Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tips for Helping Your Stepchild Discover Independence

Teaching your kid to be just like you:

  • I guess you would like them more if they're just like you.
  • You relate on more things.
  • No surprises?
  • Unwillingness to try new things outside of what you've allowed them to do.
  • Your faults and hang-ups are now their's, as well.
  • Might end up living in your home for-ev-er.

Many of my readers have seen the movie Stepmom. I've realized that it's sort of a holiday movie. I think we might have to watch it this weekend. That being said, it provides a good example of a mom wanting her children to share her emotions. Interestingly, the filmmakers made it very subtle, which it so often is. The youngest child (around 5?) picks up on it and specifically informs his mom that he will hate his stepmom if she wants him to. The older child automatically knows she's in a loyalty bind and doesn't even ask, though. Her demeanor towards her stepmom reflects this.

We have a case of this, though it's much more overt. In hostile custody situations, it seems that the primary parent severely wants their children to be just like them, and that includes instilling a fear of the new, or anything that (usually) Mom does not permit or has done herself. For us, it's not fears of things that their mom has done and therefore has concerns about. It's also not fears of things because their mom is simply afraid of things.'s the purposeful of instilling distrust or judgement on anything that 1) mom has no interest in, 2) does not want her children to do without her, or 3) she has not every done herself.

If you have this situation, I do have some tips. Although we still deal with it on a weekly basis, we have fought a lot of it. 

Let me list the number of things my skids were interested in but were then given fears, or very strong negative opinions about, before they returned to us:
  • Snow
  • Karate
  • Guitar
  • Singing
  • Soccer
  • Ice skating
  • Hiking (yes, which is effectively walking...fear of walking in a new place, really)
  • A large number of restaurants
  • Places, including places their extended family resides
  • Zoos
  • Church
  • Theme parks other than Disneyland
  • Horseback riding
  • Museums
  • Lakes
  • Waves in the ocean
  • Rollerblading and skateboarding
  • Watching hockey (yes, just watching it...)
  • Watching football
  • New foods, including but not limited to, potatoes
  • People that love them (family members, mostly)
  • I know I'm forgetting a ton of things- So just know that for a long time, nearly everything caused some level of panic in my stepkids if it was not mom-approved.
Here's what we learned and what worked:
  1. Do not tell them about activities, no matter how fun or benign, ahead of time. Even a day ahead of time can be an issue if they're going to see their mom or talk to her on the phone. One phone call can ruin all of your plans. 
    1. If they have to pack or get ready for a particular activity, make it a fun game where they don't know what they're doing but you describe what they need to be prepared for. 
    2. Although you'd think kids would not like doing what I just stated above, they get very excited without even knowing what it is they will be doing or where they're going. And as older kids, they know accept it and prepare quickly so they can get back to watching Glee on TV.
  2. Make it a surprise. We've thrown surprise parties, taken them to theme parks as a surprise, and done a number of activities as surprises. This cuts out the doubts, concerns, worry, and most of all- mom's opinion. It also causes a lot of in-the-moment excitement when you arrive at the fun place, and that seems to override the worry or any things that could be stressful at home, in private. 
    1. Case in point: Things would often turn for the worst if my youngest stepdaughter, when she was little, had to put some sort of odd thing on. If the activity includes a helmet, a jacket, a hat, gloves, pads, cleats...Worry and panic would start. Any new thing going physically "on" her would trigger "I must not be safe if I have to have this" type of concern, though it was voiced as "But it feeeeels weird!" (in tears). So, each time she started a new sport, it was quite difficult to get her into her required gear- which weirdly happened at our house both times...Strange how that happened. BUT if we were already at a fun new place, and there's excitement and popcorn and candy and all that, she was much more willing to put on any necessary gear in order to participate in the activity. She would still voice discomfort, but seeing other kids do it too was much more effective.
    2. Sometimes it may seem like it's hard to make something a surprise. Trust me- Anything can be. My parents were really good at it, which is why I came up with this strategy in the first place. Parents can really define the art of "leaving things out" of what you say. It's a part of your role. Not giving the kids the whole picture is fairly normal, so don't get hung up on what they "should" know. Why is it that they need to know that "breakfast with family" also includes a new theme park? They don't- and they'll love it. 
    3. Kids can handle mom's opinion, dislike, and even anger (most common in our case) afterwards. At that point, after they've already experienced it themselves, they know that an activity was fun, safe, worthwhile, or just plain normal. They're not swayed by the emotions when it's already happened, and they also get to tell their mom about how it actually wasn't so bad, after all. 
      1. This has always worked. The only post-event manipulative statements we've heard from them following exposure to a new activity was along the lines of justification of the previous opinion. Occasionally we'll hear something like "well, it was OK that we did it that way, but otherwise it's not OK if [throw in random, illogical thing here]."
  3. If you have the time, which we barely do and have therefore not been that successful with this, introduce your kids to things you hope they'll try out later. Plant some seeds of interest (and familiarity) by taking them to various sports activities at local colleges, high schools, fields, parks, or even pro games. If possible, connect the experience with friends or family they know and like, which sends a subliminal message of it being something that others do in fact do. If you hope they aren't afraid of musical activities in the future, whatever they may be, take them to plays, concerts, musicals, local band competitions, whatever. Find a friend that will teach them how to play an instrument during your custodial times- someone who isn't upset by suddenly changed plans and massive attitude problems, preferably. When they're young, buy them kid versions of whatever they're unfamiliar with- like kid tennis rackets, cute hiking shoes, a kid guitar. Let them play with them at parks or home, or take them out to specifically play with those toys. Exposure is key- whatever way you want to go about it. Your goal is simply normalizing activities and options outside of mom's specific experiences.
  4. Travel. Let them know that new places are not scary, but can be fun. Simply taking them to new places encourages a bit of exploration and confidence that they can be or try new places. In general, it's very good for them. Exposure to new is the theme!
    1. Tied to this is specifically visiting or stopping in college towns. Visit colleges. Make a point of walking through them, pointing them out, or making rest stops in college towns. Hit the bookstore or a local store and buy them small souvenirs or a shirt or sweatshirt with the college name and mascot on it. This exposure helps kids feel comfortable about going to college one day and relates positive, normal experiences with those locations. College becomes less a place that you move away to, and more a place that they've been before.
      1. This has so many positive possibilities. We know that introducing them to multiple colleges in multiple locations means that they'll be more comfortable with 1) moving away one day, 2) which means moving away from mom and a higher likelihood of adult independence, 3) choosing a college of their own, rather than choosing a college based on what mom says she likes (already happening...), 4) and simply, interest in going to college, or the concept of it being normal and a part of life.
  5. Just sign them up. Depending on how your custody is set-up, don't ask the kids whether they want to do something. You're the parent. Just sign them up and tell them they're trying it out. There might be some blow back, but it's a lot more likely they'll try something and either enjoy it or learn something from it, rather than simply discussing it for YEARS, with you and your husband trying to undo whatever negative things they were told (which stick like super glue, we've noticed). Kids do not have critical thinking skills, so whatever inane thing they're given to not try a new thing sticks with them for many years. It will take you a lot longer to convince them that they will enjoy it than it would be to just sign them up. 
    1. Amusingly, we'll try for years to convince the skids that something is not that horrible, and then suddenly one day they'll appear and will exclaim that they have been signed up for something they told us they didn't want to do for years...Suddenly very excited, because mom has just signed them up. (Yeah, this just happened, again, this past week. It's amazing.) The only other way we've seen this reversal happen is when one of their close friends does said activity or invited them, and then all negative opinions seem to dissipate- not even remembered at all. 
  6. Speaking of signing up the kids, if you see the kids for holiday breaks or summers, sign them up for day camps where they can specifically try out new activities with other kids. 
    1. This is one of the best strategies. If there's unreasonable fear about some sort of sport or other activity, sign them up for a half day local camp during one of your summer weeks. In all but ONE of the times we've done this, they were nervous the first day, but then made friends, had a ton of fun, and learned a lot. It has helped them decide they like- no, LOVE- a number of activities. My husband still reels at how quickly the skids refer to kids they just met at camp as "my friend." 
    2. We also added overnight camps in for my oldest skid. This helps immensely because now she knows that going away can be fun, being away from mom is possible, and she has more of an idea of what independence is. We know that this will translate into more confidence in other experiences, such as choosing to go on a school trip, moving away for college, or just simply actually moving out and away to be on her own finally.
    3. If you're concerned about it looking like you're "getting rid of" your child or cutting out your time....Yes, you will get accused of that if their mom never signs them up for camps, including morning-only day camps or day care or after school care, and especially if she never attended any type of camp at all. You will be accused of ditching your children in "babysitting", not wanting to see them, and hurting them by making them do such things with strange new kids rather than just letting them watch TV at home all summer with nearly no supervision or attention. 
      1. So given that you will be accused of being a horrible parent by signing your kids up for any type of camp, the courts/mediators will not see it like that if you participate, take them to and from, and encourage the activities they learn in general. Take pictures of them doing the activities they learned at camp, record the last day of camp "show" or game/tournament. Take pictures of or keep the crafts they made. And, feel free to ask them to write what they learned and liked about camp, so that next year you can look at it together and remember how much they liked it. We did summer journals some years because they forgot every fun activity they did with us so easily. Each year, their memories of the events were so twisted by the time the next summer came around, if they even remembered what we did at all. All the good just washes away.
      2. After the first year or two, the kids will have no qualms about camp. They always get a little nervous before a new camp, but will nearly always love it. Make it a normal expectation of summer activities. If they didn't like a particular camp, accept that as feedback and find a different one for next year or even the next week of camp. I always tell them, "well, maybe next year we can try ____" and they always receive that positively. (I also ask them each spring which ones they're interested in and not interested in, from all of the various camp offerings- Making it not an option to "go to camp" but an option of "which one is for you?")
        1. Our primary problem has actually been that if we sign them up for a more expensive, really awesome camp- They leave the last day saying, "Next year, when I come back...." And we're thinking "uh-oh...We don't want to pay that much next year..." There's only been one camp that one didn't want to return to. They've done sports camps, horseback riding camps, regular camps, karate camps, overnight campus in the mountains, YMCA....
      3. And if you're not someone who ever went to camps and are therefore nervous about it, I still encourage you to look at the options. A lot of camps are only half-day and allow your child to meeting new people, make new friends, and have more adult role-models in their lives. It's a huge social-skill builder, and gives them so much confidence in trying new things. It makes other life situations easier transitions, including moving away one day or having a strange, new roommate. They no longer fear camps but know that it will likely be fun, they will definitely make new friends, and they'll learn new things. Also, they'll learn camp songs or chants that they seem to never forget....
  7. Ask a family member or friend to expose them to the new thing, and it takes away the "Dad" or "Stepmom made me do this" element. It's accepted almost immediately.
  8. One more to add: An important way to get your stepkids into the real world and out of their one-opinion one is by exposing them to cultural events and festivals. Very easy to do, though you will need to keep your thumb on area news. Greek Festival? Chinese New Year? Kwanza? Latin, Swedish, German, and Irish festivals up the wazoo? Take the kids. They'll get some snacks, sugary cultural treats of some sort, see some dancing, hear some music that isn't on the Top 40 station, and even see people who "look different". Despite how culturally diverse our region is, its very easy for kids to come up with opinions that keep them from appreciating diversity, which also permeates their life views. Judgmental attitudes run rampant and deep, very easily, with very little commentary from adults in their lives. So one way to undercut judgmental attitudes overall is to open their minds to how different all people are, and the good in those who are different. Not to mention, many cultural fairs and parades have specific offerings, like games and bounce houses, for kids. They get to experience a bit of external culture and associate it with positive things. But, be warned: The first cultural fair/festival we took them to, we came home with a new pet goldfish...
We've done and tried it all, I think...but if you have any strategies that you've tried, feel free to share!
And good luck over the holiday break with your skids. Safe travels, and I wish you access to much wine, or martinis. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

"In the Best Interest of _____"?

If you've been through any custody trial or legal paperwork, you know that whatever precedes or follows the phrase, "In the best interest of the children," is a big fat lie. You know that along with that phrase comes a boatload of crap that is fabricated to endorse only one parent.

Divorce and Traffic court are the only courts that don't depend on a shred of evidence to make decisions. It's your word, versus theirs.

Every time I hear the phrase "in the best interest of the children" I feel sick. It is used very seriously in court, to utter the most nonsensical stuff proposed by only one party. There's little logic or history behind it. The mediators and judges nod with looks of approval as if everything said was common sense.

Yet, we have to use it too. For some reason, despite the complete lack of any basis when tossing the phrase around willy nilly, it is a very powerful phrase that causes the other party to shudder in fear and load their weapons.

I hope, one day, to never hear that phrase again. It's a trigger for a gag reflex. When I see it in a newspaper article, I know that someone's lying somewhere in that story.

Herein Lies the Difference

The logic behind the fight: Many moms believe that kids should never see dad if he decided to end the marriage. It's often masked in pithy, highly unsupported arguments of: He's violent . He's angry. Stepmom is bad. They need mom/and siblings need each other. ...But often without any valid proof or real, impartial witnesses with these assertions. They feel left at the alter, completely slighted and back stabbed, whether that is pretty much what happened or not.  In reality, there's a number of common occurrences we know as true:  He may have tried to make the relationship work for years, but due to her lack of participation or her anger or her violence, he had to go...Or it just really was a bad marriage, both parties are to blame. Maybe he was a really bad guy, because there are a lot of bad people out there- of both sexes.) But no matter the spouse's part in it, it may take many decades to realize it or take ownership in their part of the marriage failure, if ever. Until there's any type of maturity, its all his fault he left the family, he's the bad man no matter his blatant logic.We also accept that story immediately, from complete strangers, and pity the poor woman we're talking to, completely accepting her truth.

Given that he "left", the entire family (of the mom's side) does not think he 'deserves' the children. He broke the family, therefore he is bad, therefore he shouldn't have them, BECAUSE he didn't stay in the marriage... Circular , flawed reasoning that begs the question.

So, its not because he hurt the children, was abusive, violent, or actually unfit to parent....Though random justifications are often tossed about. Its that he left the marriage and therefore deserves to suffer a greater loss of losing his children. As punishment.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

An all too common story

Although our situation is thankfully not at an international level, I feel like we've experienced a local version of this. And I read so many news stories where I truly wonder where the truth is. Media outlets jump on these stories so fast, interviewing the mother, showing the kids cry, and leaving out any details.

Italian Dad’s Daughters Ordered Back to Italy

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Stepmother Support Blog

I'm not always current on my followings, but I love resources! Here's a new stepmom blog to share: Stepmother Support.

I particularly enjoyed the post Embracing the Queen

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fearing Your Stepchild

My followers often comment that what I wrote is exactly what they were thinking or experiencing. I had that experience when reading an article from The author described how her stepdaughter, who was still a child, was raised to think her stepmom was an idiot. Given that her stepmom is an idiot, she was trying to raise her half-sister- stepmom's new baby. How could an idiot stepmother properly care for her little sister, of course. This led to the stepdaughter not heading any directions, and one extremely scary situation that could have ended or impaired the baby's life.

This is actually something I've known about one of my own stepdaughters. I know that if I were to have a baby or adopt, she would consider herself more knowledgeable than I am. I've already seen minor cases of this for years in various arenas, such as her directives when caring for the pets I care for daily that she hardly sees.

When my stepdaughters were younger children, they informed me that I would be fine as a stepmom because they would teach me how to mother.


Thanks anyways.

So there's two types of actual fear of stepchildren that I've identified from years of reading other stepmoms' stories:

  1. Fear that the stepchild will harm, and even kill, our own child
  2. Fear that the stepchild will harm us
Sometime around last Christmas, I read a post in a Facebook group about a stepmom who's teenage stepchild put actual poison in her drink. Sounds like Snow White in reverse to me.

This is real, folks. It's also why stepmoms feels so misunderstood and alone, as usually nobody will believe how horrible our stepchildren can be to us or make us feel. Even their own fathers, witnessing the events, can be in complete denial. 

I don't think my stepkids will kill me, but I have sincerely feared one of my stepdaughter's violent tendencies. The first night I met her, I watched her strongly hit a family member repeatedly while playing a game. I learned quickly that her idea of play wasn't so much wrestling and rough-housing as it was "let's see how I can hurt stepmom". Play would turn into "chase stepmom" and laugh hideously about it, as I begged for her to stop. I avoided pools, or made sure to get into a pool when she wasn't nearby. As soon as she would start to come towards me, I would get out. This is because one time she was choking me underwater and just didn't understand why that was upsetting to me. "Stop" is not understood. I also know to stay away from her when she gets the same look in her eyes as those chasing sessions while wielding a bat. Yes, a bat. When she was younger, it was plastic bats. Now they're real bats. 

I'm not the only one, though. Her sister has been physically hurt by her for years, so I feel a bit of a bond to my younger stepdaughter in this way. It's just that my younger stepdaughter doesn't seem to know when to get out and walk away before it escalates, a typical little sibling problem. We brought up the physical bullying in court years ago and asked that we care for them more so that my younger stepdaughter was safer, and no one was interested.

My situation is slightly more odd than the usual stepmom hate that other stepmoms experience. My older stepdaughter is emotionally abused and was quite set-back by how badly the divorce of her parents was handled. I don't think she actually does want to "hurt" me (probably deep down, yes), but she does get a thrill out of scaring someone or upsetting them. She rough houses with her mom, who also was like this apparently, and it seems to be an odd form of bonding for them. So, it's possible she thinks that this would be appropriate with others like me, but I have no interested in that kind of "play" where I feel chased and scared. 

As I still hold some physical fear of one of my stepchildren, I'm not the expert to go to on how to fix this. Therapy is probably your best option, for everybody in the family as you need to cope, Dad needs to learn how to parent and learn what abuse is, and the children have some definite issues to workout.

I really just wanted to comment on these fears, and how they are based in reality.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Every Other Weekend Husband

My husband, standalone without all the junk that attacks him regularly, is a great, calm, nice man that wants to do his family right. He wants to take care of us, give us everything he can, and will be there for us until the end.

But he is an every-other-weekend dad. This is also referred to as "EOW" in custody/stepfamily forums online. This is the proper term that replaces the nasty and substantially overused "Disneyland Dad" term that so many people throw around loosely, not really realizing what they're saying. I've noticed that it is often used to describe a dad that the person (a woman) doesn't even know, usually adapted from a bitter mom, or used in defense by a dad who is trying desperately to prove that he loves his children and wants to be more than the D-land Dad title used against him in court. Using this term is insulting and automatically discounts a dad that rarely gets to see his children, plus shows pure ignorance of the real meaning behind it.

The every-other-weekend schedule hurts our marriage, substantially. We do a pretty decent job loving each other through all the crap his prior marriage has put on us, but the custody schedule and its severe limitations not only hurts the kids, but it hurts our home.

I have been told that I should just be happy we don't see the kids as much as we wish we could so that my husband and I can live it up and party every other weekend without the kids. Some moms are rightly jealous that we get some time off, and I get that sentiment plenty. It is true that we get to go out, go on some weekend outings, and things like that because of the custody schedule. What only stepmoms with limited custody know is that there's a huge downside to it, too.

This post isn't going to be about the obvious negative of the every-other-weekend schedule, though. But for the sake of the topic, let me put those points forward. It does suck plenty when you don't have the kids that your life revolves around, because well everything in your life does revolve around them in my case. Whether we see them or not, our schedules still reflect the kids' lives, whether it's sports or school meetings and events, or whatever. I live here because of them, so not seeing them more makes it somewhat annoying that I'm even living here. Their empty room, their stuff around your house- it sucks, even if they aren't the greatest kids in the world to me. We do still think about them, plan for them, and shop for them when they're not with us. We talk about them too much and regret how they can't go with us to many of the things we go to on their off weekend. And then there's the behavioral ramifications...The less the kids are with you, the more they'll treat you like you (and their dad) mean nothing to them. The family dynamic is completely tossed (and severely scarred) by such little amount of time together (as researchers have found). The flow, expectations and general respect are lost when custody is ridiculously low. The message to the kids is that you are not a full parent, your house doesn't matter that much, and my (the kids') time with you (dad/stepmom) isn't that important. You'd think it would be the opposite, and apparently sometimes kids pine for the parent they see less, but the kids' beliefs and behaviors actually reflect the custody share. (This is related to child development: self-preservation, necessary adjustment, and often manipulation.)

Still, this is more about the flip-side. The impact on the dad as a man of the house.

My husband is an extremely loving dad. End of story. That means the limited amount of time he has with the kids is precious and sacred. He has struggled for years with regular parenting because he wants every minute of his time with them to be happy and wonderful. Eventually, he had to let that go because they were struggling in life, hurting and thereby hurting each other and themselves, and he just had to be the parent that taught life lessons, character, and integrity. It is his role, and our home is damage control for their lives. So, on the "on" weekends with the kids, he focuses on them and I expect it to be that way.

The every-other-weekend schedule also means that if you are an active family who want the kids to experience as much in life as possible, learn more than what they get outside of your home (which is 75+% of the time), and do any family bonding, then your weekend ends up being jam-packed. There's sports, music lessons from friends who don't mind the whacky schedule, church, and whatever else your family values doing together that you have to shove into 25% the time. There are also rushed trips to see family hundreds of miles away, as they barely get to see those family members. There are even doctor appointments, haircuts, and other types of things if those matters tend to not be handled by the other house for some reason...Often shoved into a Friday afternoon or weekend clinics.

So...Our home is bipolar. As you can see. We are always active people, but it gets cranked up a level when the kids are with us. This is why stepmoms deal with a lot of stress and anxiety, but we know it's the deal. We ARE able to take a backseat when we want to, but that still means Dad is on duty. Good for you as a stepmom...but....

The means your weekends with your stepkids' father are his recovery weekend. We both work full time (or else we wouldn't afford the tiny house and the bills we have on top of custody payments), and that means that we're both craving time with each other, nearly every day. We're usually too tired to spend that time together, so the "off" weekends are when you get your husband. And all the activities we want to do to recover from the frantic time with the kids and attempt to keep the connection to each other. As I explain to many, we do a lot together on our off weekends to make up for the insanity of the custody schedule. (And sometimes to get out of the house if home issues are causing relationship strain, which remember, is where all the kids' stuff is- but without them. That in itself is a reason to get out of the house with your husband and remember who you are together in order to recharge for the next chaotic weekend or custody battle.)

But I've noticed over the years that my husband, although willing to be dragged around with me to do things, also crashes. He's exhausted. He exerts all his energy all the time instead of the normal family dynamic which would be up and down depending, and under our control. A part of the frantic-ness of a stepfamily with lesser custody is the lack of control over your own schedule. We don't get to pick the sports, we have little or no influence over decisions despite the requirement that my husband have equal decision making power, and we just plain get jerked around. We have no say in schools, and although he tries to remind their mom that he has equal decision and legal power, the person with the most custody knows their actual, literal power. So, you end up driving further away for anything and everything the kids do, and doing things you would never, ever sign your kids up for, if they were yours. And we generally have to take them, as otherwise it will end up in court as damaging the kids if we don't take them to something relatively silly or insignificant for the sake of family. There's also this perpetual "on" time when the kids are with us, where my husband just does not feel like he can take a break. He won't even go take a nap. His time is so short, he can't waste it. He wants every minute of it.

So, to recap: Nonstop action when with kids, exhausted when not.

For the wife, this translates into a husband who is unable to keep up his home unless he's got the metabolism of ... I don't know...a rabbit? For years, things remained broken. For years, projects were put off and only discussed. For years, I cleaned. Then the nagging started. I knew that my husband was exhausted, stressed, and continually worn out physically and emotionally. Still, I started to hate our home more and more as I continued to see it backslide and deteriorate. Arguments and flat out fights increased because he wasn't being the man I know he is at home. I started pushing him to do tasks when he either needed to be with the kids or needed to rest.

There just is no time left for him to be a husband and a home owner. Things just weren't getting done. I became a nagger, and resentful.

It's confusing, because on the one hand, the solution is to not see the kids (not an option for most fathers now) and get stuff done, OR see the kids more and let the family dynamic reflect a more normal, less frantic atmosphere that everyone appreciates. I do speak of this from experience. We had more custody once upon a time and we have more custody in the summers. The kids are more self-sufficient and willing to help out at home when they know they're invested. They are more respectful and more a part of the family, feeding the pets, cleaning, talking to me like a human being who cares for them, and just acting like normal kids rather than brats that take and take and return to mom tomorrow. Similarly, my husband is less stressed and anxious about every single minute. He knows they'll still be there, and therefore he can get a couple of things done in the meantime, whether for his house or himself.

Only court will change that, as the kids' mom is not capable of negotiation, a concept we've been trying to teach the kids so that they understand that in life, there are options for two parties to reach common ground without extreme anger.

I don't have a real solution for this. This is just reality, much like the rest of our stepfamily dynamic that people actually seem to think could change. (Hahahaha...) I wish we could afford a housekeeper, cleaning services, repairmen...But we can't. I love (hate, I meant) the suggestions in stepmom articles that you need to hire a house cleaning service and other such recommendations. If you have the means, more power to ya. Send some my way! This is why I enter contests for home makeovers constantly, thinking that this will be the solution to our home falling apart. I also wish we just happened to know people, or kids I guess, that would work on things in our house for cheap. But, we just don't. We do "know" some, but they don't live anywhere near us. So it is. Much like when you don't know anybody with a truck...That's us! That's life with when it revolves around your stepchildren and an every-other-weekend schedule plus weekday "dinner visits" of doom.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to Look Less Insane

You look bad. The way you put things, the things you won't agree to, and the insane way you retain control over the children- it makes you look bad. Yeah, you get away with it in court. Otherwise, you still look really, stinking bad. And everyone knows it, except for the people playing the same bull you are.

Oh, wait- I'm not talking to stepmoms! I'm talking to the moms that are like my husband's ex.

Here are ways for you to look less insane to everyone, including your own kids who are catching on. This will be a work in progress. Feel free to contribute.

Instead of: "I don't care. You did something like this once (or so I perceived) so I'm retaliating like the ugly person I am."
Try something like: "I misunderstood the custody agreement. I disagree with you, but let's work something out. We can split the time, or you can take them a little extra. I just want to keep everybody happy (so that I look good, at least)."

Instead of: "You're not taking my babies! You can't have them! Ever!"
Try something like: "I'm disappointed and really upset. I want to see them as much as possible, but I understand you're their father and you've never once done anything to harm them, ever. I'm going to go to therapy in order to deal with my anger and control issues. I sure hope we can work together (so that I look good.)"

Instead of: "They were supposed to be here on time and you're screwing everything up for them!"
Try something like: "I'm just glad they're here. Thank you so much for bringing them to that thing I signed them up for without your permission and then forced you into forfeiting your time for. Thank you, again."

Edited 9/11/2012
Instead of: Rushing to school to take schoolwork away before stepmom or dad picks the child up...
Try something like: Asking for copies.

Instead of: Erasing, covering up, or throwing away all of the school's emergency contact information from dad's side of the family.
Try something like: Asking the school office to retain both sets, allow for two forms, and contact both parents in case of an emergency.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Late last night, something I'd been dancing around for years hit me hard. It was such a small connection to make, so I don't know why it took me this long. I also don't know why I haven't read this realization from other, more seasoned stepmoms. I haven't been keeping up with my StepMom Magazine readings, so maybe someone hit on it during the last few months. I kind of doubt it, though (since those articles are fairly short and laced with optimism). I have read articles or chapters in books that sidestep this, like I have been, though.

There should be no wonder that stepmoms don't like their stepkids or aren't the most crazy in love with them as everyone else. There should also be no wonder about how we became this "evil" and why we're not more accepting of them over time. There should be no question as to why I don't trust my stepdaughters more or "just have fun with them" like I used to. And there should be no confusion over why I'm not "better to them" or just "accepting them for who they are."

The kids are trained, by mom and others, to treat their stepmom like a bag of crap-ranging from horrible to subtle, albeit always consistently. So although in-laws, our own family, our husbands, and even strangers think our stepkids are wonderful little angels, we literally, directly see the absolute worst of our stepkids. They are not to us what everyone else thinks they are. They are what their mom, over time, has turned them into. And we have responded, over time, through years of exhaustion, frustration, and depression, in kind. The way I am now? They should thank themselves.

Yes, moms and often their families actually succeed in teaching their kids the worst of behavior towards another adult- and that adult is me. My stepkids are trained to respect teachers, coaches, adults, grandparents, others, others, and others. But not me. They were told for years to throw my food away, not listen to me, and argue with me. They learned to lie to me, because I don't matter. I am expendable. They learned that my gifts, possessions, and even my own person are not to be respected or cared about. They also know to value what I say lower than anyone who ever walked the planet. As my husband once told them, not that long ago, and they accepted, "You treat her worse than you would a maid."

You don't see it because you're not me. You're never going to be, either. So you will never, ever see these kids through my eyes. You are not the one person truly singled out in the entire universe by my stepkids' mom and her years of disparaging comments about the trash she thinks I am. And, you also do not have my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and shame that comes directly from the way I am treated by my stepchildren over the past so many years. Self-doubt, self-esteem, guilt... Those are not your feelings that come from two kids, unlike all the other kids out there, treating you the way I've been treated.

The only ones who fight this whatsoever are my husband and I, as thankfully my husband has seen most of what they do to/about/around me. At least I have a partner, unlike many of my fellow stepmom sisters out there. And, another bonus is we have friends who see and know it now, primarily because they are both moms and stepmoms simultaneously. They are fully aware, and can see the abuse from the kids and their mom. It's gratifying to hear one mom in the community tell another mom, right in front of me, about my stepkids and how they treat me when in their mom's presence. Or how their mom treats me. Or how their mom's family treats me. It's amazing to hear those very, very few that know the truth and know why I've changed over the years and know why I fight depression and heartache.

My husband's heartache is worse. He simultaneously fights the worst of the behaviors in his children, trying to instill some integrity and character before it's too late. He also sees and knows my pain, as I know his. He is split between us- myself and the girls- and his still abusive first marriage. I pity him over the kids. Unlike his childhood, they are lavished with gifts, love and attention from two different large families. Although they struggle, they will come out of it. They will grow from it and probably, I think, benefit from it. And my husband constantly says that they will also benefit greatly from my presence in their lives, whether they want to admit it or not. Still, he knows that they are different kids to me.

I tried. I tried and tried and tried. I tried over and over again. I'd fall down, brush myself off, forgive and forget, and try again. I've done it over and over and over. My husband believes I can keep doing it, out of love and who I really am. But in the meantime, my demeanor has changed, my anxieties have increased, my guilt and stress make me hide. I look for escapes and dream of the future when things can change. I am not who I once was to the kids, and I can't keep that up. I once played with them and wanted to care for them, and over time it's been beaten down inside of me. They don't remember who I used to be, either. They don't remember when I would play with them at parks (for years, not like a couple of months) or take them places. They just don't. That old me, the fun, young stepmom, is long gone.

So the only sliver of hope that I still hold is that they will grow up, realize I'm not so bad, and be normal to me, treating me like another human. And not their stepmom. Because this title and position? They can never be the angels everybody else sees as long as I have this role.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A New and Interesting Place to Be

This is my "end of the summer" post.

There's been a lot of activity, a lot of commotion, a bit of travel, and a lot of my husband doing the child-caring. It's been a different summer for me, given that latter fact.

We've also seen some of the changes come about this past year that people have told us for years would come eventually. My older stepdaughter is finally bonding with my husband. She always had a bond with him that wasn't reflected naturally, given the emotional stress put on her by her mother. She is very tight with her mom, wants to please her mom, and therefore felt distressed by any display of a relationship with her dad. (See writings on PAS for more info on this kind of thing. If one parent overtly dislikes and disparages the other, it will result in extreme distress for the child which is reflected in a number of specific behaviors.) So, although we knew she loved her dad (seen in many small things), her actions showed otherwise for years. It was painful, but most of all for my husband.

I still have plenty of built up trust issues with her, plus we're quite different, but I don't matter really. I would like her to respect me and treat me OK since I do a lot for her, as one of her parents, but mostly I want her to have that relationship with her dad. And since she seems to do well with a "us vs. them" mentality (like her mom), then maybe this is the way to go. She can feel like she's aligning with her dad, even though he's pretty good at reminding her that he and I are partners (which is healthy for a kid to learn, as stepkids can try to break up marriages with their anger and misdirected hurt).

My younger stepdaughter, who has been very good over the years of not playing the "you versus them" game and taking a good healthy step back in every situation, has realized just about everything we've known for years, on her own. Well, it took lots of conversations over time, but she has come to many conclusions on her own, from her own eyes and experiences. She's also very clear on what's what, which is a very novel idea for these kids. We battled their sways in opinions and the truth for years, finding that we had to constantly remind them, with evidence, that they did in fact have fun with us plenty of times or that we did not do what their false memory was telling them or that they did in fact enjoy this or that activity. It's been hard, draining, and beyond frustrating. So, to have one child realize everything all around the same time, and hold onto it, is amazingly comforting and gives us hope. We were, and still are, holding our breath a little and expecting her to "revert" or swing back and forth some, but so far she hasn't. She's been steady since the beginning of Spring.

We're not entirely sure what to do with it all. Options of stepfamilies like ours:

  1. If we had some reserve money, we would have already filed in court for more custody. But we only sort of have money, which disappears quite quickly given everything else and an expensive livelihood in an expensive state. 
  2. Maybe she'll file in court, we hope and wonder. Then someone else gets the ball rolling and we just have to respond, maybe even sans lawyer (ill-advised, but has worked for friends). 
  3. Or, my husband can simply write more requests for more time, and maybe the kids will actually stand up to her (ha, right...they fear her SO much that they even use my husband as a way to lie to her), which would piss her off enough that the changes could happen, in her moment of rage. One kid is close to walking out given her rage and asking another adult for help, even at her young age. 
  4. Or, we just stop caring about the arrangement, which also means "stop trying." Which is extremely hard for us. We try to accept the unjust reality and have watched for years how the kids struggle in school, flounder in life choices, and sometimes make bad decisions that we try to counsel them on, often long after the decision was made. And no, we do not accept the "it will all work out in the end" solution that so many unaware people propose. Every stepparent I talk to, or divorced dad, knows that's a lie. So, sitting by and watching, which we have been forced to do for so long, is a very hard thing to do and may be less healthy than fighting.
And this is what takes us into the new year. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Strict? Me? You must be joking.

Do your stepkids tell everyone else, ever, that you're strict? Or that you and your husband are "so strict" that they don't want to live with you?

New idea: If they want to keep telling everybody you're so strict, why not show them what strict is?!? Brilliant, right? Like you, I've realized my stepkiddos don't even know what strict is. I mean, if they already think you're strict, then help them define it further!

Ways to Accomplish this:

  1. Give them a list of everything you do, and turn it into their new to do list!
  2. Show them what your parents were like. Stop being nicer than they were or telling them about what you were required to do and how they should be happy to not have to do as much. Just make them do it, too!  
  3. Make them earn every penny (snack, thing, treat, game, etc.) they ask for.
  4. Ask them for a list of what their friends' parents make their kids do that they consider "strict", and then implement the same at your house. Because if that's what's considered strict, you might as well follow suit. 
  5. Time cards, anyone? Anyone want to draft a stepkid "work" time card? Don't you need proof that you're strict?
  6. Watch World's Strictest Parents and marvel at how MTV and that Country station define taking away cigarettes and telling the kids to stop being little pricks is considered "strict." It's really much more a show about decent parenting of a kid-gone-wrong (usually just a terrible attitude and mouth, though) for a total of only 4 days. According to this simple show, it takes all of 3 days to turn a kid back around with chores and make them normal humans. I consider this show  documentation of how much kids just need a basic amount of parenting to be able to contribute to society and head back the right way. We've been watching it with the kids for years now, because we realized it was showing them how this supposed "strict" works. Oh, and also sometimes there's a benefit of the host family taking the kids to a prison or something scary to show them where they'll end up one day if they never own up to their responsibilities or cut out the entitlement attitude. 
  7. Service activities. Sign them up for a year. Preferably cleaning gross stuff. (Also a tactic employed on World's Strictest Parents, as the host families usually have horse stables.)
  8. No fun until work is done! 
  9. I'm a fan of essays. Maybe your stepkids will be, too! And there's only one way to find out...
  10. What are your ideas for being more strict? Please share! 

Stepmoms Can Foresee the Future...

Stepmoms can predict the future. Stepmoms should know what I'm talking about right away, even if you didn't realize it before.

Parents have the ability to know if their kid is 'up to no good' or might be in danger. They may have this innate sense that tells them something is wrong.

Stepmoms, though, can tell you what the kid is going to do in the future. Regular parents lack this skill because they have hope for the best, which crowds out reality.

Oo, I know I got you legit parents up in arms! But it's trrrruuuuueeee! You do! You do hope for the best for your child, and you expect them to just be awesome some day, and it will all work out, and...pixie dust, pixie dust, pixie dust!

That's your job. If you have your own child, you're they're number one cheerleader (probably, or deep down) and you support them no matter what. You see the positive future for them, even if you don't necessarily let your kid know that you have this faith in them.

Stepparents, or I guess, mostly just stepmoms, lack this ability. Sometimes, I wish I had it. I want to have everlasting hope for my stepkids. Instead, I have the gift of reality, or put another way, the ability to see patterns and predict accordingly.

I can tell you exactly what will happen next week with my stepkids. I can tell you what they will say to others, and I can tell you what they will respond in response to a question. I can tell you what they would do in social and pressure situations, and I can tell you what types of choices they will make.

Occasionally, they deviate. That's bound to happen, as predictions of the future aren't always 100%. But for the most part, I can tell you what they will say, what they will do, and even give you options based on the mood they might be in.

Some parents can do this too, but I can tell you, from being married to one, that parents don't always want to predict from patterns and know what their kids are most naturally set to do. They don't necessarily see what path their kids are going down and the behavioral signs that predict the future. As a matter of fact, a parent may choose to ignore the signals and information emanating from their child. They can choose to bury it and move on, with hope.

But I can't help it. I see the obvious, keep track of it a little, and know what's coming. I've developed this skill, like other stepmoms, as a result of some trauma and as a means to cope. After a while, you get tired of being surprised, hurt or confused. I still feel the last 3 "symptoms" all the time, but to a lesser degree, because I know the patterns and can predict what's coming.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Snapshot

Stepmom: Sends text messages to skids.
Skids: No response.

Days later...

Husband: (excited) "Did you know that [random event or cool thing] happened?"
Skids: (in teenage angst tone) "Uh, yeah." 90s Interpretation would be "Duh, gawd..."
Husband: "What?! How did you know about that??"
Skids: "Stepmom told us."

Stepmom: [befuddled...apparently cell phone service does work]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Wishlist

AKA Why I continue to function as an involved stepmom

My goal as a stepmom is for my skids to grow up to be competent, independent, intelligent human beings with an awareness of their world and others. My husband and I work together in the hope that they will have character and integrity, and the knowledge to use strength when they face those who do not.

Side hopes:

I pray that they will have a faith that keeps them stable, balanced, giving, humble and loving. I hope I am providing them with tools to know that faith will help them, to look to faith when they feel alone.

I hope that they are developing strength, and I encourage them to know that they have strength. My husband and I are constantly reminding them of their own will, power, and abilities because we know they do not think they have any.

I teach them to not continue in a cycle of abuse (and divorce). I help them to identify abusive situations and behaviors, and they tell me what they would do or what their friends could do. My experiences, stories, and advice will help them. This is a regular topic in our home, as there are always instances of abuse they witness in school and with friends, that are becoming clear applications in their own lives.

I hope they travel. So I make our family travel.

I hope they try new things, new people, new adventures, and even new lives every now and then. So we try new things, meet new people, and attempt new adventures regularly.

I wish that they will have enough respect and honor for their dad and his family that they will call him and visit them when they are adults. Unfortunately, that means I have to point out when they are not calling him. I see his pain, but they don't.

I wish that one day they will be able to identify hate, and walk away from it. Likewise, I wish that they will know forgiveness and use it. We're doing a lot to battle the hate they see and feel, and we're working on modeling forgiveness and discussing what it is.

I hope that at some point, they'll choose to see us or visit us. We talk about honoring family and how family will never leave, will always be there. We will pick them up if they need us, we will help out.

I wish that they will see through all the crap that other people put in their heads. I pray that one day, they will know themselves and their own identity. I also hope this comes sooner rather than later. I make a point of talking to them about their own goals and catching them when they say they are only one thing and are not considering the alternatives.

I pray that they find more love than their parents did- and are willing to work hard in a marriage. So, I love my husband. We discuss marriage, love, and biblical vows.

I hope that they choose to serve their community in some way, some day, by volunteering for a cause. This is why I volunteer and include them.

I really do hope they go to college, one they enjoy, and they have fun and grow away from home. I hope they find passion for something (or 10) and motivation for a life in pursuit of knowledge and personal betterment.

And these are the reasons why I remain active in their lives. Maybe if you know my intentions for my stepchildren, you'll know I am not so bad for them? But you wouldn't know that I wish these things for them if you don't listen to what I am concerned about (because we don't talk much because you've made your mind up about me from stories from other people or the kids themselves) or because you simply don't live in our home with us and aren't with us enough to know what I'm like, believe in, or teach. So, I thought I'd share it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Kids can Love us All

[Updated 6/27]

Kids can love aunts, uncles, cousins, 8 sets of grandparents, and even 4 parents.

This ability of kids to love and accept many is only possible if their own family members will let them. It's adults who choose to not accept some members of their family. 

If they are directed to not honor or see as equal one set or family member, their pure love is stunted. They figure out quickly that they should bury their instincts and feelings.

Most of us recognize this, given a description like I've just provided, as wrong. But its likely that you have caused a changed attitude of the heart within your children if you have talked bad about a family member repeatedly or made physical reactions that even young kids can sense. Specifically, kids sense the most indirect cues from their moms, which means a mom's reactions and opinions have a stronger, more important impact.

Kids respond accordingly, especially if the veiled, thin or not, emotions are coming from their mom. So, if mom makes nasty comments about their other grandma or their stepgrandma, the kids from toddler to teens will make sure to show mom that they are loyal to her and are not "too nice" or "too thoughtful" of grandma from "the other side." Now, when mom is not around? Usually the act is dropped, but sometimes the disgust from their mom seeps into the kids' minds enough to effect how they treat even one of their spoiling-grandmas away from mom's eyesight.

If you are "the" mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle...You already have the love of the kids. You do not need to feel like you must fight your family member's ex or their new spouse or their family. If you fear the kids leaving you, you probably naturally respond by holding on tighter. I've heard many stories about a mom becoming more and more nasty the more the kids grow up. Its clear that the nastiness is coming from fear (and hatred/envy of the other party), but this increase in abuse, negative comments, or control causes the kids to eventually completely split off. All in all, the more the jealousy and anger overwhelm one person's life with the kids, the more likely the kids will want to walk away- thereby making that initial fear a reality.

Sadly, as stepmoms, we know too well that it's not only our husband's exes and their families that hold many misdirected emotions against us- It's also our own in-laws. Our very own husbands' families cause strife against us, unnecessary drama, and the kids to disrespect us- adding to an already struggling home. For some reason, despite the new wife that the husband chose to help him and his family, the husband's family looks for every possible bad thing in the new wife. For some, this comes out of a lack of trust, since "the first one was so bad." But after a while, the stepmom starts to wonder why the attacks continue on her, when the first wife was so, so much worse? To quote a stepmom, "It wasn't me who messed [my stepkid] up! I wasn't the one who raised him, but I'm blamed!"

Isn't it amazing that your very own in-laws can't accept you, your efforts, and your endless commitment with the kids? But at the same time, they absolutely abhor the first wife? (Well, not always. I know many of you deal with the in-laws still loving the first wife and not liking you...That's just beyond sad, as the current marriage is the one that needs to be supported by family and friends, especially parents. Once the damage is done, its time to accept, and honor, the new reality/family.) We know what we do for the kids day in and day out. In-laws visit, send gifts, and really believe the kids are perfect angels- when we know what it is like to live with them, we know their school, their grades, their friends, their (disgusting) habits, and their traits that maybe even our husbands don't see. We deal with their anger and pain of divorce regularly- not on holiday visits. (Usually we're the brunt of that pain.) We know our stepkids. We don't just host them or think we know them. We absolutely, downright, know them. We know what are not just little mistakes, but continual patterns that we're trying to help the kids address (back home and on visits...). We know their friendship struggles by watching it happen, and we know their teachers. We know if something is an actual ongoing issue with our stepkid, or just a lapse in judgement and not tied to a deeper meaning.

We don't think they are perfect angels (which I think is one reason why in-laws don't like us), but we do know them as our kids. Others on the outside might not see them as our kids, but we have no choice but to treat them as our kids (...especially considering all the eyes watching our every move). Debating whether we are good enough to them or nice enough to them or good enough stepmoms is just a waste of your time. As their stepmom, I treat my stepkids as my kids- and they are my only kids. You might as well be criticizing my parenting skills of the child I never had. Maybe you would.

Each stepmom I meet feels unloved by their in-laws, or wholly misunderstood. We are the second, the less important, and maybe the one-who-did-not-give-birth- while our husbands see us as best, better, and the solution. We're seen as "the problem" by so many, including the people who should love us, while our husbands tell us we make their livelihood possible and we have given the kids so much that has changed their lives. This contradiction of messages causes us so much confusion, it leads to depression. It's hard to have self-worth when your husband's family starts rumors about you on a weekly basis or takes your words and actions out of context, which I think is usually due to the lack of acceptance that we do actually "parent" and raise our stepkids at home. We realize, maybe right away in a marriage or later down the line, that the very people who are supposed to be supporting your relationship with the kids are also helping to beat you down.

I have a responsibility, given to me by my husband and God, to raise them. And I am, the way I would, with my husband. This is what he wanted. Yes, it is my role to be the second parent in our home, to help raise them. As if they are my own. I do have a say, I do have a mind, I do have a choice. I did not give birth, but I have beliefs and knowledge of parenting like every other female. I am doing what I would do if I gave my in-laws another grandchild, nephew, or niece. It's not exactly the same- as there would be much less struggle with my own child, but this is who I am as stepmom and the things I do, as a stepmom, a second mom, to them. People like to write articles about how the stepmom should "stay out of it", but every stepmom knows the reality: Would you stop a child if they were about to hurt themselves, hurt someone else, or do something dangerous? Yes. Would you feed a child if there was no one there to feed them (in your own home) and you are the only one there that can do so? Yes. Would you clothe them, help them, care for them if you're the one at home, alone, with them? Yes. And as you walk further down that line, you see pretty simply that a stepmom does have a second parent role- with more time or responsibilities than a nanny, but often treated similar to a maid.

I'm glad I love my husband, and I'm glad he has me. Others may not be glad he has me or the kids have me, but he could write an endless list of what I've meant to him and his kids. I guess that's all that matters, which is hard to hold onto sometimes. And its all that should matter to your husband's family, too. So although I am the one with them day in, week out, you can trust that I am raising them in their best interest and assisting my husband with that goal. I am not perfect, but you know that you as a parent are not perfect. 

To paraphrase my husband, we can't just love and hug them every time things are going wrong- like a visiting family member would.  We can't just blame everything on the divorce and pity them, allowing them to grow up with a "victim" mentality. Our job is to raise them, teach them, and help them be strong so that one day they can live their lives without an abusive marriage, dependency, or divorce- and be successful and competent adults, mindful of their community and world.

I may never give birth to a baby, which is not, frankly, my fault. Sometimes I wonder if that would make me more loved by my in-laws, but... It was predetermined for me in a previous marriage that I was not a part of.  (Which in-laws know, and should understand is something really painful for many of us stepmoms to cope with. This is a Put-yourself-in-my-shoes Moment...) My stepkids may be the only kids I ever have, which is not ideal since they already have a mom. It's already tough enough to simply be a stepmom to kids who aren't yours, but then to have their dad's family question you, mistrust you, and criticize you behind your back for years? This perpetual judgement and junk from the in-laws is tearing apart my friend's marriages! Marriages that would be doing so fantastically if the skids' grandparents weren't constantly making the husband doubt every choice, or alienating the second wife from family events. Can you believe that the in-laws, who witnessed the hell of the first marriage, are the pivotal force against so many second marriages!? I honestly don't know that these marriages will survive, which leads to another divorce for the kids, their son, and another round of unbelievable pain- plus another round of hurt kids if the couple had their own kids despite the challenges.

If you are a blood relative of the child, you are in their lives as much as you are, and you will have a connection to them to the extent that you are in their lives. If you are there for them, they will love you. You are as meaningful to them as you choose to support them. You are lucky to have that bond, to have known them since birth, known both of their parents, and known them their whole lives. But instead of criticizing the other person who raises them or assuring the kids that they don't have to like their stepmom, focus on supporting their dad and his wife who struggle with the day-to-day of a split family and kids of divorce (who do, as a matter of fact, usually have increasingly more behavioral and learning problems along the journey- No, their stepmom isn't making up the struggles they're having because she's downright evil.). Or, just simply focus on your own relationship with the kids, as you already have that ready-made bond for you. You can have your own powerful influence on them, given the advantage of that bond. Don't waste your time thinking about how their stepmom has influenced them- They have a lot of good and bad influences, and their stepmom shouldn't be the focus on your time. A good use of your time? Encourage the kid to work with their parents, make the best of their situation, and help them learn how to cope. Encourage them to honor adults and authority but learn who they are at the same time. Help them to grow within their environment, so that one day they can grow outside of it.

If you help the kids to dislike and/or disrespect their stepmom and her family, you are actually hurting your son, brother, or nephew. It makes it that much harder for him to maintain a solid home, lead his home, find peace in his home. He is torn between his own family and his extended family, plus the divorce war and custody battles. You hurt the kids by causing more strife and assisting in the "pick sides" game. Support him by supporting "them" as a married couple who are working together to care for the kids, despite your opinion of how involved or uninvolved a stepmom "should" be. At least she's there for them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Narcissism: "The Rager"

All of us have dealt with a narcissist, and many stepmoms get to deal with them on a daily or weekly basis! Quite a few of us constantly struggle with the reality that the kids are being raised by someone so self-absorbed that we wonder how the kids are being raised at all...and why the courts or CPS haven't noticed.

Although I've known (and dated) quite a few narcissists, it can be a little comforting (and simultaneously disturbing) to read about narcissism. It helps you to...see a little more clearly why your life is made so freaking insane by someone who probably, literally, is insane. You also start to realize that there are more narcissists around you than you thought...Like your boss or a coworker. Or, you may feel a lot better about that horrible break-up you had with an ex who, once you read up on narcissism, very much fits into a narcissistic definition.

If you're dealing with a true narcissist or are being driven nuts by how many seem to be around you the more you pay attention, I recommend The Sociopath Next Door  by Martha Stout. There are also plenty of web articles out there, some better than others. This one isn't straight out of a professional psychology book, but it's interesting not unlike other articles on narcissism. I wouldn't put much weight on it, but the reason I'm sharing it is because I was struck by the Rager description which absolutely perfectly describes my husband's ex. It is exact, to the T. And people ask me why she is the way she is....

"The Rager is a common and somewhat obvious narcissistic type of personality. A barely controlled rage simmers below the surface and often lashes out at anyone nearby. Unhappiness is expressed with increasing hostility. There are episodes of explosive rage with irrational, mystifying or unexplainable causes. Violence may be a factor.
What is most characteristic is hypersensitivity to any perceived insult - whether intended or not. Everything is taken personally and usually interpreted as an attack. What sparks the rage is narcissistic injury. The world may be seen in black and white terms. Projecting blame is a knee jerk reaction. The subjective experience of rage may be accompanied by interpretations of malignant intent. Not surprisingly such reasoning may have a paranoid quality.
" For years Betty ruled her family with her unpredictable explosions of anger. Gradually she alienated everyone. After 16 years of marriage Eric left for a younger woman. It was his bid for a new life but he then instituted a custody fight for the three teenage children. Perhaps surprising to no one but Betty - the children expressed a unanimous desire to live with their father.
"Anger feels like anger - naturally. But it is important to focus on the underlying, perhaps more uncomfortable, emotions. This may include sadness, fear, shame or despair. What is absent is a capacity to modulate intense emotions including, but not limited to anger... The Rager can be intensely controlling and it is almost the norm that the relationship will be abusive."
From: Narcissism: A Nine Headed Hydra?

Monday, May 14, 2012

M-Day Poem

A poem borrowed from a friend on Facebook:

~A stepmother consoles you when you feel sad
And hands out a punishment if you are bad
She'll tuck you in bed and read you a story
And yet, it's the real mom that gets all the glory

A stepmother hides the tears that she cries
When mother's day comes and then just slips by
With no card, and no hug, though she really feels sad
She won't let you see it, won't let you feel bad

She feels like an outsider but tries to fit in
If you're playing a game with her, she'll let you win
She makes sure your birthday is one special day
And when hers is forgotten, she'll just look away

When your teen years come, life gets much tougher
With a stepmother these years, for her, are much rougher
You may say or do something that injures her feelings
Please keep in mind that she hurts while she's healing

Your stepmother has done the best she could do
And no matter your age, she'll always love you
For Mother's Day, the best present to get her
Is the most precious of all, that you didn't forget her

~~~ unknown author

Side commentary: Why does it not surprise me that the author is unknown...So many of us maintain anonymity even though we're so too often unknown...The person who wrote this needs the credit instead of fearing her stepkids' dislike. This goes above that!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

M-Day 2012

I'm going to keep this short and simple.

If you function as a mom, you deserve recognition as a mom. If the mom who gave birth and the stepmom both care for the child, they both deserve some form of recognition.

The mom will always have the all powerful bond and genetics and history and title and...and...and...more. If the stepmom functions as a mom in some way, giving of her life to raise the children as well, she can still deserve a call with a "Happy Mother's Day!", a card, a gift, a dinner. She will always and forever lack all the rest, from birth on, but she does deserve recognition for the work, effort, presence, guidance, and crap she puts up with from pure dedication. She may not seem perfect, act like "mommy", or be the Sound of Music (wannabe) nun, but she is there in their lives, serving as a mom in some capacity. And such, given the role she takes on, deserves some recognition on Mother's Day.

We honor our grandmas, friends who are mothers, and our friend's moms on mother's day. It's really not that hard to accept that the woman who also cooks, cleans, and cares for the kids gets some form of kudos on Mother's Day, as well. She fits in the category, by definition past birth, and anyone who says otherwise needs to examine where their judgement is truly coming from.

Oh, and cut that crap out, jealous moms. We'll always get the lesser gift, the forced "happy mother's day" wishes, and the afterthought. You won at the pregnancy and we don't know why you don't get that still. Be proud to be their real mom, and we wish you would be by showing your kids how self-assured and truly loving and accepting you are- by accepting us.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sexist Hypocricy in Domestic Violence Views

If a woman is abused, in any way shape or form, we are very quick to encourage her to "get out." We don't question her, and we immediately think the worse. We assume she's not lying, and we don't want to delve deeper unless she's close to us or we're in a line of work that is required to do so. We think of how she must be broken, must need support, must need a safe shelter. We jump to sympathy immediately.

Men don't get the same reaction and can't claim the same treatment when the woman is the abuser. They are more likely to hide it and never talk about it, or they are confronted with, 1) disbelief, 2) judgement, 3) accusations of trying to hurt her (make her look bad, project, cast blame), the abuser herself. Why would they report the abuse if that's how we'll react?

We don't believe that a man can be broken like a woman can, and we still strongly hold a belief that a "man" can take care of himself. We forget that not all men are the same, not all men are capable of abuse themselves, and that abuse, as we know so well when it happens to women, breaks a person. Their self-esteem, hope, and will go down the drain. Male or female, abuse hurts, dismantles, destroys.

Some of us stepmoms/second-wives have seen this with our own husbands, myself included. Although he's a man, who looks strong (people assume he "must have been" a football player), no one would ever think that he could be abused. Although he's a man, who must be manly and tough, how could he really be effected by abuse? How could a man suffer like a woman could? Nah, not possible................Right? 

And if she did abuse him, he should have been able to handle it. If she did abuse him, maybe he started it. If she did abuse him, maybe he really caused it by being a bad husband and hurting her at some point. If she did abuse him, he's strong- He could have fought back or protected himself.....

A man may have the strength to "fight back" or "protect himself," but given our biases, who ends up in jail? How about a man who would never fight a woman, doesn't have it in him, and wouldn't even raise a hand? How about a man who is broken by abuse and used to the abuse, and therefore doesn't even know to fight back- much like a woman broken by abuse? We've all seen weak men, but even a strong-looking man can be weak on the inside when his marriage and home becomes a hell for him.

And sometimes, men marry strong women. Women can be strong, and big, and powerful, too. Not to mention, physical objects can help a woman with causing physical abuse. Read some domestic violence police reports, and you'll learn that every object in the house becomes a way for a woman to physically aggress. Women can be bullies (as every woman knows very well), and women can be abusers. (Child abuse from mothers? What? That happens?...Yeah, it does. Daily.) And is it OK for men to be mentally and emotionally abused, but not women? Can a wife escape mental and emotional abuse, but a man should stay?

When is it that we approve of when a man "gets out" of his marriage due to abuse? Is it one year? Three years? A decade? Was it OK for my husband to escape after 8-9 years of "trying", which I found to be 8 years of him losing his self-esteem and, well, self? I discovered his brokenness, I helped him through it simply by recognizing it and addressing it with love, and with the grace of God, he is a strong man (in mind and spirit) now, though he still battles some prior marriage self-esteem relapses. He thought that he could also rescue the kids from the abuse, but was unsuccessful due to the biases and views we still continue to ignorantly hold. The kids are still abused today, and when we try to tell their story and my husband's story, we're met by apathy, disbelief, and questions that show that the person just doesn't think it's "important anymore". ("That was how long ago?", in a tone of "Yeah, well, that wasn't yesterday, so the abuser must be fine now! Oh, and you should be over it by now..." Can you imagine telling an abused wife that what happened to her doesn't matter today, because that was a while ago?)

And yet, I overhear and am a part of conversations monthly, if not more, with and about women who "got out" and won child custody in court due to the "abuse" (any type) they endured. We don't question them, and we deeply care with sympathy in return. We applaud them for their bravery, and shake our heads in dismay when she tells us she didn't get the kids for more time or that the dad still sees them occasionally.

These are the only people I've talked to that understand immediately, without judgement and question: 1) Divorced men themselves, who endured it themselves or have guy friends who have, 2) Stepmoms like me, who discovered what was going on deep down inside of their new husbands and then helped them back into the world, and 3) Family members (usually mothers) of the men who were abused in their marriages. These are the only people that seem to know the truth, and not hold the bias that a man should be strong and the false understanding that men don't get abused by their wives or that it's "not as bad", and therefore should be overlooked completely.

A man may not report to you what happened in his marriage and how he was harmed. He doesn't want to make himself look weak, and men don't even recognize when they're being abused by a woman. You'll hear it in different ways from him, like "she yells a lot" or "she gets angry" or in various small stories. The reason why I recognized what happened to my husband as what it was? I had been abused (just a bit, for a much shorter period of time) before and then learned more about what abuse was. The more I got to know my husband, the more I saw what he had gone through. I knew right away what it was, because I'm a woman and educators in our society focus on informing us, as women, what abuse is and how to see it. Men, on the other hand, know that the information is directed towards women or are not included in those info sessions. Why would they know what it is?

Be aware. Don't cast judgement on a man you don't know by asking questions that belittle his horrible experience. And know that some abusers claim that the other person was the abuser, in order to get scrutiny off of them. The children know which parent is the actual abuser, but can't report it to the court mediator, their other parent (even though the other parent will know what's going on)...because they will get abused. And some children are manipulated by the abuser to project it to the other parent. Children, as well as men, don't know that they're being abused and that they're in a cycle that keeps them from getting out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Time to take it to the Principal

If a teacher doesn't give you respect, despite the fact that you are also a parent, it may be time to take it to the principal. If you've been involved in the children's lives, taking them to school, helping them with school, caring for them, the parents should handle everything. But even your spouse may not get the respect they deserve as a parent. It may be time to...take it to the principal.

The principal may not care, and they may very much care. But, if you are their parent, you have a right to represent your kids, and yourself as a parent of that child. Parents make huge stinks about much more trivial matters than this.

We've personally noticed a definite lack of awareness and impartial treatment on behalf of K-8 teachers. My stepkids' dad is a nice, gentle, and often quiet man. He gives off no other impression. He works with policemen and firemen for a public sector job. He often informs the teachers of his honorable work and offers goodies and other connections for their classes. The teachers see my stepkids' mom slightly more, but my husband never gives any reason for a teacher to ever suspect that he is anything other than a caring, available dad. He also holds his tongue and doesn't badmouth his ex. But he does simply make a request, at the beginning of each school year, to be included as much as the mother is, to be contacted as well, and to be given separate parent-teacher conferences.

Still, he's been treated year after year as if he's an uninvolved idiot unworthy of the teachers' time. On the other hand, my stepkids' mom is seen chitchatting and laughing with the same teachers, get extra information, extra face time, extra...everything. We've seen teachers act like my husband will steal his own children's school work. The school work that they would take home with him, to his house, directly after an open house or school event...but they take it from him to give to the mom, whom they're not going home with. Other parents are allowed to take the work home....We've been told different stories from the teachers, which later my stepdaughter will tell us what the teacher actually said to them or their mom. We've been directly insulted, after making simple requests out of the best of intentions for the children and the safety of all parties. My husband has been told that he cannot volunteer for classes like the moms, unless he has a talent or skill. And worst of all, he and I have been accused of helping the kids cheat, which never happened, and resulted in one child receiving a horrible grade on a major project.

My husband, as a good and trying father, has never deserved this and continues to not deserve this from public schools and public school teachers. Whatever my stepkids' mom is telling these teachers shouldn't matter, in the least. Their impression,whether imagined on their own or given to them by my stepkids' mom, of my husband or I shouldn't have bearing on how they treat us. And most of all, they should simply respect requests that are made in the best interest of the child's safety, that honor court orders. It is not theirs to judge.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

World-wide Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation doesn't just happen in the US... If you look around for groups that are fighting parental alienation and the court system, you'll find European groups first. Here's a video from the UK, by kids, about how they lost their father and their siblings in the British court system.

YouTube Video: End Our Silence

Friday, March 23, 2012


I often refer to research findings, without citation. It's an anonymous blog, not a research paper. I take in so much information daily on family law and stepfamily topics, but I've found that most people are completely, absurdly unaware or biased, that merely posting my arguments from the stepmom point of view and writings takes steps in the right direction. And often, I'm generally responding to stepmother literature as it stands.

But in case you were interested in the types of studies and findings I refer to, you can find many resources specific to family court bias, custody orders, and shared custody here:
If you have access to academic search engines and libraries, you may be able to find the same papers without paying for them.

Other sources with sound references include articles in Psychology Today and other academically oriented or non-profit organization sites.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Stepmom Circle

If I act perfectly, I will be mistreated, stepped on, and ignored.
If I act like a parent, I will be blamed and hated.
If I act like a fun friend, I will be blamed and mocked.
If I act my age, I will be mocked.
If I look my age, I will make them jealous and nasty.
If I act like an adult, I'm not fun.
If I ask to be respected and not ignored, I am mean.
If I ask to have something cleaned up or completed, I am strict.
If I maintain my own life and interests, I am selfish, self-possessed, self-involved.
If I help them with their homework, my standards are too high.
If I buy them gifts and clothes, I am trying to buy their love.
If I cook them the food they love, I am feeding them unhealthy food.
If I cook them healthy food, they don't eat it.
If I teach them something, I am pushing them too much.
If I try, I'm trying too hard.
If I disagree with them, I am evil.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In the Ideal Stepmom World...

What I wish I would have known. What I wish I would have been told. What I wish had been handed to me in a guide, preferably in checklist format. Here are the ideals you should start with or work towards for your stepmom world, especially if it's not too late and you're getting ready for your stepmom life:

  • If you're going to support your husband's court battles or be involved AT ALL, which by being his wife who loves him often can mean you are involved and can't just ignore the hell in his world, hire the best lawyer possible for your husband (if you're the only one with money after his years of divorce, alimony and custody) or simply help him hire the best lawyer possible by doing research, setting up interviews, and talking to people who know people, and then use up your money to get the best custody orders possible- Right from the start, out of court or in court. Erase the horrible agreement he made with her when he was clueless and trusted her to be a decent human being, which of course didn't happen, and just take care of it right off the bat. If out of court, do a home study immediately so that a professional can give an entire report about how your home and parenting are better than the other home. Find a pro-father out of court mediator, and do your research and call around before agreeing to it. Use your mediator and her mediator if there's a choice disagreement. If you're in a litigious situation, getting a great lawyer up front will save you so much more pain down the line-  your husband's pain of either losing his children, dealing with the dumbest agreements a mediator could ever turn into a template that they then pass on to every case, or continued court battles with a jealous idiot + your pain of dealing with it too, as you will factor into the crappy agreement that didn't even factor in the schedules of the actual parents, and watching him in pain for YEARS. Oh, and get an agreement that means that you will deal with her less. Even though you're not there, you can be factored into the agreement somehow. Yeah, it legitimizes you, but down the line you feel trapped. 
  • Speaking of which, get a copy of their agreement and study it for days. Make a list of questions and warn your boyfriend/husband that you need the time to discuss this. Set up a time so he can prepare himself, as he could get defensive. He was likely steamrolled into this agreement, didn't know that some things would turn out the way they did, and didn't think through every part because the courts and even lawyers, if he even had one, don't give you enough time to review the agreement you're signing before you sign it. Be gentle with him and understanding that he may not have seen the repercussions of what he signed, especially not in light of a remarriage to another woman who may have other plans in mind. BUT you need to know. In a remarriage, this is just as important as looking at the finances up front. You need to know what you're signing up for, what you can expect for holidays, who gets who's insurance, retirement, pension, assets... Their custody agreement becomes your life. He may not think so at the beginning, oh but how you will realize this as time goes on. You need to see it for yourself and not depend on his memory of it, or his occasional moments of information sharing. (He will say he told you everything, but he told you everything he thought was important for you to know. Trust me, there's more that you would be concerned about. And you need to know about it AND understand it.) And honestly, it's possible he missed a few things. Regardless, his contract with his ex is now your life's/family's contract.
  • Although you want to help your husband as much as possible and you feel and see his pain on a daily basis, do everything possible to cut yourself out of exchanges and ALL interactions with the children's mother. Just-do-it. Just get out of the mix. First of all, you may be helping, but you will resent it further and further down the line. Second, do you really want to interact with her? Your husband's ex? Really? Do you even want to SEE her? Even if you're doing OK with her now, things can change. It's documented (court statistics) that different events can cause an ex to change their demeanor and turn into a scary monster (events such as you getting pregnant, their remarriage to a guy with money to support her court efforts, your marriage, mental illness, and who knows). Didn't see that coming? Now you do.
  •  Live in another town. Not the same town. Live in the town next door. Live somewhere where you don't run into her EVERYWHERE. You will end up with the habit of circling parking lots to see if her phantom car is there, or her family member's cars. You will think you see her down the next aisle, but it's really just someone else. You will avoid places she goes, even though you always went there. Just live in another town. A couple of miles won't hurt you. It may be slightly detrimental in court, so come with specific mileage of your distance from the children's schools. (Mothers can try to make it look like you moved "a whole town away!!!" to prove you clearly don't care about the children because you're not sharing the same house or street or neighborhood, and mediators show bias as if the town that's only 5 miles away is in another state. I kid you not, as we experienced this by living in "another county" which was on the border of the town of the kids and just 2 miles beyond where they lived with their mom. So arm your husband with the exact mileage that the next town over is from everything, to bring everything back into perspective. Especially when your distance from their schools is actually CLOSER than their own mother's, even though you're in the next town! Or something similar, like you live in a town with better schools, or you live closer to their future middle school or high school...Anything that erases the argument that you "moved away", which kids are also easily influenced by, as well, since their worlds are so relatively small until they start going to and from your house and realize it's not that far and maybe even closer to cooler stuff...)
  • Get a HUGE house. Get the biggest house possible. Can't afford to buy a big house? Then DON'T buy a house! RENT the huge house until they're old enough to move out, or at least one of the kids is old enough to move out, or until you CAN buy the HUGE house. Why? You need your space. They will need their space when they are teenagers, too. But YOU need your space. And, you'll win custody fights purely based on the kids wanting their own rooms. Custody doesn't go to the parent who parents best or even looks good in court- It goes to the parent with the most space who allows them individual rooms or cool toys. Sounds petty? If you don't want to think about the crap that is family law decisions or you haven't encountered the truth yet, then focus on how you need your space. Your stepkids, although cute now (maybe, if they're young and not manipulated yet), will drive you up the wall more and more as you learn of their peculiar, strange "habits" (usually involving dirty socks and underwear...or, a lot worse...). Try as you might, you won't be able to change their peculiar, weird habits and you'll even maybe find that your husband somehow gave those habits to them... So it's best to give them, and you, SPACE. You will need it so badly. In fact, just get a duplex. One for them, one for you. When you can't stand them, retreat. Relax. Watch your favorite movies. Stay away from them, because the more you're angry, the more they don't want to come over and see their dad, which hurts you even more as you see your husband's pain. So, if you give yourself space, and the space to give yourself space, you'll fare so much better and make everyone happier. It's a win-win.                         Buying tips: If you get the sense that the house is "cozy", don't take it. That means it's WAY too small. If you get the idea that you'll be able to move up later, don't make that foolish mistake- your money will be gone before you know it, due to wonderful things like the economy, taxes, childcare, child expenses, child support, summer camps, a car and insurance for the teenager, college, family vacations, braces, etc. Don't plan on a move up later. You may not be able to until they're out of the house, due to money or custody orders (which can change to God-only-knows what). And don't buy a smaller house because you're concerned about the workload of maintaining it. You just need the space- even in a small house with kids, you'll be amazed at how your house is never clean. At least in a bigger house, your family's messes can be spread out or cut off from your favorite areas, rather than condensed and that much more apparent, often in the shape of piles and layers of grime. You will need your "sane" or clean areas that you will feel an ounce of control over.
  • If their mom is involved in their lives, let her be in their activities. Keep your own activities. If she isn't involved, go for it. If she isn't involved in a particular activity, go for it but still be warned that she will cause drama after she sees how you've become involved. You can't escape it, and she'll either spread lies about you to others (oh well, because you were there first) or she'll just stop allowing the kids to go. It will hurt you, so be ready for it. Or, just don't volunteer for things involving your stepkids no matter how much you want to show them that you are capable of things and other people do like you. Volunteer with other people's kids or only your own, unless your stepkid specifically asks you to be involved. I think that's the one exception. Still, be prepared for their mom to not like that at all, and your stepkid to one day hate that activity after their mom's jealousy invaded their brain. And, if you're in my type of wonderfully volatile situation, you may even get their mom suddenly caring about that activity and turning it into some sort of "I can top you" war where she manages to get in your face at every turn! Oh, the joy. 
  • Get some pets. Right away. Make it a wedding gift. One probably won't be enough. Get some pets that can give you a myriad of excuses for leaving the house or retreating to your bedroom, like a dog that allows you an ongoing excuse for miscellaneous activities like running, hiking, short walks, long walks, dog parks, grooming... And a cat or two for cuddling when you feel left out of the family affection or your husband needs to cuddle the kids and not you. (Get over it. Get a cat. They're super soft.)
  • Keep your friends or get back in touch with your friends. You will easily be sucked out of your former life by a new love and his kids. His world is so full (and drama...and baggage...) that it's easy to get lost in it and forget about you, and especially your old life. Then, at some point you'll realize you lost who you were and all your friends. Do your part to keep your friends. They will need you, you will need them. Don't scare them off with too many stories about your new stepmom world, which is easy to do, because they just won't understand. But, you still need them. So keep up the lunch and dinner dates and going out. You need it, and you'll need it later. They will need you when they have kids and other big life events. They're just confused by your current position in life, as they probably have already stated they would never choose this path. Did your marriage take you out of the area and you're no longer around your friends? Try to keep in touch, but if you can't physically meet up with them, then it's time to focus on making new friends. Make the effort. Join some groups, clubs, volunteer for something, etc. It will take time, so the sooner you join and get going, the better. Include your husband, or not. Just get moving on making new friends so that you have people to physically go out with, to meet up for drinks with, and to just get out with. You will need it and long for it. You will want to go do things that your new family won't care about, and it will be a fight to get them to enjoy it even if you talk them into it. But you also need someone that allows you interaction and discussion outside of your twisted world of family and in-laws. Can't make friends beyond the virtual kind? Go to Look for stepmom groups, book clubs, adventure clubs, couples clubs, religious clubs, etc. 
  • Have a good job with a positive work environment. If you're in a job that makes you feel bad about yourself or makes you more stressed than you should be, get out before you become a stepmom. A bad job makes you that much more unhappy, and that much more unable to handle your new life and all it's insane responsibilities that no one in their right mind would commit to. You'll suddenly have kids, and need to use sick days and vacation days for the kids when your husband is working. You'll suddenly need to leave early to pick them up or come in late to drop them off. When you're in a toxic work environment, people will use that against you or your bosses won't allow you the flexibility you'll need. But most of all, your life will be stressful at home and at work, and you'll find yourself drowning. You need to make one of your primary environments less stressful as you navigate your new life and role and family. Getting a new job may not sound easy, but it's necessary if you're going to take on the Stepmom title.
  • And the most common recommendation already out there: Get some hobbies. Keep yourself busy. Maintain a partially separate life where your stepkids and your husband's ex don't permeate the experience. Do some hobbies that make you feel accomplished and give you self-worth. You will need that as a balance to the way that stepkids and an angry mom can make you feel or kill all your hopes of things being easy or normal. It may seem like you're doing well as a volunteer for their school or their activities, but you may at one point feel like there's no escape to the bizarre world you're stuck in. If you have external activities, you will have more balance and perspective.
  • Never, ever think that spending your money on your stepkids will change their actions, behaviors, and attitudes to and about you. It won't make a damn difference. They cannot connect money spent on them (that you earned and chose to spend on them) to care. Regular parents deal with this, there are tons of articles out there about how middle class kids (and beyond) have a sense of entitlement, and you'll have even less impact than a regular parent even if you buy them everything they've ever wanted and cook them their favorite, unhealthy meal on a daily basis. It won't matter. Their mom's opinion, and her family's, is what matters. You can go ahead and spend your money on those tickets or those clothes, but they won't remember that you did it for them or gave those things to them. You have to accept that, or not spend the money. You can focus on how you exposed them to culture and special events or helped shape their life into what it will become, but you can never expect them to connect your money and effort spent to a positive connection with you. And if you try to make them see the connection between care and time and earned-money spent, you'll find out that it is simply what they expect since you are their caretaker. It doesn't make you any more valuable, and could even be turned into "she tries to buy my affection." (Still, you CAN make them say thank you. You're never wrong for asking for manners and gratitude, just like any normal parent would. I'm not talking about house rules and repercussions for snotty behavior. Just your expectations.)

You may not be able to accomplish all of the above, but it's what I have realized would have made everything a whole lot smoother for all of us.There already exists a lot of "do's and don'ts" for stepmoms out there. I'm tired of those lists. They are specifically geared towards how to treat and think about your stepkids and their mom and how to change you and your thoughts and emotions. Let's be real and talk about things you can control in your environment that work out better for everyone, rather than your specific behavior and interactions- which are honestly pretty hard to control when everything's unnaturally insane or twisted. Notice that the only "thought" change I suggested was the last bullet point, and I struggled with whether to put that in. I struggle with that one the most! The other options are things you can change about your environment, in the ideal world....

In the ideal world, spend all your money on spa days, yoga classes, a sprawling house with a forest and mountains or the ocean in the backyard,  a vacation home, and lastly, a super crazy expensive lawyer that handles absolutely all interactions with your husband's ex.