Thursday, November 19, 2015


Once upon a time, I knew I had to start this blog.

I knew that another voice needed to come out that did not water down their blog with recipes and thoughts on cupcakes and costumes.  (How many stepmom blogs have I looked at where I could find nothing on the stepparenting topic whatsoever?)

I knew that no one was taking a critical, or even educated, look at the stepmom world. There was a massive void, as well. Now our stepmom world is chock full of books and sites and groups and blogs......................................................................

I also needed to be a female voice representing the new, unaccepted, version of a Dad. I needed to tell the real story.

I gained followers from some of my more, likely controversial, posts. I also gained followers from the stepmom communities that mostly crashed and burned due to the inter-female hate that pervades American society.

I wanted to post once a month, but lately, although my blog ideas do keep coming, I have had a growing sense that I need to do something different. A reboot and restart. The fact that I continue to feel like this site isn't safe is truly blocking my writing. I have really struggled with what to do, and knew that I couldn't just stop because of the many more stepmoms to come.

Taking a page out of the book of Jon Acuff, I will start elsewhere- possibly with a different, more defined focus- possibly not. But I know I have to retire this page in order to reach a larger audience and continue to speak the truth of thousands that are not represented by 1 page shallow articles and "blended" books. I also feel constrained here, and I had to block years worth of my old posts (which are a little too close for comfort) due to blogger settings that revealed just enough to destroy the necessary anonymity here. And those were sometimes the posts that led many here.

I follow in old footsteps. Over the years, the most entertaining (and supportive) stepmom blogs were remarkably court-ordered to be taken down, but thanks to our ingrained concept of free speech, the writers simply asked that you contact them for the new link. Speaking of which, where's the ACLU on the family law arena?

Thank you for your following and comments over the years. I know that I have reached many of you, because you wrote me and let me know that you finally found someone to relate to. Those messages, comments, and emails let me know that this is a worthwhile purpose. 

But this is definitely not "goodbye." Please message me in whatever way you find in order to receive the link to the new site or keep in touch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Be Authentic to Your Skids

Once upon a time, I couldn't trust either of my skids.

And honestly, if you aren't sure, don't. It is not the time- yet.

Confiding in your skid, especially your stepdaughter, is not well advised. For a while. Wait a long, long while.

You'll know when all is cool, but it will be when they are older. Confiding in them your actual opinions or thoughts just has to wait. When they're young, its just too easy for them to use it against you tomorrow when they are suddenly mad at you for existing.

There's a place for letting your skids know your feelings. Any adult caring for kids on a regular basis has to sometimes inform the kid in their care that they have been hurt, mistreated, or would like to hear an apology. Sharing your feelings is a tough one, though. If they're little, it can be pretty effective.
As they go into adolescence, its sometimes necessary for them to hear that they had actual effect on another human being- but will lead to little or no change. It will feel pointless. And they won't hear very much; they seem to catch only certain sentences and tune out the rest.
And that continues through the teenaged years, unless they develop maturity. (But you still play a role in that, helping them to develop empathy for others- including their supposed evil stepmom, understanding that you are human, too.)

If you see your skids finally maturing, it may be possible for them to hear actual opinions. You may be able to share your (massively softened) opinions without them turning it into a new war between you and their mom. Its really about critical thinking. If you start to see critical thinking, the ability to logically understand and process things, then you may be able to start sharing things you never shared before.

Signs that they can handle your opinions or take, as only that, and not attacks:
  • They ask you for your version, specifically, honestly, and you know they don't have an ulterior motive of some sort. (watch out... This is a two way trust street, really.)
  • They are finally relating to their dad, letting him know they understand what he went through in some way, talking to him, finally, about their shared experiences of the past marriage/family. Showing they are beyond the "sides" and "you vs. them" war.
  • They literally tell you that they are dealing with these things of their past and want to know more.
  • They are making jokes about their other parent, situation, family, showing actual understanding of what they have dealt with and that is no longer the end of their universe to talk about these things.

"Bashing" (the overused term used by most stepfamily authors)? No. But your actual feelings and opinions are yours. And by this time, there should be less bashing to be done because you're (hopefully) no longer in the thick of the early divorce years. Your point of view may actually help your skids process what happened to their world for those years where nothing made much sense, all messages were mixed, and they were torn between parents. Hearing you may actually help them.

Be careful. But it is true. You matter, your take on things matter, but its all about timing. That's the hard part.

Right now, one of my skids loves running her memories past me. It is her way of processing and rediscovering what really happened. She trusts me completely, now, and knows that I'm not making stuff up. She knows I have sources, a third party point of view on some things, and she also cares about my side within incidents- now. Way back then? She was too confused and hurt to make sense of it, and she just wanted to play with her daddy. That was priority, rightly so.

Authenticity matters. Consistency will ring true if you're up against a family of lies.

Its OK. Everything is OK.

Hey, Stepmom!

Its OK to go to your room and let your hubby have time with his kids.

Its OK to go out.

Its OK to do things on your own, even though your husband wants you to "be a part of the family." Tell him you'll be a part of the family tomorrow.

Sometimes you just need to walk away and be in your own realm, where less crazy happens (hopefully).

Its OK to wish you had your own kids. It's OK to look into adoption. It's OK to ask to go out with friends on the night when the skids are coming over.

It's OK to take yourself out to the restaurant you miss.

Its OK to let him be with his kids tonight. And even tomorrow.

Its OK to ask him to take the skids out to a festival today, while you read, rest, exercise, and whatever you haven't been doing in ages.

Its OK to read the paper in peace.

Its OK to watch your favorite TV show that bores everyone else in the house.

Speaking of which, its OK to put a TV in your bedroom but not in the kids' rooms, so you can have your own sanity.

Its OK to put some headphones on and listen to your happy music at the game so you don't have to listen to your husband's ex scream out nonsense.

Its OK to support your skids in your own way and not attend everything.

Its OK to drop your skids off at practice, run an errand, and then come back to get them.

Its OK to take your skids to events that you want to go to. Normal kids go with their parents to things that the parents want to go to; just because you're a stepmom, or because you have limited custody, doesn't mean that the kids can't learn to deal at events that aren't all about them!

Its OK to ask your husband to enforce things. It's OK to ask him to eat vegetables in front of them so they know that even Dad eats vegetables. It's OK to ask that your husband turn down the volume on the video game, so that you don't flipppppp out!

Its OK to get your stepkids into your things. It's OK to introduce them to your world, and maybe one day, it will change their lives.

Its OK to ask your stepkids to bring their friends over, so you can get to know your skids in another (sometimes super weird...) way.

Its OK to volunteer at your skids' school, if you want to. Its OK to cheer them on, your own way.

Its OK to retreat. Its OK to not want to see one of your steps for a bit. Its OK to ask that your husband deal with it and not you.

And, at the same time, its OK for you to develop a relationship with your skids.

Its OK. Just be OK. Know that you are OK. You are not crazy, insane, or the only one. We have been through it before, too. We're here for you, and feel free to message me or join those stepmom groups out there so you can truly see how not-alone you are.

Its OK to completely disregard the advice of people who have nooooo clue.

The Anxiety of A Custodial Visit

The anxiety of a custodial visit.

  1. Get to a doctor and get some anti-anxiety meds before you develop panic attacks. I waited too many years on that one... And it was really easy to get. (Yay prescription drugs!) Maybe because if you say "I'm a stepmom" to any certified doctor, they instantly get it.
    1. How do you know if you are experiencing anxiety and attacks? Hard to breathe? Super nervous? Sweaty? Hating life right now? Wishing you could run, run, run away?
      Maybe even freaking out?
  2. Why are you picking up the kids again? 
    1. Yeah, I know, it is impossible for your husband to make it. He doesn't want to lawyer up again. He doesn't want to fight her for a more reasonable custody arrangement. He's happy for what he got. I know. I know. 
    2. You're doing your part to make sure the kids stay in your family, to make your husband's life easier, to make sure your husband sees his kids even though he works an hour away and struggles through insane traffic just to get there to see his kids for at least half an hour. You are doing your part, you are honorable, you are working hard to maintain composure. You left work early for this. You are thinking this was a mistake. You are not sure what they will say and do when they get to your car. You're not sure what she will do and say, making everything so much worse and something you have to record for court. You're watching the clock. She's late. Again. Why are you doing this!?!?
  3. Then you hear the kids laughing with their Dad- one hour later. You hear the joy. You hear his love for them, and you realize how different of a night it would have been if you had not been able to pick up the kids. 
And the process starts all over again, 2 nights or one week later.

A lot of stepmom guides, articles, books suggest that you give up and stop doing this stuff for your husband.
Sure, sure. And you want him to lose his kids? Why is that not covered?

Some books and articles argue that if he can't handle it, then he shouldn't be making you do it.

I get that logic, and I would have supported it if his kids had been complete hellions, I guess. Maybe. Not even then maybe, because as demonstrated above, the love that fills your home, FINALLY, when he has not seen the kids for a week...It's worth it. 

But do try to do more for you. Make sure he understands what it is like. Make sure he does his part. Make sure he takes some time off work. Make sure you go out. Make sure you get you time.

Sometimes, drop them off to him, and go out by yourself. DO IT. Don't cook dinner every night. Let him cook dinner, even though he had a long day of work. (There's plenty of microwavable stuff out there.) Let him take the kids out. You did your part and got them home; but now he can take them out and have time with them alone, which is great no matter what for all parties. You are allowed breaks. You are allowed you time. You are allowed your friends.

There are plenty of nights where I realized I couldn't do it anymore, and I called him to let him know that things were not well between the skids and I. I would let him know, and he now knows without explanation, "You are taking them out tonight." And there were nights that he knew were so bad that he needed to keep them out. They had their homework with them, or he had books or tablets with fun things in them to do, and they would entertain themselves somewhere else. Honestly, I consider that stepmom-forced-quality time. (Often when they are all home together, he defaults to just TV watching. On the nights where I asked they go out and stay out, he truly spent time with them- and they loved it. Completely doubtful that they even asked why they weren't going home instead. Dad time is Dad time, period.)

So, do that. Don't be afraid. Ask for You time, and make sure that you get a return on your part. You don't have to do it all; but I completely understand why you aren't giving up on one of the most stressful parts of this life. I totally get it. And not all stepmoms are in agreement that you should completely disengage. Trust me. And we're here for you. Let's do virtual drinks sometime. =)


There's always gotta be a Mother's Day post, right?

Heck yeah!

I always have commentary on this.

This year, I got a Happy Mother's Day text from my youngest step first thing in the morning! I was barely awake! Super awesome. It made my day. I didn't need the cards they had prepared a week in advance, but those had actual thoughtful notes in them as well! Amazing! I was shocked. I was also shocked to hear from my oldest step, super late at night- another text. Nice of her, but not really necessary, given the card and that we are not on good terms right now. So, especially given those facts, pretty impressive.

The most amusing, and beyond obviously telling, was the card comparison. One got me a full blown, sappy, fantastic Mother's Day card that says "Mom" on the front. The other is a non-specific random card, but the fact that there are sentences in there that specify recognition for doing stuff for her- Sure. I got it. I understand. It's fine. The sentences, written in her handwriting, were the part that mattered anyways! (And then later, my husband admits to picking the card himself, and all that meaning goes way out the window...But also shows that he knows his daughter quite well enough.)

That being said, as other stepmoms have pointed out in cyber world, I am getting this (newly) consistent and day-of recognition now, after 9 years. Someone aptly pointed out that they noticed that stepmoms with older skids were the ones often with a phone call or other type of honor. I think last year was the first year I got texts from both of them the day of. My husband, though, also would usually have them do something "for" me the weekend before or week after. More his effort than theirs.

I read a smattering of articles out there about what you should expect on Mother's Day, as a stepmom.


Don't listen to other people maybe. That's my first piece of advice. Even "expert" stepmoms are full of crap sometimes.

I hate how in their articles of "Stepmoms are decent people trying really hard" they bury in archaic, inapplicable, or just out of touch advice.

Look, if you do a ton of crap for you stepkids, you deserve some sort of honor in some way. And if it isn't on Mother's Day specifically, that's OK- but your husband, family, others, need to respect your choice and role to put yourself into the center of the fire. Bonfire, if you will. Your stepkids DO need to learn how to honor people of importance in their lives, especially the person who fills in for the mom role every other weekend, during the summer, or whatever it is.

It shocks me that the articles about Stepmoms on Mother's day are still saying things like, "You are not mom." No, f' no. No, you are not. We FREAKING KNOW THAT. Stop telling us that!!!! Why are you still even typing that!?!? We freaking, really already know we are not their birth moms, and we remember on a freaking DAILY basis. Stop even printing that like there's an assumption we're all morons, unclear on where our stepkids came from!!

But those same articles usually go on to say that Stepmoms play an important role and describe it, like people who aren't stepmoms are even bothering with this article. Give me a break. Stop the age-old placation. Start with "Stepmoms do a lot of crap, by the way, world. And if they function as a mom to their skids, maybe they should get some credit."

I'm sorry, but it is NOT so wrong that the kids texted me "Happy Mother's Day" on Mother's Day. No, it is not. Get over yourself. I did not spend the day with them. I did not take them away from their mom. I did not demand that they spend time with me. THAT would be ridiculous, especially in my situation. As a matter of fact, every full-time stepmom I've ever read articles from has said how they welcome Mother's Day as one of the only days of the year where they get a break and are super happy to let the kids be with their mom. It's really the non-custodial or partial that hurt, and we are the ones who have absolutely NO SAY in whether the kids spend an ounce of time with us pretty much any day besides this somewhat random holiday.

Stating in articles that a Stepmom doesn't have rights to Mother's Day tells me that you don't know very much. I've never heard, seen, read that a Stepmom wants the rights to Mother's Day. The Stepmoms crying on Mother's Day are hurt by REJECTION. Complete, total, day after day rejection. There's a LOT more going on than just "Their real mom gets attention on Mother's Day" (said by no stepmom ever).

A Stepmom DESERVES SOME CREDIT unless she has no presence in her step's lives. And by no presence, I mean that- not what the child or adult child "perceives" as no presence. (There is a major difference.) And the no presence stepmoms? I don't know why, but then they actually fit the "Dad's Wife" category, and it makes sense. UNLESS they at some point DID in fact help raise the kids in the past or are attempting to have a part in their skids lives. Then, they still deserve some credit. Did they raise their stepkids through their young years, and then custody changed because Mom wanted them back or something changed- completely out of stepmom's control, always, of course- and now they hurt? Now they wonder what happened to the kids they spent so many years substituting for their "actual" mom?

Stepmoms deserve credit. Get over it. We're not out to steal Mother's Day, but we want recognition that we are here, that we clean up after your kids, that we take them to soccer practices, that we sacrificed our careers too, buy the groceries and watch them disappear, pay for your Netflix obsessions, renewed the Xbox subscription, help your Dad maintain the mortgage and bills, planned the vacations, made sure you were signed up for camp in time, etc., etc., etc..... Oh man. Just let us have that.

Really have issues with Mother's Day and Stepmoms? Why don't more articles published right before Mother's Day cover some super BASIC ways of celebrating Mother's Day Stepmom style? Why are these not making it to the major websites and "Stepmom Coach" websites yet?

Ways to Celebrate Mother's Day for Stepmoms (because you still don't "get" it...)

  • Celebrate before or after. Make it a specific day, or don't. Whatever works. (There is a specific Stepmother's Day, so that would work, too. Make it legit.)
  • Have the kids get her a card or flowers before, and she can open it on Mother's Day when she's ultimately questioning all of her life's decisions. 
  • Can't even get the kids to get her a Mother's Day card? How about Thank you cards? Funny cards they picked out if they're young and not super snarky yet? Something is seriously better than nothing, and exactly how hard is this? (Oh right, not. Not at all.)
  • Ask that they simply send a private message on FB, text, Twitter on Mother's Day to say "thanks for all you do and have a nice day!" Which is code for "thinking of you, recognizing you, but in no way ready to honor you as mom" - which is FINE. Completely fine. Recognition is what it is, no matter what words! 
  • If the kids are so insanely manipulated against your wife/friend who is a stepmom/family member, then MODEL YOUR recognition of her. Take them with you to go get a card for her, for all she does for them, the house, the pets, her husband. Can't take them with you (probably due to so little custody...), then just get her Mother's Day cards, gifts, flowers, etc. that the kids will see. Post it on Facebook. What you're doing is letting the kids know that other people recognize your stepmom as doing something like a mom. You're teaching, and you're honestly flat out helping the family. You're also making sure that the Stepmom feels loved on Mother's Day if she doesn't hear a single word or get anything from her skids and/or husband. 
  • GO ON VACATION. Make plans with friends or do something special every year to make sure Mother's Day is a low, low level concern. Get out of town, or make sure she has friends to hang with (because normally she can't hang with friends, cooking dinner and all that.................)
All of the above has been done for me now, but it took a lot of that last one- Modeling. My husband was an active husband in this endeavor, but I know many of you have, lets call it "absent-minded" husbands. Help them. I did see a number of articles this year point out that you need to let your husband know ahead of time of your "expectations" to be recognized in some way. But I liked how one person said that if you are an outside friend or family member, help the husband get the clue, too. TOTALLY. HELP the marriage that you went to the wedding to by helping the husband "get" that his wife needs some special attention for committing to this craziness that he considers (sadly) normal.

In all honesty, the Stepmom often looks a bit crazy on Mother's Day because you are seeing the culmination of bewilderment, self-hate, and pure hurt. It's not about taking away from their mother; it's just literally the #1 day where we are reminded of how worthless we are to everyone we work so hard for IN our OWN home. Don't believe me? That's how it feels, whether it's true or not. And who are you to know how it feels, unless you're in my particular court custody arrangement nightmare? Unless you are also a victim of child parent alienation? Unless you have the same situation?

Yeah, you get it now, don't you?

(And if you don't feel free to comment, so that I can realize what I've missed.)

The Night of A Stepmom, The Fears of the Alienated

I sit in fear
Waiting for them to come over.
I fret and stress
Knowing it will be any minute.
I feel the anxiety shoot
through my skull.
I feel my heart beating
my pulse pulsating
and my breathing struggle.

They have rooms here
things here
half their lives here
But I call to ask that he take them out to dinner tonight.
Tonight I can't do it.
Tonight I can't fake it.
Tonight I'm afraid of saying what I want to say.

If I say what I feel,
he could lose them.
If I say what I want to say,
what they need to hear,
he may not support me.
If I tell them how they hurt me,
I will stand alone.
It falls on deaf, young ears.
I am shamed by others not here.

They can take what is said
my feelings,
my heart
back to their mom.
I am a horrible person
who never should feel what I feel,
she tells them.
I can give and give, but I should not expect to receive love. Ever.

I need to be alone.
I need to leave the room.
I need to leave the house,
but there's not really anywhere to go tonight.
I need to be away. I need them to be away. I need to walk away.
I need to shut up. I need to keep my feelings to myself,
because that is the only way.

This family stays together by burying the hurts sometimes.
He hurts, but he hides it from them.
I hurt, but I hide it from them.
We talk to them sometimes about the hurt,
but they are too young.

Our hurts are now translated into
They are older. They are to learn, now.
We fear they will grow,
and we will not be included.
If we don't teach them now
that we count.
If we don't teach them now,
that we are here.
If we don't teach them now,
that they are important to us.
If we don't teach them now,
that they have us.
We are family, too. We have to teach them
that we are family, too.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Young Stepmom, Old(er) Stepkids

One of the odd things about being a stepmom is that often times you are younger.

Well, not always. Definitely a myth that continues to be dispelled:

There are three solid camps, each with their own set of skills, frame of mind, and challenges for being a stepmom fit:
  1. Worked their education and career, waited for marriage and the truly right man- who just happened to have been married before. (Age, in comparison to husband, varies rather widely!)
  2. Married before, it really didn't work out, but now you've found your right match. (Usually similar age, and the coolest stories are those that were high school sweethearts originally, in my personal opinion...)
  3. Me. Young(ish?) bride, first marriage, to a man who is starting all over. (Age: Usually younger to much younger.)

The younger you are in comparison to your husband, the older your stepkids could be. If I had had my stepkids, I would have been in high school for the first. Us younger 2nd/3rd brides enjoy the experience of moms at school asking if we are our stepkids' sisters or nannies. (Which older women, usually way after the moment of insane embarrassment, point out is something we should frankly take complete glee in. True, especially now that I look back...)

The younger stepmom initially, or maybe all along, enjoys a feeling of a closer understanding to the kids. (Not always the case though, or is a sensation that can come and go.) You may not have had the kids, but you aren't all that far off from them. You may remember what it felt like a little easier than the parents seem to- maybe because you didn't watch them grow from infancy on. There's just something different. You just seem to recall what it is like to be their age a little easier or quicker than the parents do, especially if they are girls.

There is this truly interesting dynamic as a (young-ish) stepmom of teenaged girls. I feel continually perplexed by the things they do and want to know what is happening, asking my husband to step up the wise-parenting in the situation a little more- while simultaneously experiencing personal flashbacks to when I was their age (which sadly sometimes feels like it wasn't long ago at all) and realizing that I did the same damn thing to my parents that is currently driving me nuts about the kid that isn't really "mine"....

It's enough to make me simply walk away, get a drink, or give up in surrender watching some TV show addiction on Chromecast. At the same time, I'm totally worried about what is happening, where they are, and if their stupid boyfriend is there. Etc. Etc.

In all, you learn why parents go crazy. You also feel like you shouldn't feel this freaking old. Like it's totally more unfair for you to be dealing with this right now, because just yesterday (mmkay, 10 years ago, Miss Denial) you were in college... Admit it: You totally have moments of feeling much "cooler" than this situation warrants. It's one of our out-of-place moments.

Sometimes you totally feel validated as a stepmom, though. There are some perks. There are times where your stepkids, as teens, will seek you out with friends. It is possible, and does happen, that your teen may actually realize you're the one adult to go to for certain advice. I am now the person that one of my stepdaughters steers her friends to for dealing with particular problems she knows I've experienced. It's super cool, and also something I always wanted from being a stepmom. Yeah, I idiotically always hoped that I would be a source of knowledge, wisdom, and/or solace for these young people one day.... Finally that is paying off! (Ok, for now....May not last. This one is still a young teen.)

As a church youth leader for churches in my adult life and a camp counselor before, I have always seen myself as a mentor and completely envisioned myself that way for my stepdaughters "one day." I am fairly certain I even told my husband this "plan." Hahahaha. I realize how stupid I was to have such lofty goals, when in honesty, as a stepmom in a contentious, partial custody situation, you should just hope that your stepkids show you an ounce of respect.

I'm also struggling with the fact that our stepkids don't automatically or naturally invite their friends over. This is likely to sound nuts to many of you, as I know many of you feel like there are enough kids in your house as it is, but I also envisioned being the welcoming, fun parent with the house where people hung out. We have only achieved that on a very minor level, when they have official sleepovers. Sometimes they are fine with one friend pretty much living with us for 24-72 hours, but then we're a little confused when weekend after weekend, study groups and sleepovers are at other houses on a regular basis.

We know to not take it too personally, though. 1) We had a much smaller house before (though, that didn't bother them one bit for sleepover parties), 2) No pool. Pretty common to be the cool house if you have a pool. 3) I buy healthy food. But, we have purposely bought junk food in the past to show them that inviting friends over = unhealthy time! (yay!...?) 3) Houses closer to their schools seem to be easy winners. Most kids can walk there, etc. 4) They grew up and lived primarily with a family that does not invite people over. Social time was not encouraged by their mom. Inviting people over was a special exception, with very limited time frames. So, we feel they have been basically trained to not automatically invite people over.

But, we have encouraged clearly, and it is getting better. We've have accommodated. We have very busy weekends sometimes, and will keep encouraging.   Amusingly, despite wanting our home to be welcoming to friend hangouts, I have a strange, tendency to turn semi-anti-social last minute and escape to my room with a glass (no, not bottle) of wine or errands around town. I don't know what to make of that exactly... But my husband handles it well, despite wondering why in the heck he's suddenly alone facilitating activities until midnight. (Ok, admittedly, kind of funny. Possibly subconscious payback? Stepmom indirect practical joke?)

Anyways, this territory is interesting. I'm waiting for the studies on it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Custody In the Summertime

Summer planning has always been my art since becoming a stepmom. My husband was good at going to movies, bowling alleys, and parks- last minute. Otherwise, all trips, camps, etc. start with my whirlwind of thorough research, nights of staring at our calendar(s), and debating- in my head- what we should do.

Summer planning as a stepfamily with partial custody is, as you know, an insanely painful process in itself. Summers, also, are somewhat insane. Some of you have the kids all summer and have very mixed feelings about that, to say the least. Others of you see your stepkids leave for the summer, and although it is enjoyable, you do discover that you miss them. In our world, we were granted every other week with them- only in the summer- about 5 years ago.

That made every other week the only time we could shove in as much summer fun, camps, and other special things we could never do with them during the every-other-weekend-pitiful-painful-pittance schedule the rest of the year. It was this major deal for us to be able to see them morning after night after morning, at home. It was so awesome to be able to sign them up for camps for activities they always wanted to learn but were not allowed to because of their mom's (lack of) required approval (or lack of communication whatsoever). They could do VBS, or volunteer at VBS. They could go on a church trip! They could see us, we could see them, tomorrow! And two days after that!

It was a mix of stress and fitting in things plus complete, amazing joy and ease. Summer weeks were never a painful struggle of awkwardness. The only pain was wishing we could have more time, do more, have this year around. Things were sometimes so nice, it was depressing to realize we only had these special weeks a handful of times. Depending on the summer, it was about 5 weeks. It felt like 3.

Now that we have one skid 50/50 year around for the first time, I just realized how less stressful summer will be knowing that it will finally continue. I won't have to shove in doctors and dentists appointments in the summer. I won't have to feel like "our only chance is now" for the first time ever. (Although, then again, one feels that sentiment a little less when they are no longer kids and have busy teen lives...Still, there's the creeping feeling of "we only have a few years left" in there and a much, much tighter timeframe nearly gone with the elder.)

Looking back, realizing the difference of having a fair parenting schedule compared to what we used to have, and how much more logical it feels all around...It is so sad that our justice system perpetuates ridiculous parenting shared custody schedules. We had so much to offer, and we barely had the time to offer it. We were not prisoners, drug addicts, abusers. We were fully employed, capable, willing. Although I know the history, I will never understand in my heart why so many families have to endure so much pain at the mercy of a judge, mediator, or insane spouse.

viva equal custody! viva summer!

Friday, April 17, 2015

She Finds Her Strength-In You

Once upon a time, my youngest stepdaughter learned that her mother wasn't listening to her anymore. And it's not a fairy tale.

For years, I had listened to her without judging, teasing, mocking, belittling, or labeling. I may have made cardinal mistakes of interrupting when in the middle of 20 things, talking about my own experiences too soon, or questioning her- but I always tried to make it clear that I was coming back around to her. I would ask her later, if I had to interrupt for someone or something else, what the rest of her story was or about the friend she was talking about earlier (or even the other day).

I forget sometimes- to ask her about her friends or last week's drama- but I guess I remember just enough that she knows I am just forgetful. A couple of years ago, I realized she was purposefully setting up talk time. She would either find me in solitude, wait, or literally set-up me driving her- alone. She would then tell me all about her friends, her issues, her questions, or (now) "boyfriends."

I went through depressions, wondering if my stepdaughters would ever give a crap about me. I would try, and it would backfire. I would feel a closeness develop, and then they would throw me under the bus enough to hurt my husband's custody and rights.

Well, one does for sure. She's overt about it now, and she is far from her 20s or 30s when people told me "they will figure it out." (Which I will maintain to question in general, because it just doesn't always happen. Read the research in "Stepmonster.")

If your stepdaughter doesn't have a strong mom- emotionally, self-esteem, what have you- they will feel like they need to take care of her, but your stepdaughter will hopefully, maybe recognize that her needs aren't being met. One of my steps figured it out, the other has not. But the younger is already on a healing process, figuring out conscious, planned strategies to take care of herself as a young teen and "deal" with her mom. She now tells me directly that she has to talk to me, can only tell me the whole story, and I reiterate that I will not make fun of her. (A message I have told her for forever, but she finally understands.) She knows I am really interested- despite trying to cook, drive, or work while she talks- And although I have trouble following every detail of the book she's reading at the moment, I seem to catch enough that she hasn't given up on me understanding teen dystopian societies. (You totally got that, didn't you?)

We encourage her, a lot. Back in the day, our encouragement of her identity and independence was a threat to her mom and sister, and often battled by an entire-in-town-other-family. But this one has come out the other side, understanding more than we ever thought she would at this point. Then again, maybe I saw it coming. I guess we did see a lot of potential in her coming out of the fog earlier, but we didn't want to get our hopes up too high.

We have half custody of her now, but the only thing pissing me off now is that she should have been with us half time all along. She is so happy...And we're pretty sure she'll figure out that she should be with us full time one day, too. If she won't be able to follow through on that choice, we're finding out that she is literally saving all personal news, thoughts, questions, and stories for us. She has admitted to not talking about major parts of her life at her other home, due to fear of reactions, retribution, control, anger, or just being hurt by the misunderstanding or lack of listening. (Hell, if you don't believe me- At a rather young age she announced to me, very clearly and completely out of nowhere, "I think my other family doesn't like me." Does that not tell you a ton right there? Yes, I played it cool and gave excuses for them, but even as a kid she responded, without much emotion besides true thoughtfulness, "No, I'm pretty sure they just don't like me." In other words, she knew she didn't belong for fit in way back then.)

We're here. I was here. I made sure I listened. It wasn't too hard. You can do it, too, even though it hurts sometimes and you wonder what they will tell their mom about you tomorrow. And you don't have to be perfect. I wasn't perfect, and it still worked. I have thought of her as really my daughter before, and she really is. I've started claiming her traits already.

Ok, yeah, I'm not stupid- She will get pulled back into her Mom's world regularly, but she knows I really know her, and I know she really can depend on me. It's gotten past a line, and I know this isn't reversing. She's not a little kid, easily convinced of nonsense anymore- thank God! She's strong, independent, and she's decided no one will stop her now- and we're right behind her, making sure.

Passive (Step)Teen Parenting?

Teenagers. Teenagers.

They're tough for regular parents, but double the puzzle for a stepmom.

Do you leave them alone?

Do you ask?

Do you have your husband ask?

Do you ask their friends?

Do you create a false fire to make them flee their rooms once and for all?

Can you take away the car keys? Or is that sacriliege? (Unlike every other person of authority in their lives...)

Do they EVEN have a curfew!?
Are you up at night wondering where your stepkid is, while your spouse sleeps soundly?

Are you the one who asks where the teenagers went to, with who, and where?

Yeah, I feel ya.

My husband is in teen dad training. He doesn't seem to have expected teenaged girls one day. I was becoming a more hands off parent...And then they turned into teenaged girls, both, at once.
So... I'm "helping" him "remember" to ask where they are going, with whom, for how long, when they will be home...
And not accepting shrugs as responses.

Oh, so much to learn.

Why do I care? Well, usually I already had dinner planned, tickets to something or other, and chores we discussed earlier that they needed to do before setting foot out the door.

Then throw in the complication of minimal custody. Well, then you have a father who feels hurt each and every time his kids walk out the door unless he's had just a little bit of time with them. I see the sadness, I get the brunt of any repressed anger, and I watch him pretend it was all OK when they walk back in the door moody, sullen, and exhausted from friend/boyfriend drama and no-sleep-sleepovers.

Is it so bad to help your husband parent? No. You just need to help him understand and not make him look stupid in front of other people or his kids. That is hard, mind you, but there's an entire book called "Love & Respect" if you're poor in that category. It's tough, but doable. Love your husband, pray for him, and help him remember the Daddy role of protecting his young- even if they can drive now. If he's not "getting it" when it comes to his daughters- as most men don't seem to- get him the book "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters." He will regret not being a father to them when they needed it otherwise, and they will resent him for not being there as a strong presence, even if silent but clearly noticeable.

And if he doesn't trust your advice or parenting at all, please get therapy from a therapist who has also been a stepmom- pronto. Before it's too late- as he doesn't understand you are helping a lot, yet. Make sure your marriage comes first. (Contact me if you want a discount to the FamilyLife Marriage conference, Weekend To Remember.

While at the FamilyLife conference, my husband bought a very, very short and easy-to-read book called "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date: 30 Minutes Man to Man" by Dennis Rainey. I had it on his Amazon wishlist for years, but he realized it was time- with both girls in relationships suddenly, and he could barely get their boyfriend's names! Within minutes, he was cracking up at Rainey's stories. Every dad of a daughter needs a little bit of support, guidance, or reminders- especially if it can come from wise mentors who aren't seen as a nagging wife!

All Grow-ed Up? (Helping your stepkids grow)

Trauma makes a child's brain development freeze, damaging the growth process.

Trauma can come from something as "simple" (and less recognized...) as emotional abuse.

Critical thinking, future planning, advanced decision-making are all skills that develop in the portion of the brain that goes on "freeze" in response to trauma.

Recurring trauma = partial and/or delayed development of those necessary adult skills.

If my stepkids' mom was traumatized, which caused her to be a full spectrum narcissist...
Then she emotionally abused, neglected, manipulated, and controlled my stepdaughters...

They will have developed differently than a child growing in a healthy environment.

If you are dealing with manipulated kids or teens, please check out resources that will help you understand them, talk with them, and understand what they've been through. It will be good for your sanity, understanding what in the world is going on over there in the other house.

I wish that I had been given, "Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers" by Dr. Karyl McBride, almost a decade ago. How much it would have helped me understand them, relate to what they are going through and have gone through, and maybe work with them. How much it has helped me understand my husband's struggle with his first marriage, albeit indirectly.

[My favorite finding from this book happens to be that narcissistic mothers of daughters are jealous of fathers, a daughter's good relationship with her father, in marriage and divorce.]

Divorce is a type of trauma for kids, so even if you don't have specific parenting abuse concerns, it may still be worthwhile to look into ways to help kids work through trauma, in general, in order to help them come out the other side with strengthened emotional capabilities and healthy patterns.

My MIL recommended a book I can't wait to get to yet called "Stop Walking On Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder." A friend of mine recommended "The Sociopath Next Door" and made her kids read it. I strongly recommend Divorce Poison for any parent watching their kids be emotionally turned against them.

Find these resources early on, to help you understand your stepkids, their mom, and your husband's experience with his ex. I'm figuring out so know, like 9-10 years in...I would have been a better stepmom if I had read Dr. McBride's book when she first published it in 2009.

But still, it's worth it. One stepdaughter, in the midst of the beginnings of teenaged worlds, has recently figured out quite a bit about her life, her mom, and her reality. She was hurting, while also becoming strong. I wanted to help her, because she was coming to me to talk about her struggles with her mom and defining who she is. I then desperately searched for resources to help her, and I will continue to help her deal with her new, enlightened, but somewhat painful world.

My other stepdaughter needs some help with the same, but doesn't realize it yet. She is just starting a pursuit of independence, but doesn't realize the struggles she has ahead of her. We need to be very smart, and purposeful, in order to help her. It will be a longer road, which hopefully we're already halfway down.

We were brought into our stepkids' lives for a purpose. You may one day have a purpose and be the mom they never had. Or if not that, help them to become more emotionally confident, stronger women, smarter men, caring humans. It is not all your burden to bare, but you do have the opportunity to make a difference in this world by strengthening your stepkids- if they give you the chance.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fostering System vs Stepparenting

I am taking foster licensing classes.

Wow. It is overwhelming.

Except, as a Stepmom...I feel like I already have about 70% of it down.

I have not fostered a child before. I have had friends who have fostered and adopted, and I have fostered a lot of furbabies. But honestly, the fostering system is not all that unfamiliar to those of us stepmoms who have dealt with the classiest of biomoms (and their respective families).

Similarities I have learned thus far (and feel entirely more comfortable with than the rest of the people sitting in the training classes):
  1. Court. Court court courty court. Judges. Child advocates. Social Workers. Lots o' Social Workers, with temporary jobs along the cyclical path. 
  2. Visitation. The reason is different, but the concept is the same. Making your life work around a court ordered visitation. Handing kids over to someone you fear (or know) will hurt them. Dealing with the aftermath of the visit and helping the child transition back.
  3. Kids who have been traumatized- and you're the home that will help them get over the hurdles, grow healthy, lead productive lives. (Some people don't believe that it is our obligation, but, yeah, often it is. The world will not get better if no one takes responsibility for kids living in their own household, even if they are not blood. Oh wait, did I just explain the purpose of the foster system in the first place? And connect it to stepparenting? Oh, snap!)
  4.  Trying to understand kids that are not yours.
  5. Dealing with parents, even if only indirectly, who have really screwed up and may lose their children completely. Parents whom you need to attempt to make a decent communication line to, if just to help the child (and reduce false complaints against you...)
  6. Changing your home in a major way to accommodate a stranger, court orders, state law. 
  7. Limited babysitting and travel options, as they must be approved by an outside force prior and not interfere with visitation
  8. High chance of the parent(s) filing a complaint against you
  9.  An obligation (requirement, actually) to learn more about kids, development, parenting, and emotional abuse than any regular parent would ever bother with. 
I'll think of more, I bet.

In the meantime, some other interesting observations...

I have occasionally mentioned my interest in adopting from the foster system to others, and have very rarely received this response:
<pure shock> "But, you've already been through so much. Why in the world would you want to put yourself through that, too?" 
That reaction is coming from someone who has really, really understood, seen, or experienced the pain of stepmothering themselves. (Yes, being specific to stepmothering, only.) On top of that, they also understand how hard adopting from the foster system can be. They are showing me a very emotional response. They are right.

I tell them, "Well, because, I figure it won't be worse than this."  I really do see it that way. I figure that we did this messy, split home, crazy ex, manipulated angry kids, lost in court, etc. etc. thing already, and we are stronger for it. I felt so much pain for my husband, and I watched his pain. Everybody suffered, but fostering to adopt a child from another broken home that isn't anyone's ex spouse seems easier, frankly. We also learned we have a lot to offer kids and feel like there was a big hole during the vacancy of my stepkids' lives. We often thought of how we would parent, if we could.

It does seem harder in some ways, such as getting your house officially approved. That is a bit daunting, and I see why people would never be able to foster if they couldn't afford to pay for their pool to be surrounded by a specific type of gate. You also have to, by law, stop things such as smoking. We have to figure out how to lock up certain things, and have spaces and furniture specific to the age of the potential incoming child.

But that all makes me wonder: Boy, that's a lot of requirements for a foster house, which I understand but... Why aren't some of these same requirements for a home, living situation considered in contentious divorces? Why wouldn't some of these same expectations be used for determining the safety of a child when it is unclear to the court which home is best? Some states require classes prior to divorce or family court, but beyond that, we would have had to pay for a home study (around $2-4,000 here) in order for that to be used as court-decision-making factors (which you absolutely should do, if you can afford it). And did anyone over 18 living in the residences ever get "live scanned" and TB tested when you went through family court?

If some of these standards, applied by the state and followed by the courts, were used in family court.....

Maybe my friend's stepdaughter wouldn't have lived on a couch for a couple of years, wherever her mom could crash.
Maybe less child abusers would be allowed to live in the same home or have "regular contact" with your child at his/her mom's house.
Maybe we would have been able to actually talk to the kids on a phone, and the kids would have been told by someone else that they were able to talk to us by phone. At least.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stepmoms Hatin' On Stepmoms

I've seen it for years.

First, I saw it on the online stepmom forums.
Then, I saw it in group after group on Facebook.

Women, even stepmoms, just don't know how to be nice to each other, do they?

The number 1 thing I see happen in chat groups of all sorts where Stepmoms are supposed to get together and be in a safe environment to share:

Stepmom1 shares.
Stepmom2 has a lot of assumptions and responds in a rude way, not realizing that she is talking about herself and not thinking of Stepmom1's situation.
Stepmom1 is offended.
Stepmom2 gets louder, still not really "listening" or realizing that other people have other experiences and situations.
Stepmom1 gives up, frustrated, offended, defensive- Leaves group.

Hell, I don't even like posting in most stepmom groups because of that exact scenario playing over and over.

There are more stepmoms, now, that realize this and try to keep the Stepmom2's out there calm, attempting to cancel out their thoughtless responses.

Scenario 2: Belittling the other stepmom.

Stepmom1: Shares.
Stepmom2: Something like: "You shouldn't be so angry/involved/concerned. You should be happy/defect from your family/not even care about this."
Stepmom1: Tries to explain.
Stepmom2: "You should just do yoga."

That, my Stepmom friends, sucks. I write this blog partially in response to the second scenario.

When you respond to someone else's crisis with "you shouldn't feel that way" in any way shape or form, you are damaging them. You are telling them that their feelings are unimportant, they shouldn't have shared their feelings in the first place as they are not even relevant, and that person's "truth" is not really legitimate.

Not everybody is going to be happy all the time or at peace with their Stepparent situation, no matter how much you tell them they should be. We feel what we feel when we feel it, and those feelings come and go. Sometimes we are angry. Sometimes we are hurt. Sometimes we feel alone. Sometimes we feel lost. Feelings are legitimate, and telling someone they shouldn't feel that way is stupid.

So we lose lots of normal Stepmoms to shame. They leave groups after feeling completely misunderstood. Actually, I understand. I just happened to not get to your post first... I sadly troll the messages on those group pages when I have time and respond to such Stepmom2's accordingly or trying to reaffirm the Stepmom1's.

Stepmom-ing comes in phases. Things come and go. The kids and our families grow and change each month, year, trimester, season, whatever.

I've noticed that Stepmom2's also seem to have much better situations that the lower third of us that live in extremely contentious ex-wife situations. Stepmom2's are all like, "What? My life is better than yours, so just suck it up." !?$^@#%@&**

Man, get out of the group if all is well for you... If you can't commiserate, empathize, or recognize that some of us are living in a continual nightmare situation, then join a book club instead- I BEG OF YOU.

Suffering with Your Husband

I realized there are two ways to see things:

Take 1: I lost out on opportunities because I married a man with kids, who needed to live near his kids. I needed to help make money to keep our lives at a level I wanted, and we cannot move to follow careers. I rushed to get a job rather than waiting out the right one. My career has gone in a direction I didn't expect, my goals of success are not where I thought they would be (recession anyone?) and my husband is partly to blame.

I also have had to endure a lot of crap I never needed to deal with and barely, if at all, handled. Marrying a man with kids was insanely challenging, his ex wife turned out to be a nightmare, and the world is just crazy when you're a stepmom.

I had a choice, I chose this, sort of, and I can blame him and his prior choices for how hard things have been.

Take 2: When you marry someone, you suffer with them when they go through hell.

My husband went through hell in his prior marriage, which he learned pretty early on was a mistake but there were children involved. Then, he had off and on hell afterwards, as his ex wanted to control him, his kids, and his new wife. She continued to make his life miserable, and he stated that half of his life was still hell and the other half of his life was what he always wanted, filled with love and opportunity.

I suffered with him, as his spouse and best friend, when he lost custody without any logic or reason. I suffered with him as he dealt with a crazy person whom he once loved. I stood by him, when he was attacked. I am here, with him, and went through his worst years.

One day, I could have cancer. One day, he could have cancer. We suffer through each others' horrible bosses and jobs that hold us back. We struggle with the mix of our career, personal goals, and the obligation to family- which we would have if we had had our own kids, as well. We are in it together.

I asked my mom one time why she didn't at least try to talk me out of marrying my husband. She said, "Everybody has baggage; you just know what his is already." That has turned out to be very, very true. I had boyfriends whose issues came out after a year or two, and those issues were internal, mental, and scary. This man I married, on the other hand, doesn't have scary stuff going on in his head. I have not been surprised by hidden range, alcoholism, addiction, mental illness. (He probably, on the other hand, has been surprised by mine. =) )

He puts up with me and still loves me. He will see me through illnesses. I saw him through post-divorce, raising girls, and now raising teenagers. What if you had a crazy ex that never left you alone? You'd want your husband to stand by you and not give up on you, right? Honestly, the comparison is quite similar. Family issues, huge life decisions, what have you. Suffering comes in many forms.

He'll be here for me. I felt his pain with him.

I also can see the choices I made were the choices I made. I absolutely can't blame my husband for my career choices, and he had complete faith in my abilities to do whatever I wanted and reach my goals despite a recession, stepkids, moving, and health problems. We make our choices, I chose my husband, and I have suffered with him. Which is what we are expected to do in marriage.

Sharing-Some-Good-Stuff Time

I like this post from Stepmom Support:

I am also thrilled to see all of the amazing videos from DivorceCorps, a group putting together easy-to-follow videos about what's wrong with the Family Law/Legal/Justice system.

Follow their YouTube channel:

This is the trailer for their full-length movie:

I particularly like the clip on the Child Support Trap:

Furthermore, the DivorceCorps webpage lets you sign up for Reform Committees! Way to lead actual action!
Check it out here: