Monday, November 29, 2010

What's Left Behind

One of the hardest things about being a part-time stepparent is dealing with your emotions while the stepkids are at the other house. Say, for instance, you find out that they lied to you, your spouse, or your family members. For some reason, we tend to find those things out when the kids are not with us. Then you spend the entire week or even 2 weeks thinking about it, fretting about it, and talking about how to handle it.... when they come back. To be healthy, you're supposed to deal with things, confront issues, and talk about what needs to change. With children, you need to correct behaviors when they happen and discuss options, solutions, or penalties at the time of the event. But in this situation, you cannot. You're left in a holding pattern.

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

Holidays and Vacations

If you're in a split family, you know that the holidays are the worst. It's just complete crap. Courts come up with the worst agreements possible that please no one. If the parents even agree to something on their own in court, the mediator often still throws in their own cut & paste template that they give to everyone else. Nobody realizes what changed until it's already the end of the day, everything's signed and filed.

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


I WISH I could say I wrote this myself. But alas, I am borrowing it, with permission, from a brilliant lady within the stepmom community. To summarize, it's her blog post about reading through "regular" mom writings and commentary about stepmoms. She shares with us what she "learned" from her blogosphere adventure. Please, please share this with every stepmom in your world, as we all seem to need to learn a thing or two about our role...

"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!

This month on MomLogic, Stepbomb decided to step down, and I do not blame her one bit. The purpose of her articles was to give her perspective on the strained relationship between her and BM. Everything was anonymous and told from her point of view only, so very little had to do with what her husband did. This woman laid it out there to get different perspectives and show other women who were struggling in similar situations that they were not alone. I did not get a chance to read all of her articles, but the handful I read all contained a few nice and supportive comments, but for every positive comment there were 5 saying she was overstepping, horrible, and her husband was a lazy SOB. What was she doing that was so horrible, so worthy of condemnation that we should shish-kabob her on the web? Um, being a nice, active parent. DAMN YOU STEPBOMB!!!! Terrible, horrible. How dare a stepmom try bonding with her stepdaughters, letting them borrow clothes, and reaching out to the BM in an attempt to do the right thing. By golly, sheer craziness! (that was all sarcasm by the way, Stepbomb seems pretty cool, and I'd like to borrow some of her clothes too.)

So after reading these comments on Stepbomb's articles and elsewhere I am now compiling the stepmom primer, as per the interweb trolls of hades:

1) Kids only have two parents, no more, maybe less, either way you aren't one of them. See, we all have a built in limit on how much love we can receive from parents, and it maxes out at two parents. None of us need more than two parents, in fact having more than two loving parents could cause a child to explode. It is really for the child's own safety that you should treat them with mild interest.

2) Dad should take care of all the child's needs when said child is with you, you are not a parent. Really, this took a load off my mind. I'm planning on getting a mani/pedi while we have the kids Friday, now that I have learned this. You see, the fact that he has kids actually negates the whole theory of marriage and partnership. If they had been both your children, then you would share the burden or joy, but they aren't yours so you can go clubbing while he reads "Goodnight Moon" for the 100th time. This has a few subsections:
a) If the kids are sick, by no means should you take them to the doctor. If DH is not around and you can't get ahold of BM, well Jr. is just gonna have to suck it up and be a man (I don't care if you're only 4, mister!) until you can reach them to confirm that vomiting and fever means he is sick. After all, they aren't your kids, how on earth could you possibly know what it looks like when they are sick?!
b) Do Not Buy Them Clothes. It is better for their psyche to run around naked then it is for you to usurp BM or DH's power to buy clothes. Clothing shopping is a parent-child ritual that has spanned centuries, maybe even since the dawn of man. See, kids can only go shopping a few times in their lifetime or they turn into zombies. I'm sure you've seen the result at your local mall, those teenagers we call Mallrats? Yep, that's the result of stepmoms taking children shopping. You've been warned.

c) Don't feed the kids!!!! They are like gremlins being fed after midnight, except with your food it is always after midnight (maybe I should have used the water on Gizmo analogy here instead, eh you get the point).

3) The children should never call you "mom" or anything other than dad's wife. If the child asks to call you "mom" or slips and calls you "mom" by mistake, you should immediately launch into a speech about what a "mom" is, bow down to an alter you made of BM, and berate the child or daring to use such a sacred term towards a uterus that did not expel him or her. Requirements for mom:
a) To be a mom you must cary a child for 9 months and give birth. You know that story of the crackhead lady who had a baby and sold it for more crack? She's a mom, you are not. (actually, I'm kind of glad about that, I'd rather not be lumped in with her)

b) Alright, adoptive moms are moms because they choose to adopt and love a kid. No there is no parallel between stepmoms and adoptive moms. Stop thinking that. No really, logic will not work. Lalalalalalalalala!!!!!

4) What BM says goes. No really, if she wants you to stand in a corner, ignore her child, and neglect them, that is what you do. Put a lampshade on your head an stand in the corner. How dare you think you have any say in what goes on in your own home. Bah!

5) If you take any interest in the kids, you are trying to be all "Hand That Rocks the Cradle" like and steal the children. Nevermind that movie was about a crazy babysitter trying to break up a loving family and you are the actual wife or partner of DH. No, you are Rebecca Dimorney (really how do I spell that?) and BM is the persecuted wife, played by someone I can't remember. Back off! Don't say "hi", no eye contact, and dear god, little Susie does NOT need YOUR help with her homework! If she needs to learn stuff BM will teach her, it's her kid.
a) Also, parent-teacher conferences are off limits. Supporting the kids is also trying to steal them, you baby nabber you!

6) If you want kids, have them yourself. However they will come second to DH's "first family" and should probably be raised to clean up after your stepkids. Remember they are privileged to be in BM's children's presence and no, your kids are not your stepkids' siblings.

7) If you do not cook, clean, help with homework, kiss boo-boos, buy clothes, play with, and love the kids as your own, you are a wicked stepmom. Have fun reconciling that with Rules 1-6!!!

(All of this is a condensed interpretation by me of random postings seen on the web and is in no way serious, even #7. All situations are different and require different rules.)"  - Courtesy of Pseudo Mom