Archive | March, 2011

Taboo Topics: Things Stepmothers Don’t Want to Say Out Loud, Part 2

21 Mar

If you could have looked into a crystal ball and seen what was coming, would you have stayed or run the other way?

This is the second installment of my conversation with Heather Hetchler of The Stepmom Connection.  Because the audio didn’t record correctly during our conversation, we’re cross-blogging it so you can join in, too. 

The second stepmom taboo topic we discussed was:“If I knew what I was getting into, I would have never married you.” 

Ouch.

So many of us have thought this, but have never said it to DH.  I blogged about it last summer because I said it to my DH, and it wasn’t pretty.  Here’s my disclaimer:  this is not something that I would suggest you say to your spouse (no matter how angry or empowered you feel), unless you’re prepared to work on a solution with him and own your part of the problem.  The outcome can be positive or totally devastating to your relationship. 

This is a big one.  I was raised in a stepfamily where everyone got along (and still do to this day) and had two bio kids of my own when DH and I got together.  He had these two adorable daughters that were 5 and 3 when we met and I thought, “This’ll be EASY!”  Well, it wasn’t (that’s the understatement of the year).  There were issues with everyone from his children to my in-laws and everyone in-between.  Then one day, in a moment of extreme frustration, I looked at DH and said, “If I knew what I was getting into, I would have run like hell the other way.”  When the words make it from his ears to his brain and he stopped being stunned, he looked like I had slapped him across the face.  Honestly, that was my intended effect. I wanted to jolt him into action, but I felt really, really bad.  Luckily, it ended up being a turning point in our relationship.  We both had to get honest and talk about what our expectations were going into the relationship and how they weren’t were being met.  Our reality needed more attention, and fast.  I needed to do the “stepmom stepback” and have NO expectations and he needed to step up as a parent.  He needed to really listen to me when I vented and help me formulate a solution, and I needed to heed some of his positive words of advice.  I needed to ignore the drama and he needed to manage the slings and arrows that were being thrown our way and essentially be my human shield.  Once we starting paying attention to and managing our reality, things got better quickly.  Ask me now if I’d run if I knew what I was getting into and my answer would be no.  Having the drama and conflict in our lives has made us so much stronger as people and absolutely unbreakable as a couple.  For me, it was a good thing to say out loud, albeit very risky. 

If you’ve felt this way before did you say it to your spouse?  What solutions did you come up with?  How do you manage your expectations vs. your reality?  How do you get your relationship back on track?

Be sure to check out Heather’s companion blog post on Cafe Smom.

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Taboo Topics: Things Stepmothers Don’t Want to Say Out Loud, Part 1

17 Mar

Just because a woman doesn't love her stepchild as if she's her own doesn't mean she's going to treat her like Cinderella.

Technology wasn’t working for Heather and me the day I was a guest on The Stepmom Connection.  Because the archived video only included my audio, we decided to cross blog the topics, so you could get in on the conversation too.  Be sure to check out the companion post on Cafe Smom

The first taboo topic we discussed was:  “I fell in love with my husband, not my stepkids”. 

When I was at the height of my frustration with being a stepmom, I read Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin.  I came across this sentence and quickly wrote it in my journal with the words “LIBERATING TRUTH” right by it:  “Many of us can’t feel maternal towards our stepchildren.  While we did indeed choose a man with children, it would disingenuous to pretend we chose the kids.  We chose HIM, they came on the side.” Finally.  Someone said what I’d been guilty about feeling.

A few weeks later, friend on Facebook posted that having a stepfamily was hard on her marriage.  It was right after I had read Stepmonster (and I was feeling very empowered) and I commented on her post by saying, “During times like this, that I have remember that I fell in love with my husband, not with his kids.  Take care of your relationship first.”  Within 10 minutes, I got slammed to the mat by a soon-to-be stepfather.  He asked how I could NOT love my stepchildren since they were part of the package? He loved his soon-to-be stepdaughter and couldn’t imagine marrying her mother if he didn’t love her like his own.  He told me I was an awful person; a cold, heartless shrew.  It’s exactly that kind of thinking and criticism that keeps stepmothers silent. 

Let me say this out loud:  If you don’t love your stepchildren, you are not defective.  There is nothing wrong with you.  If you’re a stepmom that felt maternal love towards her children right away, count yourself as lucky because for the rest of us, it takes time and for some of us, it never happens.  And for all of you that are shocked by that, please know that just because we don’t love our stepkids doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to do right by them.  Get the images of Cinderella out of your mind, ‘cause it’s just not gonna happen.

What makes things even more confusing is if you’re also a biomom.  You may not love your stepchildren as much or in the same way as you do your own biological children and that’s okay.  It may come with time, or it may never come at all, and that’s okay too!  I remember the first time I told DH “I don’t love your kids like I love mine and I might never.”  Instead of being judgmental or getting upset, he said, “That’s okay, give it some time.”  While my relationship with my stepdaughters continues to grow and evolve, I still don’t love them like I love my biokids.  I continued to feel guilty about it until someone said to me, “So what if you don’t love them like they’re your kids?  Are they expected to love you like they love their mom?”  No, they aren’t and it would be wrong if they did.

If you don’t love your stepkids, give yourself some time and some grace and adjust your expectations.  One of the stepmoms in the chat room said, “Let the relationship evolve organically.”  It may happen.  It may not.  But you’ll need to deal with whatever  emotions or relationship that evolves.

How do you feel about your stepkids?  If you don’t love them like they’re your own, have you ever admitted it?  What was the reaction of the person you told?  If you do love your stepkids as if they’re your biokids, what do you think of women that don’t? 

Taboo Topics: Things Stepmoms Don’t Want to Say Out Loud

15 Mar

Join me tomorrow morning on MomTV at 8:30 AM PDT/11:30 AM EDT on Heather Hetchler’s show, The Stepmom Connection, as we discuss topics that are taboo among stepmoms.  It promises to be a very honest and raw half hour conversation about the things that stepmoms feel, but are afraid to admit for fear of being criticized or characterized as “cold”, “heartless”, “selfish” and “unloving”. 

If you have a topic that you’d like us to discuss, please email me at biostep@comcast.net

BioMom vs StepMom: “Excuse me, that’s MY milestone. Back off.”

9 Mar

My sacred mom/daughter first: going to the ballet.

I recently stopped by The Psycho Ex Wife and read a post about things that stepmothers would like to say to biomothers.  While much of it rang true from a stepmother’s point of view, I did take exception to one of the attitudes expressed about a biomom’s request:

When my daughter turned five, you took her to have her first manicure/pedicure… I feel you stole my chance at creating a lasting memory.  A better idea?  Ask me if a certain milestone activity is important to me first…

Where do I begin?  It’s all about mommy!  Step-mom “stole” from bio-mom.  It’s a frigging mani-pedi, sweetheart – it’s not baby’s first steps.  The thing that is amazing about this one is that the self-centered bio-mother author assumes that the child being taken to the manicurist is being done as a “childhood milestone.”  Beyond that, it requires the step-mom to be a mind reader and to contact the biological mother every single time something might be assumed to be a “stolen milestone” if step-mom does it first.  “All about me.” Again.  Selfish.  Possessive.

Hmmm.  I think this stepmom is way off the mark.  As a biomom, is it selfish and possessive for me to want to share certain milestone events with my child?  Maybe.  But then again, it’s MY child!  I haven’t had to personally deal with this issue as a biomom, but I have dealt with it as a stepmom.  A couple years ago, I was taking my daughter to get her ears pierced and my oldest stepdaughter wanted to get hers pierced at the same time, especially once she heard that their cousin was going to come along too. DH would have been perfectly within his rights to give us the go ahead, as he did, but I had him call BM first. She said it’s something she wanted to do with her daughter when she turned 8, because it was their family tradition. I can completely respect that. And she did take her to get her ears pierced just a few weeks later. 

I think there are some “girly” events that we need to be mindful of like buying a training bra for the first time or a dress for homecoming, or even that first mani-pedi.  If you’re a woman, you probably intuitively know which events I’m talking about—think about the ones that you shared with your own mother.  If you’re a father, there are some “father/son events” that are  treasured like driving for the first time (read about our “oops” here), learning to shave or learning to tie a Windsor knot.

On the other hand, as a biomom, if you’ve got the corner on the sharing the first “girly” events,  or if you’re the primary custodian, don’t forget that it’s only fair that you give up a few things as well.  Last summer, my BFF called in tears because her ex was going to take their son to Hawai’i with wife 2.0.  She was devastated because it had always been her dream to take her son to Hawai’i for his very first time and she felt like her ex was cheating her out of sharing firsts with her son:  his first time on a zipline, his first time at a luau, his first time swimming in the ocean.  I put a positive spin on it for her and said, “You may miss out on his first time, but think about the first time you get to go together.  He gets to be your tour guide!  How cool will that be for him??”  When that didn’t work, I had to remind her that as the primary custodian, she gets a whole bunch of “firsts” and at some point, she was going to have to get used to the fact that her ex (and even wife 2.0) were going to have those moments with him too.  It may suck, but it’s fair. 

If you’re a stepmom, especially a non-custodial stepmom, you might want to have a list of events in the back of your mind that might need to be shared with mom the first time, instead of you.  And if one of those events comes up, think about your motivation for wanting to participate instead of the biomom.  If you’re a biomom, and your ex or the stepmom want to share a special moment, think about your motivation for saying no.  Case in point, a stepmom friend of mine and her DH had planned a trip to Disneyland with their four children (2 his, 2 hers).  Using common courtesy, the DH ran the trip by his ex who replied, “Absolutely not.”  The reason?  Because the new wife and her children were going along. Ultimately they went without DH’s children (mostly because the DH wasn’t up for WWIII with his ex), which was a disappointment to all. Malicious intent on the part of the biomom?  Maybe, until you hear that one year later, the ex went to Disneyland with her boyfriend and their combined children.   Losers in the game?  The kids.  The missed an opportunity to build a memory with their dad and stepsiblings (and to go to Disneyland twice in a year).  

If you’re not a custodial stepmom do you think there are certain milestones that should be “reserved” for the biomom?  Biomoms, are there certain milestones that have been shared with the stepmom that have hurt you? What were they? Do you think it was done maliciously?   Do you think women intuitively know which events should be save for mom??

Should I stay or should I go?

5 Mar

Would you walk away from your children to pursue a career or to find yourself?

Did you see Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s interview on The Today Show? She’s promoting her memoir Hiroshima in the Morning, which tells the story of leaving her husband and her two small children to find herself.

She did what?

As you can imagine, this has been a hot topic on internet parenting groups, many of us commenting without reading the book.  The discussions weren’t helped by the fact that Rizzuto isn’t exactly a “warm and fuzzy” interview.  She came off as cold and distant which didn’t send a great message to the TV audience. The big question is:  Could you leave your children?  What do you think about the women who do?

Criticism of Rizzuto’s choices are running rampant, and this made my brain go on overdrive.  My initial post on a stepmother support page was:

I know women who have done this and I’ve always felt like they were “defective” in some way (like their “mom gene” got mangled somewhere along the way). Without reading the book (and I’m trying not to judge), I will say that this is a brave thing for any woman to do and even braver to write about it and go on a book tour.  Imagine the hate mail and slings and arrows she has to dodge.  I would think in a way that it would be even harder than giving a child up for adoption because you’ve been raising them.

I walked away from the computer for a few hours and had an “aha moment”.  Perhaps it is in the best interest of the children if a mother who doesn’t want to be a mother walks away and leaves them with the parent that is willing to love and care for them.  How did I come to this conclusion?  Because I’ve always wondered that about my own mother.

I was born to an 18-year old single mother who barely knew how she got pregnant, let alone how to be a parent.  We lived with my grandparents (my grandmother was 37 when I was born, imagine that!), and my mom depended on them to help with my care.  Her job as a Polynesian dancer often took her to Las Vegas or Reno for weeks at a time, while I stayed with my grandparents.  She worked hard to make sure I was clothed and fed, but I’m not sure she ever wanted to be a mother and she will tell you with all frankness that she wasn’t a good one.

I honestly can’t remember living for any long length of time with my mom.  Two years after marrying my stepfather, they decided to move the family to Oregon (that included my two younger stepbrothers).  I didn’t want to move to Oregon, I didn’t want to leave my grandparents. I remember begging to stay and my grandmother saying, with sadness in her eyes, “It’s time for you to go live with your mom.”  I was 13.

I love my mother. I’m thankful that she did not give me up for adoption.  I am grateful for all the sacrifices that she made for me. But, and here comes the hard part, there was always an unspoken sense of “I don’t really want to do this”, which even as an adult, stings quite a bit. In the 60’s, women didn’t walk away from their children, but I’ve often wondered if she wanted to.  This is magnified by the fact that she has walked away from me twice as an adult for years at a time.  Did she stick around when I was a child out of guilt or a sense of duty?  She’s the only one that can answer that.

If she indeed didn’t want to be a mom and had the courage to walk away and leave me in the care of my grandparents, would it have been better for me?  Who knows?  I think the bigger question is what affects a child more negatively: being raised by a mother that’s resentful that she has to, or being left by a woman who knew she didn’t want to be, or couldn’t be a mother anymore?

 Hiroshima in the Morning is on my list of books to read.  It’s bound to be provocative and challenge society’s definition of what motherhood, fatherhood and parenthood really mean.  I personally can’t imagine leaving my kids, but I’d like to be in the mind of a woman who has because it’s a place that I know I’ll never go.

What was your initial gut reaction after seeing the interview?  Are you interested in reading the book to understand how she arrived at the decision to leave her marriage and her children?  Do you know anyone that has left their children in pursuit of a career?

Here’s a news flash: I don’t wanna be friends.

2 Mar

Have you ever written a letter to the biomom?

I admire biomoms and stepmoms that have a good relationship.  I am in awe of biomoms and stepmoms that continue to hold out the olive branch to the other hostile party.  I dream of a day when biomoms and stepmoms can have relationships like the one of the Patron Saints of Blended Family Harmony,

Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine. But what if you have no desire to be friends?  This is a letter that so many stepmoms have composed in their heads a million times, but never sent.  It’s a compilation of thoughts, feelings and experiences of hundreds of stepmoms involved in on-line support groups.  Any similarity to a real-life relationship between a biomom and a stepmom is purely coincidental. 

To the mother of my stepchildren:

It’s been (insert number) years since DH and I have been together. Don’t you think it’s time to put down the AK-47 you’ve been aiming at my head?  Think about it, I’m not to blame for the demise of your marriage,  so why all the hatred? 

I’ve put up with harassing emails/phone calls, drive-bys, name-calling and constant litigation.  You’ve spread outrageous rumors about me to your friends and my in-laws.  You’ve told your children to disrespect me and have filled their heads with lies about me and about my relationship with their father.  You’ve called Child Protective Services with false allegations.  You’ve even gone so far as to illegally obtain my medical records.  I just want to know why?  Because I love your ex-husband?  Because I love your children?  You must find me really threatening.  I just can’t figure out why.  I’m married to a man who you clearly don’t want anymore and I have no intention of taking your place as Mom.  Why all the fuss?

I have sat by quietly and ignored the drama and the firestorm you leave in your wake.  I’ve kept my shut when you’ve called me names in front of the kids.  I’ve sat in the back of the auditorium during every one of the kids’ performances just so you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.  I’ve chosen not to go to soccer games because you told DH, “She just stresses me out too much”. I never said a word when you said vile things about my new baby (who just happens to be the half-sibling of your children).  And I have never said anything negative about you to your children.  In fact, I’ve always told them what a great job you do as a mom.

So, the damage is done.  Are you happy now? 

Here’s a newsflash for you:  I don’t want to be friends.  I don’t want to go to coffee or lunch with you.  I don’t want to swap books, trade recipes or tell you my secret ingredient for stain removal. In a perfect world, all moms and stepmoms have a friendly relationship, but after (insert number here) years, it’s obvious that isn’t going to happen between us right now.  So here’s what I’m proposing:  a working relationship.  By “working relationship” I mean a relationship in which we are civilly communicating about the kids:  “Susie’s got a bad cough. You might want to put a humidifier in the room”, “Johnny needs a shower before he comes back home”, or “Can you make sure Tommy gets his homework done this weekend?”  Simple things that make transitions easy and seamless for the kids.  Why?  Because if you think that DH is the one that pays attention to the finer details of caring for a child, you’re wrong.  Some stepmoms have given up and “stepped back”, leaving all the work to their DH.  So if your children come home without a shower, without having brushed their teeth all weekend, or without homework completed, you’ll know I’ve left it all to their dad since your bad-mouthing of me has completely undermined my ability to get your children to cooperate with any request I may have pertaining to personal hygiene or schoolwork.  

A working relationship would also mean one in which we are cordial to each other at events in which we are both at attendance.  DH and I are going to stop sitting in the back to “keep the peace”.  Let’s say hi and engage in some small talk if necessary without gagging.  It will put the kids at ease.  Afterall, they are the priority, not us.  Somehow I think we forgot that along the way.

It also means that you will stop badmouthing me…to everyone.  You don’t have to like me, but be a lady and keep your opinions to yourself.  I’ll do the same.

Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is?  For years I’ve heard you talk about teaching your children Christian values, but haven’t seen them in action, especially when it comes to me.  You give a total stranger more common courtesy than you give me and I care for your children every other weekend.  What if DH decided to turn the children against your boyfriend/fiancé/husband?  You wouldn’t tolerate that would you?  And what if your stepchildrens’ mother did the same thing to you that you’re doing to me?  You’d be outraged wouldn’t you? 

For the kids’ sake, please stop treating me with such contempt.  It takes a lot of energy for someone to despise me as much as you do, especially when I’ve done nothing to deserve it.  Your life may not have turned out how you wanted, but it’s time to deal with reality of our situations.  Let’s both act like adults for the sake of the children.

Sincerely,

The Stepmother

If you were writing this letter, is there anything you would add?  Do you think it’s imperative that the SM and BM have a friendly relationship or will a “working” relationship suffice? 

For real letters written by real people, check out: The Stepfamily Letter Project.  It’s powerful stuff.   I encourage you to submit your own letter.  At the very least, it’s cathartic.