Five Surprising Things This Divorced Mom Learned After Becoming a Stepmom

So after 7 years of writing about divorced moms and stepmoms, I thought I understood how and why so many stepmoms were having such a hard time.

The kids weren't hers. The ex-wife didn't want her around. Perhaps her partner was unwittingly just plugging her into a role and hoping she could roll with it - when, in fact, she couldn't.

But what I discovered is that this stepfamily business IS strange.

It's strange in that, if you're already a divorced mom, then you totally get the role. You're used to - automatically and without conscious thought - scoping out who's doing what, who needs what and how to either give it to them, do it for them, or ask that they do it for themselves or someone else.

But jumping into the Mom role with someone you didn't make children with and kids you didn't make is a different animal altogether. It's not that it's inherently bad, because it's not. There are a million things I love about this experience, including a fantastic partner, some amazing kids and a wonderful life that we're creating together.

But I also don't have the benefit of unconditional love on my side, smoothing over the edges of difficult experiences or a different family culture, with its own unspoken rules and habits.

And I don't have the benefit of my mother's power and voice, which might simply look like, "Hey! I've asked you three times to put your damn dishes in the dishwasher. Do it NOW or risk seeing me run over your cell phone with my car!" like I would with my own kids.

Parenting without those two tools in my arsenal can be frustrating and disorienting.

It's harder than it looks.

I've heard it said a million times now, "Where is the manual on how to do this stepmom gig?" If you're looking for some clearcut guidelines, luckily, they're super clear, consistent and splattered all over the internet:

Just be yourself. / Be a more muted version of yourself and you'll be fine.

Make sure to set clear, consistent boundaries. / Step back, so you don't step on toes.

It's your house too, so don't be afraid to be a hard-ass. / Be gentle or you will hurt others, they'll withdraw and your stepfamily and relationship will implode from the inside out.

Make your relationship a priority. / This family existed before you did, so it's up to you to figure out how to fit in.

With a cacophony of voices all trumpeting their own version of YES! or NO!at you, it's up to you to pick and choose which approach to try. But how, when one well-written article seems to cancel out the next?

It's easier than it looks.

I must have won some kind of lottery that I don't know about because not only is my ex-husband's wife a dear friend, but my partner's ex is really nice too. Not only does she seem like a nice person, but thank the gods, she is also really nice to me. My partner's kids are funny, smart, warm and likable and I hope I'm not being presumptuous in saying, it seems to me that we all took to each other pretty easily.

How did I get so lucky, when so many other folks seem to be trapped in a living hell with the stepkids or the ex-wife?

I have no idea.

But I am very thankful and I don't forget it for one minute. Or at least, not too many.

The twinges are a challenge.

Sometimes, hearing old family stories gives me a funny feeling in my stomach. Sometimes, I wish I could have had kids with my partner (those years are behind us now). Sometimes, I don't like the feeling of ghosts from another lifetime - albeit an important one that shaped my partner, and obviously his kids, into the cool people they are now - hovering around the edges of my life.

When you're married in a nuclear family, the circle is around all of you - and that's it. Everyone else is outside of it. No gaps. No blurriness. No ifs or maybes.

But when that circle breaks up, you can't entirely make a solid, new one in a stepfamily. The gaps are always present and open, because they must be. That is something I both accept out of respect and feel tender and regretful about.

This is like having my own personalized Zen retreat. 

If I were to pay good money to go off to a two-week silent retreat, where I had to learn how to master my tongue, my ego, my habits and my well-developed ideas on "how things should be done and why," well then, I might just come home feeling stoked, renewed and revitalized.

Living that experience on a daily basis?

Hey, wait! Isn't my "retreat" over yet? When do I get to go back to my old life, so I can digest all these mind-blowing new insights and then gradually slide back into my "normal" life and do things the way I've always done them?

No such luck. Now the lessons come fast and furious.

Some days, I feel like I've gotten not only one pie in the face, but two or three. Those times are fairly few and far between, but when an evening ends in tears, you remember it.

I have a newfound respect for stepmoms now and their myriad expressions of heartache, hurt, resentment, anger and confusion. I will continue to do my best and to learn what I can about how to be present with love, forgiveness and understanding. (And to keep writing about what I learn.)

Yes, this shit can be hard.

But when you feel it working, you know you're doing something you can be proud of.

 © 2013 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Your Mind is Effing You Over – Not Anyone Else

Have you ever thought about how weird it is that so many people are divorced now?  

I remember when my kids were in elementary school and I was still married, we were surrounded by other nuclear families during drop-offs and pick-ups and school events. In junior high, not so much. In high school, neither one of my children had friends whose parents were married. Not one.

Think about that for a moment. Not a single nuclear family to be found amongst our circle of friends. I know it’s the same for many others.

This is shocking and should alarm us.

But perhaps not for the reason you’d suspect.

I’m all for kids growing up in an intact family, with two involved parents (stressed by work though they may be) and siblings (squabbling or not). I’m even for kids growing up with a hands-on, single parent (stressed by work though they may be) – or a stepfamily based on love (imperfectly “blended” though it may be).

What I’m not in favor of are all the lies we tell ourselves.

About who’s doing what to whom and why.

About how you’re not to blame, but the other person is.

About why any of it bothers you.

I’ve had to learn what I’m about to say the hard way and will continue to learn about it for the rest of my life.

The reason we have such a hard time with the other woman, our ex, or the other household is because we’re not right with ourselves.

We’re still caught up in old tape loops from long ago, about how we’re unworthy. How we’re going to be abandoned. We’re wincing when someone unknowingly scratches at an old scar, our skin still thin and tender and over-sensitive, or accidentally bumps up against a hard, but fragile scab, not yet healed.

We’re hiding from our fears, from a sense of free-floating shame, from a gnawing anxiety about when the other shoe is going to drop.

We’re pretending to feel more in control than we are. We’re trying to hold a big, wet soggy blanket of guilt up over our heads with locked, shaking arms and we’re so, so tired, wondering when we get to put it down.

We distract ourselves from all of it by leaping from one online lily pad to the next, compulsively getting lost in promises of entertainment or self-improvement, or whatever’s on TV or in the cupboard or any other way we tune out, just to get away from that weird feeling

As we fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, we are occasionally faced with some clear, but uncomfortable alarm bells going off about those we love: I must do something about what’s going on with ____. The time is now.

But life always piles on, every day, and the ringing of the bell becomes so muffled by activity that eventually we can’t hear it anymore. Until we do again.

None of this is stuff we really know what to do with.

It’s deep and it’s big and it’s odd and it’s overwhelming.

Our family life was hard then, and failed for the same reason it’s hard now: because of what lives inside of us.

We are the problem, not them.

You ask, But how can you say that, when ______ (fill in the blank with the other person’s unacceptable behavior)?

Well… remember the last time you felt centered? When you felt strong and grounded? Not all amped up and ready to blindly tackle the world. Just calm, clear-headed. Humble, accepting of yourself.

Remember when you felt a sense of compassion and respect for yourself and all others? When you felt yourself humming and vibrating with the power of love and its ability to blast through all the muck of our minds, all the fear and confusion, all the grasping at control?

From that place, people create miracles.

From that place, you can look at other people’s difficult behavior and feel immune from unkind intentions - or know whether you’re misreading people in the first place. From any of it being a commentary on who you are, your worth as a person and what that means about who will or won’t love you because of it. From that place, people stop operating from the subconscious directives that sabotage their life:

You can’t really trust people – watch your back.

You will never truly be happy – life is too hard. Maybe later.

There’s something wrong with you, deep down – no one will ever completely love you and accept you, just as you are.

People will always, eventually disappoint you – that’s just the way it is.

You can never do anything important well enough – just look at how you’re always behind or have already failed.

Our subconscious minds are very powerful. The majority of our behavior is driven by these old “rules.” If your life is hard, you can actually thank your subconscious for doing such a good job, because it’s only carrying out its original instructions, like an obedient dog.

The reason this matters is because of what we are teaching our kids, what we are transmitting to them in a science fiction-like download.

During the first five years of their lives, our children and stepchildren spend most of their time in a hypnogogic state of delta and theta, soaking up everything without a filter. That’s the important part. There’s no discernment there. Just a red, blinking “Record” button that’s on. (Alpha is regular consciousness and beta is very active consciousness, where you’re focused and purposeful.)

They are learning new, immutable “truths” about two primary aspects of life:

  • How the world works, based on how their parentsor stepparents respond to their external environment.
  • Who they are, based on their parent’s or stepparent’s perception of them.

It’s our job to love and accept ourselves, so that our kids can do the same.

It’s also our job to reduce our sensitivity to perceived conflict, so that we don’t “program” our children to expect that life is hard and you can’t ever let your guard down or you will be screwed -- because they will grow up to play out those scripts just like a robot would.

What do you think your children or stepchildren are learning from you right now? What might their lives look like in the future because of it?

None of this is said to add to the weight of your existing soggy blanket of guilt or to increase your fear. These ideas are offered in the spirit of knowledge as power. Knowledge creates curiosity and a new context. A new context creates hope.

So reverse-engineer your life. Ask yourself,

What major negative beliefs is my subconscious dutifully carrying out?

And,

How might the current problems I’m having with the other household reflect those negative beliefs?

Finally,

Can you live with leaving this as a legacy for your children and stepchildren?

If the answer is no, then figure out how to change those beliefs.

When you do, you’ll create a new pathway into the future for your stepkids and kids with their own marriages (and that of your grandchildren and stepgrandchildren!). And you’ll be a hell of a lot happier. I’ll be writing more in the future about what’s helped me change mine.

Thanks for reading! (And thanks to Seth Godin for inspiring this post!)

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Who gets more “emotional authority?”

One day while talking to Jenna on the phone, we realized: one reason these relationships between households can seem so impossible is because we have the two most important relationships of our lives competing against each other:

parent and child

vs.

husband and wife

This creates a dynamic in relationships that I like to call “emotional authority.”

What that means is that family members often feel like the strength of their bonds and connections to other family members automatically confers upon them certain rights, certain “givens.” The intensity and purity of your love for another seems to equal more power, more say in what happens to them, how they are treated and all decisions related to that person.

It’s like that person is “yours” to a certain extent, even though on the surface, that sounds ridiculous. But we’re already familiar with how this works in “traditional” relationships, especially in nuclear families.

Think about it.

When you were growing up, it was accepted that your mother (or primary caretaker, if this was different) was the one directing your life. 

Making decisions about what you would do, eat, when you would go to sleep, who you would socialize with (when you were very young), health-related issues and schooling.

Just as in nature, it was assumed that, at a basic level, your mother or caretaker would fight to protect you against any perceived threats and we accept that as an instinctual “given.”

She would go up against bureaucracy, bullies in school, other adults who might not have your best interests at heart and extended family members who disapproved of you, in an effort to nurture, shelter and love you – without giving her actions a second thought. Granted, some of us didn’t grow up in nurturing households and suffered at the hands of neglectful or even abusive parents, but nevertheless, we still know the archetype well.

As a society we also have certain givens for a husband and wife relationship.

Spouses and cohabitating romantic partners confide freely and openly with each other about the most private, intimate matters. Traditionally, they make financial decisions together, divvy up household chores according to their own preferences (hopefully!) and do their best to form consensus around parenting values. They are loyal to each other and sexually monogamous. They protect the sanctity of their household and their right to dictate what happens in their household. They relax together, pick up the slack for each other when life becomes busy or overwhelming, and rest in the safety of knowing that their partner always has their back as they weather the stresses of life.

But let’s cross the lines a bit and see what happens…

Let’s say that a stepmom is largely responsible for overseeing her stepchild’s homework in her home, as dad works full time and is less available.

She knows her stepson has been struggling in school and she feels for him, after witnessing many nights of homework that ultimately ended in him crying, extremely frustrated. For the past two years, mom, dad and stepmom have all had access to the child’s school records and online accounts. But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, mom revokes stepmom’s privileges. She lets the school know that she no longer wants the stepmom involved and that “only the parents should have access to these records and accounts...”

Stepmom is thinking, “What the hell? I should be able to access things because I’m fully involved in his school and have been already for two years now. Furthermore, my husband wants me to be, so that’s reason enough.”

Meanwhile, mom is thinking... 

“That’s the father’s job to stay on top of things like this, not the stepmom’s. Who does she think she is? Why do we need one more person getting involved, complicating everything? She needs to just let the parents handle this and step out of it!”

In this case, the stepmom feels all the mother tiger instincts that a mother would normally feel. So what happens when the mom tries to pull rank with a stepmom who feels connected and concerned about her stepson? Fireworks, that’s what!

And as for the mom, she certainly remembers a time when it was just herself and her ex handling school matters. They had separate parent-teacher conferences so they wouldn’t have to be in the same room. Now there’s another woman involved who feels like she “has the right” to be included in communications with the teacher regarding her own child? Says who?!

Does one side have to be the winner and one the loser in our divorce-connected families?

It would appear to be so—at least that’s how it feels. What seems like a huge priority for you, something that has to happen for your child, stepchild or your romantic partner can be a definite “No,” for the other party though—and they’re not going to budge.

This is tricky business, because when we act from a sense of emotional authority, our strong feelings can make us easily discount the other person’s concerns and demands in favor of our own, since we feel that our perspective takes into account what’s best for the one we love.

Our agenda is "superior," since it’s based on love and fierce attachment.

We couldn’t let go of our emotional authority even if we tried, nor would we want to. In our example above, both women were likely feeling a strong sense of emotional “jurisdiction” because their actions came from love and concern for the child.

This dynamic sets us up for clashes of the worst kind, since they are rooted in instinctive maternal feelings of protection—or romantic attachments to the person we love and have chosen as our mate.

The big takeaway here: 

Giving up or taking a step back feels like betraying our loved one and abdicating our responsibilities to them.

This is one of the biggest reasons why trying to figure out how to “work with” the other side can be so confusing and emotionally charged.

© 2013 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

(This is an excerpt from our book, "Skirts at War: A Survival Guide for Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.")

Both Sides Lose: Brandi Glanville and LeAnn Rimes Cibrian

If there's one thing I wish I could tell LeAnn Rimes Cibrian and Brandi Glanville, it would be: keep it to yourselves.

Or rather, keep it between yourselves and out of the spotlight. "It" being their very public disagreement currently playing itself out on Twitter and as of today, in a gossip magazine.

The tiff initially centered around LeAnn referring to her stepsons and husband as "her boys" and Brandi's response about how they're "hers" and only Leann's "for now," but also includes an interview that Glanville gave to US Weekly today, voicing her concerns over LeAnn's suitability as a stepmom.

Just like lesser-known mortals, each side is succumbing to their ego's need to make their position known and to receive validation that they are, in fact, the more aggrieved party.

Except, unlike us, their words are spread far and wide because they're celebrities, making the conflict seem more dramatic and even more intractable.

Each side has their Twitter supporters, bent on lobbing digital rocks over the castle walls in a show of solidarity. Divorced moms (especially those who have also experienced the sting of infidelity) have united behind Brandi -- and stepmoms (especially those who feel undervalued in their role) have rallied behind LeAnn.

While I'm sure that both sides are very busy, scoping out the current status of the other player's "moves," the bottom line is, this sucks for the kids.

It sucks because the children still have years and years left at home, with two households that are stuck with each other, on their worst behavior.

It sucks because even if they were to ask their parents and stepmom to can it, there's a good chance it won't happen.

It sucks because this conflict is now forever frozen for posterity, online.

It sucks because this concerns their private lives, now available for public dissection and analysis, without their permission (not that they're old enough to give it).

It sucks because all of this venting online lends itself to even more misunderstandings, mistakes, volatility and extreme reactions, none of which helps steer the conflict in the direction of progress or peace.

Who's taking the long view here?

Does either side have a no-bullshit, tell-it-like-it-is friend who's reminding them that this is an argument that neither side can ever win?

That duking it out in public only takes both sides down as the finger-pointing becomes more and more desperate?

That while they may each be having some feel-good moments as friends, family and anonymous, venomous, online strangers cheer them on, they're ultimately modeling some truly awful conflict management skills for the children to emulate when they grow up?

Because honestly, that's the question to be asking here.

It's not, "Who's right? Who's wrong? Who deserves to go down in flames?"

It's "Do I want my child playing out this exact. same. dynamic as an adult? Do I want them easily taking offense where perhaps none was maliciously intended? Acting from a sense of vengeance? Using a chorus of supporters to try and strong-arm and shame the other side into submission? Do I want my child to grow up and become consumed by a web of drama and chaos?"

Or do you want more for them in life than that?

Life in divorce-connected families is hard enough for BOTH sides.

You have instinctive relationships between parent and child clashing with primary, romantic relationships between the adults, no longer aligned in a shared sense of familial purpose. It's all too easy to feel as if there must be winners and losers.

But both women, like it or not, are bound to each other for years (hopefully, since no one ever wishes an additional divorce upon the children).

And just like us, the more they take their issues to the streets, the harder it becomes to resolve their problems.

The more sheepish they would feel saying, "Oops, sorry, I misunderstood. I was overly harsh. I was afraid and felt insecure. My inner tiger took over. I'm sorry I was such a bitch."

The more invested they are in publicly "winning," in proving themselves to be the superior party. The more stunted they stay in their understanding of the other side as simply... human. Fuck-ups and all.

Stepmoms and divorced moms are both afraid of being hurt. They're each trying to find their footing, at times more fragile and vulnerable than they'd care to admit.

Each side wants to feel a sense of competence. A sense of belonging. As if the bonds of love in their families either remain intact or are actively growing.

But it has to happen in the context of mutual respect, humility and stretching to be your best, yes -- even when you have legitimate grievances.

Because the truth is, you'll always have them.

Shoot for that higher vision, Ladies, and you will both be doing right by YOUR kids.

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

More than one day of thanks

There's a very good chance that your thinking is skewed on the side of non-gratitude. Especially as it relates to this topic of divorce-connected families.

Just like news, a car wreck on the side of the road or gossip, it's the drama, chaos and conflict that catches our eye and rivets our attention in our families.

Our brains are attuned to problems because we're attempting to learn more about either resolving them - or heading them off in the future. But if you're like me and most other humans, there's a good chance your life is mostly focused on problems.

The things yet to be done.

The things done poorly.

The things currently going wrong.

The stuff likely to go wrong.

It's like we're all walking around with not only one piano hanging over our heads by a string, but hundreds of them. How're they're being strung up and by whom, I do not know, but they're there.

And yet...

There are probably many more things going right in your life than there are going wrong.

You've just stopped seeing that.

You have a computer or a mobile phone. You can read. You are currently not under attack by incoming missiles. You are most likely inside, in a building protecting you from the elements. You have food in your cupboard.

However peaceful or not your relationships, you are still connected to people. They're there, which is a lot more than lonely people can say who rarely talk to anyone. Who haven't been touched or smiled at or interacted with in months, maybe even years.

Lest you start feeling yourself traveling down the path of glumness reading through that list, just think: if the opposite of any of those situations above were the case for you, you'd probably give almost anything to trade up to where you are now. Remember what it's like to have a problem so agonizing that you'd practically die to make it go away?

Where you are now is probably pretty damned good, now that you think about it, wouldn't you say?

Spend a second asking yourself:

Who loves you? Who do you love? What brings you joy? What about being yourself do you actually savor and appreciate? Where are your efforts making a difference in the world, even in the tiniest of ways? What have you forgiven recently? How have you changed for the better?

It's easiest to see in hindsight, but life is always continuing on as it is; a rambling, raucous, ever-widening, messy parade of both good and bad. We know it's true, because when we look backwards, we can see that both elements are always there. So why must we be so focused on what's going wrong - when the predictable, the reliable, the nurturing aspects of life and the ones we can count on are also ever present?

A happy day of thanks to you and those you love!

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Weird: being wrong feels like being right!

One subject that we talk a lot about here is how difficult it can be to see the other person's perspective. And because you can't see it, you end up digging in your heels in a difficult situation, attributing intentions to them that may be wildly off the mark and stoking your own emotional fires.

Check out this fascinating TED talk by author Kathryn Schultz, who wrote "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error."

Her site, Being Wrong, is definitely worth checking out. You'll find links to a Slate series with high-profile people about how they "think and feel about being wrong."

"The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t."

We will contort ourselves like Cirque du Soleil gymnasts to convince ourselves that our position is the best one, when sometimes - not always - we're making decisions based on only half the facts.

And even though we may secretly suspect on some level that we're missing something, we'll plow ahead, counting on the intensity of our feelings to let us know we're on track.

Schulz takes us on an entertaining trip into the funhouse of our mind.

Let us know what you think and if you've ever backed yourself into a self-righteous corner, only to eat humble pie later!

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine

This old suitcase? Why your old baggage matters more than you realize...

As I begin decluttering my house in preparation for selling it and moving to Oregon, I'm struck by how many things I've hung onto over the years for reasons I can't even remember. The things themselves are tied to memories, dreams, and old priorities.

They're also tied to "issues" I used to have and some I'm still actively working on.

Back when Carol and I (and David, my ex) didn't get along, it used to be so easy to point to their ACTIONS and say this was the reason for me being so hurt, upset or angry. I'd provide all the gory details so my sympathetic listener could see how ANYONE in their right mind would be equally offended.

But privately, I also knew that there was something else at play, in the background.

And that was the amorphous ball of "stuff" we all recognize in our quieter moments. Baggage. Old wounds. Sore spots. Irrational patterns of reactions. That vague, embarrassing jumble we wincingly see before we fall asleep at night, while eating a bowl of cereal alone in the morning; maybe during the mindless hum and rhythm of exercise.

Oh.

That old shit.

The stuff I have no idea how to fix!

The stuff that makes me extra sensitive, insecure, fearful or feel like crap about myself. It's as familiar as the back of your hand. But you'd be loathe to ever admit its existence, except with your closest friends (and even then...).

So much more convenient to just keep pointing the finger elsewhere.

But the truth is, when the other person's behavior continually sends you into overdrive, you have lost control of yourself. That means, there's a good chance something old has been triggered.

Blame the wrong thing and your problems will remain an enigmatic and seemingly impossible source of frustration.

Handle it and watch problems with the other household fade away into something manageable or maybe, just maybe, even something... good.

So, how big is YOUR suitcase? What are you dragging around? Are you willing to try and let go of some of its contents?

Some great places to start:

.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Carol and David lost their home - a fundraiser

Carol Marine

Carol Marine

Hi everyone, Carol and David Marine of Daily Paintworks and their 6 yr. old son Jacob lost their home in a terrifying fire yesterday out near Bastrop. Their entire subdivision was wiped out (up to 300 homes) and the fire is still spreading - it's currently 16 miles long, 6 miles wide, has covered over 35,000 acres and is moving south towards another town. Today's forecast of more high winds is bad news for surrounding areas.

[UPDATE: A neighbor confirmed late Monday afternoon that nothing of their home survived. It's just dirt and ashes. Over 1,300 homes have burned and the fire is only 30% contained as of Thursday, Sept. 8. Please see the end of this post for an update on the astounding outpouring of support from the online community -- and artists in particular.]

They lived in a cute, little house in the middle of a beautiful pine forest, which is kind of an aberration in Texas. Rolling hills, tall towering trees, orange pine needles everywhere on the ground. All of which made for a lot of tinder, due to an extreme drought and the highest temperatures ever recorded in the state for August.

bastrophouse
bastrophouse

Here's an older picture of their house right after they bought it, before they added on a woodshop and studio for Carol. Jacob is a bit bigger now:

My 16 yr. old daughter Maddie and I were visiting them, along with two of Carol's friends, Karen and Randi. We were sitting around their big table, swimming in beading supplies, laughing, talking--when a neighbor came over and told us we had to leave right away.

At first, Karen and I went out to the backyard to see and were making jokes about how David had paid off a neighbor to say that, just to get all these crazy women out of his house. We couldn't see anything over the tall trees. Then Randi went out front and we heard her saying, "Oh my god. Oh my god!"

davidworking
davidworking

When we stood in the front street, we could see huge clouds of billowing smoke. There wasn't even enough time for them to take more than their computers. I backed my car through their front yard and up to Carol's studio, but we didn't take anything more than a few small paintings of Carol's. They lost all her art that filled their house.

Carol took their small car and David hooked up their pick-up to their camper, so luckily they have that. They're currently in a campground and will have to decide where to go from here....

When we finally left, the smoke had changed to black and was much bigger. It was incredibly frightening. Here's a video that someone shot on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/wELdKgk80e8

They had good insurance, but it will take time for that to all kick in, so I'd like to help them in the meantime.

Please consider making a donation below to help them get back on their feet.

 (The fundraiser is officially over and the Donate button has been removed. Please see the update below for the total raised.)

It's true, the most important thing is that they're safe. They are my family and I love them all dearly. But my heart aches for everything they lost - all the mementos, all the memories, their sense of sanctuary.

Thanks for your help. And please say prayers for everyone that lost their house, dear pets, or is still in harm's way.

With love,

Jennifer

[As of mid-day on Friday, Sept. 9th, only five days after the fire, over 300 kind and generous people have donated almost $18,000 to help Carol and David. That's right: almost EIGHTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!! You have no idea what this means to them, folks. No idea. They have been moved beyond words and have cried about this more than once -- in a good way. :-)

As of Sept. 20th, the fundraiser was closed, with over $21,000 raised!

Carol and David say thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over for this wonderful expression of love and support from fellow artists and fans of our book.

To see all these incoming links from art blogs far and wide, to see the names of so many studios and even other daily painting sites online, honestly, it's blown their minds. It's really something to be proud of. Y'all are part of something really special.... 

You've all helped turn a gut-wrenching experience for Carol and David into something affirming, amazing and beautiful.... They can never thank you enough and they will never forget this!] 

What's under the surface?

I caught the tail end of the Little League World Series (Japan vs. the U.S.) today....

I stopped mid-channel-surfing because I thought--wait--what are these little kids doing playing such an intense game of baseball?

And why is it on TV?

I was reminded of, many years ago, living in Spain as a child and my older brother serving as the pitcher on our local, American little league team. These were low-key family events. Lazy. Long. Hot.... My friends and I often wandered off to play in the dirt with sticks and our dogs. Most of the time, it didn't seem to matter who won or lost.

But this game on TV was high stakes, with wound-up parents in the stands, looking as if they might pass out from the stress. I wondered at the pressure some of these kids must be under, how long and hard they'd worked to get there.

The American team won at the bottom of the sixth inning by one point, breaking a tie, and like any triumphant team in sports, the young players were euphoric. The kids exploded into leaps and fist pumps, and then finally into a happy pile over the home plate.

The camera flashed to the losing team.

That's the sucky thing about a game: someone's always gotta lose.

My heartstrings were pulled when I saw one little Japanese player openly crying and as the camera cut back and forth between the two teams, more young boys on the losing team began to cry too.

If they were grown-ups, they'd be better at hiding this, I thought. They don't know how to mask their feelings yet....

When divorced moms and stepmoms don't get along, the same thing happens: we're hurt, but we try not to show it.

We don't want to give the other side the satisfaction of seeing how upset we are. How furious or fearful, how devastated and obsessed.

We don't want them to know they've gotten under our skin.

In trying to save face, we harden ourselves, so that the behavior from the other side won't sting.

But it still does.

And though you might argue otherwise, it stings for them too, even though it might seem like it.

Seeing this is often one of the first steps to real change.

.

© 2011  Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

Impossibly High Standards

When it comes to how you expect the other woman to behave, could you meet those same standards?

Never say a single bad word against you. Always do what's best for the children (according to your private interpretation). Never be late (come hell, high water or bad traffic).

Never get angry, be snippy, play the victim, or be a flake.

Life is messy. You solve three or four problems and twelve others line up to take their place.

We all know it: everyone drops the ball on a daily basis.

Doesn't life just seem impossible, in some ways?

And one thing we do that helps is to vent about it. To our friends. To co-workers. To perfect strangers. Yes, even with the kids in our lives.

We connect. We gain support. Comfort and reassurance.

If we're doing it right, we use venting temporarily to release pressure, just like a pressure cooker's bobbing weight lets off extra steam. We let off steam with sympathetic friends so that we can then take action. We take action to hopefully, fingers crossed, fix the problem (while 11 others unravel in the background).

We're trying!

So if you nail the other woman's ass because she has the audacity to vent and present a skewed analysis of "the situation" as you see it, you will always be unhappy.

If you nail the other woman's ass because she dared express one of the "negative" emotions, such as anger, frustration, superiority, competitiveness, self-pity, or vengefulness, while refusing to consider whether she might actually be trying to find a temporary, empowering response to a difficult situation, then your own emotional reactions to her will constantly remain on Red Alert.

If you nail the other woman's ass over mistakes and situations that you would easily excuse in yourself because of the natural messiness of being human, you will constantly feel under siege, as if she's doing these things on purpose to make your life miserable.

She is, after all, just a person.

Like you.

Why is she expected to be perfect -- and you're not?

And what might happen if you held her to the standards you normally apply to yourself and those you love?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

One-Way Compassion

Many problems between houses start because someone is actually trying to solve a problem.

A father desperately misses his kids. A stepmom is trying to find her place in a family with lots of history that came before her. A mom feels disoriented, sharing parental responsibilities with someone she doesn't know.

People struggle with their emotions and act in less than helpful ways -- or behavior they think normally doesn't "apply" to them.

And yet... it does... when they're in pain

It's easy enough for us to "excuse" our behavior, because WE know what's at stake for us, what we're grappling with, the anguish we feel in our hearts.

And so we have compassion for ourselves, we have understanding for the difficult time we're having in our lives.

But what about the other side?

Where does your compassion for them begin and end?

Can you see their pain? Can you reinterpret their angry, manipulative, crazy behavior?

A hint...

If you find yourself swinging back and forth on the pendulum of being a hero or victim/martyr in your situation, your compassion might be on too much of a one-way street.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

What's your foundation?

I took my two big dogs for a walk down at the greenbelt for the first time the other morning.

I had to admit, I was nervous.

New retractable leash. A German Shepherd (Lucy, almost 12, still going strong) who's rarely, but nevertheless potentially fearful and aggressive. A Siberian Husky (Maya, 6, quirky and stubborn) who could easily pull an SUV or two.

We're walking down the trail, it's still cool. Light is filtering through the trees. Birds are singing. Random forest noises abound.

Coming towards us on the path ahead of us, a tall, blond woman and her two dogs are approaching.

Panic!

Her dogs aren't on a leash and they're big too.

Her dogs run straight up to mine while I'm trying to yell to her that I have an unfriendly dog.

Lucy lunges. Maya pulls and my hand burns as I grab the thin wire of her new leash. Lucy and one of the other dogs begin to fight while I'm yelling my head off to stop them.

My two dogs become entangled. Chaos.

The other woman says nothing!

Abruptly, her two dogs simply take off down the path. She passes us and I stand there, baffled.

Not a word. No Sorry, no Excuse Me. Nada.

I punctuate the air with an expletive of frustration as she's walking away.

Then, my irritation growing as I see her back turned towards us, I yell, "You might want to think about putting your dogs on a leash next time!"

To which she yells back, "You might want to think about controlling your dogs!"

We go back and forth a few more times, with her lying to me about the leash laws. Her last words are for me to shut the **** up.

Wow.

I was rattled the entire rest of the walk and had a hard time letting the experience go; returning back to the moment; being there, in the woods, enjoying the present with my dogs.

I am embarrassed that I yelled at a perfect stranger, but I'm also still pissed that she was so blase about our little confrontation - one which could have resulted in an injured dog or two.

Many of you are understandably irritated with the behavior of the mom or stepmom. With your ex, your husband, or your stepkids or kids.

You can point the finger at particular actions and say, "This. Should never have happened."

Friends and family will back you up.

You add your grievance to the list, knowing you're in the right.

But... what could have turned the tide that morning was my foundation.

Had I felt like my "normal" self that day: confident with the dogs, with a mental plan ready for how I was going to handle passersby and loose dogs and road bikers -- stepping off the trail, holding them close to me -- it might have been a different story.

My foundation was off.

Yet I still pushed myself to go, because the dogs needed a walk and I was pressuring myself to try something new.

And when things went awry, I blamed the entire experience on the other woman and her dogs -- big, slobbery, happy fellows who nevertheless shouldn't have run right up to us.

It was only during our walk back to the car that I looked a little deeper at my role....

I begrudgingly admitted I was already a bit off-kilter as we set off from the parking lot. My mind didn't feel clear. I was anxious. Part of me was *expecting* something to go wrong.

And that fearfulness, that mental "static" did contribute to what happened -- like it or not.

When I admitted that to myself, suddenly I found myself able to let the experience go. I didn't need to tell anyone about it to validate my reaction - how in the wrong she clearly was.

I cared more about just having a good day and getting back into a happy, productive mood.

What's your foundation been like when you have a run-in with the other household?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Power of a Name: Just-A-Stepmoms and Bio-Moms

I sometimes like to think of weird things that might have extremely large numbers assigned to them.

…How many breaths each and every creature that’s ever lived has taken, all together.

…How many times the clouds have passed over the sun as someone looked skyward.

…How many times you’ve eaten lunch.

…How many times your name has been called.

When a family dissolves by divorce, we’re typically not expecting to add any extra names to the list of cast members.

When we marry into a new stepfamily, it can feel vaguely insulting to have the name of the ex randomly interjecting itself into our every day.

And yet, there they are: the unwanted. The new woman.

Even the terms we use for each other are loaded:

The bio-mom.

Just the stepmom.

The crazy ex-wife.

The evil stepmother.

Why do we speak this way about each other?

When our aim is to cut the other woman’s legs out from under her before she even gets started, we should be suspicious of our motives.

Do stepmoms ever refer to their husbands as the “bio-father” or is he simply, “the father?” What about their own mothers (unless they were adopted or raised by someone else)?

Are moms aware of the fact that stepmoms are likely performing most of the hands-on tasks to take care of the children? As women, we already know: how can anything be “just...” about that?

ALL of those ex-wives can’t really be crazy. There’s too many of them.

And why are we STILL living in a culture where the cheap and easy trick for creating a villain in a kid’s movie is to give them a stepmom?

So it’s good to ask....

What might we secretly fear about the other woman?

What power are we attributing to her that we want to take away by denigrating her name?

In what ways might we be totally clueless about who she really is?

And isn't it a shame that we don't have a name to use for each other that acknowledges our familial ties to each other -- and allows for the potential growth of love and affection?

.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join readers of Skirts at War in the member’s community!  Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)

The Invisible Drivers in Your Life

The other woman is out to get you. Everything she does is motivated by an intense, burning desire to see you fail, to make you suffer. Her life revolves around making you miserable -- and miserable you are, despite yourself.

Although... something about this feeling seems familiar.

You can’t quite put your finger on it....

You take a look around your life and feel small and powerless. Too many demands. Too many people needing your time and attention. Not enough people really looking out for YOU and what you might need. You feel burdened, lonely and somehow... doomed.

Something about that empty, aching feeling in your heart feels familiar.

But you can’t quite put your finger on it.

You’re doing your best to create a connection with your children or stepchildren; with your partner. You meet hurtful or flip responses with warmth and soft eyes. You still go the extra mile with the little things, telling yourself you’re practicing devotion, loyalty, forgiveness.

Lying awake in bed at night when everyone else is asleep, you notice that something about feeling unloved and out of place seems familiar.

But you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Here’s what’s actually happening.

Deep in the back of your mind, beneath your conscious attention, you have messages that you’re repeating to yourself throughout your day.

I’m never really safe; I can’t totally relax or disaster awaits me.

My needs are unimportant because I don’t really matter.

I have to give more than I get because I don’t deserve any better.

But really, what your minds says to you in the form of subconscious beliefs is even worse than that.

And a lot shorter.

And more extreme.

So extreme that, if anyone were to ever stand in front of us and say this stuff to our face, we’d be sorely tempted to deck them!

Nobody really loves me.

Something is seriously wrong with me.

If people really knew who I was, they’d run.

I will always end up being hurt.

Nothing ever goes right.

I suck.

I ruin everything.

These beliefs are formed in the very beginning of our lives because -- as the logic goes -- our parents and primary caregivers are bound to fail us.

They have to. That’s because the perfect human being -- one who can anticipate our every waking need, satisfy our quirky preferences and our personality-driven compulsions and interests -- has not yet been invented.

So we will be disappointed. We will feel misunderstood, unseen, rejected.

Betrayed.

And occasionally, absolutely gutted.

Even though we’re supposedly a few steps above common animals, humans still have an almost overwhelmingly strong desire to belong to the pack.

Try to do it all alone: hunt, kill, eat, rest, repeat -- and you’re likely to not be doing it for very long. There’s safety and survival in numbers.

Which is why it’s better to make ourselves wrong first. We need the pack more than we consciously need ourselves in the very beginning.

And thus, the little gremlins of our subconscious mind are born.

They’re a way for us to contextualize our lives, to explain to ourselves why things go as they do.

They’re a way to create predictability and theoretically, to reduce future upsets and crushing blows. They’re a means of preparing ourselves, by learning from the unwanted experiences of the past.

Only problem is, the ancient wiring system for our Default Disaster Playbook is seriously flawed -- at least when it comes to creating healthy, emotional lives as adults.

We start LIVING by those extreme, distorted mantras as if they are always true -- as if that is “just the way life is...”

And then we make our lives FIT the mantra to prove ourselves right.

Which is why it’s sometimes vaguely satisfying when things go wrong, even if we’re also deeply distressed and would swear on our favorite pets’ grave that we wish it weren’t so!

So what mantras, what secret driving forces, what subconscious beliefs could be running your life?

What themes or patterns seem to be playing themselves out, despite your best efforts to create otherwise?

The good news is, there are effective ways to address and transform those beliefs now that really do work.

You can be worthy, safe, lovable, valued.

You can trust others.

You can create a life of meaning and purpose.

But the first step is to listen closely.

And to tell the truth about what you find.

A little tip for you: if you’re reluctant to (even privately) spell out those outdated, subconscious beliefs in all their extreme glory—you’re still confusing yourself with the belief, as if it’s true!

The first step is to call it as you see it.

Then you can create a plan of action that deals with what is.

What have you discovered about what’s driving your life?

.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for some unique tools and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)

Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You

Most of us are reluctant to turn the flashlight back on ourselves and look at the ways we might have screwed up.

After all, who likes feeling like they’ve messed up?

Like the balance of power has shifted in the story and all of a sudden, instead of the other person being so predictably wrong - it’s now our behavior that’s under scrutiny?

Back during the days when I used to not get along with my ex-husband David and his wife (and my co-author) Carol, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to mentally nail them for things they had done wrong. The slightest little mistake was grounds for a rant with my friends -- or a ruined afternoon, with me stewing in my anger and irritation.

Never mind the fact that there was also a part of me that was secretly enjoying the fact that they might have screwed up, such as getting a pick-up or drop off time mixed up.

And never mind the fact that I also did what I could to subtly help them get it mixed up, while also trying to claim otherwise.

It was childish, ridiculous behavior.

And part of me knew it.

But instead of looking at that reality, I chose instead to focus on them.

And they, in turn, were doing the same thing with me. (Something they fully owned up to later).

After all, how many of us, when we sense someone in our immediate environment out to get us, open our hearts in response?

Maybe if you live on a mountain in Tibet you do, but I doubt the majority of us mere mortals lean that way out of habit.

So there we were, judging the hell out of each other, blowing things out of proportion, taking lots of things personally, making ourselves and everyone else miserable... and the entire time, we’re all still feeling victimized.

Like something was being done TO us!

I have to shake my head and laugh at this now, because it seems so clearly illogical and insane.

I can’t speak for David or Carol, but when I had my first inklings of owning my own shit, it was like a blast of light shining through the curtains.

Once I started to see how I was fully participating in this impossible, never-ending, score-keeping behavior, I couldn’t STOP seeing it in all my actions.

And I suspected that they probably had inklings of this as well.

We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.

But we were not helpless.

Admitting to myself that I was deliberately trying to set them up, trying to make them fail, trying to make myself out to be the well-intentioned, blameless victim -- even if it meant occasionally putting the kids in the middle as leverage was life-changing.

I could throw up my hands and claim my innocence all I wanted in public, but now that I knew the truth of what I was doing, I could never go back and pretend otherwise to myself again.

The bottom line was....

Was it worth it?

Was it worth what I was doing to the kids to feel temporarily superior to David and Carol? To feel like the better, more loving, devoted parent? (One who still uses her kids as “leverage?” Right....) To milk sympathy from friends and family about how unfair it was, how stressful and awful their “two against my one” was?

To self-righteously funnel my leftover anger and grief about our marriage into something tangible, something that gave me the feeling that at least something was actually moving? Something was actually happening?

Well.... No.

It wasn’t.

It wasn’t worth all the stress. It wasn’t worth how hard my heart felt.

It wasn’t worth the feeling that I was now living behind a large rock wall, thirty feet high, waiting for flaming balls of mud to be lobbed upon me at any time. Or constantly gathering up mud inside my own yard to lob back.

My brain hurt. My head hurt. My stomach hurt.

My kids were hurting.

It sucked.

So... when I clearly and irrevocably saw what I was doing, I made the decision to stop.

Whether they did or not, whether they apologized or not, whether they ever understood or not.

I stopped.

And I told myself the truth about my crappy behavior, without justifications, without trying to turn my actions back on them somehow.

I apologized at first to David.

And then, later, when things were better between us, to Carol.

And then, eventually, when my girls seemed old enough to really get it, I apologized to them too.

You’d think that all of that apologizing would make a person feel pretty darned small.

And it did, temporarily.

But that’s what humility does. It makes you small enough so that you can see the error of your ways.

It takes you out of your ego so you can get over yourself.

It gives you a chance to just shut the heck up and take stock of what’s you've created, shame-inducing and all.

When you own your own shit and when you apologize to people -- without any investment about what’s coming to you in return -- without any expectations of what’s going to happen now or how you’ll be perceived as “better” -- magic can happen.

Time and time again, I hear stories of huge turnarounds that occur between warring parties.

A heartfelt apology is made and ice melts. Handshakes are made. Smiles freely given for maybe the first time ever.

Maybe not immediately, but sometimes... eventually....

I firmly believe, though it sounds all new-agey to say, that you change the energetic field between you and the other person. You stop the tension, the pushing and pulling. The space opens up between you for something new to be created, even if there’s no way to anticipate what that might be.

It still happens.

Based on my own experiences, I recommend that the exes start with each other, in particular. It’s often the leftover angst and anger between them that can really fuel the competition between the women -- and all the offenses that come along with that.

When you own your own shit, it's true: you may not make one single thing happen as far as changing the other person’s behavior.

And you have to be willing to accept that.

But you will feel a MILLION times better about yourself and your own sense of integrity.

And you will be giving your children an AWESOME gift to emulate themselves one day.

You will have stopped leaking your self-pity and vengeance all over them, when they're just trying to be kids, doing their kid thing.

You will be showing them what's possible when the two people who brought them into this world put down their weapons and say they're sorry... and maybe cry for the chaos they've wrought.

You'll make it okay for them to love their stepmom, like they should be able to, since she likely loves them.

You'll show them what it's like when all the adults create something new and wonderful out of a weird and awkward situation.

And then truly, even though their lives may have exploded with the dissolution of their original family, you'll show them that life really can be okay -- and new bonds will form that they can lean on for the rest of their lives.

Won't you try it... and see?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for some unique tools and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)

A Challenge: Just Meet Her!

(Audrey S. [mom] and Gina W. [stepmom] on Mother's Day with their children.)

The problem of the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.

-Mother Theresa

Our old grievances can change in an instant when we simply open to the other... and listen.

WHAT IF... the divorced mom or stepmom is just as baffled by you—as you are by her?

WHAT IF... you have more in common than you realize?

WHAT IF... her actions towards you are nowhere near as deliberate as you assume them to be—or vice-versa?

WHAT IF... you could erase years of accumulated tension and resentment with her in one short moment?

WHAT IF... she’s open to forming a connection with you—and that evokes the same in you?

Curious?

Perfect!

Because we invite you to meet the stepmom or ex-wife in your life this month during our “Just Meet Her!” challenge.

The purpose?

To see each other as human. That’s it. That’s your only goal. No hashing out of issues. No point-scoring. No validating past wounds.

Just meeting her, face-to-face, for coffee or tea.

If you've already had a few pleasant, respectful communications with her (by email, phone or in person), then this challenge is for you!

If you are in an actively high-conflict situation, then meet with another person who shares her role as a mom or stepmom.

Our challenge was inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s beautiful and thought-provoking TED video “Take the Other to Lunch,” where she meets with someone who is seemingly her political opposite, only to discover that they both feel judged and misunderstood, and yet are still capable of building trust between them.

(video timeline notes)

  • Early background about her two conflicting selves: 0:01-1:54
  • What we miss by thinking we know it all: 1:54
  • How we so easily "demonize" each other: 4:35
  • Describing the initiative:  5:46
  • Her lunch and the guidelines she used:  7:06
  • Insights about her lunch:  8:25
  • Who should YOU take to lunch? What can you expect? 10:00-11:00

One of the fastest, most powerful ways to change this relationship is also one of the scariest.

Suddenly, you are two fallible, vulnerable people.

Both winging it.

Both at times hurt and confused by how difficult these roles are...

As Lesser said, it's "--two people, dropping their weapons... dropping the pretense of being know-it-alls..."

Surely you can bring yourself to, as Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project suggests, deliberately suffer for 15 minutes for the good of humanity.

Or in this case, thirty.

What might your first steps be?

Here are the guidelines.

If you’re meeting with YOUR other, ask each other:

  • Describe a silly phobia you have.
  • Tell me about a happy childhood memory.
  • What's a favorite movie, song, book or TV show?

If you’re meeting with AN other, ask each other:

  • What have you always wanted to ask someone from the other side?
  • What are some of the biggest fears stepmoms or moms have?
  • What are some of the biggest hopes of moms or stepmoms?

General Guidelines:

  • meet for a min. of 30 minutes
  • meet in a neutral location, such as a coffee shop or park
  • don’t persuade, defend or interrupt
  • avoid volatile topics, such as family, conflict-loaded situations, etc.
  • be curious, be conversational and be real... listen
  • meet for a maximum of 45 minutes and then end it, even if it’s going well

Communicate with us and your friends here on NOTB (on the blog, in our private forum or on Facebook):

Let us know your plan to meet and when.

Let us know how your meeting went!

If you are worried or nervous before your meeting, come to us for support. And then come to us after too, to decompress and process your experience.

We know our readers are some of the bravest, ballsiest women out there.

So show us what you got!

We’ll all be cheering you on....

And we just might start a revolution that snowballs into something really big!

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there...

- Rumi

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Painful stereotype, meet reality!

Over the weekend, we learned a valuable lesson.

Jenna shared a link to an article on our Facebook page that she thought might be potentially inflammatory, but also stimulate an interesting discussion -- given the fact that some stepmoms do indeed wrestle with this kind of behavior with the mom in their lives.

All hell broke loose!

I watched in horror as both moms and stepmoms sought to defend themselves against common stereotypes associated with each side.

Yes! Moms can definitely be like this!

No! It’s unfair that these assumptions are made, when there’s a perfectly good reason for some of this behavior.

The heat of the comments really made me think....

Why are these stereotypes so dangerous?

And so painful?

Think about it: stereotypes exist for a seemingly good reason.

They’re a way to size up a population that’s different, a population you may even fear.

They’re a way to separate yourself, to reinforce your chosen identity and say, “That’s not me. That’s not how I would have handled that situation/challenge/problem, etc....”

We reject the negative qualities we see in others. We push back against unwanted behavior we don’t condone and can barely understand.

Think about all those lazy, neglectful mothers out there.

Or the self-absorbed, cold-hearted stepmoms.

And there’s plenty more where that came from!

Crazy, irrational, control freak moms who must still be carrying a torch for their exes, blind to the ways they’re dragging the kids through the mud and ruining them for life.

Competitive, passive-aggressive stepmoms with a martyr complex, bent on squeezing the kids out of the picture so they can have Dad all to themselves, or themselves and their kids.

Obviously, we’re so much better than those other people....

But when we buy into the stereotypes, we lose two important things.

The truth of what’s really actually going on!

And the chance to learn from someone who’s not like you.

That was the danger in that article.

It fueled more of a separation between all of us. Between the side that was so clearly “right” and the side that was being victimized in a lop-sided characterization.

And all of a sudden, all the GOOD in the other side seemed to be canceled out, in one fell swoop.

One of the best parts about our community is we each offer a glimpse inside “the enemy’s camp,” in an effort to help the other side UNDERSTAND...

What might be fueling that other person’s difficult behavior?

Is it the pain of seeing someone they love in pain? Grieving a loss that’s knocked them off their feet? Jealousy? Protecting someone dear? Feeling hurt and betrayed? Lost and powerless?

Show me one person in your life who doesn’t occasionally act like an idiot or a total pain in the ass when they’re struggling!

When you’re having a hard time, your attention turns INWARD. You focus on the problem, the issue, your discomfort.

This inward focus puts you out of sync with your external environment.

You miss cues from other people. You respond from habit or old, unresolved issues in your past. You may become rigid in your behavior. You probably overreact to simple things.

Fine!, you say.

So you can understand the other woman overreacting every once and a while. But years? Maddening crap for years??!

Yes. It happens.

Do you see how hard it is for all of us to navigate these relationships? To continually adjust?

We are ALL bumbling along in these dual-family relationships. We’re the guinea pigs. We’re writing the two-family playbook right now, as we make our mistakes....

We’re all trying to find our place.

To be seen and respected.

To belong.

To be safe.

To be loved.

No one’s got a leg up.

Really.

So try this next time you’re frustrated with the other woman....

Ask yourself, what might make ME act like this? What would have to be going on with ME to push me to this type of behavior?

Haven’t you ever gone off the cliff in your life? Acted in a way that filled you with regret and dismay later? Ever watched yourself act like an out of control child from afar, absolutely horrified?

There's a real, live human being behind each stereotype...

What are some stereotypes you now know not to be true about stepmoms or divorced moms?

And how did you arrive at this insight?

We want to hear from YOU!

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for some unique tools and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day!

Thank for all you do for these little beings (and sometimes medium and big ones) who can be moody, uncooperative, whiny, over-sensitive and angry –- but also wonderfully innocent, vulnerable, warm, playful, all-accepting, and sweetly kind.

Our children need ALL of us!

They need as many adults to love them as possible and one of the most generous things we can ever do for THEM is to make room in their lives for others as well.

I hope it’s a day of recognition for you, but if not, please make sure to acknowledge yourself.

Take a moment to pat yourself on the back, feel appreciation for yourself, and soak up some loving kindness beamed inwards!

Parenting is a tough job, no matter who’s doing it. But our consistent and selfless efforts make all the difference in the world to the children that evoke our tender hearts….

Much love to all!

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for some unique tools and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)

One woman’s prince is another child’s neglectful father

On Thursday, Jenna’s post “One woman’s frog is another’s woman’s prince” lit up our blog and Facebook page with massive hits and fascinating feedback. She really struck a nerve.

Most of the feedback was from stepmoms, but her post was important for moms to read too.

We often forget that the men we divorced can indeed change, grow and actually be BETTER -- with someone else.

I take no issue with that point.

Many stepmoms agreed that their husbands are 2.0 versions of their former selves -- and that’s a happy thing for all parties involved.

I know my own ex is a much better match with Carol, the co-author of our book. They’ve even “passed up” the number of years he and I were married, and seem equally committed to each other.

But I did want to highlight one significant aspect of this Frog/Prince dialogue that I suspect some stepmoms may not realize.

In combing through the tangled conflict between stepmoms and divorced moms, it may look to you like there are scores of divorced moms out there who are simply holding on to old issues from the past -- and that’s why they’re angry.

She just can’t let go. She’s emotionally stunted. She doesn’t have the maturity to release her judgments and resentments.

 

Maybe it’s even assumed that’s she’s still in love with her ex.

But in many cases, there’s actually something very different going on.

Not all, of course, but in many.

Jenna mentioned how, in a healthy marriage or relationship, the partners are happy to be “doing for each other.” This is why so many stepmoms step forward and do a lot of the parenting stuff for the dads.

Because they’re better at it. Because they love their husbands and are trying to make his life easier.

But let me tell you, there’s a very common refrain I hear among the majority of my divorced mom friends: the father’s involvement with his kids often drops dramatically when he remarries -- especially if he has more children with his new partner.

He sees his children less.

He calls less.

He may not be able to “squeeze them in” to his busy calendar.

Outings or gatherings have to be compromised to accommodate new siblings or his wife’s preferences.

Meetings and get-togethers have to be changed, then changed again, then eventually forgotten.

The moms are the ones witnessing the fallout from this with their children.

They see and hear the child’s hurt feelings.

The children feel ignored, unloved, invisible.

And THAT is where a lot of the anger comes from in the moms.

It’s fresh anger.

It comes from new experiences of rejection for their child, piled on top of each other.

They are angry with their children’s fathers for not stepping up, for not even noticing that his children are hurt and feel neglected by him.

They see the negative impact upon their child’s self-esteem.

They fear for their daughter’s future romantic relationships, with the most important man in her life imprinting messages of emotional unavailability upon the child’s impressionable psyche.

Or dooming their sons to a lifetime of trying to “prove themselves” to a man who is forever facing the other direction.

Do the moms also have judgments and anger, their own resolved issues with their ex that are their responsibility to handle?

Of course!

But that still doesn’t negate my point about how so many dads seem to be falling short.

Now, to clarify...

In Jenna’s post -- and in this one -- we’re talking about several “slices” of the pie, several sub-populations:

  1. There are the dads who divorced and haven’t changed. They were disinterested, uninvolved fathers before and they still are.
  2. There are the dads who have become better partners and yet still practice a kind of hands-off approach to fatherhood.
  3. There are the dads who have become better partners AND better fathers.

I’m talking about the second group in this post.

As women, we often step up to the plate without even being asked.

 

And the stepmoms in this second group who fulfill some of the parenting duties for their husbands out of love and partnership are actually enabling some pretty unhealthy behavior - for the children’s sake -- and for themselves.

And that’s why, when you do things for him as his partner, as moms we reject your kindnesses, your earnest involvement.

It may sound crazy and counter-productive to reject parenting help for our kids wherever we can get it, but moms are thinking, Don’t enable him. Don’t make it okay for him to continue to slack off!

Now, I know there are plenty of stepmoms out there who are trying to get their partners to be more involved as dads.

They’re doing what we moms used to do: cajole, bargain, inform, educate, “set up successes” to happen....

Sometimes, your efforts really do make a difference. Breakthroughs happen between a father and his kids and we thank you for doing this, out of love for your stepkids.

Seriously.

Thank you!

But in other ways, too many fathers get to kick back and let the women -- both women -- do all the grunt work of parenting. We hear from plenty of stepmoms out there in this kind of situation too. Sounds like it sucks.

Just had to get this off my chest.

I’m surrounded by so many single and remarried moms saying the same thing, it breaks my heart. And yet this scenario of "forgotten children" has become so commonplace that I’m not even surprised by it anymore.

When a dad does it differently, it really stands out.

So before you assume that the mom is once again harping on the past for some crazy, illogical reason, consider whether some of her anger is directed at the father of her children -- for a valid reason.

Think of how you might feel if the children you now have with your husband became an afterthought in the future.....

Yes. These dual-families relationships are incredibly complicated, with so many demands on our time, attention and affection that it's sometimes mind-boggling.

But an uninvolved father is a dad that is hurting his child’s feelings and harming their self-esteem and self-worth.

That’s what we’re mad about.

Thanks for reading.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(Update: After seeing some of the comments on our Facebook page in response, I just wanted to add two points.

My intent here is not to "slam" men or the many fathers out there who are doing a great job. In addition to the kids, I'm also concerned about all the stepmoms out there who are putting their marriages at risk by continuing to fulfill roles that are leaving them depleted and resentful. They started out giving from the heart, but now they are expected to continue being the hands-on parent while the dad "coasts." After a while, the stepmom feels trapped. Bad for everyone!

I also think there are gender issues that feed into this issue. As women, we're "givers," and we love jumping in and doing for others before they even ask! It can be a slippery slope....)

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for new friends and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)

Who’s that jerk driving that car?!

Funny thing about us and driving....

When we cut someone else off in traffic because we have a lot on our mind that day -- we’re tearful, or pissed, or stressed out about a gut-wrenching problem with no end in sight -- we cut ourselves some slack.

We’re really not THAT kind of driver, we think to the other person, as they speed up and pass us, while glaring our way to make their point.

You’re entitled to be spacey, distracted. You’re dealing with a lot right now. It couldn’t be helped.

But to them, you ARE one of those kinds of drivers.

The kind that starts with the letter “A!”

And it is assumed that you drive like this wherever you go, spreading your bounty of misery far and wide.

But what REALLY just happened?

One way to look at it is...

The other driver took an event that was situational and made it all about your character.

You have no qualms about your character, because in your mind, your actions were due to the situation.

And therein lies the rub betweens divorced moms and stepmoms.

A stepmom thinks,

I have had it up to here with an ex-wife who won’t even cooperate over the simplest of communications between our households!

Why did *I* have to get stuck with the standard, ex-wife bitch on wheels for my partner’s ex -- someone willing to drag her own children through a lot of drama, just to flaunt her power in my face?

For her part, the mom thinks,

I have had it up to here with my ex once again pawning off his job on yet another woman!

Why did *I* have to get stuck with a stereotypical, interfering stepmom -- out to prove she’s better than me at my job, assuming she has the right to manage my children’s lives, when she’s barely known them a few years?

So who’s right?

Is it situation... or character?

Both?

Can you see the assumptions about character that each woman makes in the descriptions above?

And can you empathize with the initial frustrations of each woman in her situation? Frustrations that are probably prompting some unpleasant and negative behavior towards the other woman?

Does her behavior in a difficult situation now define what kind of person she is, for all time?

Can you also see how easily we cut one side or the other slack -- depending upon whose “side” we’re on?

And yet, we assume the other person is acting with calculating and malicious intent -- if that’s how the end result feels to us.

 

But what if she’s really not?

What then?

Now that I’m aware of this distinction,* I can’t help but see old assumptions with new eyes... everywhere!

And that includes when I’m on the road too....

Have you ever confused character for situation?

What happened?

(Thanks to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” for inspiring this post.)

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for some unique tools and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)