Cold Hard Facts

Kathy Welcome to our first guest post! It's by Katherine Shirek Doughtie, one of the co-authors of a "sister" site, the fabulous, but sadly currently dormant The DHX: The Doughtie Houses Exchange — which is also about creating cooperative mom/stepmom relationships. (Katherine is the mom and Jill Doughtie is the stepmom.) The post is actually a reprint of a Nov. 2007 entry, but I thought it was so good,and so important, that I asked Kathy if she wouldn't mind us posting it again. She graciously agreed, so without further ado... Here's Kathy:

Cold Hard Facts

-by Katherine Shirek Doughtie

Chilling.

I just looked up some statistics on second marriages and, boy, they are not good. When Jill and I first started talking about this blog, we tried to figure out roughly how many marriages were second marriages and how many ended in divorce. We both guessimated — based on what? a hope that humans can actually learn from their mistakes? — that second marriages were statistically less likely to end in divorce.

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

Divorce rates for second marriages? About 60 - 80% .

At the high end, that’s almost double the divorce rate for first marriages (47%).

So why do second marriages end? Mainly because of two things: Complexity and money. Money is relatively easy to deal with (here’s an excellent guideline) — as long as you are willing to be brutally honest with yourself and your partner. OK, I’m being a little casual about the money stuff… money is usually extremely tied to emotional issues and I’m planning on getting into it in depth in a later post. But long ago I learned that there were two kinds of problems in the world: Emotional issues and technical issues. (Losing weight is a prime example of a technical problem that very often becomes an emotional issue.) And money — as painful and crazy as it is — is really a technical issue on much the same scale as losing weight.

The complexity of living in a blended family, however, is an emotional issue. There’s no way around it. You can’t sit down with a ledger or Quicken and figure out how to deal with the biological mom, or how to make the sibs and step-sibs get along or how to reconcile the painful comments in the car that the other house is the “fun house.” That’s emotional. That’s core stuff.

And with a 60 - 80% divorce rate among second marriages, it’s not an issue you can easily dismiss.

Which means, to me, that this whole conversation about how moms and step-moms might be able to work together better is not just so that we can reduce a little stress in our lives. It really is so that the second marriage has a much better chance at surviving.

I’m going to put on my “bio mom” hat solely now. And this may seem stern and harsh, but really it’s in response to that statistic, and as an admonition to some future Kathy should I ever become a step-mom myself.

Here it is and it’s a cold hard fact:

I’m the biological mother. I am not going away, ever.

You’re the step-mother. And the statistics aren’t in your favor.

And the reason the statistics aren’t in your favor is because, in part, of me.

It’s very icky. It’s ugly to say and, projecting myself into the other household, abhorent to hear. But, actually, it’s true. And it becomes extremely dangerous when there is still a boatload of baggage left over from the first marriage, and the whole situation is riddled with bitterness, vengefulness and anger. We, the biological parent, do have the upper hand — legally, emotionally, biologically. And if we want to wield it for evil and try to pry apart that fragile second union, we can. And we do. And that’s just so ugly for everyone, it makes me sick.

So am I saying that the step-moms of the world have to genuflect to us because we have the biological trump card? Do we now get to have final say in every decision?

Absolutely not. Because there’s another corrollary to the above cold hard fact, that I wish more bio-moms would actually pay attention to, and this one goes thusly:

This step-mom also takes care of my children.

The peace that I can promote between the households directly and unequivocally affects the emotional well-being of my children.

To quote my favorite philosophical work, Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. Sure, you’re the legitimate owner of half of the DNA. But that comes with some responsibilities, too — because your first priority is really no longer yourself and your precious anger. Remember those first six weeks of the babies’ lives, when your entire existence was turned upside down just to ensure the survival of that little infant? That hasn’t changed. We still have to turn ourselves inside out to make sure those kids make it through the night. And the step mom is there running the other household, and she must be respected and honored for that. If you want to play that bio-card and play power games, you can. But the losers will be the children.

Let me repeat that on its own line:

The losers will be the children.

It’s more than just about making life a little nicer that we need to get this figured out. For the step-moms in the world, it’s about keeping that marriage intact. For us moms in the world, it’s about keeping our children intact.

Let’s make this a revolution. The cold hard facts are saying that blended families are becoming more and more prevalent. Let’s learn from our past mistakes, get over our anger, embrace the future possibilities, and get it together. For ourselves, for the sisterhood, and for our children.

To read more of Katherine's writing, check out her book Aphrodite in Jeans: Adventure Tales About Men, Midlife And Motherhood or her personal blog.

© 2009 Katherine Shirek Doughtie     All Rights Reserved

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