Monday, September 23, 2013

Take Control When You Get the Chance

One thing I strongly want you Stepmoms to know and do- something I strongly regret not doing- something I have to pass on to you:

When you have the chance to report something in an official means, do so. If you have the opportunity to get a restraining order, do so.

If the kids' mom follows you, harasses you, taunts you- Get even a sliver of documentation or a witness, or maybe not even that, and file a restraining order. More was done to me, and I regret to this day that I didn't take action when I had the chance. Even the effort of trying to get a restraining order is documented, even if it isn't granted. The attempt alone is worthwhile. Set a precedent that you will take action so that she doesn't try to continue it, escalate it, and frankly, ruin whole portions of your life, well-being, and mental health.

If you are being threatened, if you are being chased, if you are being screamed at: Don't take it like your husband did or does. Protect yourself, even if others- such as cops, in my case- tell you you have no case. A lawyer will tell you you have a case. Years of reading about how often moms file bogus restraining orders tells me we have grounds to take legal action. Use that ability, the law, lawyers, and any protection you can for yourself.

We were in shock. When we- my husband and I- were physically attacked, we were in shock. I cried my head off that whole night. That's when my shaking started. I was shaking out of confusion, anger, more confusion, and complete sadness. I had no idea what had just happened to me and felt like I was just in some sort of ghetto gang experience I was absolutely uncomfortable with, from someone else's life.

Most people (friends, family, coworkers) were amazed, shocked like I was. One person, though, laughed about it and said she felt bad for me but that it sounded like a typical night in her LA neighborhood. The cop (a female) we went to report it to the next night treated us like we were just trying to report an "almost fight", said we "didn't have a case" (they are not allowed to give legal advice, but do), and that it would have been best if I had let her hit me square on so that I could have physical proof of it. (The cop called and talked to her...Returned with a much lighter attitude to us and said, "Is she always that... emotional?" to my husband. From that point, she treated us like real people...)

Technically, the cop was right. On the other hand, it's horrible. Really? In order to have my person protected, I need to be abused first?

Forget that. If you are being threatened, screamed at, cornered, followed: DO NOT LET IT ESCALATE. Don't feel like me. Don't feel trapped. Don't have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Don't start shaking and suffering from anxiety attacks for over half a decade every time you go to a school or sports event or the [police station] to pick up the kids.

At the time, I remember a lot of the legalese I read stating that only the familial parties had any rights to protections. Screw that! We live in a litigious society, which ethically and financially sucks, but use it to your advantage in the case of protecting yourself.

And if lawyers or legal means are not an option (which they are- so keep looking, please) then use some of the protections we started considering for my husband, and consequently myself.

Since we were given improper advice and should have taken up counsel immediately, which would have been significantly, entirely useful in court a couple of years later in regards to custody, my husband improvised. He talked to officers he knew and asked for advice. He asked what he could do to protect his family from his ex and her family. They advised:

1) No child exchanges in personal, dark, unmonitored locations. Refuse meeting locations of that sort for eternity, as now you know what the person "might" do. If it is necessary to do an exchange at an unsafe location for some reason, then request officer accompaniment. (Which, we found, quickly caused the ex to say OK to safe locations, because you have to wait for an officer who is available to accompany you.)

2) Try to do all child exchanges at a police station. Do the exchanges IN the police station (find one with an open lobby at all times, then) because THAT's where the microphones AND cameras are. There may be a camera or two in the parking lot, where most people do exchanges, but it may not be on you since a parking lot is larger. You want the lobby where there is both camera coverage and microphones recording audio.

3) Keep communications on email, not in person or over the phone. Not only does she need to be recorded, but she also can't contain herself in person.

4) Leave any situation that isn't safe. This, for us, meant informing the children for quite a number of years that we may need to leave at a moment's notice, and that they are not to argue with us about it. We made it clear that if any of us were in danger, INCLUDING ME, that it was just plain and simple time to go. As a unit, we leave. We only employed this a few times, as the kids seemed to understand.

So, all of these things, by the way, were LAUGHED AT by the kids' mom. She called all of it "ridiculous." She mocked my husband. Ask yourself: What does that say about the person who laughs? If my husband and I were a danger of any sort, or if she wanted to make up that we were, then she would be doing all of these things, right? Yes, plenty of moms do all of these things to make their ex look bad, feel powerless, and feel like he is watched- even if there hasn't been any actual physical violence. SO, use it for yourselves.

Our problem is we're married to the man. The man likes to look tough. The man, father, likes to think and act like he can handle it all. They like to think they have it under control. They don't think of ways to make themselves 1) safe, 2) look better in court, 3) look like the victim. They don't WANT to be the victim. It's "unmanly," but it is also just not how they think. And yet, this is despite knowing that so many of our husbands were abused in some way by their ex spouses, mentally and physically. They are not taught, like many women are increasingly, to be aware of the signs and how to protect themselves. They may have gotten out of the marriage, but that was their way of "getting away from it." Little did they know that an abuser doesn't let anyone get away from it, as so many women's and child services and protection groups know. Abusers chase you down, because all they wanted was to control you and you stepping away from the marriage? That didn't end it. Just like if a battered woman tries to leave her marriage- It isn't successful, and he tries to find her.... Well, guess what? It's the same-damn-thing for female abusers. They're not going to leave you alone. They're going to show you that they can control your children. They're also going to start abusing and targetting the new wife, YOU. You have just joined the target, becoming a bigger- and much easier target.

But your husband doesn't realize that. He for some reason thinks you will be separate from his mess. He thinks he is a man, and therefore can "handle" his ex <chuckle> but that you are just with him and you will start your new life together....(Oh, and that his children are his, too, and that they will never forget how much he loves them....)

And unfortunately, you as a new wife, in a weird situation, will take his advice. He knows her, right? He knows what she's like, right? He knows her boundaries, right?

No. He doesn't. Men are naive to the capabilities of their exes. He may have yet to learn the fury of a scorned woman, but more specifically- He was somewhat blind to the abuse in the first place. Men don't recognize and identify abuse and aren't trained to. He knew it was a hellish marriage, but doesn't know the patterns, signs, and what he was actually married to. Therefore, he is unable to characterize her in general or predict what could happen post-divorce. As many books and the experts behind them state, and as any stepmom who's been married for a couple of years can attest to, ex-wives can flare up later when 1) during the divorce proceedings or a later custody battle, 2) a new girlfriend enters the scene, 3) engagement or marriage, 4) pregnancy of the new wife, 5) and even when they get remarried. Court filings correlate with these events, as well. (The majority- as in an  80-90 percentile majority- of divorce and custody filings are by women, aka Mom. And also, we as a society fail to remember that most domestic violence calls include both the male and the female committing violence, and that police house calls due to disturbances include equal amounts of male and female offenders.)

The man, over and over again, wrongly assumes that as time goes on, she will calm down and things will normalize. Well, if she's an abuser... No. If she still wants to control you, and has been able to through court and the kids for some time, she is still maintaining that abuse in different ways. And her added bonus? A Stepmom who is sometimes on her own. I am open game.

For years following that incident, and still now but to a lesser degree, I was followed. She made it very clear that she was there, near me, next to me, and maintaining her threat. She is much larger than I am, (which is amusing because I always thought I was too tall and too big!) and very clearly knew and showed that. She smirked at me a lot, as she does when she knows she has the ultimate power. She made it very clear to me that she was present, closer than necessary to me, and purposely so. "Hovering," if you will. If you think I may be a tad paranoid, I actually have witnesses- who witnessed it before I was close friends with them and were unbiased until they made their own conclusions. It's her way, it's something she does. She's never tried to be friendly to me; she's never tried anything humane. Nothing happened where we knew each other and then she got mad about it. She never tried to get to know me, but simply turned me into a bullseye of some of the crap she previously aimed at her ex-husband.

Someone who is an abuser doesn't learn easily. They don't get the hint or understand that they should stop. They don't realize that they are damaging themselves by continuing the behavior and pushing people (including normal bystanders) away. They alienate themselves very easily, which she does with ease. She blames her problems on everyone else, and I am the biggest problem most of the time. And that is possibly never going to stop.

But I could have protected myself, and should have. I missed my opportunity to take action. An abuser can at least be contained, as many women are able to do to just an angry ex-spouse that shouldn't belong in the true abuse category. I was under the advisement of someone who naively thought that she had boundaries, ("I never thought she would ever do that..." is one of the things my shocked husband said at the time. "I never thought she was capable of trying to hurt someone," despite the fact that she was a rager- which means it was only a matter of time.) On top of that, your husband is driven by the fear that they will lose their kids. Many men fear taking action because they think it will cause retaliation. But your safety is being overlooked. You're both not thinking of it as a harassment personal issue against you and instead thinking of it as a custody issue. I shouldn't have been duped by the wrong female cop who said she would do a full report we could use later and didn't, and I shouldn't have waited for her to leave a mark on me. I shouldn't have had to endure years of her being way too close to me, following me, hovering over me, and making me feel trapped. None of it had to happen, and I didn't need to develop an ongoing anxiety problem.

Take action when you get the opportunity. Take action the first time. Take action the second time. Make sure that you do something, especially if it can be legal and official. Don't let the chance to control her back, and keep her away from you, pass you by. Ex-wives don't tolerate a sliver of this behavior from their exes, so take a page from their book instead of your husband's for this one.


  1. I remember the first year we did unsupervised visits we always had a relative at the exchanges, always documented everything, and I even called the cops after she tried to attack me at a drop off (i had gotten out of the car to let my step son in to the back seat of our 2 door car and she tried attacking me and had to be restrained by my husband then her bf of the moment) All of that got us nowhere because when they'd go back to court for whatever reason, and my husband would bring up all this stuff and bring along proof the mediator would tell him "the only thing that You documenting her actions does is make her angrier, you are causing this hatred" We were appalled and feeling very defeated. The mediator told him he shouldn't be writing anything down because it is useless, and even scoffed at his attempt to show her the items like " you want Me to go through all of That??"
    It's been 2 years since that, she has since been kicked out of 2 homes, lost multiple jobs, and has finally Settled down. So we are living in a kind of peace that will only last until her latest endeavors fall through. I myself have tried to detach myself as Much as possible emotionally speaking. I have a terrible relationship with my step son (that I am not proud of but refuse to change) I try to just focus on my own child, home, and husband, outside of the step son and ex. I've taken a very "That's Your thing, not mine, so keep it out" After years of trying to be involved and help him and be a mother to the other one i've become very bitter and angry and refuse to allow them to control my happiness anymore.

    Reality sucks.
    And I envy those step mom that are just Thrilled to be one big happy family and love the other kids like their own.

  2. Nora, that is AMAZING. Appalling amazing. Completely insane. I simultaneously can't believe, and can totally believe, that a mediator told you that. Everyone, ever, says to document, document, document. In fact, you should have documented her and reported her. Looking back, and caring so little about the process (ie. I've lost all respect for the judicial system...), I would have done so much more, in other avenues, to help myself and my husband. I also wish I'd gone to law school, but I didn't know about how much family law would effect, and infect, my future. At the time, if I had been in your situation, my husband and I wouldn't have dared to take action against a mediator. But now, I would have taken every possible action to get that mediator screwed over. It is unbelievable how much power they have, with so little intelligence. Ok, so there should be SOME good mediators out there (and hopefully they read this blog), but I have heard things, from mediators themselves, about how it is the last job option for failing therapists and social workers. Yet, they decide the entire fate of families and children, with the legal system behind their poorly informed judgments.

    When you're in the situation, you're so shocked and hopeless. So many families have been taken advantage of. I envy the stepfamilies that avoided the court system.