Most of our readers are stepmoms. This makes sense to me because it’s the stepmoms who are locked out of the house, waiting outside in the snow. The dads have a lot of power, because, hey, these are their kids and they get the final say. And the moms certainly have a lot of power because, hey, these children came out of their bodies and they’ll be damned if they’re going to give any of it away to a perfect stranger. Many stepmoms talk about how they just want to give up, after trying so hard to make the relationships work in their own families and between households.
And then there are the poor, hapless kids stuck in the middle, trying to ignore the live grenades bobbing around in the air.
I get it.
It’s hard for everyone.
And yet, I still have this stubborn vision. Call me insane, but I still keep seeing a world in the future where we do things differently after divorce and remarriage.
I can still imagine a way in which we start to tear down these outdated walls, these reactionary expectations about how everyone has to look at the other side like they’re out to get you. Where people get along. Where that’s what’s actually expected of the adults. Where we’ve moved on from the Dark Ages of Family Relationships into a kind of quiet neutrality and, dare I say it, even affection between sides.
I want this so much for all of you I could cry sometimes. I wish you could know in your gut that real change, mind-blowing transformations might be just over the fence, just around the corner, just one magnanimous gesture away.
When two adults get divorced, it’s like they’re walking out of the same house and heading off in separate directions. You go north. I’ll go south.
But when one, or both, of those adults pair up with someone in a new house, they shouldn’t be habitually looking through rifle scopes aimed at the other family! That’s not a loving environment. That’s not a healthy environment. And we damn well wouldn’t want our kids or stepkids living in such a dangerous environment.
But that’s exactly what we’re creating when we just automatically set ourselves against the other household.
And I’m talking to everyone here.
You might say, “Well, we only starting getting pissed off after we had this lunatic come after us! It wasn’t our fault! We only started getting riled up out of self-defense! Really!” ...and in some cases, I will believe you.
I’ve heard enough sad, horrifying, mind-boggling tales of borderline-personality-disordered, narcissistic, substance-abusing, Parental Alienation Poster Child adults to last me a lifetime. It's heartbreaking.
But the VAST majority of us are not dealing with drug addicts or vindictive nutjobs who are hell-bent on ruining the other adults’ lives—and the childrens' in the process.
The vast majority of us, ALL of us, are simply struggling to get by and have some down time and a little fun at the end of a long day, and figure out our relationships, and how to raise a moody child, whether it’s yours or somebody else’s.
The vast majority of us are just regular people with issues and fears and a million things on our to-do list that we will never get to, but for the most part, we’re doing okay.
And in THIS wide swath of a gray area, this middling land of families, there are WAY too many people who are just being lazy.
There, I said it.
We’re being lazy! We’re not willing to look at how we’re feeding the beast of conflict. How we’re fanning the flames and keeping them going. It’s too uncomfortable. We don’t know how. We don’t know “what to do.”
Basically, we are unwilling to own our part until the other side owns theirs first.
And THAT, dear people, is where we’re going wrong. THAT is how you slide from seeing the "bio-mom" or stepmother with a slight distaste based on ignorance (“I can’t really hate her, since I barely know her!”), to outright hatred.
A little story for you.....
When Carol the Stepmom first came along (and this was how it felt, like she just suddenly “appeared” by magic in my life, as an announcement from the ex), I figured she was just temporary. Part of this was because of the age difference (she was 14 years younger than my ex and I, which is not uncommon, stepmoms are often younger). Part of this was because I just couldn’t really imagine someone else, someone “new” coming into the picture and STAYING there.
Once I realized she was, or appeared to be, a lot of weird stuff kicked in. I felt extremely helpless, threatened, and uncomfortable. I kept thinking, But WHO IS SHE? Why don’t I get a “say” in whether she’s “allowed” to interact with my kids or not? (Whether rational or not.) In every other arena, I had always had a lot more control over what happened in my children’s lives, and now suddenly, I didn’t.
Something switched on inside me and I turned my discomfort from living in a strange and unfamiliar place of weakness, confusion and flying blind -- and FOCUSED IT ON HER.
I picked her apart in my little brain. I made her wrong. I disliked her. I saw slights were there were none. I started to develop this little ball of cold fury towards her inside myself and it was sickening.
And I made my ex-husband wrong in even more ways than “normal,” back then.
We spent about a year and a half with BOTH of us (Carol and I) being scared of each other, feeling pissy and angry and judged by the other. Of barely being able to interact or speak to each other -- or even look each other in the face, the way you’d look at a stranger on the street!
It was awful. I thank god that life is no longer like that. And my heart goes out to everyone that’s still living that way, because I can still vividly remember how much it sucked.
But here’s the thing, when that “switch” turned on in me, that was the beginning of war.
That’s all it took.
That’s what it looks like.
It’s very simple.
There were no fireworks. There was no yelling. No heated conversations on the phone. No big confrontations or name-calling. No bashing her or my ex in front of the kids.
But it was war nevertheless.
And that’s all it takes for the struggles to begin.
With innocent “miscommunications” on the phone between houses. With disagreements over paltry, or sometimes very large, sums of money. With rigidity and a lack of flexibility over working with the other side when they need it, because doesn’t life always throw you curveballs?
And then the stockpiling kicks in.
You start keeping score of all the times the other side has screwed you over, large or small. You start anticipating being screwed. You “let yourself slide” when it comes to “innocently” screwing them, because you’re tired of always being the better person. It’s exhausting being so noble and fair all the time, isn’t it?
I can talk until I’m blue in the face about all the benefits to be gained by moms and stepmoms getting along, but in many ways, I’m talking to myself.
Because the people who see themselves at the mercy of the other side have already taken themselves out of the discussion.
Fair enough. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.
But I ask you this...
Would you want your own children, or future children, to duplicate the kind of life you are living now, war and all?
Because they will.
© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved
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