Archive | September, 2010

“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too”

22 Sep

Is it our vindictiveness that keeps us from forming a working relationship with the "other woman"?

 

Recently I received a list of questions about stepmothers, and one particularly got my attention:    

Why is it that stepdads seem to be spared the challenges that stepmoms face?    

THAT is a very good question and one that sparked a great late night conversation between DH and me.    

Me:  Answer this question, “Why is it that stepdads seem to be spared the challenges that stepmoms face?”  For instance, the challenge that we hear most often is that the biomom hates the stepmom.    

DH:  Gender.    

Me:  That’s what I think too, especially with this issue.  Men aren’t as wicked to each other as women are.    

DH:  Women are too competitive with each other.    

Me: Yes, but men are competitive too at work and in sports, so why aren’t they competitive in family situations?  Why don’t we hear about conflict between stepdads and biodads?    

DH:  That’s true.  Men can be really competitive with other men at work or in sports, but at the end of the day, they can go out and have a beer together.  Women are…what’s the word I’m looking for?  Vindictive.  Yeah, women can be vindictive sometimes if they don’t get their way or if they don’t win.    

Me:  It’s true.  Women are hyper-competitive with each other but sometimes they can’t “leave it on the field” so to speak.  Instead they go in the locker room formulate their own “Kill Bill” list.    

DH:  Like a list of all the women they want Uma Thurman to take out?    

Me:  No, just a list of women that they despise. “The Wicked Stepmother” is usually on the top of that list.     

Ask any stepmom and she’ll tell you that one of the biggest challenges of being a stepmom is the relationship (or lack of) with the biomom.  Biodads and stepdads can meet in the driveway during pick-up and within 15 minutes, they’ve worked out a comfortable co-parenting relationship between themselves.  I’ve seen it happen in my own driveway. Once DH moved in, he made sure to approach my ex and let him know that he wasn’t here to take his place, he just wanted to support us raising our kids.  Two months later, they were sitting on the couch watching football and having a beer.     

Biomoms and stepmoms are a different story.  Put them in within 5 feet of each other and they’re sizing up the competition.  They put on their best fake smiles, exchange pleasantries, then go to their corner of the ring and morph into the Wicked Witch of the West. Remember how vindictive and spiteful she was:  “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”     

Not to pick on biomoms, but in most cases, we’re the ones with the chips on our shoulders (see my article in the July issue of StepMom Magazine).  Next thing you know, the stepmom is at the top of your “Kill Bill” list, also known as “The List of People I Wish Would Just Fall Off the Face of the Earth”.  We’re plotting the stepmom’s demise and ways to make her life a living Hell while the biodad and stepdad are having a genuinely pleasant and friendly conversation.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Does anyone realize that the kids are watching?     

So back to DH’s point, is gender the reason why stepdads seem to escape one of the biggest challenges that stepmoms encounter?  I think it is otherwise someone would have written “No One’s the A**hole” as the companion book to “No One’s the Bitch”.  I think much of the tension and conflict between biomoms and stepmoms happens because of the way women are “wired”.  We are all territorial and protective of our children, and then there are those of us who are still working on the less savory aspects of our personalities like jealousy, insecurity and fear which tend to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times.  Of course there are all kinds of societal expectations of women as mothers and stepmothers, as well as their expectations of each other. But when there’s a contentious relationship between the two, nothing gets resolved.  When a stepmother and biomom spend time whipping up tornadoes and waiting for a house to fall on the other’s head, no one wins. The big losers in the war?  The kids.   If you think they don’t sense your deep-seeded hatred of the other woman, think again.  Maybe it’s time we take a lesson from the guys and learn to shake hands and play nice for the well-being of the kids.  Be a little less “Wicked Witch of the West” and a little more “Glinda the Good Witch”.  You’ve got nothing to lose by being nice but you risk quite a bit, including the respect of your children, by acting vindictively.     

So let me ask you the same question that was asked of me:  Why is it that stepdads seem to be spared the challenges that stepmoms face?  Do you think there’s a double standard as far as expectations of stepmothers and stepfathers are concerned? Do you think stepmothers face greater challenges simply because of gender or does society’s expectation of women in a stepmother role factor into the equation?    

NOTE:  This is the first installment in a series that will look at the unique challenges that stepmoms face.  Next topic: feeling like an outsider in your own home.

Yours, Mine and Ours

20 Sep

She's ours

 

When I first jumped back into the dating pool, I knew that if I ever did find someone and fall in love again, that someone would probably have children of his own and wouldn’t want anymore.  I was 42 and figured my baby making days were over anyway.   

Then I met DH.  

On our first date DH and I knew that we were made for each other.   We both have two children from our first marriage (he has an EOW arrangement, I am the custodial parent of mine) and I was perfectly content with riding off into the golden sunset with our combined total of four kids.  That was until he had a crazy idea and an apparent burning desire to have a baby with me. I had to think about for a bit.  First thing to consider was our age (42).  Not only were there the risks to consider with my “advanced maternal age”, but also the math involved: when the baby starts kindergarten, we’ll be 48; when she graduates from high school, we’ll be 60 (I can hear it now: “Isn’t it sweet that your grandparents came to your graduation?”).  While our friends are enjoying their retirement, we’ll probably still be working to put our last one through college.  

Honestly, adding a baby into a stepfamily can be a messy proposition.  Not only are there children (potentially from both marriages)  to consider, but also the reaction of family members.  Then you have to consider the reaction of  the ex-spouses, which as we all know, can influence your child’s perspective on what you believe is a blessed event.  

Our first consideration of course were our four children.  How would they feel about a sibling?  They all agreed that it would be “cool”.  But then again, who doesn’t love a new baby?  After talking about the possibility of a new sibling with them and weighing all the issues, the pros outweighed the cons and before we knew it, we were pregnant and heading into the “yours, mine and ours” category.  

At first, our choice to have another baby concerned our families.  Some feared that I was too old to be pregnant and had no business giving birth in my 40s.  Some insisted that it must have been a mistake or a sinister plot to “trap” DH (little did they know it was HIS idea).  Others were upset by the fact that we didn’t feel the need to get married in order to bring a child into the world.  But hearts softened and everything changed the minute they laid eyes on her.  Babies have a way of doing that to people.    

The biggest surprise was the reaction of my ex-husband.  To my amazement, he was supportive.  In fact, the first “blended family” photo that we took was when I was about 7 months pregnant at the birthday party for our kids.  I remember posting it on Facebook and my friends applauding the fact that we both had come such a long way from our ugly divorce.  He picked up my older kids from school the day I gave birth, brought them to the hospital and made sure to congratulate us.  It was a nice moment.  Two years later “the baby” (as she’s referred to around here) will yell, “Sissy, your daddy’s here!” when he arrives to pick them up.  She always says “Hi Mister M!” and gives him a hug.  He confided in me once that his friends think he’s nuts for even acknowledging her, which he doesn’t understand.   He said, “You’d have to be pretty cold-blooded to ignore her.  She’s just a baby and she is the kids’ little sister and they love her.”  

When it came to our children, we were prepared for the possibility of a negative reaction, but thankfully it never happened.  They all adore her and dote on her .  When DH’s girls arrive for the weekend, the baby will run to the door squealing their names and I don’t even get a chance to say hello before they’ve scooped her up and taken her off to play.  From the moment the kids laid eyes on her, they love to find things about her that are just like them.  It’s their way of connecting themselves to her.  My Asian/Pacific Islander genes have dominated her so she looks more like my two older children, but she’s got the same crooked second toe and wide-set eyes as DH’s oldest daughter and the same mouth shape, long and lean body and facial expressions as his youngest daughter.  Unknowingly, her arrival bonded the family in a way that we couldn’t have done on our own, no matter how hard we tried.  The baby built a bridge between our two families and now it feels complete.  

The decision whether or not to add a child into a stepfamily can be a tough one.  If you have a “yours, mine and ours” family, how did the addition of your “ours” children affect your family?  Are the children accepting their new sibling?  How did your families react?  Are your ex-spouses supportive of your children’s’ new sibling?

Got Kids? Get a Date Night!

17 Sep

We have a full house.  We’ve got five between the two of us – a mine, yours and ours combination that ranges from teen to toddler.  DH’s daughters are with us every other weekend (EOW), so you can imagine the mayhem that ensues when four girls close in age are competing for the same toys (my teenage son flees when they arrive, smart boy). 

When DH jumped into my life, he quickly realized that the kids and I were never home after school.  Between swim practice, hula, ballet, youth group and play dates, our evenings were booked solid.  Two months into our relationship, DH suggested a weekly “date night”, knowing that having a busy tribe of children would equal no time alone, which in turn would plunge us into relationship demise.  He wanted to commit to date night to help us grow our relationship without the distraction of the children.  The only thing I had to do was coordinate everyone’s schedule and find a babysitter that was willing to commit to a weekly gig indefinitely.

That was over four years ago.  I’m proud to say that we’ve only missed two date nights in that time (not counting the three weeks after I gave birth to our daughter).  We’ve found that it’s strengthened our relationship and helped us build a firm foundation for our family. 

Let’s get real for a second: stepfamilies are ready-made families.  You don’t have the “luxury” of just being a couple for a few years because you are immediately thrust into family mode.  If problems arise early on, sometimes it’s easier to throw all your energy into the kids than it is to address what it is that’s bothering you.  Couples need to learn to be couples so that when the kids do leave the nest, they won’t look at each other and say, “Um, excuse me, but do I know you?”  I think it’s imperative that couples (especially stepcouples) schedule a date night and stick to it…for eternity.

Here are some tips on how to make it happen:

  • Map it out.  It takes some scheduling and planning prowess. In our particular case, we needed to consider our work schedules and my ex’s and DH’s mid-week visits.  Once we took all that into consideration, our date night turned out to be a mid-week night.  The advantage is that it’s day that’s not very crowded and it’s really easy to find a babysitter (because it’s not a Friday or Saturday night).  The disadvantage is that things aren’t open very late. 
  • Find a great sitter.  This can often be a challenge.  Ask your friends, family and neighbors.  I’ve found our sitters (who have been with us for four years and whom we consider part of our family) at my daughter’s day care.  The advantage is that they’ve had background checks and have been trained in first aid and CPR.  If you have family in town, ask grandparents to help out.  They love the one-on-one time with the grandkids.
  • Pay your sitters well.  This goes without saying.  If you want them to stick with you, pay them well and treat them like family. 
  • Keep it fresh.  The old “dinner and movie” stand-by can get kind of stale after a few weeks.  Mix it up.  Check out a museum or some local theater.  Drive to a scenic viewpoint and make out like teenagers. Take a cooking or a dance class together.  Be creative and opt for activities where you have to interact.
  • Have conversation flexibility.  Many couples set ground rules about topics of conversations that are to be avoided on date night (ie children and ex-spouses), but remember that uninterrupted time alone might be a good time to really get into a deep discussion and iron out issues.
  • Put it in your budget.  Let’s get real, the economy sucks and many of us are struggling.  I’ve had girlfriends ask me, “How can you afford a weekly date night?”  We budget it in like a bill.  It might take some budget cuts here or there (goodbye daily Starbucks latte), but it’s worth it.

Date night is a good thing, yet it quickly falls to the wayside when you let schedules get in the way.  Stay committed and keep the day sacred!  If you have children (regardless if you’re a first family or stepfamily), make date night and connecting with your spouse a priority.  You’ll build a strong relationship and an even stronger family.

For more information on strengthening your relationship as a stepcouple, check out Susan Wisdom’s website and blog  Stepcoupling.

National Stepfamily Day

15 Sep

September 16th is National Stepfamily Day.  Celebrate your family, whether it be the one you were raised in or the one you’re raising now!!  Here are some suggestions on activities taken directly from the National Stepfamily Day website:

  • Have a family portrait taken
  • Dinner and a Movie
  • Make a “Blending of the Sand Bottle” Buy a long and narrow bottle. Buy small packages of colored sand. ( you can buy the bottle and sand and local craft stores) Have each member of the family pick a different color. Then layer by layer have each member pour their colored sand in the bottle. The bottle represents one united family.
  • Game Night (play cards or your favorite board games)
  • Make a Photo Scrapbook. Have each member make their page.
  • Go to the zoo, library, museum, or art museum.
  •  Do a family activity like fishing, back yard camping, hiking, flash-light hiking (hiking at night) biking, miniature golf, softball, volleyball, horseback riding, bowling, or go for a long walk.
  • Make a dinner that consist of everyone’s favorite foods and make this dinner every year for National Stepfamily Day. Set the table like a 4 star restaurant.
  •   For Stepfamily members who live far away, write them a postcard or an email.
  • Make homemade ice cream or go out for ice cream
  • Make “smores” in the fireplace or outdoors.
  • Plant an indoor garden and watch it grow. Or plant fall bulbs. Start a Family cookbook. Write personal notes after each recipe about the individual family member’s favorite foods.
  • Start a Family cookbook. Write personal notes after each recipe about the individual family member’s favorite foods.
  • International night. Celebrate your family heritages by eating the traditional heritage foods. Tell your children about your heritage.
  • Take the family to a “family fun spot” in your town.
  • Take a road trip. Fill the car with gas, pack some sandwiches and drinks in the cooler and go for a drive. Sing songs or play car bingo.
  • Plan a Family Room Slumber party. Don’t forget the movies and popcorn!
  • Family “Get A Way” Night. Take the family to a nice hotel and go swimming and enjoy some time away from home.
  • If your family is having some difficulties, (As every family can have) take this day as a time to try to reach out. Write letters to each other on how you would like to see things turn around.
  • Craft Together. Make T-shirts with fabric paints. Buy a Table cloth and with permanent marker have everyone sign the table cloth along with a “positive message” about why I love my family. 

If you get a chance, be sure to send some love to the founder of National Stepfamily Day, Christy Tusing-Borgeld for all the hardwork she does for stepfamilies. 

What are you doing to celebrate?

Confessions of a BioMom Gone Bad: Manipulating the Parenting Plan

14 Sep

The creation of a Parenting Plan is standard procedure in a divorce.   It’s meant to be used as a guide, and there can be variations if both parties agree.  But, if both parties cannot agree, they must go back to implementing the Parenting Plan.  What I’ve seen too often is BioMoms that use the Parenting Plan in a manipulative way especially with BioDads that are following the rules and are trying to “play nice”. 

I’m talking about the BioMoms that won’t allow BioDad to bring the kids back an hour past the documented drop-off time saying to the kids “We have to follow the Parenting Plan!”, but the next week will ask if he can keep them a few extra hours because she hasn’t finished running her errands yet.  Or the BioMoms that can’t possibly find 2 weeks that the kids can stay with their dad for his summer vacation time but will ask during the school year if he can take them for a week so she can go on a vacation. I even have a Twitter friend that said her stepdaughter told her that when she asked her mom if she could spend more time with her dad, her mom said, “You can’t because the Parenting Plan doesn’t allow it.”   Then when the father asked for more time with his daughter, BioMom said, “You are not entitled to any extra time.”  Huh?  What?  Entitled?  That seems like such an odd choice of words when you’re talking about your own child.

I’m tired of the BioMoms (and custodial BioDads) who only want variations in the Parenting Plan when it suits or benefits them.   For instance, BioMom asks BioDad to make changes in the schedule to accommodate her needs and BioDad agrees.  But when BioDad asks for more time, BioMom falls back on the “legalese” in the Parenting Plan and says something like “The Parenting Plan states that there can be variations when both parties agree and I don’t agree with you having extra time beyond what you’re allocated in the Parenting Plan.”  In the most ideal situation, the custodial parent should be happy to give up some time to the non-custodial parent when it’s requested, but in many situations, this is not the case. 

I’ve got some experience on this particular subject because I behaved badly as a BioMom for a few years (see “Confession of  a BioMom Gone Bad” in the July issue of StepMom Magazine) and I have been guilty of this offense myself.  It wasn’t until I met DH that I could observe what it felt like to be a non-custodial father.  DH has the same “boiler plate” custodial arrangement with his ex-wife that I have with my ex-husband:  every other weekend and one night a week.  I know how much he misses not being able to see his girls every day.  And while our house is always bustling with my two children from my first marriage and the daughter that we have together, nothing can take the place of the two daughters that are only with us every other weekend.  If his weekends fall the right way on the calendar, he may get to see them 6 full days out of the month (plus a day if you add up the week day visits).  For any parent that wants to be involved with their children, that doesn’t seem like enough.

That’s when I decided to start acting like a rational human being instead of a vindictive bitch.  When my ex-husband started stepping on my last nerve and I started to plot how I could get away with not inviting him to our daughter’s concert or making sure the kids had activities scheduled on his weekend, I’d look at DH and realize what a jerk I was being. I was hurting my kids more than anyone else. 

I had a few choices: 

1.  I could be completely inflexible with my schedule to screw him out of time and continue to refuse requests for extra visitation;

2.  I could spend thousands of dollars and take him back to court to have the plan revised;

3.  I could do what felt like the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do—BE REASONABLE. 

Despite my opinion of him at times, he’s still half of their DNA.  He divorced me, not the kids, and he should be able to have extra time beyond what the Parenting Plan states if he wants it.  It was time for “both parties to agree”, but more importantly, it was time for me to get over myself.  Maybe it’s time for you to do that too. 

If you’re a BioStep, it may have taken the BioMom in your life to make you realize how you’ve been manipulating your Parenting Plan to suit your needs and ignore his.  If you’re a BioMom, it may be hard to let go of the one thing in your life you know will bring your ex-husband to his knees.  Bottom line is, start working for the good of your children and not for your own selfish agenda.  Regardless what your issues might be, your ex-husband (no matter how big of a dirtbag you think he is for leaving you or how much you despise his new wife) is still the father of your children, and your children deserve to have a relationship with him. Work your Parenting Plan to your children’s advantage, not yours.  A healthy co-parenting relationship is what we all want to model to our children, right? 

Here’s an idea:  the next time he asks for extra time, give it to him and use that time alone to do some self care.  Take the time to do some reflection and find the root of your anger and hostility and free yourself from it.  You may be able to do it on your own or you may need a therapist’s help.  Figure out what you’re doing to contribute to the problem, own it and then fix it.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you’re willing to do the work. 

Are you a BioMom who worked your Parenting Plan to your advantage and his disadvantage?  What made you stop?  Or are you a BioMom who is willing to admit that you still like using the Parenting Plan as a weapon?  Would you consider stopping for the good of your children even though you feel like you’re giving up control?

For healthy co-parenting support, go to Co-Parenting 101.  They’ll be  featured in a segment on co-parenting after divorce on CBS News’s The Early Show on Wednesday, September 15th at 8:09 AM EST.  Please tune in!