Archive | June, 2010

Help Wanted: Stepmother Position Available

18 Jun

Recently my friend, the founder of the Enlightened Stepmother’s Group, asked on her Facebook page “What are the qualifications to BE a Stepmom?”  That got me thinking:  if I were hiring a stepmother for my children, what would the job description look like?  Knowing how vicious I can be, and after hearing stories from BioMoms and StepMoms alike, this is what I came up with:

  1. Must own a very large shield to protect yourself against rocks and daggers that may be thrown in your direction by the BioMom and stepchildren.
  2. Must be open to the possibility of having a good working relationship with DH’s ex-wife…or not.
  3. Must be able to bite your tongue without severing it or bleeding profusely from the mouth.
  4. Must have an e-reader, shelf space or a large bedside table to accommodate the 10 or more stepmothering books purchased as you attempt to figure out what’s wrong with you.
  5. Must be able to tolerate cyberstalking by BioMom, her BF/DH, and her friends and relatives as they try to dig up any piece of dirt they can find out about you on the internet. 
  6. Must treat your stepchildren the same as your own children, or at least be able to fake it.
  7. Must be able to grin and bear it as your stepchildren recreate scenes from “The Parent Trap” in an attempt to reconcile their parents.
  8. Must be able to remain calm and cheerful during incessant telephone calls and emails from BioMom during your custodial time.
  9. Must be able to develop a strong support system of other stepmothers who will let you know that you’re not alone.
  10. Must love your stepchildren without expecting that they will ever love you back.

Obviously I’m feeling a bit sarcastic today, so with all kidding aside, the truth is that in order to take on the job of StepMom, you have to go in with sleeves rolled up, eyes wide open and ZERO expectations. Unlike a “real” job, there is no employee’s handbook, no training and no human resources department.  The job description is different for everyone and you find yourself developing your policies and procedures along the way.   It’s almost never like what you imagined it would be. So many of us go into a step situation with visions of a perfectly blended family only to find out that blending oil and water is a lot easier. 

As a community of StepMoms and BioStepMoms we need to recognize that we all come to the table with different circumstances, different struggles and different parenting styles.  Some of us are married, some of us are not. Some of us are lesbian StepMoms.  Some of us are both adoptive or BioMoms and StepMoms.  We come in all different kinds of configurations and the best thing we can do is be supportive of each other.  Together we can help one another develop a “game plan” that works for our families, be there to support each other during the difficult times and to celebrate our triumphs.  There’s no right or wrong way to be a StepMom; most of the time it just happens.  We need to remember that marrying a man with children doesn’t make you qualified to be a stepmother anymore than giving birth qualifies you to be a mother.  What makes you a Mom (bio, step, adoptive, foster) is what’s in your heart and how you act on it.

What would your help wanted ad look like?

Cutting the Apron Strings

16 Jun

When my son turned 13, I almost had a nervous breakdown. But 14? It’s been a real eye opener. I’ve been loosening the apron strings centimeter by centimeter for the last few years, but this year feels like he’s just taken the scissors and cut them, or at least stabbed me in the heart with the scissors. Why? ‘Cause he just doesn’t want me around anymore. Not in a bad, I-hate-you-Mom kind of way, more in an I’ve-outgrown-you kind of way.

He has always been MY baby. He was an only child for seven years and is the only boy of 5 kids, so he has a special place in the family. He’s always wanted me there for every event, but now, not so much.

It started happening when he turned 13, but in the last year, it’s really hit home. When I told him that DH and I would be coming to Curriculum Night at his school, he said, “Um, can you NOT go??” Ouch.  He asked if DH could go with him…alone. Not his dad, not me, just DH. I vetoed that one. Next, he had an opportunity to go on a class field trip to Washington D.C. I decided that I’d like to tag along since my only trip to D.C. was driving through it to get to Dulles. I also thought about what a great opportunity it would be to take this trip with my son. When I proposed the idea, he said again, “Um, can you NOT go? I’d like DH to go. You understand, Mom, right? It’s a guy thing.” I vetoed that decision as well and we’ll be leaving for Washington D.C. next week.  I was relishing the chance to take this trip with him.  Then yesterday he asked me not to sit next to him on the plane because he wanted to sit with his friends and not to hang out with him because he and his friends wanted to hang out with the one male teacher that’s going on the trip.

Of course, I was crushed. Is he embarrassed of me? Do I dress funny? Am I a complete doofus? No, it’s because I’m his mom.  As mothers, we can do a lot, but the one thing we can’t do is be a father.  During my divorce, I put a lot of strong male figures in my son’s path on purpose and each of those men has contributed to building the fine young man that he’s becoming.  One of those men was DH. I’m thrilled that my son has such a good relationship with him.  I love how they’ve bonded as a step-duo and that DH subtly fills in the blanks. I love that my son wants to do things with DH, asks to spend one on one time with him and genuinely likes him. Does it break my heart that I’m no longer the “parent of choice”?  Yes, but the trade-off is that I’m raising a confident young man.  This Father’s Day, I’m grateful to all of the teachers, coaches, mentors and friends that have become part of our “village”, but I’m especially grateful to my ex-husband for helping me bring our son into the world and to DH for loving my son like he was his own. 

What are you grateful for this Father’s Day?

Words Unspoken

11 Jun

My dad on the train to Brugge, Belgium in 1995

 

Note:  This was a piece that I posted on my Facebook page this morning.   I try not to mix my personal life with my blog, but  at the risk of being vulnerable, this is a message that I’d like all parents to hear:  broken and/or non-existent relationships between a parent and a child can have effects all the way into adulthood.       

Today (6/11/10) marks the 8th anniversary of my dad’s passing.  Typically not good with dates, the date of his passing is easy for me to figure out: I look at my oldest daughter and add a year.  He passed when I was 7 months pregnant with her.  The death of a parent is never easy on a child, but it’s particularly torturous on those of us with broken relationships with parents that are on the road to healing when the rug gets pulled out from under us and that parent dies.       

I didn’t meet my dad until I was 13-years old and it was only because I asked to meet him.  He probably would have been content to go the rest of his life without adding me to the mix, but I felt like something was missing.  The relationship was a rollercoaster from the beginning; I was a snot-nosed, know-it-all teenager and he was a stubborn man with an idea of just how a teenager should act (which by the way, had no basis in reality).  Add alcohol and a lot of hard feelings to the mix, and it was a recipe for disaster.  There were some amazing memories like my first visit to Hawai’i where I met an entire side of my family that I didn’t know existed (and vice versa); the time he flew from up from visiting my grandparents in L.A. to meet us for just a few hours on Christmas Day and my son, only 3 months old spit up on his Armani suit; and the life-changing trip to Paris he decided I needed when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and he was finished with his cancer treatments (or so we thought).       

The last time I saw my dad was in Paris.  Our relationship deteriorated quickly after that trip and the next 3 years passed by in silence until he called me in May 2002 to tell me he was dying.  Years of drinking and smoking resulted in a third bout of esophageal cancer that was stronger than his will to live.  He was tired, but he had plans, he said.  He wanted me to go with him to Hawai’i so he could say goodbye to all this beloved aunts, uncles and cousins; then he wanted to go back to Paris, his favorite place on Earth, one last time.  Three weeks later, he was gone.      

I had planned on taking the time during those trips to apologize for my piece of the broken relationship.  I had planned on telling him that even though our relationship was never easy, that I loved him.  I never got to say any of those things because by the time I had mustered up the courage and found the words, it was too late.      

I remember boarding a plane for home after his memorial service (ironically held the day before Father’s Day), 7 months pregnant with big puffy eyes. The flight attendant sweetly asked me if there was anything she could do for me and to this day, I remember what I said: “Tell the people in your life that you love them.  If you have a broken relationship, fix it. Don’t put it off because you may never get the chance to say what you need to say.”  The flight attendant’s eyes filled up with tears.  I must have hit a tender spot.      

Eight years later, that regret still hangs over my head.  It doesn’t help that my 14-year old son looks just like my dad and I’m reminded every day of the words that I didn’t say in time.  I struggle to move past it, but I can’t.  The experience has changed the way I function in my relationships.  “Life’s too short” sounds so cliché until you find out first hand, just how fleeting it really is.

Sugar-coating it is only going to give me cavities

9 Jun

Recently, the following comment was made on StepMom support page:  I was going so subscribe to her blog but now I will recommend that people to NOT subscribe because of her entry ‘No one’s the B….’ This is not neccessary (sic), professional, or Godly. This is a big let down. Why would anyone put this title except to do a ‘shock’ piece. She is more creative and did not have to go to this low level.”

I love controversy. 

At first I was taken aback by this man’s (yes, I said MAN) criticisms.  I assume that the “offending” post is “Who’s the Bitch:  BM or SM?” which is about BMs and SMs taking ownership for their part in making a relationship work; although it is possible that this man was offended by my many references to the book “No One’s the Bitch” or the fact that “No One’s the Bitch” is listed on my blogroll.  I’m also going to assume that he didn’t take the time to read the post, which is a shame since it’s the mostly widely read and discussed piece that I’ve written.  He probably stopped at the word “bitch”, clicked off and went on to warn the general public about my use of profanity.  What a shame.

The purpose of this blog is to look at the ugly side of being a BioMom and a StepMom without ever pointing fingers, and somehow, brainstorming a solution.  Being a BioStepMom, I am well aware that there are three sides to every story (hers, mine and the truth).  If I wrote a fairy tale version of what it’s like to be in a StepMom or BioMom’s shoes, I’d be doing a grave disservice to you, the reader.  I could sugar-coat it, I suppose.  We could run through our imaginary Candy Land together: a place where BioMoms and StepMoms hug to greet each other at pick-ups and drop-offs; a place where our stepchildren tell us how much they love and appreciate us while smothering us with hugs; a place where BioMoms, StepMoms and DearHusbands take a blissful vacation together; a place where all telephone conversations were pleasant—but I’d be lying and you know it.  The ugly truth is that most of us are dirty and sweating bullets in the trenches of parenting.  Some of us are in active combat while others engage in a cold war.   And sometimes we refer to the other woman as a bitch.  That’s right, I said it:  B-I-T-C-H.  For some of us, it flows freely out of our mouths while for others, it comes out laboriously after we have been pushed to the edge.  Sometimes we even go so far as to add colorful adjectives in front of it.  In some cases, it makes us feel better while others are ashamed that they’ve succumbed to a “lower self” moment.  But the truth is, like it or not, many of us use that word.

My commitment to you is to always tell the truth.  Sometimes it’s not pretty.  My intent is not to offend, but to work through the ugliness and issues that we encounter during our parenting journey while providing support and a safe place for StepMoms and BioMoms to land. I’ll never sugar-coat it.  It’s just not my style.

As for my detractor, I wonder if he even knows about “No One’s the Bitch” and if he does know about it, does he discourage women from reading it because of the title?  Does he realize how it has inspired women to form some kind of working relationship with the “other mother”? 

Ultimately, I really do have to thank him.  After his post, my blog hits spiked and my subscribers doubled.  That says to me that our community of moms is more interested in what’s real than a candy-coated version of the truth.  

Am I completely wrong?  Tell me:  have you ever called the other woman a bitch or something worse? 

 And for those of you who are counting, I’ve written the word “bitch” eight times and none of them were used in a malicious manner.

What’s in a (last) name?

8 Jun

I took major criticism the day that I unveiled my new hyphenated name on Facebook last year.  I’m listed by my maiden name (so that people from grade school could find me) and my hyphenated last name which is a combination of my first husband’s last name and DH’s last name.  Not only does it make for one really long last name, it completely threw my friends off.  “Did you get married?”  No, we didn’t.  And we have no intention of doing so anytime soon.  So, why the change?  Let’s go back a few years…

I was born to an 18-year old single mom in the 1960’s. She gave me my father’s last name and since they were never married, she was still known by her maiden name.  Having a different last name than my mom really bothered me when I was a child.  Since we lived with my grandparents and everyone had the same last name except me, in a strange way, I felt like I didn’t  belong. 

My mother married when I was 10 and took my stepfather’s last name.   And once again, I felt like an outsider: not only did everyone one in the house (except for me) have the same last name; I was also the only daughter.  It got worse when my fair-haired, blue-eyed little stepbrother used the brown crayon to depict me in the family portrait that he drew at school while everyone else was drawn in peach.  I was an outsider and even my 4-year stepbrother knew it.

When I was 14, my birth father gave up his legal rights, my stepfather adopted me and I got what I wanted—the same last name as everyone in my family.  I was oddly relieved and elated as the same time because for the first time in my life, I had the same last name as my mom.

Fast forward 26 years and I’m sitting at the table with my 11-year old son, still reeling from a tumultuous divorce.  He asked me if I was going to change my name back now that I was no longer married to his father and I said no.  I explained to him how I felt growing up and that it was important to me that we have the same last name. 

What I didn’t see coming is that I’d fall in love again with a man with two children, that I would choose to be in a committed relationship but remain unmarried, and then choose to have a baby.  Hmm, that complicates things, doesn’t it?  That’s when I decided to legally change my last name (without getting married) so that it’s hyphenated to include the last names of children from my first marriage and my new baby.  It was important to me to have the same last name as all my biological children (from my former marriage and my current relationship) and to share a name with my stepchildren as well since my youngest daughter, their half-sister, shares their last name. 

For me, sharing a last name with my children is a powerful connection but for other moms, it’s not.  From what I have observed, the issue of last names tends to make women extremely territorial.  Here’s what I’ve seen and heard:

StepMom: “She  won’t change her last name because she’s hanging on to the only thing she has left of MY man!” 

My response:  Perhaps. However, she probably didn’t change her name because she wanted to keep it the same as the kids, or she may not have wanted to go through the hassle involved with changing her name on everything. And trust me, it IS a pain.

StepMom:  “Shouldn’t she be called ‘Ms.’ instead of ‘Mrs.’?  Don’t they know she’s not married to him anymore? I am!”

My response:  Does it really matter?  The polite thing to do is to call women “Mrs. So and So”, especially if you’re referring to a child’s mother (and it’s someone that you don’t know very well).  No one does it to offend you and honestly, it’s a bit socially awkward to ask someone to call you “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.”  Let it go.

BioMom:  “I was planning on keeping my married name, but now that my ex has remarried, there’s no way I’m sharing a last name with his new wife.”

My response:  So you’d let your children have the same name their father and stepmother, but not you?  You might want to reconsider.

BioMom:  “I changed my name as fast as I could.  There’s no way I’m going to keep the last name of that jerk.  And I can’t wait until my daughters get married so they don’t have to have that last name either!”

My response:  You may not want to say that out loud in front of your children.  Do you really want your child to think there’s shame associated with his/her last name??

Because I’m unmarried, I’ve taken my fair share of criticism for hyphenating my last name.  I’m not advocating a specific protocol for name changes in divorced/stepfamilies.  Personally, I hyphenated my name for my children and to have the flexibility to be called “Mrs. X” or “Mrs. Y” depending on which of my children I’m with.   My ex-husband, DH and my children are all happy with my decision.  But I’d like to know, how did you handle name changes in your family?  Was it even an issue?

Clothing: The Last Citadel of Control

2 Jun

Why is the shuttling of clothing between homes such an issue with divorced families/stepfamilies? I’ve seen so many ridiculous situations and I just want to scream, “Can everyone please just grow up and play nice???”

In the interest of peace among households, here are a few simple rules (and thoughts)  we might all want to consider:

 
For the custodial parent: Is it so hard to send your children to the other parent’s house in clean clothes? Is it even harder to pack a bag of clean, weather-appropriate clothes that match and fit? Do you have to pack the kids’ things in the dirtiest overnight bag you can find with broken zippers or better yet, a garbage bag?  Don’t you think your child would feel better going to the other house with a clean, possibly even colorful or cute overnight bag? Sending your children over looking their best shows your ex that you care about your children’s appearance. 
For the non-custodial parent: Could you possibly purchase a few inexpensive items to keep at your house like extra underwear and socks?  Is it so difficult to repack the clothes that were sent over? Sending your kids back with what they came with shows your ex that you pay attention to detail.
For both parents: Remember that it’s not the kids’ responsibility to keep track of the clothes (if they are under 12), it’s yours. If they come to your house with an overnight bag of clothes from the other house, take a quick inventory and make sure that everything gets sent back. If they accidentally leave something from the other house, send it back at the next exchange. Sending it back clean is even nicer.
Additionally, is it really fair for the non-custodial (EOW) parent  to have to buy a set of clothing to keep at their house? If the non-custodial parent has the kids 6 days out of the month and is paying child support, doesn’t it seem silly to expect that they would have an entirely separate wardrobe for kids that they will probably grow out of before they even have a chance to wear it? The money spent on a new wardrobe could be used for something better like swim lessons or summer camp.
If everyone would agree to the above, problem solved, right? Just remember that power struggles, even over something seemingly insignificant like clothes, are never good for the kids.  Be an adult and play nice.