Sunday, May 26, 2013

Try As You Might

There is an assumption that if you are a good, nice, sweet, giving stepmom, you will be treated as such. There is an in-kind assumption that if your stepkids treat you as a good, nice, sweet, and giving stepmom, you must be OK (or bribing them). There is an equal but opposite assumption that if your stepkids treat you horribly, you must be a terrible, evil stepmom.

Any stepmom reading this should know what the truth is.

It doesn't matter how giving you are or how sweet you try to be. You have likely gone through multiple cycles of trying really hard to be the best you can be, the sweetest wife and stepmom and semi-friend ever, only to find that it had no effect. You may have even kept it up for years. And then when you realize it had no effect, you wonder what's wrong with you. What you're doing wrong. What you could have done better. Why your stepkids still treat you as the evil stepmom you've tried so hard not to be.

We have a teen now. She doesn't use me for all that I could offer her. It bothers me that she doesn't know how much I could help or support or be there for her, as an alternate to her parents. Some have judged that. They think that she must not see me that way, because I was horrible or because of something I did. And they have ideas and theories as to how that happened. They've seen or heard so little of our lives, that I can't put any weight behind those theories. But, thinking about it, interacting with her on a normal basis, and thinking back to all of the years together, I know that I offered my help, shared things with her, and was there for her. And despite that, I'm still not looked at or used as the resource I could be by her. I was the one here, with her, week after week. I know what I tried, I know what she resisted, I know our moments together, and I know "our truth."

I know that I am up against a strong-willed, fearful mother that holds her teen as the secret of her happiness for some reason. She lives vicariously through her. I know that there is pressure for her daughter to put her mother first, act like they are in a mother-daughter clique, and mock the stepmom as the outsider. I know that my stepdaughter has absolutely seen what I can offer her and be to her, but she chooses to ignore it to a hurtful degree. It's most strange, but shows the power of motherhood, that she continues the charade even when away from mom 7 years later. She must have learned her lesson the first year she got to know me, when she imitated me, wore my clothes, and followed me around. I know that something happened way back then that changed our relationship forever, and that was back when I was trying unbelievably hard to be unrealistically perfect.

The stepmom articles are wrong. Even if you just try to be a friend, it doesn't mean it will have any effect. It is misleading to put that expectation on us, just like our families have unrealistic expectations of our behavior, reactions, and tolerance.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I don't do this blog for me. I don't remember there being a time where it was for me. I reread a quote on an empty blog (no posts, just page setup) that said that writing a blog is cathartic and good for you. It stated that it will help you (the writer).

I've never had that intention. If I wanted to write for myself, I would definitely make it private. I'd use one of those cool journal apps. I could even make this blog private. I'm a fan of journaling for my own good, and I probably should do that more often.

But that is not what this blog is. If you've noticed, I don't post recipes here. (And if I have, it was because it was related to something else or it was just that awesome...Correct me if I have actually posted recipes here, because apparently I've posted a lot and I don't feel like going through all of the posts right now...) I don't just post cute stories or thoughts. That sounds lovely, and I wish this blog was just a bunch of wickedly funny pictures of kittens doing crazy things.

This blog is aimed at the target audience of stepmoms, like myself.

It has shaped itself to be a commentary on stepmom knowledge, literature, and experiences. The more I read, whether from social science or social media and web forums, the more it shapes this blog. I use my own experiences to illustrate, but this would be a very boring blog if I just shared my day-to-day strife. Sometimes I feel like sharing pieces of that strife, but with a greater intention and purpose.

There is a missing piece of criticism and critical analysis of the stepmom literature and discussions occurring currently. It is also infantile- Very few books existed when I became a stepmom, and although the number has probably tripled, it is still small in scope. Yet, a vast percentage of women are stepmoms. How much mom literature is out there? Much more important topics, I know. Babies and all that...But stepmoms aren't new. Only the discussion is.

Maybe not every post is terribly insightful. Sometimes I am just trying to share something important, like a blog or book of great worth to women like me. Yet overall, the intention of my blog is to be critical of what we know, what we are told, and what we see as stepmoms. And in that, I also try to weave my own advice in along with a general summary of the advice of many others, whether professionals or the large numbers of stepmoms I read and talk to regularly.

The end game? I am actually trying to shape the conversation somewhat, and possibly influence future stepmom literature and dialogue.

Thanks for reading, anyways. Sorry about the lack of recipes and hilarious kitten pics. I know it's disappointing. BUT Feel free to suggest topics that you feel are not addressed, or are addressed poorly in the stepmom/stepparenting web-&-lit-o-sphere. (Interaction, communication, and collaboration? Also very healthy.)

Keepin Busy

I do a lot of stuff.

I've always done a lot of stuff.

I hate not doing a ton of stuff.

It is intrinsic to my nature.

It is clear to me that someone does not know me if they advise me to take up hobbies or focus on my interests.

My stepmom life continues, whether I keep busy or not. Drama in stepfamily world happens, whether I'm busy or not.

I cannot overstate that I do a lot of stuff. I do keep busy. Many of the busy things are things for me, or only include me, or include my husband and I, involve socializing and fun, or maybe even include my stepkids.

I advise on this blog regularly that you find things for you, to do, to keep you busy and keep your mind occupied and distracted. At some point, you will start to lose it, and your marriage, if you don't have anything else going on. If you stopped seeing friends, if you stopped doing your hobbies, if you haven't picked up any new ones, or if you just stopped being you...You're not being your best self. You buried a part of you, and it will come out raging later and make you question your marriage and all that you sacrificed.

I know that you might be busy like me. But don't make excuses for not going out, going to an event with friends, or doing girl-time or other adult-level, your-age-group socializing. The kids dad CAN absolutely take care of the kids. You CAN ask him to come home, take some time off, or order a pizza instead. You CAN serve them dinner and then skedaddle, letting Dad put the kids to bed. You can let it happen, you can make it happen, and you'll find out it wasn't that hard afterall. You'll realize that the kids enjoy their dad, and that you ARE allowed to have a life.

I think I've heard of "mom guilt" before. I definitely see "dad guilt" all the time, though it is mostly unwarranted and unhelpful. Well, there's stepmom guilt. I felt it any time even considered a social outing with friends or business travel when my skids were little. I felt like I had to be there, had to make dinner, and had to take care of them. This was particularly ridiculous considering we're only every-other-weekend parents, but I still had it, and I now see it from a lot of other newer stepmoms. Seems to be an under-5-year thing, but it is particularly strong in the first 2 years, which is precisely the time frame when you should absolutely be continuing some friend/girl time.

The first 2 years are such a huge transition- almost to the point of insanity, as most of us experienced. The first 2 years include moving away, leaving your past, and being just too far away from friends and family. They include taking on other people's kids, who you may like, but are very clearly not yours (sometimes stated overtly by them, other times made apparent by their upbringing and behavior...), joining a man in his home, possible the home he shared with his ex-wife, or joining the community of his ex-wife. Your first 2 years of marriage truly include entering a world that is not yours. PLUS there's the marriage part. Minor detail.

Three, four, five years later, don't find yourself looking back, realizing that you could have been investing in your friendships still and other relationships, as your stepkids are still there, your husband is still there, and whether they like you or not at that point, you still have a social life to live.

You'll realize it at one point or another, but I'd really like it if you knew it right away so that you could stop canceling out on girls night with the stepmoms that are long past this realization. If you kept up your you-time now, you'll be healthier later.

Strong Fathers

If your husband has a hard time parenting/being a parent to/guiding/talking to/understanding his daughters, buy him this book in the format he may actually read (or listen to) immediately:

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker

If he won't read it, read it together. If he won't listen to it, listen to it together on a road trip.

There's a challenge workbook that goes along with it, if you feel so inclined:
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: The 30 Day Challenge

Meg Meeker's book is based on social science and research. It is not a Dr. Phil TV show. It's real, and it will wake him up as a dad.

Don't get it for him for Father's Day. Get it now, and help him understand what Father's Day really means when the day gets here.

Why is he not much of a dad to them?
He doesn't know how to be. He is scared to be. He fears their moods and their possible dislike of him.

Our culture tells us that dads are of trivial importance to a daughter in comparison to mom. Plus, the court judges, lawyers, and mediators tell us the same. The statistics say the same. And likely, his daughters will say and show the same choice.

Many men may not even know what being a father looks like, if their own father left or they've had to redefine it. We also live in a time of "just keep the kids happy" in order to avoid their wrath. Fathering has definitely changed in definition today.

This book will empower him and help him understand how important he is.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

True Stepmom Gifts

Dear Husbands,

Although you may be lovingly aware of what your wife has given up for you, just to be with you- And although you of course tell her alllll the time about how thankful you are that she joined you and your children instead of starting a fresh life with someone else- Think of getting her something from you for Mother's Day, beyond just the children's gifts. And if things are difficult in your marriage right now, lately, or this past year, then this is direly important.

(And yes, definitely, the children should also be giving her something as well, as belief follows action...This shouldn't even be questioned. Although your wife is not their "real" mom, she still does things for them, often playing the mom role in the absence of their mom, and thus deserves the partial mom title, whether the children agree or not. Children don't agree with most as it is, so don't let them question this. And you current wife performs "mom" in a different way, which will always be seen as "not mom" for the rest of their lives despite the truth that she is still being a "mom" to them during your custodial time.)

Make the gift from you meaningful, as she chose to be a stepmom because of her love for you. She chooses to put her neck on the line daily, risking interactions with your ex-wife, getting attacked by your ex-wife, and also getting attacked, ridiculed, and even humiliated by your children in front of others...She watches as the children she wished were hers, with you, get more and more distant or fight to even be around her. So think of what she gave up for you, and then make this gift meaningful in response to that.

Given that each woman and couple are different, there are "big" gifts you could give her that specifically relate to her. I can't tell you what those are, whether it would be alma mater gear from the school friends she moved away from, a trip to see her friends or family, or replacing something she lost when she married you and moved. Maybe a trip to somewhere you went together, pre-ex-wife-and-kids reality. There are probably many thoughtful, specially meaningful things you could give her in honor of her dedication to you and your kids despite it all.

But beyond those entirely thoughtful ideas, consider de-stress gifts, such as spa day- alone, with friends, or with her mom or sister. If spa certificates or reservations are too much for your budget, there are spa-like gifts out there, such as massage oils, aromatherapy, soothing lotions, and soft, sensual robes or super soft pajamas. Make it clear that you are trying to help her relax, and that you want her to have some down time- that it is OK for her to have some rest and self time.

What is her favorite thing to do? Buy gear or accessories related to it, set up a day of it, or buy gift certificates for her to do it.

What is her favorite store that you and the kids just can't stand and vocally complain about? That's the store you should buy her something from or take her shopping at.

What is the restaurant that your ex tells the kids is too expensive or too fancy for you two to go to? That's where you should go with her, on a night without the kids- or with if you purposefully want that report to go back. What is the restaurant that your kids have turned into a place you can't go anymore, for whatever kid reason? That is also another candidate for dinner out.

What is something that you two haven't done together in a super long time? Maybe it was just lunch together, brunch, hiking, sitting at a lake, or some activity- Do it. Plan it. Make it happen on Mother's Day.

Mother's Day is a really, really rough day for stepmoms. I do occasionally read how a stepmom doesn't care anymore. I only partially believe it, because I know how I feel and I read a great deal many more Facebook posts every Mother's Day from stepmoms talking about how horrible they feel and how they wish it all can change, which they know it won't, and that they stay anyways. In fact, every Mother's Day, in every Stepmom group there is, there's at least one discussion post from the moderator asking if everyone survived. Beyond that, there is article after article posted about how to "get through" Mother's Day for stepmoms. You may not know this, because you're not allowed in (they're private and closed, to ward off court-centric ex-wives), so I'm letting you know that how your wife feels and acts is extremely common. In fact, I strangely have the same conversations with stepmoms over and over again, and each time the stepmoms involved are just amazed that others feel the same way and think the same thing. Despite our differences, your wife isn't especially crazy or difficult. she's just in an especially difficult situation.

Despite whatever happened this year, despite whatever your wife (the current one you want to keep, remember?) did or didn't do, despite whatever anger has been between you, and despite whatever your kids hold against her, she is still the woman you married and enjoyed pre-kids and your ever-present ex-wife (whether nearby or as channeled through your kids and your phone). She is still there, but she is in a confusing state and strange world that has until recently been kept hidden and hated. She is only responding as she thinks she should, and trying so hard despite wanting to give up.

You are her encouragement, and she needs you. But most of all, she really needs you to make her feel loved on Mother's Day- and not necessarily (but maybe) in the Valentine's Day way. Figure out what is missing now, what she really needs, and what will honor her attempt to be the third wheel in your family experiment.