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.