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.