Thursday, December 4, 2014

The (step)Teenaged Years

Things have changed over the years.

A lot less drama overall. Why is that?

Partly because our kids are now a lot more independent. One can drive. She usually drives her sibling. They're doing less "activities," which means there's less stress and we have less involvement with their mom.

(Less involvement meaning: Less time sitting for hours with her in the stands at a ball game, less time fearing intimidation, less time watching my back, less anxiety attacks, less time purposely moving around fields in a way that keeps me from being mocked, glared at, or blocked.)

My s'kids are now also starting to realize that they have the ability to ignore mom, when needed, also. I have waited so long for them to be real teenagers, wiggling for independence... It's about time. It has been a relief to hear that one is giving equal, and and maybe even more, amounts of grief to the other parent- finally. We have had way too many years of alienation against us, effective bullying, and continuous lying to the kids about us. Our relationship with them was repeatedly hurt by manipulation, and one seemed to truly hate us for many years (despite simultaneously clearly craving her dad's love, time, and affection).

I'm sure I wrote at some point, maybe more than once, that if you teach your kids to disrespect the other parent, one day that will backfire on you. Well, that has come true. I wish I could elaborate.

The teenage metamorphosis is not complete, though. They still definitely fear their mom. They fear upsetting her, and although both are old enough to be given the time share they want, they are not willing to be even a few minutes late when returning to Mom's. We know there is a continuation of control going on, and not in a way that would be healthy for teenagers- as it is only against another parent, the target. It's very sad to me that an-almost-adult is not able to choose when she comes over or leaves her own dad's house and cannot see our side of the family when she wants to. It's of course also sad that they are not being listened to, but we don't think they are even being asked or considered. Can't say that your kids requested something if you refuse to hear it or have scared them enough to know that broaching the subject isn't even possible without fearing a number of frightening reactions.

I know that a lot of stepmoms, and regular parents, struggle with the tough teenaged years. It is a bit confusing, but it has ultimately been nice for us. It's a little bit scary for us to not know what the rules are at the other house and watch a daughter walk out the door on her own accord, with her own vehicle, to a supposed location...But she seems happier, and both are doing very well with friends. We would prefer they flourish than remain under complete parental control...And they appreciate this greatly now. (We tried to show them that we greatly supported them, more so than the other household, in social activities before, but I guess the realization/truth didn't really ever stick...)

I wasn't convinced that the teenaged years would work out for us. I have met plenty of stepmoms who have had a worst time during this time period, especially when kids are still strongly manipulated. So whenever someone told me they would grow up and be more independent in high school, I had very valid doubts.
I have also been lucky to not endure what more and more stepmoms are enduring:

  1. Got married. Kids were somewhere far away- Saw them for holidays, but they lived with mom.
  2. During or right after the honeymoon, teens with major behavioral/drug/legal problems simply dropped off at Dad's.
  3. Suddenly, you're a warden mom to teens with loads of problems that your new husband doesn't know how to deal with because he hasn't been their actual parent in many, many years. 
Yeah, that's real. It's entirely possible I would have handled that situation better than having sudden-children, but it obviously would be a massive strain on a brand new marriage. (understatement) I watched as these poor ladies tore their hair out week after week, coming up with new battle action plans for dealing with drug use in the home, sex in the house, kids dropping out of school. 

Yeah, some of you are now happy you started out with toddlers now, aren't ya? 

The Idiocy of "Vacation" "Requests"

States, courts, and mediators differ on what they dole out to unsuspecting parents.

When you are forced to go to court, you will be given a dictate that both parents are supposed to follow on how to "share" parenting of your children. They can sometimes be ridiculous. Our case has one of "those."

(Clarification: We have no choice. The absence of an order would mean their dad would have never been allowed to see the kids, so court slightly guarantees that possibility.)

We've experienced years of confusion from family, friends, and school employees about our custodial schedule. At one point, I made a calendar that family could check and refer to, but I don't think it helped... I am the only one still using it, to figure out our own schedule and plan based on when the s'kids are with us.

The schedule was worse many years ago, when my s'kids were young. One child had an extracurricular activity that eventually the court realized was (specifically) detrimental to dad, and the solution was to then switch all weekends that that activity fell on. Interestingly, courts and mediators maintain that they like to make decisions best for kids, but in that decision, both kids suffered. There were entire months where the (young) kids were unable to see their dad. They had nightmares, fears, and asked to keep his shirts with them. The youngest had a very difficult time understanding when she would see her dad, stressing and worrying like she would never see him at all.

Now, our schedule is a lot more straightforward and hasn't changed much. We have Every Other Weekend (EOW) and Tuesday & Thursday nights for 2 hour "dinner visits." That has been maintained for 5 years, despite how pathetic it is as "joint custody." One parent maintains power and control over many decisions, and the s'kids have difficulty leaving, enjoying, working, and spending time with dad. Whoever thought 2 hours of parental time is OK must have had some prison experience and felt it was plenty. Further, as kids age, our agreement had no plan for allowing the kids flexibility. Our nearly-18-yr-old continues to follow the strict time restrictions, despite clearly not wanting to. (Can't displease mom....)

We no longer hear of many parents getting such stringent custody orders in our area, and there's been a definite clear increase of actual 50/50 splits where the kids enjoy both homes, both parents, and there isn't any one parent with more physical control or knowledge.

But there's this nice additional complication added to, at least our, custody order. "The Vacation Week." I don't know how many people have this option. There are some definite pros and cons. Here's the basic idea:

Due to the weirdness/haphazard design/inconsistent time split of their own time share agreements, mediators/courts created the concept of the Vacation Week which allows you to "request" one to four weeks of custodial time with your kids from the other parent.

If you're smart, or have been a stepmom for a bit, you've already figured out like 20 things wrong with this concept.


  • The ability to take a "vacation" as a vacation week takes away those pesky custodial visits with the other parent. Travel plans can actually be made!
  • Some unadulterated, free, quality time with your kids. (Oh wait, blend in the requirement that the other parent can harass the kids every other day and make them feel guilty for having fun with Dad.)
  • The decreased likelihood that someone (with more custody most likely) will simply blow off the other parent for unapproved vacations
  • A formalization of a process for travel
  • Later we started to adapt vacation weeks for during the school year, so we could actually get a clue as to the daily life of the kids and show them that things are just fine at our house on weekdays, as well- in direct contrast to the development of unsubstantiated concerns. 
  • Family can visit and you don't have terribly miserable custody exchanges in-between -which ultimately scared off our family members here and there, as it was upsetting to them or meant that they would have to see my husband's ex, who treated them rather poorly. (understatement)

Cons:  ( <--- double meaning!)

  • The person who has primary custodial time sees themselves as the "grantor" of vacations. They have the ability to simply deny, and keep the kids. They choose to argue "requests" for vacation for the most minimal reasons, and couldn't care less that you had a family wedding or other event to take the kids to. It is not their concern that you happen to not have the kids, like she does. 
  • The use of the word "request." Request implies that the built-in option of vacation weeks is up to the whim of the person who holds primary custody. 
    • To deal with this, the mediator(s) wrote in that the parents switch off on "priority" years. I don't think this has had an iota of effect on the above. 
  • Further, the person with primary custody seems to think that "he" requests from "her," but she just simply gets what she says she's doing. The few times that my husband had legitimate reasons to deny a vacation week, she simply ignored that. And, there it is. 
  • In our order, the parent is supposed to request the vacation week one month in advance. You won't be surprised by this: 
    • My husband sends the requests 1 month in advance, and occasionally (but rarely) he's been a few days into that 1 month. 
    • She notifies him anytime within that 1 month, including days before. Most often? One to 2 weeks before. She doesn't have to plan very much in order to simply keep the kids a few extra hours during the week, does she?
    • The few times my husband sent his request a few days into the month, he's been scolded and treated like she's giving him a huge favor by even considering his late request.
  • When angry, she simply abuses her ability to deny the request. She also has used it more than once to keep the kids from extended family visits, despite lacking plans of her own. She is fully aware that we see family far away around the holidays, and one year she made sure it was not possible. In other years, she made sure it was a truncated, painful trip. We drove all day and night, stayed one day, and turned around and went back. I'm sure she enjoyed that power.


First of all, I'm not sure that the vacation concept entirely makes sense. I understand the intent, but I don't know that it achieves that. 

To make ours a better agreement, as is, I would add these factors: 
  1. Vacation weeks are guaranteed for the noncustodial parent. You get 4. You are allowed 4. You will keep 4. You will not be denied if you need them and the other person doesn't have actual plans. 
    1. The person claiming to have actual plans must have as-substantial plans, paid for, and proof. Can't just say "we were going to do something one day..." when the other person has week-long plans with family.
  2. The person with less physical custody time always has priority. End of story. 
    1. The person with primary physical time ALREADY has priority, automatically, every other day of the year. Let this be the one case where the other parent gets to have a sliver authority.
    2. I have friends that have it the other way around, and the Dad does interfere with plans the family has made, but I still agree with this concept despite that. The primary family does get to be with the kids every other day of the year and make plans, so they can lose the occasional week of control. (That being said, it would help if the Dad actually cared about their sports and activities that they love, though....He could simply communicate and ask when they're busy and not busy, when are important weeks for their sports and when aren't, you know?)
  3. Teenagers over a certain age (15? 16?) get a say on their vacation weeks. They may choose to take more vacation weeks with the other parent, if desired. They can choose to take vacation weeks to see family, on their own. They can also extend vacation weeks and supersede typical arrangements, when not in school. 
  4. More than 4 is possible. It does not have to be limited to 4.
    1. Simply stating that is necessary for the overly-restrictive custodial parent who still doesn't get that the parents have the ability, as adults, to make their own decisions together above and beyond the court order. 
  5. Someone not using 4 vacation weeks does not "not care" about the kids or the vacation weeks. Work and life situations just may have been too much that particular year. 
    1. This argument would not be allowed to be made. Vacation weeks are an option and don't prove anything if not used. 
  6. The non-custodial parent, if has family traditions with extended family, will have those weeks built in, guaranteed, and never argued with. 
    1. In our case, that would be one guaranteed week after Christmas during the school break, and one guaranteed week in summer. The non-custodial parent still gets a ton of time before Christmas and time following or before the 1 week of travel, and is therefore not cut out from having time with the kids for the holiday. Furthermore, she does not have any established family plans, trips, or traditions at that time. Her family all lives in the same town...And she has never chosen to take a trip during that time. The one time that she completely refused  
I think in the end, I would throw out the concept. Or, I would make it simple: that the noncustodial parent has the right to take "vacations" of under 1 week, 1 week, or 2 weeks, for any important family reason or trip, including holidays. This would cover funerals, weddings, births, holidays, etc. Built-in, guaranteed time is necessary, and it would be smarter if it was guaranteed each summer or holiday, instead. 

It would also be better to allow the noncustodial parent every other 3 day weekend or no-school holiday, if desired. It truly drives us nuts that certain years, just based on the schedule, we lose all 3 day holidays and can't take the kids to see family during the year. It also has been difficult to know that we were off, while the kids sat at home doing nothing or being babysat. We would have absolutely enjoyed a day at a theme park or something, while their mom worked. 

I also believe that the noncustodial parent should have the right to switch weekends if there is a family event. This has not been possible for us, as the skids mom refuses to switch dates for our family events...She only switches weeks or weekends if she has a reason. (There was only one exception to this in 9 years.)

Feel free to share your ideas on how to "reform" the "vacation" system... 
And get the word out: It's stupid, and not working. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Choosing Wisely

I have heard and seen over the years people and kids advise divorcing parents to "Consider the kids in choosing your next spouse."

It is somewhat obvious advice, but it's a whole lot more complicated than that -and I am witnessing the baggage connected to that belief lead to many second divorces later. Here's why:

As an adult, you fall in love with who you fall in love with. Hopefully you are also wise, logical, and have some general child development or psychology knowledge in your background and carefully introduce your kids to your new girlfriend or boyfriend. Hopefully you are also sane and can tell the difference between an abuser and a well-balanced person...But we aren't all so lucky. In fact, increasingly I hear that a lot of the modern first marriages end due to some pretty major mental illness that came out post-marriage... It happens. You don't always know, and mental illness can grow stronger over time. Abuse also can materialize later and be hidden for some time.

That being said, let's focus on the more average remarriage. I also tend to focus on the father-stepmom relationships, but you could interchange some of that here. In particular though, what I will write will pertain primarily to the dad-stepmom family dynamic.

Dad is warned by family to choose his next wife wisely. The family may even argue with him, expressing concern that his fiance is not good enough for the kids. He may be advised to pick only someone that his kids "like."

This is a wholly problematic qualification that my/our situation illustrates well:

We've had some major difficulties in our family, but most of it stemmed from external pressures. My husband literally saw how much his daughters LOVED me. They absolutely did. They wanted to spend time with me, clung to me, begged me to stay, followed me around, wanted to wear my clothes, walked around in my (huge) shoes, etc. etc. I struggled a little more to adjust to kids in my life, but they did not struggle with my presence.

Every now and then, these many years later, I do remember when my oldest stepdaughter was so attached to me I was wondering if I could go to the bathroom alone. She would lean her head on me, play with my hair, and even cuddle. (Yes, they also got upset if I made vegetables or something, but those moments were rather few and far in-between pre-marriage.)

It's been so many difficult years since then that I nearly forget. But that's what my husband saw: He absolutely wanted his kids to be happy, was joyful that they loved me like he did, and he had complete faith in my ability to be a fantastic stepmom to his kids.

And then their mom learned of the wedding date.

I could probably stop writing this post right there. Many of you don't need me to go further.

It was a major turning point. There were still moments where my oldest stepdaughter would beg me to play with her, especially when we were at playgrounds. We still had some good moments, but our relationship became strained more and more as the time progressed. My husband, though, had complete faith in me (poor man) and had seen his kids love me, and figured it would pass.

I am so fortunate, though. My husband is also a very logical man who knew that his daughters were being poisoned and that they did care for me, or at least value me, despite all the junk that got in the way. He saw value in me, and knew that I added value to their lives. He figured, or hoped, or knew that we would all get through it, and he has always believed that my presence in their lives was better for it.

He also has seen me struggle in this role, and he knows that I've changed. He may not like all of the changes or things that have happened, but he understands it. He knows me, and he knows what I've been through. He knows that this has not been easy (massive understatement).

On the flipside, many of the stepmoms I read about, talk to, and hear from are now divorcing. Their husbands do not have the same outlook that my husband has, and they have decided that the kids are unhappy, so they must have made a wrong decision. If my husband had based our marriage on his kids' happiness, we would have annulled our marriage pretty quickly.

It may sound trite, but yes, many stepmoms are faced with a husband who simply gives up on her based on the logic that he must have made a wrong decision now that the kids are unhappy. The stepmom/wife argues that she has sacrificed so much, given so much, given her life, as a matter of fact. She states her case, that she loves him and them and has worked so hard to be a part of the family. Ok, well if she doesn't love the kids, she does love him, and has tried her hardest. She has tried different things, different modes, different tacts. She has worked with him, for him, and for them.

But in response, her husband says, "Well, they don't like you, so I won't keep you." And gives her a move-out date. (I am still not exaggerating.)

Divorce is horrible. The choice to give up on your second wife teaches your kids the opposite of how to be married- or be an adult. You are not making things right in your second attempt; instead you are teaching them that they decide your happiness.

Kids, especially teenagers, are in developmental stages that need consistency- not another meaningful adult thrown out of their lives. Now, THAT, is common sense...supported by research. Kids will change, their moods vary, and if you were still married to your original spouse, they wouldn't be happy all the time, either. They go through moods, years of emotional nuttiness (generally referred to as hormones), and stages of independence. Their happiness will vary, and it isn't caused by just one person in their lives. (Think of all the causes of kid/teen-unhappiness: friends, school, coaches, teachers, lack of a thing, where they live, siblings, wishing they were someone else, boyfriends, girlfriends-or the lack thereof...Come on!)

I would like to also note that the women facing this are not the women that have asked to remove themselves, stepback, and be less involved. These are women that worked their asses off to please their husbands, their stepkids, and be a true parent. Maybe they didn't do it perfectly, because they have such a weird role to fill, but they damn-well gave it their all.

But not all men know what parenting is, and unfortunately, in the second marriage with kids, they have an upper hand. They see it as they "chose" their second wife and brought her in, but usually they did very little work to actually acclimate her, or the kids, to each other. They assumed everything would work out, their new wife would automatically love the kids as much as he does, and many times more than not, the husband also assumes, for some reason, that his new wife will also be the kids' new caretaker- sans authority or proper integration.

It's beyond disheartening. I watched an amazing, strong woman breaking after nearly a decade of pouring her life (and all her money) into a family that did like her, but suddenly her husband decided they just didn't like her enough. They didn't want "her" rules anymore. Bizarre, as the husband and wife should play a mutual, cooperative role in parenting and establishment of rules. It's not "her" rules versus yours. Wait- did you have any?

IF your wife, your second (or third...) wife makes rules you don't like or parents in ways you don't like- WHERE ARE YOU? Where's your part? At what point did you step out of the parenting role and let your new spouse step in? (Usually a stepmom steps in when the chaos is suffocating her...) It takes two, no matter what your issue is. If your wife is stepparenting in a way that you disagree with, why did you let it get this far? If you're the biological parent, you should have helped her or worked with her or at least had some normal planning and parenting discussions before you got to the point of "disapproving" of her.

Many, or most, created our parenting in a void. Stepmothering is a specifically bizarre role to play, and there's a lot of literature out there about how you are automatically at a massive disadvantage if you are a stepmother versus a stepfather. It is a very complicated family role, and our modern generation of stepmoms are all working to figure it out in hundreds of blogs, many new books, and a load of online communities.

In the meantime, your own family has to work together- and the biological parent has all the power. So, step up and shape your family; don't throw out a member of it because it's not perfect. Design the role that your wife will play as a parent, making it clear what will and won't happen with and from the kids. This is a two-sided planning process, involving the integration of an adult, who is not a moron and came with their own concepts of childrearing, parenting, and family history, and kids who have their own set of underdeveloped, preconceived notions- and a choir of other family members feeding them their notions. As the husband and parent, you have to lead and guide and not just watch things crumble and then lament your failed experiment. 

If you are married, you are partners. And if this second marriage has failed your kids, you let it fail your kids. In order to achieve that, you failed your partner first.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stepmom Meme

A Facebook goodie! 

What are the copyrights on these, btw....

Here- this one will counteract that one:


12 Ways to be the Meanest...

Oh man! Just relabel this one "12 Ways to be the Meanest StepMom in the World"!

"12 Ways to be the Meanest Mom in the World" by Megan Wallgren [Hey Megan, kudos to you!]

The reason I find these kinds of articles "funny" is that I know that doing these fairly typical parenting things made me seem quite evil to my s'kids, and every stepmom knows what I'm talking about! I completely agree with the author, but you are particularly hated if you try to employ just regular parenting techniques you thought everyone knew about... But because I was in my 20s, the second wife, and not the real mom...Whoa doggies. It was like I was coming from the Gingerbread House for really normal stuff.

But no, in the divorce world, parents are often bending over backwards to maintain favor, so you're damn evil if you do something presented in that very normal article! Or, some see it as: If you're a stepmom, you're not allowed to parent, even if the kids are with you an inordinate amount of time. We know the catch-22 in that one and often err on the side of more-important caution though, understanding that if we don't parent with some standards, we get written up in the next court custody order as an endangerment to the children! (As such, I maintain standards that will keep me out of any false claims that I "don't care" and don't provide.)

Ladies, keep your standards. You DO know the difference between right, wrong, and spoiled. You will help your s'kids learn things that their parents maybe can't because they're too emotionally conflicted. But, do try to do that horrible balancing act...Pick your battles, if you will. Your marriage comes first. Keeping your husband and your house out of a court write-up is a part of that. ;-p

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Great Expectations and Mislabeling

I wrote this a while ago. I don't know that it describes me now, but it sure is worthwhile.

We try too hard. Every book and article claims that a stepmom's goal is to be....A friend. A back-up Mom that is happy to take no credit. Like an Aunt. A mentor. A role model.

What if you don't want to be either? That's where I'm at. I've been OK with the other mother role, or I was when the kids were younger. Probably most of the time, I wish I wasn't anything, though. I don't necessarily want to be their friend...I was once and in our situation, being "friends" is setting myself up for being punched in the gut repeatedly.

Why is that supposed to be our stepmom goal? Can we come up with smaller, more attainable goals that we can actual feel some accomplishment and progress over?

How about.... get through the day without losing it? Handle depression? Make it to a therapist, maybe with your husband, regularly? Get through just one good meal a week with the kids?

I'm just sayin. If you're in the situation of a struggling stepmom, trying to figure out who you are in all of this, it doesn't help much to throw out lofty titles that aren't realistic at that moment in time.

Stepmoms: Don't be focused on that. Don't read an article and think "Oh! I will be a mentor then!" and then try it out and find out that that failed, too. It will be something that will take shape over time, but if you're in chaos, confusion, frustrating, depression, and near hell... Those lofty goals are just too much to think about. Even positive labels can be hurtful. (See #socialPsych #childdevelopment)

Focus on the little things. Rejoice in any accomplishment whatsover, like, "Today, I didn't want to toss the teenager out of the house!" Or, maybe something even smaller: "Today, my stepdaughter made me laugh."

And sometimes, stop trying. Sometimes, when you're going in circles, you can't find your footing, you really don't know your role here- Step away for a while. Take a break. Go hang with friends. Schedule time with your "original" family. Just step away, because your role will work itself out over time or after the kids age a bit or when other life circumstances change. I'm not saying, "It will all work out great!" I'm just saying that you'll find your groove, your fit, your spot, your rhythm eventually. Screw the titles or expectations others, or you, put on yourself.

Establish a Mission

It's an honor to see that my blog is read every day despite the fact that I haven't posted in months. I apologize for being so behind, so writer-blocked.

I get ideas for articles to post all the time, but I have not had the time. I also continue to self-censor, a lot. I also second-guess and doubt myself plenty, and I have been rather distracted from normal life by major life events.

I also try to only write about things that really strike me as unique, especially if I have a contradiction to the stepmom articles, lit, and messaging I see proliferating the Interwebs. I like to write on society's hypocritical beliefs of stepmoms, divorced dads, and parenting and share stories from others that illustrate the opposite of what I hear or read. I want to shed light on the misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths of stepmothering and the bogus concept of a "blended" family. I will never be surface level, and I will always get in deep.

Don't expect anything less, and I will never give you fluff.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day Recap

For the first time in 7 years, I received Happy Mother's Day texts from my stepdaughters. They also gave me a nice card and repressed general complaints and moodiness on Saturday, the day before. It was a nice weekend. I am happy to report that I no longer get to say, "I have never heard from them on Mother's Day."

So, I wanted to comment on some of the happenings I witnessed around me.

I noticed a general trend of Dad's not caring a bit about honoring their wives on Mother's Day, or helping the kids to honor their mom. I heard a number of stories that embodied the, "What? You're not my mom," logic.

I find this highly ironic, as MANY stepmoms help their stepkids honor their mom, no matter the poor relationship between them. Not only should a stepmom probably not bother, but they do it despite their own deep hurt and tears. Wow.

That is not me. But I have read many-a-post from hundreds of stepmoms who do this every year, and then fret when the kids are teens and don't care about doing something for their moms! They question what they should do, if they should force the teen to do something or just let it be...Amazing!

Why would they do this? Because they feel it is the right thing to do. They feel that it is just right to teach kids how to honor their parent. I believe I would likely feel that way as well, if the kids weren't with their mom 70% or if she hadn't poisoned my life. It seems like a lot of the stepmoms help their kids do something for their moms when they have more custody or have a civil relationship, or even slightly-less-than-civil relationship with the mom.

Back to Dads: In one case, the young teen daughter was pissed because Dad wouldn't help her pay for a gift for mom (who is also a stepmom). In another case, one of the stepkids (also a teen daughter) went ahead and expressed gratefulness to her stepmom even though her dad wasn't willing to do anything for her. So, although these husbands kind of suck, at least two kids (young teens, both) saw past it. That gives me hope for those of you that don't receive any recognition, or just a mention, for your work, dedication, and love, even if you're husband doesn't "get it."

I also saw an increase in Stepmoms sharing super positive messages with each other late Saturday and early Sunday. Talk about bolstering the troops! Thank you, active meme-posting, ultra-positive stepmoms out there who were battling the feeling of defeat before it could sink in!

I loved the messages of "whether recognized or not, you are a mom." I liked one particular post where a woman described her night of cleaning up puke at 2am and stated there's no way anyone could say she's not a mom after her night! Damn straight! I like this path we're headed down as a group. I see a stronger voice among us, finally, stating that not all stepmoms are secondary and to accept your misery. F that.

I also saw an increase of the inclusion of moms of all sorts from kids. Very good. Maybe there is a growing acceptance. (Or am I just being a bit naive since I heard from my s'kids this year?)

I am very aware that I am a secondary mom, unlike many stepmoms who are actually the primary!
And if I am not a mom, then I am a parent- and both of my stepkids do know that. Our house would not be functional without that basic level of role acceptance.
If you can't bare to call me a mom, then the only other appropriate term to describe who I am to them is "advocate." I am not "like an aunt," which I hear many people advise us to be. I am not just an adult. I am much more than another person in their lives. I do know them better than anyone else, other than their parents. I do not put myself ahead of their mom (because she's scary) but I do advocate on their behalf sometimes in direct contrast to mom. You can consider that wrong, but I've been thanked by the kids for the times where I made something happen for them that wouldn't have otherwise. That's enough for me to know.

Remember being super angry at your parents or wishing you could pick other parents? Most of us, probably 99%, had those kid or teenaged moments. If you felt ignored by your parents at times, or like they didn't get you, I get the benefit of sometimes being the person who steps in. I mostly belong in the general-parent pile, and the typical youth angst is easily directed at me, but in other times, I see where the "regular" parents may be missing something. Simple day-to-day example: When one kid is doing something that both parents want to see or are required to attend, but the other kid is just dying to do something else or needs more time for homework...I can make the something else happen. I don't do it out of request from my husband...He is usually focused on what he needs to do. I see it coming and ask if I can take the other one to what they want to do. In other times, there are more important things for me to step up to and advocate for. Through years of reading up on rights and trying different angles, I am considered a parent in most official capacities and therefore can make things happen. (If you need tips, message me!)

I'm proud to have filled the occasional gap. That's my most important role in their lives.

I hope your Mother's Day went well. If not, I hope you have a little vacation for yourself planned soon or some girlfriends who sent you love. Now, forget about it until it sneaks up on us next year!

Thursday, April 17, 2014



If your stepkids are rude to you, you do not have to tolerate it. Despite others telling you that kids are "just like that now," you know the truth.

If your stepkids are regularly rude to you, you absolutely, really shouldn't take it.

They're often being encouraged to mistreat you, specifically. But maybe they aren't, and they're just rude. They weren't taught social graces, such as "Thank you" or pretending to listen to an adult. They're messy, leave trash and socks everywhere, don't put away dishes. They look like they can't even stand to listen to you speak, no matter how hard you try or how nice you're trying to be. Or they walk right into the house after days away and ignore you completely. (Which is somehow your fault.) Honestly, if their primary parent lacks social graces, niceties, common sense... It's unlikely her or his kids will either. Reality check.

Whatever it is, you have two options. You can handle it right there, which usually doesn't go over well. But, that may not matter to you, especially if they were over-the-top rude. Sometimes, especially when you're the only adult there to witness the behavior or interaction, you just have to step in, say something, or ask for proper treatment.

Sometimes that's effective. Mostly it seems to just make everyone hate us, despite however much it was completely warranted. I don't feel like explaining that right now, because it's a stupid cycle of nonsense.

Your second option, if your husband is there, is to leave. Let's expand on what I mean by that, first.

Leaving does not really mean "ditching" or the dramatic "leaving." It can be:
  1. Get a bottle of wine or martini, some ice cream, your favorite movies, and go to your bedroom. You've now put yourself on a very nice time-out, aka "stepmom vacation." You don't even need to tell anybody you're doing this, because you're not leaving the house anyways. Just do it. And close the door. Maybe they'll notice, maybe they won't. Either way, it's you time. 
  2. Call a friend, if you have any local, and go out. Have some girl time. You need it, anyways. 
  3. Go do something you want to do. Go to the gym, a class, the nice restaurant you've been wanting to go to, a movie... Something that makes up for the mistreatment you were not deserving of. 
Benefit? You come back happier. You escaped the increasingly dangerous situation. You removed yourself. You stopped your frustration from lack of control from hitting the roof and turning into pure anger, which will result in all the blame probably on you. (Again, stupid cycle of nonsense.)

Sometimes you can't leave, though. I know. But be creative. Maybe you can in some way. Maybe you can take a walk, or be like the kids themselves and get some headphones out with an iPod or Netflix and immerse yourself in your own music or movies. (Good idea for sports games where the parents are crazy, as well.) 

Now, what about stopping the behavior? As walking away, means it will probably just continue, right?

It definitely should be addressed, but when you get upset, virtually no one listens.
So, here are some better options to losing it (which is only natural- no judgement from me!! But if you can put off the losing it another day, that's generally best.):

First, talk to your husband about it. But you probably already have. It's always best to try to talk to him at a good time and express your feelings, your concerns about how the kids are learning that treating you bad is OK, which translates to how they will treat others and not just you...yadda yadda. I know, you've tried that. 

If talking to your husband about it is going nowhere (common), then it will probably escalate to rudeness to others over time, and he hopefully will notice. When your stepkids are being that horrible to their grandparents (yep), your husband might realize that his kids need some guidance on "thank yous" and general acceptable behavior towards others. In other words, he may need to be embarrassed first in front of family for it to hit him and take action. And then you get to be supportive with this new method of parenting! 

Or, another tact: He'll start to notice you're disappearing a whole lot, not cooking as much, etc. When he notices, let him know why, thoughtfully. Or, if you're at my stage, I let him know why at the right time- whether it is at the moment of offense, or sometime later, or before the next time we see the kids. 

If he wants you to be there, then he will want to help his kids be inclusive and respectful of all and not just "stepmom." Good learned behavior is just that and has nothing to do with "just stepmom." If kids are mistreating any one and getting away with it, they're learning that it is acceptable to mistreat anyone

(FYI: This advice is somewhat adapted from "Have a New Kid by Friday" tactics.)

I do not want to advise you to simply walk away all the time, but it is just one tactic. Different situations call for different things. It just isn't that simple, and I totally get that. Sometimes the blow up is necessary, but then you should take yourself somewhere nice afterwards anyways. Removal of a toy, treat, or activity (or phone or iPad or car keys...) are also some of those common on-the-spot actions.

If your husband pulls the tough guy act and pretends he doesn't care that you're not with the family as much, he'll get over his macho-ness eventually (unless he doesn't want a marriage in the first place, as compromise and listening are a part of the deal...). Also, the kids, if on the younger side, might ask you to come out or with them. At that time, state that you will go or play with them, but express your concern that you might be mistreated again. Ask for the proper treatment as a condition, and they will probably be much better kids after that (for a bit). (Straight from Have a New Kid By Friday, by the way. Useful to a certain degree in stepparenting, though somewhat difficult to apply completely in a joint custody family with split time share.)

I know it's hard. Sometimes a lot more than others. You are helping them learn, and you are helping them to be better people if they learn that rudeness is just rudeness, no matter the target and the reasons behind it. Being socially competent will help them earn and keep employment, have better friendships and relationships, and a generally more thoughtful human understanding. Who knows what life successes could come from it!

What do you like to do when you "leave"?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stepmoms are Not Fortune Tellers

Man, how in hell do you think I knew it would be like this?

When did we cover in marriage prep class that being a stepmom is the toughest parenting role, determined by loads of studies by psychologists and sociologists studying the modern family?

At what point was I supposed to assume that my future stepkid, who loved me at the time of dating and engagement, would hate me less than one year following the wedding and for years beyond?

Was I supposed to know that my husband's ex would try to attack me months after our new marriage?

And why didn't anyone tell me that there would be times where all I would want to do is run away?

Oh right, because No One Expected Any of That.

The only way I would have learned what was the potential future reality was to possibly read stepmom blogs and join stepmom groups.

But all stepmoms, prior to marriage, believe in themselves and "believe in love!" (Cue background music, probably from Moulin Rouge.)

Nobody can predict what crazy will bring.

My husband had no clue his ex was capable of what she's done.

So, if a stepmom chews off your head because you say something like "you should have known when you married a man with kids"- You had it coming.

Dads and Depression

I would like to preface this post with: It has taken me a long time to finally write this post. It has been stirring in my mind for many years, and I feel like it is time to get it out there. 

Men are different from women.

Duh. You don't need to read Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a book from a wholly unqualified pundit, in order to know the obvious.

When you're married, though, you really learn how different you are. Even if you grew up with brothers (that just gave you an advantage), you will learn that men are definitely on a different plane.

My husband and I are soul mates and often think the same. It's a lot of fun to hold your thoughts, but then share them and find out the other person had the exact same thought- even word for word. We generally feel the same thing or get the same vibe, have the same reaction, and like and dislike the same things- usually. But still, he is glaringly different than I am sometimes, and I can see the "man" in him. (Or "boy", you know, sometimes.)

I can list out things, but you totally already know what I mean. They process differently. They have different emotions, usually. They think their own way...which can also just describe the differences from person to person, sans gender, but it's just glaringly apparent in marriage.

So, why, then, do we, as women, expect them to do the same things when confronted with divorce, the loss of their children through court or parental alienation, or parenting?

Really think about that, please.

Think of the things a mom/woman does when confronted with the same situations. Is it different? Does she respond differently?

Yes. And there's plenty of court data to prove it, if you want to dig (as most courts and states don't keep fantastic data, but when a grad student chooses to hunt it down, they succeed in proving the same things over and over).

Let's explore some findings from various courts around the country:

  • Women file for divorce. The man may have asked for it, the man could have caused it, but the woman takes the legal action and first steps.
  • Women file restraining orders. Men rarely do. (Although domestic violence perpetuation is 50/50 by gender.)
  • Women file for full custody. Men rarely do (but not because they don't want it. They are often quoted and documented as stating, "I didn't think I could get it." or "The kids deserve to see their mother.")
  • Women get a lawyer. Men often don't and ask to negotiate out of court. Men are often unrepresented, choosing to represent themselves (mistake, but usually for financial reasons). Women's lawyers, as I have learned from first hand experience as well, often tell them that "he will pay" for all the court and legal fees. (Not always true...Depends on the court or judge...)
  • Women file first, whether for custody or other legal action. The parties may agree to go to court, but for some reason, the woman is the primary litigant in over 90% of most courts (who have data they can report). 
Ok, so there's some known legal, court, child custody, divorce related facts. I can send you some reports if you're interested. 

What about in terms of handling the split parenting dynamic? Parental Alienation and manipulation? Shared custody difficulties? 

Women, moms, seem to see it all as a fight. That they WILL WIN their children, "their babies," at ALL COSTS. There is a pure determination there, and that determination may have no consideration of the destructive toll it may take on anyone in its path.

Men may express this as well, but frankly, not usually. They usually don't realize until it's a bit too late that war was just waged against them. They may not realize until it's too late that they literally just lost their kids- physically and/or mentally. Hindsight always being clearer, they realize that they didn't have what it took to battle the unforeseen, and they really, really didn't see any of that comin'.

As a depressive, I can tell you that men go through stages, addressed in a number of books for men dealing with divorce, that mirror a depressive's. Yes, women go through depression after a divorce as well, but men go through it differently. Men experience depression differently than you do. Done. End. It's just true. Men are under-diagnosed as depressives or experiencing depression because they: 1) Don't recognize it, 2) Don't seek help, and 3) WE don't recognize male depression EITHER.

The men in our lives also don't just go through depression around the period of the divorce. They likely go through it prior to, during, and following court battles or realization of PAS. And the depression continues as they realize more and more that they are losing their children ways beyond physical time.

Do you really know what depression is? Most people don't. As a depressive, I know that it's likely that you don't actually understand it unless you're diagnosed yourself. And even if you are close to someone who is a depressive, it doesn't mean that you "get it." Many people have tried to help me with depression, and did not succeed. Part of their problem was "trying to help" me. Usually their beliefs, and approach, were wrong.

So, let's move forward with assuming you don't know everything about severe depression.

Real depression, or severe depression, is not just sadness over loss. There's temporary depression, something one would experience after a bad life event, like job loss, marriage loss, or the loss of a loved one. Most people come out of it. And then there's serious depression, where you don't come out of it. Real depression involves pure hopelessness.

Pure hoplessness? Consider this for a second. What does it mean? That is the key to understanding depression.

The best way to describe it for a contemporary audience is through the Harry Potter Dementors. Yes, I just did that. Yes, the Dementors. They describe and embody pure loss, hopelessness. Described in the book as such, they were physical embodiments of depression. It overcomes you. You cannot think normally. You cannot see the possible hope of the future, the possible positive outcomes, or understand what someone means by, "It will work out!" (The worst? "Cheer up!" Omg. Top of the Worst-Things-To-Say-To-A-Depressive list!)

Men may act differently than a women when depressed (not always, but often), but it is still real and still a depression. We have similar symptoms, but commonly show them differently. And most of all, women identify and express, men-do-not. They are not taught to do so like we are, and they are also not necessarily encouraged to do so through the entire course of their lives.

So now, let's examine how they're different in action regarding child custody, as well.

A man, going through a depression, is likely to succumb easily to pressures due to hopelessness. If you have no hope that anything will work out, you let go. You say "sure" and you let your ex take way more than she really should, despite the lack of honest justification. You may love your kids, but you feel so much loss and pressure and, well, hopelessness, that you just can't imagine doing anything about it or having the power or energy to fight. (A major symptom of a depressive is lack of energy, drive, motivation, etc.) You also can be easily convinced, in this state, that you are useless and unnecessary as a father, as the negative messages being served to you in court papers and other such avenues (the kids, for instance) are overwhelming and may actually seep in and circle around in your thoughts day and night.

When you're in a severe depression, you do not see your worth. You do not see how you are of any use. You convince yourself that maybe your ex does deserve the kids. Maybe you are a useless father. Maybe you are so stupid that you shouldn't have a right to see your kids. You feel like maybe you shouldn't exist. Maybe you should just leave them be. Maybe you are bad for your own kids......(even though you've never done anything to hurt them, ever, but they are convinced of's the point?)

This thought process just illustrated can effect any type of man going through this, from CEO to laborer. Depression brings down anyone to that level, and it is very hard to get it off your back. It takes time to build up from and out of. It's like drowning. 

People often judge men for their decisions regarding their children. They think it is wrong that a man didn't "fight" for his kids as horribly... uh, I mean, "strongly"... as the mom did. They judge him for losing custody. They think he deserved it, must have been terrible or abusive, was lazy, or just didn't love his children enough to fight for his kids.


That isn't what happened. You're coming from your perspective and not that of a man who has gone through what he has gone through and been convinced, often through verbal and emotional abuse, that he is useless.

When in battle against a mother, be proud of any action the dad took to try to maintain contact with his children. Until you've been in the fight from a father's side, against an abusive, raging, or just plain super angry mom, you won't know how freaking lovely it would be to simply give up- and how that often seems to be the only option. It takes an INSANE amount of willpower for a man to go up against the insanely jealous, evil, hateful, and possessive woman- no matter how much integrity and love he has. (Think about it. A woman's wrath...Yeah. Admit it. We know how bad it is, and we know how to employ it.)

And the hardest period for a Dad who has lost most of the custody of his kids? When another man, who has shown himself to not be a "fit" (legally) parent has taken over and starts to purposefully replace his position. That- that- is the worst. That is when men definitely go through depressions, because it is true powerlessness. It is a true loss, to watch as your kids are with someone defined by court as being unfit to parent his own children. So not only has "orignal dad" lost his children, but now he is losing them in other ways, and worried constantly. Not only was he still a father before, worrying about his children when they weren't physically with him, but now he has this added level of fear and concern on top of it, while watching his kids be (usually) forced to consider "new dad" as more important and meaningful, considering the loss of pure time & presence (custody) of "original dad."

It is unfortunate that the courts, mediators, and women in general cannot understand this dynamic of a father who has lost his children. I would like to see the awareness and understanding increase, as men are not unfeeling beings, lacking emotion. Especially when it comes to their own offspring. Men are not all cold and heartless about their children. Men do not all leave their children, and that over-assumed statistic is decreasing quickly. Men are increasingly voicing their right to see their children, when they've done nothing wrong to deserve it.

And also, men may SEEM cold and unfeeling when going through all of this, when they've had to save their sanity and give up in order to not lose their jobs. (I have to honestly say that men are a little better at prioritizing...I'm much more likely to be a mess at work over something, daily, than my husband will ever be. Emotions do not overtake his workday, because other people depend on him. I, on the other hand, can fall apart...Oo, I just realized a double standard!) Men, when preserving themselves, sometimes shut off or shut down, as you've likely witnessed. It is a mental and physical reaction to the emotional turmoil and stress put on them, and they decide to maintain function on behalf of everyone (in order to keep that child support going and not endure more legal trouble).

We also have a very vast tendency to misunderstand a man's reaction. Why is it OK for a women to yell and scream hysterically, throwing crap all over the place, but it is too much for a man to hit a wall? Women and men express emotions, and both express them appropriately and inappropriately. Domestic violence disputes are 50% caused, initiated, and perpetuated by both sexes. I would like to see an actual depiction of abuse as well, but men underreport abuse from their wives and domestic partners. (They also tend to not see it as abuse, while if the same actions were taken man to woman, it would be absolutely immediately thrown into the "abuse" category.)

There's obviously a lot to say here, a lot I've realized and thought about over the years. I would like to see a societal change, and I'm assuming this blog is not enough. I don't also believe that the majority of therapists even understand this dynamic.

If you have a job for me in which I can directly attack these widespread misconceptions on behalf of men, please let me know. ;-p I'd be happy to elaborate more.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Payoff (aka A Celebration of No Longer Being the Specter of Doom!)

So many of you are struggling. So many of you can’t feel hope and wonder how and why you ever got yourself into this stepmothering gig. I have had you on my heart and mind since the holidays, possibly the toughest time of year for stepmoms
As I watch my friends, virtual and in person, struggle with their marriages, fight to feel loved and appreciated, only to be wholly misunderstood and beat down… I wish I could help. I wish there was something I could do for you, but I know there isn’t much to be done when your husband refuses to support you any more. You are either biding your time, waiting and watching- or even hiding-, or packing up your stuff, trying to figure out where you will move. Oh how my heart hurts for you.

I am always critical of the fluff many people tell us, that “the kids will 'get' it one day” (as in, understand it all- not the gangster mob version of that statement). A number of social scientists have proven otherwise, that step"kids" continue to blame their stepmom (yes, specifically) for just about anything that went wrong with their upbringing for the rest of their lives. So given that, there’s very little for us to look forward to. I’m sure you have a sliver of hope that your stepkids or husband will understand you tried as hard as you could one day, that your intentions were of the best. That you didn’t have much choice in many of your choices, and that we were not the cause of the children’s pain over their parent’s bad marriage and divorce and the complication of parenting in two households.

So, after a very bad year, I was surprised to realize that I have earned my payoff already. I am satisfied with what I have already received, which comes in the form of my youngest stepdaughter. You may find the same with your youngest, as it seems that they are often the most accepting- or forgiving- of their stepmothers, from what I’ve read and heard from others in general.

My youngest stepdaughter has always been a generally good kid, but as you know all too well, also not mine. No matter what, when the kid is being primarily raised by their mother, you are often reminded of how your stepchild is not yours, by them primarily. (The exception is for the stepmothers who are the primary mothers, where the mother is no longer in their lives physically.) So even if a stepchild is a good kid, you may appreciate them, care for them, and even love them- but it can still be difficult being their pseudo-parent-authority-figure-thingy-person. (If you are a stepmom, you will get this. If you aren’t, you may not get it. I’m not going to delve into explaining it. It just is.)

When I’ve cared for her as if she were my own, which I believe I said in my wedding vows by the way, I’ve been significantly heart broken repeatedly over the years. It’s the way things are as a stepmom, but this is also why many stepmoms stop trying to love. It’s so hard, with no rewards, that you just have to give up at some point to save your sanity. You feel like things are going well, moving along, you have a good relationship with them… And then can get completely burned, embarrassed, and symbolically dumped in the trash or thrown under the bus. There are a lot of different ways that this can happen, so I again will not divulge much further. The most common is the yo-yo-ing of their affections due to sudden manipulation, which I now consider mom-sneak-attacks that blindside you back to square 1.

So, how is it possible that I have received my payoff already? I didn’t expect it this soon, if ever. I hope that this will give you a dash of hope back if you’ve lost it completely, or lost it once again.

I’m seeing the effects of my efforts already. I am seeing my stepdaughter be both of her parent’s daughter- and the offspring of my efforts as well. I am joyous to report that she is doing really well, flourishing in her own way, as a result of our efforts to fight “the power” of control from only one side. I am enjoying her for her, and not seeing her as a partial minion of unpredictable loyalty any longer- which I think was something that can only happen at a certain age for certain kids. For some it will be younger, and for others it will be their teen or adult years. You can’t predict when they will be thinking with their own mind. I had some hope that sooner rather than later would happen, but there was no way of knowing.

I saw this come into fruition earlier this year. I realized about a year ago that my youngest stepdaughter accepted me for who I am. She didn’t have layers or labels on top of me, developed by others. She didn’t add mythical depth to my actions and behaviors. She was not untrusting of me- which came and went over the years- and just knew me. That was so comforting, and the best thing since my husband fell in love with me. To have his own child actually see me as I am, accept me for a human with her own reasons and behaviors per her situation, was extreme validation. Forget your stepkids loving you; this is what you want. It’s very comfortable for your stepkid to “get you.” It makes her very tolerant and forgiving of me, which was already a part of her character but now is consistently applied to me. She doesn’t think that there’s evil lurking under my actions, plans of destruction for everyone she knows and her future, or question my motives for asking her to eat vegetables or clean her room. She is not angry at me for miscellaneous things I don’t know the cause of, and she accepts that I have helped her many many times over the years. And I also know that she would be willing to state that fact, though she will probably not do so to her mom for some time unless it became necessary to her.

I have never read about this minor yet monumental success in any other stepmom arena. Maybe some people already have it with one of their stepkids, but you just think of that one as "easy." Maybe you've always been cool with one of your stepkids, or all, and so you wouldn't notice the difference because they somehow always saw you for you instead of a looming specter of perpetual doom. You are lucky, my friends! Or, you don't see any hope for a happy home or acceptance from any of your stepkids, like I did, as it is so tough during the dark times that you never saw coming when you simply fell in love with a man.

I wish the same for you. I hope that just one of your stepkids, even if you don't remain married to their dad, accepts you for who you are one day. Or, as a secondary wish, that you can see them thrive because of you, whether they recognize your part in it or not. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Step Mom Protectionism

The Protective Instinct is not owned by mothers alone.

Any grandparent knows how protective they are of their grandchild.

Let's not forget Dads, known for, or considered responsible for, the protection of their children. Both parents, both sexes, are expected to be protective of their grandchildren.

You may also find that teachers can be very protective of their students. I'm sure many others that work with kids, mentoring them and helping them grow, and multiple extended family members find are, can be, or find themselves in a protective role.

I have heard so many old myths about stepparents- That they are unable or incapable of parenting. They do not have the natural instinct that a biological parent has. Many parents in a custody battle (or to their friends...) would definitely, easily, and immediately argue that a stepparent lacks all parenting skills and does not care about their child.

Wrong. I believe that stepparents are like parents and have a great deal of protective instinct for their stepchildren. My guess is that an equal amount of stepparents hold that capability as biological parents- as of course, not all biological parents are "good" parents with all those innate instincts.

Stepparents invest their lives, future, money, home, skills, and possibly all of their parenting ability (if they do not have their own kids) into their stepkids. Some may not be fantastic, just like regular, everyday parents, but many are just like me. We have invested a ton into these kids, and when their parents aren't there- We do fly into action to protect them.

Actually, a great point of contention between stepmoms and moms is this exact feeling of protection coming from the stepmom. Many, many stepmoms feel wholly protective of their stepkids, and feel that the mom is not. Whether this is true or not, as it is possibly just different perspectives (...), it is still the case that most stepmoms feel that they do know their stepchild and are quite protective of them given the amount of time they spend with them and on them. I know for a fact that I have felt it repeatedly over the years and want to step in and protect them, do something, change their situation, and be a parent. I absolutely have a natural, caring, parenting instinct to care for them, protect them, and take action on their behalf. My husband can also vouch for this, as I am often more likely to want to fly to their aid in situations that are not specifically about physical safety.

So often moms argue that their child is not safe with the stepmom. The evil, evil, unsafe stepmom.

We are bewildered, confused, shocked- because we feel the opposite of what is described. We know what we've invested and that we do have (some sort of) relationship with the children, despite its imperfections and lack of shared blood.

Just as a teacher, coach, mentor, pastor- a stepparent, who is with the child more than the aforementioned roles, feels protective of "their" stepchildren.

Further, a stepmom who seems to be less than involved has likely been driven to that or asked to be that way.