justify the actions, too.
We've also spent years trying to teach the kids that respect shows love. My older stepdaughter often showed as much disrespect as possible, yet craved her dad's attention. This was very hard for us to deal with, as it was clear she needed and wanted him, but every word from her mouth said the opposite. This is predicted with parental alienation syndrome, as discussed in Divorce Poison and other books that actually describe the mental and emotional turmoil the children go through, rather than oversimplifying a child's sadness about divorce in general. It's not as much about losing the parents as an entity together as a childhood understanding of picking a "side" and pure brain manipulation. It's been years of teaching them respect, and it seems like a lot of it has sunken in now, finally. Or for now.
We wish MTV had funded the World's Strictest Parents show a little sooner. The kids are completely obsessed with that show now, and it's the epitome of how respect and love are learned. Angry, confused teens are sent off to some other family's house. The other family has their act together and has deep love and connection, but with rules and respect. The teens resist the first 2 days and very quickly succumb because of the love and understanding they're shown even with the rules they previously hated. (Side note: I've noticed that the change usually happens a little easier when the temporary family also includes a service job of some sort for those that are underserved...Always a great activity for today's pretty spoiled kids. Your parents may be divorced, but at least you're not addicted to drugs, homeless, or wish you could have shoes without holes.) We also wish we'd known the power of certain TV programs and movies to help us. We did use VeggieTales a bit, but have you ever realized that the movies Hook and Jack Frost actually cover the difficulty of love and separation with a father- and even manipulation? Kids relate to movies and television... USE it. I'm not really sure why we didn't wage a full TV and movie campaign sooner...Use it to open the door to discussions. If teachers can do it, you can too.
The TV shows and movies open up discussions with the kids in a comfortable way. And then church directly approaches so many topics that families struggle to introduce. They get in the car and excitedly tell us about how they learned about giving, forgiving, etc. They have games or crafts that resemble what they learned and help them remember. It has been so helpful for this struggling family that started without a solid foundation.
So, teach the kids about love. Teach them the lessons about love. Teach them that yelling at your spouse or friends or pets...Whomever it may be, is not love. Show them by example that strangers can be loved. Introduce loving actions, thoughtlessness, and its rewards. Don't assume they know just because they're told, "We love you." Understanding what it means will help them so much in the future, and I bet a foundation in understanding love will help them sort out what happened with their parents rather than add to the confusion.