Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Stepmom Involvement Conundrum

As documented in a number of stepmom books and articles, Stepmoms often take on all of the appointment scheduling and completion of tasks that a mom normally would. This is a phenomenon in itself, but unfortunately realized by most of us. We're honestly not sure why no one else schedules dentist, doctor, and hair appointments...among other things.

In my case, we have a trivial amount of weekly custody, yet schedule  and do the majority of the necessary "maintenance", hygiene, and medical appointments. Sometimes they all get pushed to the summer, when we have more time. Other times, we have only every other Friday and the random Monday holidays for scheduling direly late appointments for required things like school-district-mandated shots. We also frequent weekend clinics.

Why doesn't Mom do them? There's a number of theories. Each family has their own. Yet even in cases of a very functional, involved mom, this still is likely to be the case. Reasons vary from busy-ness, work schedules, other kids, their own health issues, lack of insurance (or claim of), "not enough money" (even though there's plenty child support somehow making up for the lack of a dad's presence and involvement), doesn't like insurance-approved doctors, laziness, disapproval of traditional medicines, and "I was going to take them" or "I'm going to take them." (That last one includes elusive or even phantom appointment dates and times, which upon a simple phone calls, verifies that the doctor's office hasn't heard from Mom in months to years.)

Many stepmom sources of advice advise that you don't make the necessary appointments and let the kids and their actual parents deal with the outcome. Don't stress yourself out, and let the parents or kids come to their own conclusion that they failed the kid's hygienic and medical needs.

But many of us are smarter than that. If we do that, then we know that our husband will end up footing the bill for the eventual high amount of recovery and repair work down the line, even if the child is an adult. Because we know Mom won't pay for it, and the adult child probably won't be able to for years (not in this economy anyways- I couldn't for a number of different things that came up in college and beyond), and the court will likely mandate that the father pay for any extraordinary need despite the mom's responsibility to care for the kids in her time with the already-given child support.

So, although I continue to hope that these appointments will magically happen without my involvement, I still make the phone calls, find out about doctor availability, and book them. I've tried a few different strategies, such as:
1) Coerce husband to make it happen.
Outcome? .... Yeah, well, you know. Decline to state.
2) Husband tells (asks nicely) ex to do it, noting how poorly the child is doing or how long overdue the typical, short check-up is.
Outcome? "Of course I'm going to do it. I have it scheduled for [way too long past due]. How dare you insinuate I don't take care of my children."
Success rate? Usually appointments are canceled, so about 15%.
3) Make the appointment on Mom's time. Tell husband to notify her of appointment and let her know she can change it if necessary.
Outcome? That actually can work, with a lot of huffing, puffing and fire. So its not a tactic used very often, though a little amusing.
Success Rate: Only attempted once or twice, but very effective.
4) Make the appointments, take them myself, or make husband take them.
Success Rate?: Works. Totally works every time.
Outcome?: About 40% also receive a huffing and puffing email response of "I was planning to take them." We consider "planning to take them" a year after the due date null and void, and ignore such emails.
5) The strategy I really don't recommend: I asked that some things be included in the last court custody mandate (through my husband). Those suggestions were laughed at, because "Of course Mom will take care of these things."....

Let me know if you have another strategy that works for you! Maybe a carrot approach that includes the child support payment be picked up at the dentist's office, at the time of a pre-arranged appointment? That sounds ingenious!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A New Stepmom Show on PrimeTime

In case you weren't aware, the new comedy 1600 Penn features a powerful, beautiful stepmom as First Lady. Jenna Elfman pulls it off very well.

I encourage you to watch it. The very first episode, and the subsequent episodes, touch on a number of stepmom topics with an older, young adult daughter. Other situations also arise with the other 3 kids.

It's not a drama, you're not going to get your answers from it, but it is fun to watch. I think as a very large stepmom community, we need to support shows that show Stepmoms in a positive light like this. Encourage others to watch it, so that maybe one tiny notch can be struck in the mythology of the stepmom.

Always in the Unwanted Spotlight

About half of my blog posts could be titled "Contradictions," or some variation thereof.

The contradiction du jour is that it's not all about me, but still, it keeps being all about me! Stepmoms would prefer less be about us, as a matter of fact.

There's a view from most stepkids, moms of our stepkids, and even in-laws that we think everything is all about us. That we're self-centered, focused on destroying others, and want all the money, our husband's to ourselves, and to forget the kids for eternity. This list could be triple in length, but I'll stop there. Everyone has heard someone describe their stepmom in that way. Dr. Wednesday Martin did research on perceptions of stepmoms and found that nearly all stepmoms are viewed as pure evil, with vindictive motives of the bad characters in horror movies and Grimm (which, are quite similar...). (StepMonster, 2009)

Most of us are not actually that kind of fabled evil stepmom. We're everyday evil stepmoms, where we just function as people, and in response to most things we do as people, are slapped with the evil stepmom label. We fantasize about how easy it would be to become actually evil, and occasionally we think of borderline evil plans, and then we laugh, shake our heads, and silently pray for our family situation to get better. But the reality is, being someone's second mom just makes you the target of all possible hate and anger from so many people.

And that's how in the end, apparently it is all about me. It is the case that somehow nearly everything wrong with my stepdaughter's life has something to do with me. Her parents, the ones with the bad marriage and the choice of partners, can't really be to blame...It's really that the existence of me is to blame for most everything, but particularly bad moods. I must have caused those, and it was probably something I said. Somehow everything I say causes most things. Our house may be completely fine, but if I did something... usually something a stepparent, one who has taken care of her for 7 years would do...I have officially ruined her life for the weekend and possibly months.

In regular families, as many have assured me, teenaged girls can be this way with their own parents. But us stepmoms know that unfortunately, many stepkids have a unique situation where they get to forgive their parents quite quickly and aim that pure hatred at an easier target with less power. That's my case, because she knows that being nasty to her parents will just get her in worse trouble. The worst part is....She's not just an angry teenager. She can simply tell any member of her family her typical teenaged angst against me, and they don't assume she's a teenager (just like they didn't assume she's just a kid when she did the same thing every year before). They actually believe I did or said or was as horrible as she claims. Will an angry teenaged girl also tell the same people and kids about the other good things I did? Nope. So they get only the dirt, and think, "Well of course that poor child is unhappy- Her stepmom is so horrible to her!"

Beyond her, her mom still believes that I am the root of all things wrong. So, years later, I know that there is way too much focus on me, way too much insistence that I cause my husband to do or think the way he does like he's a puppet, and that I somehow cause all these unhappy things. No, no- it's not all me. I know it's not all me. I'm completely confused on why I'm the cause of so many things, but I guess according to the kids' mom...I am the center of all bad things. Aim the spotlight. My husband is just to the right of that spotlight, but not really in it.

And then beyond that, there's their extended family. Throughout the years, even members outside of the stepkid and mom unit reason that all choices, well, the ones they disagree with, must have come from me. I can't tell you how many random things I've heard, later through the grapevine, were attributed to me- which was always a blatant distortion of the facts, completely leaving my husband's free will and parenting out of the story. Sometimes it was because the kids were the source of the information, and other times assumptions were made on top of facts. My poor husband...I seem to control his every movement.

It's very curious, to me, how much I seem to be involved.

I really would prefer to be seen as what I am in everything regarding the kids: Secondary to my husband. I am not the leader, but I am a partner. I support him. My husband, when it involves the kids, is the one who decides and chooses. Things I do and say, as I've written here before, are results of many events prior and decisions and discussions he and I have had together. Unlike my stepdaughter's assessment, it is not "all because of her"- where the "her" is me, in complete disgust.

Well, actually, yes, some things are all because of me. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't visit extended family half as much as we do if it weren't for my financial contributions and family planning. Trips that I dread, but know we must do on behalf of the kids and the family, I make happen. We wouldn't have a home, because my husband could not maintain a mortgage on his own. She wouldn't have so many of the things and furniture she and our family have. We wouldn't have all the pets, we wouldn't have the money to do nearly all of the activities and trips that we do, and she wouldn't have an even bigger family that takes care of her like their own. She wouldn't have had someone that took care of her for years when her dad worked longer hours, further from home.

There's a number of other things, but yeah, that's what I'll take the actual credit for. The rest of it is exaggerated, misunderstood, or not even about me. If it's not all about me, then I'd like everyone else to stop making too many things all about me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Husband Tricks for Crazy Stepmom Mode

Upon the stepmom's entrance to the dark side, a husband needs some effective strategies:

To keep your family together and avoid more courtroom controversy:
1) Let stepmom leave. If she's frustrated, upset, sad, moody...let her go. Let her go somewhere else. Let her see friends, take a walk, and leave the family activity. Let her hide out in the bedroom. Bring her what she needs, check on her with kisses randomly, and remind her that a bath is a nice treat. Accommodate, in other words.

2) When she's upset, remove her cell phone. Displace it for a while. Who knows what could come of it if it remains in her possession. Or, remove its battery or cancel service if she's too smart for the displacement trick. Unless she just calls friends....But she can use your phone for that anyways. Or a computer.

3) Distract! Provide distractions for her to tide her over. A spa gift certificate is the best possible option, but have a number of more affordable options up your sleeve. - Promise of dinner at her favorite place the night after the kids leave, OR get a babysitter and make it happen tonight or tomorrow night. - Flowers (remember those?!?) - Gift certificate to her favorite place - Or, simply, a glass of wine or a margarita (or in my case, a martini). Bonus: The act of making it for her is a two-in-one: She doesn't have to go to the effort and is given a treat, while she's also being sent the discrete message, "It's time to chill."

4) Find another task for her to do, away from the kids. Walk a dog, get something elsewhere, or take a small trip to pick something up...Anything to give her time to let out fume and recompose herself.

5) Buy her a kitty or a puppy (from a shelter!)- if you don't already have a house full of them. Her own little pet to cuddle with and care for is so comforting in times of stepkid "you're-not-my-mom" turmoil. Plus, they're very soft.

6) If there's a Facebook war, turn off WiFi or take her somewhere else. Dinner, fun, ice skating, movie, hike, mall...Pick anything. Literally anything. An activity of fun is all she really needs. Because nobody wants to be in a Facebook war anyways.

7) Book a trip to some island. Show her pictures and proof of purchase. Then ask her to research spas, outings, and restaurants for the trip. And this better happen, or expect Divorce 2!

8) Have the kids make her something, whether it's a physical "thing" or a drawing or baked good. All of it is absurdly touching. But keep in mind: The effect from this will last a very short time...Especially if they loudly whined while doing it.

9) Put on her favorite movie. If the kids complain, give them laptops/mobile devices and headphones with some other movie.

10) Probably the #1 most effective way to handle a stepmom who's losing it? TAKE THE KIDS OUT. Somewhere, anywhere. Take care of them. Feed them. Whatever. Make it last.


My husband does not read my blog. Unless I tell him to or read it to him. As he puts it, "It is not meant for me." He usually has heard the beginnings of a post already, and he lives it with me...So why bother? He also so nicely added that I don't need his validation, as others have validated this blog quite well enough. 

Thank you to the followers of this blog, whether you are a stepmom sister I've never met, or a friend or family member I actually know in the non-blogger world. This blog is meant for stepmoms, quite obviously, and I use it to provide insight, analysis, responses, and share resources.

Your comments are welcome, and I don't mind fully responding. But my husband has asked that I moderate comments from those that we know personally. If your account links to me, your name would be known to others, or your comments reference specifics...It has to go. Don't blame me; blame "the man."

Despite freedom of speech, divorce courts have ordered blogs be taken down even if they don't break any laws or use names. Feel free to look into that, as it's somewhat disconcerting. A number of blogs I've referenced in old posts have been "closed" for that reason. I walk a fine line, and I self-edit a lot after the first publish to maintain enough anonymity. In fact,  I've pulled down entire posts for that reason. I sometimes run them by my husband to make sure he's OK with the post and that it doesn't reveal too much. You may also notice that I flip back and forth between generalities a bit too much, admittedly to the point of confusion, but that's on purpose. I am trying very hard to keep my blog public to readers around the world (which is super exciting to see, mind you) rather than going the route that many of the popular blogs I used to follow have had to take- restricting their blog to only a few members by invite. 

In fact, I probably scared a number of you who thought this was my final post: a farewell. I've read quite a few of those, but that post isn't today.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Who's Driving the Family?

Ooh, good stuff! Love the analogy!
When parents-for misguided but positive intentions-place their child before the stepparent it offers the child a rich and tempting opportunity to engage either, consciously or unconsciously, in unhealthy and manipulative behaviors. They may believe they are the most important person in the family and their stepparent is in a subordinate position. If a youngster is in the driver’s seat, it is best to remember they have not yet learned how to drive the family vehicle and that a crash is inevitable.-By Dianne Martin, BSW, RSW

From an article in Stepmom Magazine:

The Will

It's really important that your husband have a will, and that you know what's in it. Hopefully, he's willing to sit down with you and talk with you about it, taking your input and feelings into consideration. And I hope that you are given priority in his will, as the kids usually have an entire large family beyond you two to take care of them. You, on the other hand, don't have a secondary spouse's home to go to and another husband to suddenly take up your costs- which is usually what the kids have- Another home to go to, another family to ask for money from, another place of support. When your husband passes, you get to deal with the plans and major life change, while your stepkids may be adults at that time and might not even participate in the end of life plans. Especially if they swore you both off as the secondary parents who just aren't important.

Although we are not set up yet, we've discussed it. Bad, I know- but at least we're talking. We haven't ever talked about my will, though. My will at this point would be very simple: My husband will take it all, and give to others as he sees fit.

I realized the other day that in many cases, the working-successful-career stepmom will likely have more to give in her will than her husband's. Many stepmoms deal with the frustration and pain of their husband's income being split in half (give or take) for their ex-spouse and children. We continue to work, even if we have our own kids too, to make up for the lack of what our husband's can afford. We make the home, and lifestyle, a reality. And if our husband passes, we will likely continue to work, just like we did before- maybe because we are younger, because of our own kids, or because we have a career lifestyle.

And it occurred to me that therein lies a new strategy with those stepkids. Husbands might want to point out to older stepkids that their Stepmom is more likely to have more to give as she ages and in her will. Burning bridges with her is a pretty dumb long-term plan, really. It might be a financially sound decision to maintain relationships with dad AND stepmom, instead of focusing on the fight of who gets dad's money- which has usually already been siphoned off for years through alimony, the divorce itself, and child support. In fact, many men sold their assets in order to continue paying for alimony, custody, and their own homes and new families. There might not be anything left in their wills, but stepmom's funds can be protected by state law and not factored into the decades of child support.

I think this is overlooked. It might sound callous or calculating, but so much of family dynamics is tied to finances. It's true. Dependency, large downpayments, cosigning, college, emergencies....A lot of people are tied to family and maintain relationships with some sort of financial element, even if it's just guilt. Adult stepchildren have great financial incentive to keep stepmom in their lives, as grandma to their own kids, or friend into the adult years.

Would I put my stepkids in my will? At this time, no. But if they maintain a nice relationship with me, including me in their lives and with their future families, there's a very strong chance. If I see them as my only kids in the future, that truly makes sense. But at this time, they make it very clear that I am primarily an annoyance that would be better off not existing. That's too bad for them; I will probably be the only one left with any assets of either of their parents some day long into the future.

Afterword (in response to a comment)

A lot of the documentation of hate towards a stepmother for adult stepchildren is tied to her "taking dad's money" and warfare after his death over assets. Without a will, everyone will lose money in court deliberations. I see this more as a reality, and this post was an elaboration on a small realization. It was partially facetious, though quite honest.

One hopes that family doesn't stick around for money alone, and if your family is there without that incentive, and your family wouldn't war over assets after a funeral, then you are very blessed.

But sadly, this is a major truth for many; Many stepmoms are blamed and hated, long after dad has passed away. If the motivation of some kids is based on finances, which for many that is a large component, especially if they were raised by someone who is also calculating, then it could actually be worthwhile to make kids of that frame of mind to think twice about how they treat those that could help them long into the future. Sometimes one has to point out what the hater could be missing in order to spur a more open mind. So, expanding on the concept, as the stepchild matures, they would see their stepmom for who she is, because of the effort towards a relationship. In this case, belief and attitude would be following action, which is a tactic proven in social psychology. And that being said, a relationship would be developed even if the initial eye-opening moment was related to finances. Sometimes, that's all a person can see. There are many out there who are blinded by how they were raised, what they're being taught, or pure selfishness. And children have a hard time seeing through the fog and confusion, particularly when they have at least one person feeding them hate. We've found that sometimes, especially with a teenager, we have to point out simple, cold things to open her eyes and make her reconsider her path.

Boiling it down, wills are specifically tied to relationships. They reflect who and what is important to the deceased. So a stepchild that continued to be selfish and calculating wouldn't be able to maintain that relationship.

Join the Club

I can see the writing on the wall.

Ok, that's much too dramatic. Maybe a bit misleading.

I can relate, though. I now can relate to so many stepmoms out there. The stepmoms who just couldn't stay any longer. The ones who had to move on. The ones who completely detached from their "families."

I think I have become the Evil Stepmom.

It was a joke before. Before, I could see how easily I was twisted into an Evil Stepmom. It's very easy for everything I do and say to be misconstrued and used against me.

But many of us feel like we have turned into an Evil Stepmom.

For a while, we fight the notion. We can't believe people cast us as evil so quickly. We fight, fight, fight. We try so hard to not be that evil stepmom that the populace thinks we are. We know we are better and we firmly rise above it.

But, the people who matter don't notice or care. And their issues outweigh ours, and eventually, it wears and tears us down. We realize there's no point; there never was. Your efforts were all for naught. There's anger. There's depression. Then there's giving up.

I am now on the other side of resentment and bitterness. I now see where I am, how the kids view me, and that there may not be a return. The other side isn't peace or acceptance; the other side is hopelessness. There may be an acceptance...of what it is, and that the situation is not going to change, even in the future.

I'm fortunate to have an understanding and forgiving husband.. So fortunately, I will not be leaving my marriage. Our relationship is damaged from the strife over the years, but we are still a we. Most stepmoms can't say the same.

And yet, I still have gone through the transformation process. I can pinpoint moments, stages, and draw the cycle out. I think many other stepmom sites have done that already, so there's no need for me to elaborate. But I just wanted you all to know- I have joined you.