Archive | May, 2010

You’re Uninvited: How Do You Determine the Guest List When Stepsibings Are Involved?

30 May

One of the most awkward post-divorce situations is establishing new holiday protocol. Who gets to spend the holidays with the kids? Do we abide by the parenting plan (you get the odd years, I get the even years)? Do we celebrate birthdays together as one big extended but divorced family or do we have two separate events? Do the kids really have to suffer through two Thanksgivings?

Having grown up in a stepfamily where everyone put down their weapons to celebrate together for the kids, it made complete sense to me to invite my ex-husband to every birthday party and holiday dinner and leave it up to him if he wanted to attend. He has not remarried and hasn’t had a girlfriend that he thought was serious enough to introduce to the kids, so the invite is simple: come hang out with DH, me, and all the kids.

However, complications arise when there are children in both households and those children are friends but the BioMom and StepMom are not. Just today I experienced a moment of sadness at a fellow BioStepMom’s house when a stepsibling realized she wasn’t invited to her stepsister’s party.

Stepsister #1: “I’m going to have party at the pool with all my friends for my birthday.”
Stepsister #2: “Really? I can’t wait to come!”
Stepsister #1: “Um, well, you can’t come.”
Stepsister #2: “Why? I’m one of your friends and I’m your stepsister.”
Stepsister #1: “You can’t come because my mom doesn’t like your mom.”
Stepsister #2: (Bursts into tears and runs out of room)

Ouch.

The BioStepMom and I were at a loss for words. Stepsister #1 was being absolutely truthful in her own 8-year old way and Stepsister #2 reacted as any 6-year old would after being told that she wasn’t invited to her own stepsister’s party. This BioStepMom was especially hurt since she’s made it a point to schedule her own biochildren’s birthday parties on DH’s weekends to make sure that her stepdaughters would be included. She and her DH even went so far as to have their baby’s first birthday party twice so that the baby’s half-sisters wouldn’t feel left out when BM refused to let them come to the originally scheduled party after initially agreeing. In fact the whole family (grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) showed up for the second birthday party to make it even more festive for the girls. She didn’t have to do any of that, but she did because she knows how much her biodaughters love their step/half-sisters, and on top of that everyone in the extended family wants the opportunity to see the children since they’ve missed out on so many family celebrations and get-togethers since the divorce because of the “rules” of an every other weekend parenting plan. Should she really expect the same in return from a BM that has no interest in a relationship with her? Probably not, but it still hurts a mother’s heart to see her children feel left out. She shook her head and said, “It’s hard to watch my kids get their feelings hurt because BM hates me.”

So how do you handle situations like birthday parties and holiday celebrations? What do you do when you’re a single mom or a BioStep and your ex-husband has remarried someone with children? If the BioMom and StepMom have a good relationship, then the invites flow easily. But if the children have a relationship and the parents don’t (especially the BioMom and StepMom), then what’s the right thing to do? I know there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution but I’d love to hear what you do in your particular situation. Do you maintain family separate family events or put aside differences so the kids can celebrate together? What do we teach the kids by keeping things separate? What do we teach them by celebrating together? I’d love to hear your comments.

What to Do When the BioMom Declares War

27 May

BioMoms hate us, they obsess over us and then deny that they do.   

I know StepMoms that endure constant drive-bys, stake outs by private investigators, harassment at work, calls to Child Protective Services with false accusations, cyberstalking and lawsuit after lawsuit for everything from custody to allegations of slander and libel all fueled by desperation to find something, anything to prove that the Wicked Stepmother is unfit to be in the presence of children.  I would have never believed any of this until I became a StepMom and began to hear horror story after horror story.  It’s almost as if someone has handed BioMoms a playbook because the moves are all the same and increasingly predictable.

Everything bad that happens to the children is attributed to us or our existence on this planet and we never get credit for the good things that we do.  If we send the kids home in freshly washed clothes it’s because we’re trying to be “Little Miss Perfect” but if we send them home with spots on their shirts then we’re lazy bitches that can’t be bothered to do laundry.  We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. 

They stalk and harass (or get others to do it on their behalf), resort to name-calling and racial slurs, and even go so far as to interrogate the kids when they get home (“What did she wear? Where did she take you? Were you alone with her?”).  And yet we’re the ones labeled “Stepmonster”, “Wicked Stepmother” and sometimes even “Psycho Bitch”.  Somehow that just doesn’t seem fair.

After being the spin cycle of craziness, so many of us come out thinking:

Do they realize the amazing amount of power they give us by focusing all their energy and attention on us?

Do they know that the crazier they act, the more closely we bond with our husbands/partners?

Wouldn’t all that money, time and energy be better spent doing something else?

Most importantly, don’t they see the damage they cause the children?

I read a post by Susan Wisdom called “Why Do You Care About the Ex?” which addresses the reasons why some StepMoms focus on the BioMom.  One sentence really resonated with me:  “The truth is, the EX is yesterday’s news.”  Wow, that was a light bulb moment for me.  The BioMoms of the world know it.  They also know that since they’re yesterday’s news that we are today’s headline and they would like nothing more than to knock us off the front page. To be fair, her behavior is probably driven by jealousy and fear.  Jealousy that WE are the women that he chose, and fear over the fact that her kids might like weekends with Dad and us better than being at home with her.  What a lonely and scary place to be! At some point these BioMoms need to get past their own insecurities and see that we’re not there to take their rightful place as mom.  All we want to do is care for our husband’s/partner’s children as best we can. 

So, what do we do? Dr. Rachelle Katz, author of the new book “The Happy Stepmother” says early in her book, “…if my husband’s ex-wife wanted to say bad things about me, I wasn’t going to be able to stop it.  The best thing I could do was be myself and be the best stepmother I could be.”  (emphasis added) No truer words have ever been spoken, and even though we know this, we forget the minute BM starts her antics.  Some of the more seasoned StepMoms have given the best advice which can be summed up in a few words:  always take the high road.  On the other hand, DH has said to me over and over, “always respond in love.”  It’s difficult to always turn the other cheek and be the bigger person, but we need to.  Why?  First of all the kids are watching.  If you take the high road, the kids will notice the difference between the way you and BM act.  Secondly, it gets exhausting to engage in war if you’re the only one shooting bullets.  Eventually, BM will run out of ammunition (or her AK-47 will jam) and if you’re standing there waving a white flag throwing kindness and love grenades at her,then at some point, she’ll have to put down her weapon and walk towards you.  The process isn’t simple or quick and there are no guaranteed results, but it’s up to us to model kindness and integrity within boundaries that you have established.  When you have one of those days where you want to give up because it’s exhausting and you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere with BM, look at the faces of your StepKids.  They make all the hard work (with possibly no payoff) worth every minute.  It sounds so cliché, but do your best for the kids.

What are you doing to combat the behavior of a vengeful BioMom?  How do you deal with the exhausted feeling that comes with the realization that the craziness might never end?  How do you and your husband/partner keep it together when you’re constantly the target?

Is there really an epidemic of BPD among BioMoms?

24 May

It wasn’t until I became involved with the stepmom community that I heard about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  The first book I encountered was “Stop Walking on Eggshells:  Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder” (by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger).  The book asks:

Do you feel manipulated, controlled, or lied to? Are you the focus of intense, violent, and irrational rages? Do you feel you are ‘walking on eggshells’ to avoid the next confrontation?

 I can hear the pastor of The Church of Stepmom saying, “Can I get an amen???”

If you’re reading the posts on stepmom support sites, BPD symptoms describe the behavior of a lot of biomoms perfectly and many stepmoms freely throw around an armchair diagnosis. But is there really an epidemic of undiagnosed BPD running rampant among biomoms?

 Maybe.  Maybe not.

It is possible that there are biomoms with depression and personality disorders (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) that cause them to act the way they do and it’s also possible that there are biomoms severely lacking coping skills that act like out of control toddlers without a nap.  How do you determine which is which? Unless you’re a psychiatrist or psychologist, you can’t.  And even then, BPD tends to be a “tricky” diagnosis. 

So is it really BPD or is it unresolved anger over the divorce, the inability to move on, lack of coping skills, a desperate need to control or all of the above? I found a great online video called “Does She Have Borderline Personality Disorder?” which goes through many of the symptoms.  Try to watch it objectively.  Does the video describe the person that you’re dealing with?  It’s important to remember just because someone exhibits these traits doesn’t mean they suffers from BPD (which begs the question, “Then what is it?”).  You could be dealing a narcissist instead.  Oh joy.   

There are many stepmoms that are currently living in this Hell with biomoms and in some cases with biodads, with absolutely no end in sight.  Although easier said than done, the best advice is to stay grounded, maintain your perspective and your boundaries, and get specialized professional help for yourself if needed. What I’ve learned from being involved in the stepmom community over the last 4 years is this:

  1. You can only control your own behavior.
  2. Biomoms will misbehave.  Let them…and then document it.
  3. When the drama happens ignore it and walk away.  Don’t engage no matter how tempting it is to just let her have a piece of your mind.  Nothing diffuses an argument faster than yelling at someone who’s not there. 
  4. Remember that a lot of BPDs play the “projection game”:  denying one’s own unpleasant traits, behaviors, or feelings by attributing them (often in an accusing way) to someone else. Don’t play along.  Better to just take notes.
  5. The kids will eventually figure out that mom’s behavior is not appropriate and trust me, more often than not, that happens sooner rather than later.
  6. Let your home be a mini “detox” center and haven for the kids.  Crazy behavior does affect the kids so get professional help for them if necessary in order for them to get the skills needed to cope with the insanity.
  7. Join the online BPD community forums and read up on Target Parent Syndrome.  The behaviors seem to go hand in hand.
  8. Continue to strengthen your relationship with your husband/partner.  Create a game plan on how to deal with biomom during an “episode”. Without a strong foundation, you’ll never get through the drama in one piece.

What do you do to cope with the suspected BPD (female OR male) in your life? Please share what has and has not worked.

I wish my life was one big luau

21 May

Last night, my daughter had a mid-week hula practice in preparation for our big ho’olaule’a (fundraiser) this weekend.  Half of the halau (hula school) and our musicians descended upon a local Hawaiian restaurant to practice and eat.  If you just happened to choose Oahu’s for dinner that night, you got a free show.

As I sat with my two daughters, I looked around and smiled.  This is the kind of “village” that I like. The keikis (children) bounced around from table to table visiting every family.  The kupunas (elders) danced and everyone cheered (I especially admire the one who dances with her oxygen tubes attached).  As the keikis got up to dance, the kupunas all stayed to watch the little ones, even though their practice was over and they could have left.  Tutus (grandmas) hugged children that were not their own.  Moms kept an eye on kids from other families.  Babies were held on stage by daddies that needed to sing.  Bloodlines are blurred, patience abounds; we’re all looking out for one another.  There are smiles all around.  This is the way all families should work.  This is our ‘ohana.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain the concept of ‘ohana.  In the movie, Lilo and Stitch, Lilo gives a very simple explanation: “‘Ohana means family. Family means no one is left behind – or forgotten.”  In the United States, “family” typically refers to the nuclear family: mom, dad and children.  But an ‘ohana can consist of aunties, uncles, grandparents, cousins and those dear friends of no blood relation that you just can’t live without. 

I was raised in a Filipino/Japanese/Hawaiian-style family with a huge ‘ohana.  In fact, I have cousins that I didn’t realize weren’t blood related until I was in my 20’s!  I have carried on that tradition with my kids.  In fact, a true sign of whether or not my 7-year old really likes you is if she refers to you as her cousin. And, if you ask her how many brothers and sisters she has, she will definitively answer “one brother and six sisters”.  The truth is that 3 of those “sisters” are her 20-something trio of babysitters and two are DH’s daughters (which, because we are unmarried, are not legally her stepsisters).

DH, on the other hand, was raised in a “Leave it to Beaver” household; traditionally American in every way.  My kids fell into calling his kids “sisters” out of love almost immediately and his kids looked confused.  They called his parents “grandma and grandpa” out of respect and they thought that we instantly expected that they’d have some kind of responsibility towards them.  My kids did what they have been raised to do: give family labels to people they love and/or respect and I guess that was a bit of a culture shock to DH’s family.  But after explaining that the kids were free with “grandma, grandpa, aunty, uncle” out of love and respect, they became more comfortable. That’s when it occurred to me that the concept of ‘ohana might work in our “non-traditional”(unmarried) stepfamily where the question of what to call each other and who belongs to who often pops up. 

Here’s what I’ve come up with for our brood: We are an ‘ohana, which means we are a family.  We might not all be related by blood, but we watch out for each other, we are kind to one another, and we treat each other as we would want to be treated.  We are “bruddahs and sistahs” (doing my best Pidgin accent here) because sometimes your family isn’t only the one you are born into, it’s also the one you make along the way.

Now before you get all excited, let’s get a few things straight: I’m not demanding that my stepdaughters use family names in referring to me, my biological children or their half sister. I’d just like them to get past the voices that say “She’s only your dad’s girlfriend, she’s not your stepmother” or “She’s only your half-sister, she’s not your real sister”. Does it really matter what we choose to call one another in OUR family?  What I’d like is for them to “live aloha (which is not a new concept for them, it just has different words assigned to it) and to learn live ‘ohana-style so that labels and the lack of legal documentation (ie, marriage certificate) doesn’t matter, but the feeling and love does.  I’d love it if they didn’t blink an eye when my 7-year old introduces them as her stepsisters or her sisters or if they didn’t feel the need to correct the 2-year old that DH and I have together every time she called one of them “Sister!”.  I want them to know that my children and I refer to them as part of our family because of the love we have for them and that there’s no pressure to reciprocate. In fact, I’d like to surround them in so much love that all the anxiety over the invisible line that’s drawn between “us” and “them” just disappears…poof!

Our big luau is this weekend and luckily it’s also DH’s weekend with his girls.  They’ve been to a few luaus with us and love the Hawaiian culture.  They love the dancing, the music and the easy-going nature of our ‘ohana.  At luaus we are all bruddahs and sistahs, auntys and uncles, tutus and kanes (grandmas and grandpas); one big happy ‘ohana sharing a meal, some music and dancing and a lot of laughs. I love that his girls are exposed to that and that they eagerly soak up every minute of it.  With time and patience, I truly hope the ‘ohana concept will sink in.

If only real stepfamily life was one big luau. A girl can dream, right?

Leave Jessica Jones Alone

18 May

Jessica Jones, a stepmom in Jacksonville, Florida took the streets last Sunday, May 16th to call attention to Stepmother’s Day.  She’d like to convince lawmakers and retailers to officially recognize the Sunday after Mother’s Day as the day to honor stepmothers. Now there are one hundred other things I would rather do on a sunny Sunday in Florida (probably because I live in the Pacific Northwest and hardly ever see the sun), so I admire Jessica’s efforts.  In fact I think it’s amazing that she and her five stepchildren took the time to raise awareness.  Unfortunately, not all stepmoms agree with me.

Jessica was criticized on a Facebook stepmom support page.  Women were telling her that she shouldn’t be asking for a separate day, that she should be content as a stepmom without any acknowledgement at all and that perhaps she did it to call attention to herself.  As discussions began on other stepmom sites, there was speculation that the comments came from biomoms in disguise and while I hate to say it, I don’t think that’s true.  As I’ve become more involved in the stepmom community, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of us who are quick to judge and criticize instead of listen and attempt to understand another stepmoms struggle.  Two topics immediately come to mind:

  1.  Stepmoms who don’t love their stepchildren as their own.
  2. Stepmoms who would like some kind of acknowledgement for either a job well done or for gracefully dodging slings and arrows from their stepchildren.

I’m a BioStep and I can tell you that stepparenting is much harder than parenting your own biological or adopted children.  I thought that the stepmom community would be open and supportive, and for the most part it is, but the small camp that I’ve observed that make some of us feel less than worthy of stepparenting because we are open and honest about the way we feel and about our struggles are really getting me down.  The moms that criticized Jessica Jones are among those people. 

I know that President Obama recognized stepmothers in his Mother’s Day proclamation this year, but there are some biomoms and stepmoms that feel that Mother’s Day should be set aside to honor biological mothers and adoptive mothers only.  Don’t gasp; if that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t need books like “No One’s the Bitch” or “Stepmonster”!  And if you consider that stepfamilies will outnumber first families within the next few years, it makes sense to set aside a day to honor both stepmothers and stepfathers.

I don’t know Jessica and I’ve never spoken to her but I admire a woman with passion, drive and initiative.  Jessica stood out there for ALL OF US: those that are happy in our stepmom lives and those that are miserable; those that would like someone to notice that we try our hardest everyday and those who are content within themselves without any extra acknowledgment; those with wounded hearts because their stepchild made a card at school for their biomom but nothing for them and those who happily made cards with their stepkids and had them spend the day with their biomom.  If you are content in your steplife and don’t need any acknowledgement, then applaud Jessica for working to get some nods for the rest of us who would like or need an “atta boy” pat on the back.  Leave Jessica alone and don’t criticize! Support your sisters in stepmotherhood and realize that everyone is on this journey with a different set of unmatched luggage. 

Thank you Jessica for your courage and for standing up for stepmoms everywhere!  Your efforts are appreciated by stepmoms everywhere.

Oops. We should have saved that one for your Dad.

13 May

For Mother’s Day, my son and DH detailed my car.  This is no small undertaking and should have been approached with bio-hazard suits on, but the guys worked tirelessly for 2 ½ hours.  After my son presented me with a very clean and shiny vehicle, he said, “Um, Mom, is it okay if I drive the car around the cul-de-sac?  DH said it was okay with him if it was okay with you.”  This would be his very first time behind the wheel. I gave him the green light and watched them roll very slowly down the street, thinking “Wow, what a great father/son moment.”  Then it dawned on me, maybe I should have saved this moment for my ex-husband (my son’s biological father).  Uh oh.

My ex-husband and I divorced in 2006.  His work schedule is a bit goofy so it’s hard for him to take the kids for a full weekend, but he spends time with him when he can.  What I realized soon after we split up is that he’s a great dad in short clips of time, and that’s what I’ve tried to give him in order for him to be successful as a father.  This isn’t meant to be a slam; he agrees with me and is thankful that I recognize that about him.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work for my son, especially when he hit 12.  He craved the attention of his father as any preteen boy would and really wanted to spend time with him.  I remember the day I had to sit down with him and tell him, “Honey, your relationship with your father may never be what you want it to be.  You have to learn to work with what you’ve got and embrace that.”  He got up and threw a chair across the room and I let it go.  I understand his frustration having the same issues with some significant relationships in my life. There are a lot of times I wanted to toss a chair across a room and through a window.  I can’t make it better for him and that’s hard on me.

Enter DH.  From the beginning, he told my ex-husband, “I’m not here to replace you as Dad.  I just want to support you both as you raise these kids.”  He’s stuck to that promise, but he’s also unknowingly filled in the gaps quite nicely.  Since we live together, he can’t help but to take on some of those “dad-like” duties like talking about grades and girls.  He’s even addressed some of the deeper issues like integrity and responsibility.  He’s taken a mentor approach but it has meant so much more to my son.  As I’ve mentioned before, DH and I are not married yet both of my kids from my first marriage refer to him as their stepdad.  They came to that place organically, completely on their own.   One day he was “my mom’s boyfriend” and as their relationships evolved, he became “my stepdad”.  We didn’t make a big deal out of it, we just rolled with it.  My ex-husband is okay with it too.  Seemingly unthreatened, he’s thanked DH a few times for being so great with his kids.  We’ve embraced the “it takes a village” concept and it makes our lives run pretty smoothly most of the time.  This means that there will be memories made in this house that don’t include their dad.  My son’s first time behind the wheel was one of the moments.

My ex-husband still doesn’t know about the stepfather/stepson jaunt around the cul-de-sac.  In fact, while we were out tonight I was telling DH about this post and he said, “I had the same feeling as we were driving away.  I looked over at him and thought, ‘Shoot.  He should be doing this with his dad.’”    He feels a little guilty for taking that moment away from my son’s father, but it’s done.  My son is still thrilled about his 30 second ride down the street, and his happiness is what’s most important here, right?

My son’s going to have a lot of shared moments with both his dad and DH.  Are there father/son moments that you think should be specifically saved for and shared with a non-custodial biological father?   How do you decide what those moments are?

An apology to BM

12 May

Note: Inspired by the BM/SM relationship “breakthrough” of an internet SM Facebook friend, I’m publishing this post a week earlier than planned and finally posting my blog address to my Twitter account where I know BM will see it. It’s time.

My blog used to have a much different tone. It was a blog for my family and friends where I wrote about my kids and complained about things, including BM. I figured she would never discover it and if she did, who cares? She was completely unidentifiable. Well, she did find my blog and my Twitter account and asked me via certified letter to take the blog down. My first reaction was, “Hello? Free speech anyone??” But after a conversation with DH, I took the whole blog down and deleted a total of 2 tweets out of 433 that referenced her. I call DH “the prince of peace” because he always tries to do the right thing. He’s one of those people who makes you want to be a better human, and my life is all about making him happy, so I took it down, a bit begrudgingly, for him.

Then a friend reminded me, “You know, if she had written something about you on the internet, we’d be all over her.” And she’s right. I wouldn’t want my behavior posted online by someone else. I prefer to take care of that myself. I realized then that I wasn’t doing anything positive to contribute to the relationship I keep saying that I’d like to have with BM. I felt like a hypocrite. So I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and take the approach that DH and many SMs keep telling me to take: be kind and continue to reach out.

Although I have been asked to never again write anything about her good or bad, I am going to take a chance and write one more thing: an apology.

Dear BM,

In this age of the internet and social media, we sometimes tend to forget how far our words can reach. I wrote some things about you that should have been kept between us and for that I am sorry. Per your request, I’ve taken that blog down.

I hope one day we can get along, for the kids. I’ve been thinking about sending you the book, “No One’s the Bitch” for the last 6 months, but obviously I have not. I have a copy of it and would like to suggest that you pick one up too. It’s about building a mother/stepmother relationship. It doesn’t point fingers (hence, the name) and gives some very practical advice. I think we can get to a workable relationship if we both try. I know I’m ready.

Sincerely,

BioStep

Do you need to apologize or “make peace” with the BM or SM in your life? Write your letter here. It’ll make you feel better, I promise!