“I wanted to apologize…”

17 Sep

An apology can sometimes calm the rough waters of steplife. Photo credit: Easton Lemos, copyright 2012

I haven’t written much in the last 18 months.  I’ve been hyper-focused on raising my kids and working, and honestly nothing has come up that has made me want to write.  During my “time off”, I leaned on the stepmoms in my support group.  We’ve created a safe place to rant and rave, and once in a while, something comes through from the “other camp” that makes us believe that there really is a light at the end of the stepmother tunnel. 

Recently one of the stepmoms shared that the biomom in her life had a very ugly break-up with her live-in boyfriend of a few years.  Imagine the SM’s surprise when she found this email from biomom’s ex-boyfriend in her inbox: 

I wanted to apologize to you for the sometimes unkind looks and for participating in the madness. Now that I have stepped back , I can see that I was wrong and even you had a better understanding of what was going on. I completely get the unhealthiness between all of them. I could not be better now that I am away from it all. There has been a lot of spin and co-dependency that might have filtered the truth to you. I wish you the best of luck and I am sorry for not being so kind from time to time. Though I own it, I was working off the information from the other side.*

Wow.  That’s huge.

The stepmom shared with me that her contact with the boyfriend was limited to the kids’ events, concerts, plays, etc.  She doesn’t remember ever saying a word to him, but she does remember him participating in the stare downs.

I asked the stepmom to share her thoughts about the letter.  Here’s what she had to say:

I was very thankful for the apology.  It took a lot of guts to admit that he was wrong and that he was intentionally hurtful, when he could have easily just walked away. I never had a direct issue with him because I knew he was her puppet. Still, it’s nice to know that there are people who are willing to take responsibility for their behavior and actions and not blame it on someone else.  A simple apology shines some light into the dark tunnels that many stepmothers feel trapped in.  Will I ever get any apology like this from biomom?  No. Nor do I expect one. But it’s nice to get an apology from someone that used to be under her influence. 

An apology does wonders for the soul.  Have you ever given or received a sincere apology from the stepmom or biomom (or in this case someone who was involved with her)?  How did your relationship change afterwards? 

*Printed with the author’s permission.

Read the article before you throw the first punch

11 May

Would you have picked up this week’s issue of Time if the photo was of Dr. Sears (attachment parenting’s guru)? Probably not.

Let the bitch fight begin.

You’ve undoubtedly seen this week’s cover of Time Magazine.  A provocative photo of a young 20-something mother nursing her toddler son with the caption, “Are you Mom Enough?” has caused our inner-bitches to throw down UFC style and come out swinging.

Many of the mothers who didn’t breastfeed immediately went on the defensive.  The same women who don’t want to be judged because they didn’t breastfeed are now judging this woman on the cover that chooses to breastfeed her toddler.  And when Scary Mommy posted a tongue-in-cheek spoof on her Facebook page with the caption “Working Mothers are Failures” and “Does Formula Harm Babies? Mothers, unable or unwilling to breastfeed, resort to formula for nourishment.  Let’s rip them apart”, all Hell broke loose.  The comments I’ve read online have been rude and have bordered on just plain hateful.  And what’s ironic is that most of those who are commenting online don’t have any idea that the article is about attachment parenting, not about demonizing those who didn’t breastfeed.

Yes, the photo and the caption are provocative, but have we forgotten that Time is in the business of selling magazines?  I would venture to guess that there has been more buzz about Time in the last 24 hours than there has been in the last 10 years. I posted the cover on my Facebook wall the minute I saw it.  Why? Because I endured major criticism from strangers, friends and even my mother about choosing to breastfeed my two oldest children beyond the “acceptable” one-year mark.  My nursed my son until he was 4 and my daughter until she was 3 (the worldwide age for weaning is 4). The majority of Americans don’t understand that nursing a toddler is very different from nursing an infant.  An infant nurses primarily for nutrition.  A toddler nurses for bonding time.  My toddlers nursed when I got home from work, before they went to bed and occasionally when they were hurt or sad.  They are now 16 and 9, and neither of them remember nursing as toddlers and have grown into confident, well-adjusted, healthy kids.  And, contrary to what my mother said when he was 3, my teenage son does not have an unhealthy fascination with boobs.   Every time I see a woman breastfeeding a toddler, I approach her and tell her what a great job she’s doing. Hopefully my encouragement makes her forget the stares and nasty comments from perfect strangers.

But, back to the real issue.  The article is about attachment parenting, not about breastfeeding vs formula feeding.    Here’s my message to both camps:  instead of being defensive about how we choose to feed our infants, let’s be thankful that we have a choice.  In most of the world, breastfeeding is a matter of life and death.  As Americans, we are fortunate to have access to clean water, which by the way, benefits both nursing and non-nursing babies alike.  We are also fortunate to have programs like WIC to help mothers feed their babies because formula isn’t exactly affordable. 

Parenting is a process.  It’s fluid.  It changes from day to day, year to year and from child to child.  Take a moment and find out what attachment parenting is all about and you’ll understand the question, “Are You Mom Enough?” It takes an incredbile commitment level to live out attachment parenting to its fullest—especiallly in our American culture. I’ve been luckily enough to experience the full-spectrum in a few parenting “adventures”: birth with medication and natural childbirth, breastfeeding my children as toddlers and having to stop nursing my youngest at 3 months and start formula feeding, being a biomom and a stepmom, being a SAHM to a working mom to a mom with a home office.  None of it is easy.   I’ve incorporated bits and pieces of attachment parenting, learned from books, the internet and most importantly other mothers.  No one way is right for any mom, any child or any family. Here’s the bottom line: it’s not about whether you breastfeed, use cloth diapers, feed your baby only organic food, and co-sleep. What’s important is that you raise confident children that grow into well-adjusted, non-judgmental adults the best way you can. Let’s all stop being defensive and angry.  Let’s bond and get the village together so we can raise these kids.  And finally, let’s all read the article before we start throwing punches.

What was your first reaction when you saw the Time cover?  Has anyone ever been critical of your parenting style (as a biomom or a stepmom)?  Do you really care if a mother breastfeeds or formula-feeds her baby?  Have you heard of attachment parenting before today?

“…and I’m a StepMom.”

9 Mar

"My name is Brigette, and I'm a BioStepMom."

I like Mormons.  I’m Catholic, so admire the LDS hyper-focus on family, and truth be known, I’m jealous of their mega-pantries.  With a potential Republican presidential nominee on the horizon, the “…and I’m a Mormon” ads are all over TV.  I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be fun to have an “…and I’m a Stepmom” campaign?  The goal of the campaign would be to humanize stepmothers and show that we are neither wicked nor evil. Think about it.  Of course I’ve written mine already!  Here it is:

When I found myself divorced at 40-years old with two children, I never imagined that I would become part of a blended family.  Now we have a busy “yours, mine and ours” family of three kids full-time, a total of five every other weekend and most of the time, a couple of extras kids here and there. 

I’m a firm believer that four is the magic number.  Once you get to four kids, it doesn’t matter if you have ten.  They all start to form their own little village.

The rules of my house are simple:  be nice to each other, pick up after yourself and help your younger siblings. 

My kids like to add to our family.  They have lots of friends that they consider part of our family.  My 9-year old daughter will tell you she has six sisters and three brothers.  I guess that’s my influence.  My father’s side is from Hawaii.  We believe in ‘ohana.

I believe it takes a village to raise a child.  And I’ve got a big village.

My name is Brigette.  I work full-time. I’m a compulsive multi-tasker and I’m a BioStepMom.

What would your 30-seconds look like?  Please share in the comments section.

“I thought I was the only one who didn’t love her stepchildren”

11 Jan

Not loving your stepchildren can make you feel guilty

A post that I wrote in March 2011 has been getting a lot of hits lately and stirring up all kinds of feelings. “Taboo Topics: Things that Stepmothers Don’t Want to Say Out Loud” was a three-part post based on a conversation I had with Heather Hetchler on The Stepmom Connection. The first topic was, “I fell in love with my husband, not my stepkids”.

More than a few stepmothers have had a “Thank God, I thought I was the only one” moment after reading the post and comments. And then, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are the indignant women that believe if you don’t love the kids, you should stay away from the man.

Some stepmothers love their stepchildren as much as they love their biological children. And then, there’s the rest of us experiencing a range of feelings towards our stepchildren, but not love. Yes, kids were part of the package. Yes, we knew that going in. If we didn’t already love our stepchildren, we hoped that those feelings would develop over time. And for some of us, it just hasn’t happened yet and for a few of us, it never will. But even the women who openly admit to not loving their stepchildren still treat them with kindness. We love our husbands, and the children are part of him, so we do our best by them, just as we would for any child.

Loving a man, but not his children is puzzling to us. We think to ourselves, “As a woman, shouldn’t I feel instantaneously maternal towards them?” If we don’t we think, “What the heck is wrong with me?” In a word: nothing. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s no reason to feel guilty. Give yourself time and be open to the possibility of love yet be prepared if it doesn’t happen. You can care for your stepchild his/her entire life and never really fall in love with them or have the same love as you do for your biological children. It’s totally normal. And based on the comments on the original post, it’s more common that you think.

If you’re a stepmother who grew to love her stepchildren over time, please share how your relationship with your stepchild evolved and tell us when you knew your feelings had changed.

When the Lines Get Blurry: Letting your BioKids go to his ex’s house

22 Nov

     Have you as a BioStepMom ever let your BioKids spend the night at the home of your StepChildren/DH’s ex-wife’s home? If that question hasn’t come up for you, consider it for a moment. Would you? Would you if you had no relationship with DH’s ex?
     I know of a few blended families in which the lines are blurred and biosiblings, stepsiblings and half-siblings spend time with all branches of their family tree. Recently an interesting challenge came up for one of BioStepMom friends. She and her DH have a “mine, yours and ours” family, much like mine except they have a whole lot of girls. She has 3, he has 2 and together they have 1. One day, her stepdaughters asked if it would be okay if her daughters spent the night at their house. After a “let me think about that” response to 6 girls excitedly jumping up and down at the prospect of a sleepover in a new location, she discussed the proposal with her DH. Without hesitation he said, “Sure, if it’s ok with my ex, it’s okay with me. What do you think?” That’s when things got a little sticky. While things were good between DH and his ex after many years of battling, she still did not have a relationship with the mother of her stepchildren. DH was completely confident in his ex-wife’s ability to make sure all the girls had fun at this blended family slumber party extravaganza, but she just couldn’t say “yes”. Very few words had been exchanged between the two women, and that ones that were spoken were terse and often unkind (on the part of his ex). She said, “I felt bad about being the person that said ‘no’ to this whole deal because the girls were so excited about it, but to me it felt like the equivalent of handing my girls over to a complete stranger, even though they have met her and have been to her house. I don’t even have her phone number or address.”
     So what about you BioStepMoms? What would you do? Would you blur the lines and let your children go because your DH is confident that his ex will be kind to your children despite her lack of relationship with you? Do you think that this kind of leap of faith would lead to starting a new relationship with his ex? Or, would you say “no” and perhaps offer up a slumber party atmosphere for a weekend instead of the typical EOW routine? What makes you uncomfortable about this situation? Sound off BioStepMoms!

BM | SM | WFC?

3 Nov

Pick your battles

There’s a discussion group on Facebook that typically has lots of fireworks between BMs and SMs (the group is open to both).  I watch the heated discussions, but rarely post.  In a recent thread, an SM said she was thankful for the group and was hoping for better relations with BM.  The BM replied with the same argument that we’ve all heard:  don’t call me BM, it’s the same abbreviation as “Bowel Movement” and the term “Biological Mother” is more appropriate for women that have given up their children.

Here’s an SM publicly holding out an olive branch and the BM takes issue with an abbreviation.  And we wonder why BMs and SMs can’t get along? 

BMs that take issue with “BM” listen up, “BM” and “SM” are acronyms that are commonly used when writing on the internet.  Other acronyms include:

                                                                                                                                                                                          SD = Stepdaughter          BD=Biological Daughter

SS=Stepson                        BS=Biological Son

SK=Stepkids                       BK=Biological Kids

DH=Dear Husband           BF=Boyfriend

Sure we could write out “my husband’s ex-wife” or “the mother of my stepchildren” or use your first and last name, but  c’mon.  Pick your battles.  We all know who the mom and the stepmom is in the relationship.  “BM” and “SM” are internet/texting shorthand terms and in all honesty, are probably a lot better than what the other women would like to call you some of the time.  Furthermore, if you’re using terms like “lol”, “omw”, “cya”, “btw” or “jk”, you should probably think twice about criticizing the use of “BM” or “SM”. 

Let’s focus more on building working relationships with the BM or SM in our lives to make things easier for the children instead of taking offense over internet acronyms.  JS (just sayin’).

 Postscript (11-4-11): as the thread developed on the page, it turns out that the BM and SM are on friendly terms and the comment was meant in jest, but of course the tone was lost in writing.  Still, this is an argument that has come up time and time again, which is evidence by the very long thread debating acronyms.  As I’ve stated before, we know who gave birth to the child and we all know who the stepmother is.  Let’s do our best to raise the children and try to get along for their sake.

You’ve been cast as the female lead in a dramatic series called “Your Life” as the Stepmother. Now what?

10 Aug

Not a suggested role, for obvious reasons.

As stepmothers, we often have a hard time deciding how to approach our role as the new “female lead in a dramatic series”. Custodial stepmothers usually chose the role of “mom”, but for those of us that have our stepchildren every other weekend (or some other non-custodial situation), choosing an appropriate role is a bit more difficult.  Add in your own biological children and it gets even more confusing.

 Here are some stand-in roles that have been suggested to many of us.  See if any of these describe you:

The Cool Aunt:  You are probably around the same age as the biomom but you are her polar opposite. 

Discipline:  Like any Cool Aunt, you have your limits, but most of the time, you let stuff slide.

Advantage:  The kids look forward to their weekends with you to do different things than what they would do at home.  Arts and crafts, dancing to world music, hiking in the woods, you are a source of new adventures! 

Disadvantage:  The biomom will either embrace the fact that the children are learning new skills and are being exposed to new things or she will be insanely jealous and either criticize those things or try to compete by “one-upping” you.  It could get ugly.

 

The Big Sister:  You are probably much younger than the biomom and not much older than the kids.  You have boundless energy and you’re very enthusiastic.

Discipline:  You don’t have to worry about discipline at all because Dad will take care of it!

Advantage:  The kids think “Dad’s new wife” is totally cool!  You get to do all the fun stuff with the kids; what’s not to love?

Disadvantage:  At first, it’s all fun and games, but then the kids get older and realize that you’re The Stepmother in disguise.  The tide may change.  Never mind that the biomom already dislikes the fact that she got traded in for a younger model. 

 

The Sweet Granny:  You see the world through rose-colored glasses.  Your stepchildren can do no wrong!

Discipline:  Discipline?  What’s that??  You love those children so much and you just know that any bad or inappropriate behavior can be contributed to the hurt of the divorce which you know you can heal through your endless love.

Advantage:  The kids LOVE the fact they have control of the household. 

Disadvantage:  The kids have control of the household.  And most of the time, you end up as a doormat.

 

The Babysitter: You married a man with children but you have no emotional investment in them. 

Discipline:  When the kids act up, you thank God they’re not your children. Your disciplinary plan:  “Wait ‘til your father gets home!”

Advantage:  They show up.  It’s a “free-for-all” weekend.  They leave.  Everyone’s happy, especially DH.

Disadvantage:  You have to put up with way more back talk than any babysitter would ever have to and to make matters worse, you don’t get paid.

 

Obviously these are tongue-in-cheek descriptions but most of us have taken on a few of these roles to see what fits best and still we come back to The Stepmother, a role that has yet to be universally defined.  However, there does seem to be one nagging universal truth to this role:  we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.    If we try to love the kids like they’re our own, we’re accused of trying to take over the BM’s role.  If we admit to not loving them like they’re our own, we’re labeled as heartless shrews.  If we treat them like our own children, we’re criticized for trying to act like a mom to them.  If we treat them differently, we’re accused of playing favorites.  Often times, it feels like a no-win situation with every move being analyzed by a cast of characters that all have their own agenda.  I think I speak for most non-custodial stepmoms when I say that all we really want to do is support DH in the raising of his children, yet finding a comfortable place in how we deal with and interact with our stepchildren is so very difficult.

What kind of role have you taken on as a stepmother?  How long did it take you to find a role that suited you?

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