Emotional First Aid

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:

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© 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

Top Ten Reasons to Forgive the Stepmom, the Ex-Wife, or Your Ex

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1. Your grievances live inside you long after the event has passed, which feels terrible.

2. Your grudges don’t actually improve the outcome of future problems.

3. You’re inadvertently “leaking” your resentment onto innocent bystanders.

4. It’s possible to forgive... and still create healthy boundaries that protect you from future pain and unhappiness.

5. When you truly forgive another from the heart, forgiving yourself for ways that you might have enabled your transgressor goes hand in hand.

6. You’re modeling compassion and understanding for your children and stepchildren.

7. You are freer to concentrate on the things that really matter in life, like Dancing with the Stars or Charlie Sheen.

8. The Victim Tango broken record from hell stops playing in your brain. Ahh, sweet peace and quiet!

9. Forgiving the other person isn’t like them getting the upper hand, because you’ve actually stepped out of the gladiators arena altogether.

10. Through maturity and humility, you can now admit that you’ve hurt people too -- sometimes by accident and at other times, not. We all deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt, while shouldering the appropriate consequences of our actions.

A big shoutout to reader Dina M., who recommended the following excellent article on Facebook, "Divorced? Follow this One-Step Co-Parenting Plan" by Jennifer Mattern, over on ParentDish.

What are your thoughts?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved (photo credit Lusi)

Thanksgiving Day Tango Tips, Part 4

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One very easy way to increase your feelings of gratitude is to TAKE CARE OF YOUR BLESSINGS. So often, we take for granted the things that are working well and assume they will always be there. Kids that still reach out. A reliable partner. Your job. Your health. The place you live. Your car. Friends and family you never get to see. Peace in your country. Nature doing her thing year after year.

We're all blessed in so many ways.

The simple fact that you're reading this post on a computer already means you have more options than most people on the planet!

So tend to your blessings. Polish them. Feed them. Dote on them. Make time for them.

Make them shine....

This will actually make the things and people you cherish seem ten times bigger.

It's so easy to keep our constant focus on what we want, the things that aren't working. That seems to be our default mode, perhaps a remnant of an age-old survival mentality that no longer serves us well.

Look at all the luxuries you're already surrounded by, the bounty, the stability of all the things that DO work in your life -- and vow to yourself that you will give thanks for them every day, not just on this one.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, bonding, delicious day, filled with love, laughter and eventual lounging.

(And a secret celebration for the blog: this makes our 200th post! The perfect day for an anniversary....)

You'll find part 1, part 2 and part 3 here.

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine        All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving Day Tango Tips, Part 3

So far, it's not about you and you're going to be the peaceful, powerful presence in the room. It's also a good time to be reminded....

YOU ARE NOT A VICTIM.

That's right.

Even though you have your "story" about how all the things that have been done to you are so wrong and unfair -- and the way you KNOW THIS IN YOUR GUT is because of how upset these things make you feel -- that still doesn't actually mean you're a victim.

It all starts innocently enough.

You sit down on the metal edge of the parked Victim Merry Go Round because you're freaked out and you need to gather your wits. Something bad, something hurtful, something outrageous REALLY DID happen to you. You need a break!

But while you're sitting there, going over the story again and again, the merry go round starts moving.

And you stay on.

And you find yourself getting caught up in the vortex of movement; in this unhealthy loop of emotions that keeps feeding upon itself:

Story of injustice =

inflamed, wounded emotions =

anger (your attempt to regain a sense of dignity) =

vengeful fantasies (the ultimate tease!) ...

folllowed by more story in your head.

Next thing you know, you're so disoriented you can't get off the merry go round. And you feel really gross. Worse than ever.

Happens to the best of us.

But no matter what's going around you, the story you weave in your head is still up to you. And that's awesome news. Because you now have a ton of choices that you were blind to before.

So take control of the narrative back!

When you do, all the energy that was fueling your story turns instead into powerful, FORWARD MOMENTUM.

You know that feeling, right? Of living with purpose? Intention?Of open-ended possibilities?

Craft a different story for yourself. One of a wise, grounded, kick-ass heroine dealing with some harrowing challenges, just like in a movie, or a fairy tale. Where she triumphs, for the good of all.

What's a much more empowered version of YOUR current story?

Now how can you LIVE this?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

More tomorrow....

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

Thanksgiving Day Tango Tips, Part 2

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Yesterday's tip was about how inconsequential you are -- in a good way. Today, the focus isn't on your belly button, but the spotlight does swing all the way back around to YOU.

Think of an oak tree on top of a hill, buffeted by wind and rain.

Hail.

Bird poop and scorching sun.

Gloomy skies.

What does that tree do?

It stands there, tall and yet puny against the vastness of the sky. Reaching towards the sky, but rooted deep into the earth. Rigid, but yielding and bending with the breeze.

Can you cultivate the powerful, peaceful presence* of a tree?

Let the chaos unfold around you and remain balanced.

Quiet inside.

Yielding, but grounded.

It's good practice.

:-)

*With thanks to Lisa Earle McLeod for the phrase. For more on the concept, check out her book, Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small.

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving Day Tango Tips, Part 1

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Each day this week, I'm going to dole out a short tip on how to deal with Thanksgiving for dual-families (where you're "stuck" with the stepfamily or the divorced family). So here's the first one....

IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.

No, really. It isn't. I know most things are, but this actually isn't.

If you're having a tough time with some of the strategic arrangements, such as Sarah spending Thanksgiving with her mom and you only getting her part of the day (or not at all) -- or having to "trade" Christmas so that Noah can go with you to your parent's house and meet them for the first time, well, that doesn't have to mean one thing about YOU.

Where the kids do or do not go, how the day actually turns out doesn't mean anything about your self-worth.

Or your relationship.

Or whether it's doomed or will survive. Or is better than the other household's.

Or whether the kids love you more or less than the other parent or the mom or the grandparents or any other adult.

It says nothing about the kind of experience you will have.

Or how Christmas will go.

Or the next year.

It's just a day, neutral and plain, factual and simple.

Nuclear families also go through contortions trying to please everyone on Thanksgiving, like which in-laws to visit. Who's cooking. Who doesn't help clean out. Surly children. Communication issues between the spouses.

You're not alone in your angst!

So lighten up and don't take the day and all its arrangements so personally.

You're the one assigning things so much meaning.

So don't.

And see how much better you feel in the process.

(Part 2 and Part 3 are here.)

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

New videos are out!

Announcing our new Backyard Series videos! There are six of them total, although most people have never seen Part 2 of each topic.

Sorry for the terrible quality, but we used to host these on our website and then lost the original files.

Carol and David's backyard is no more either, since it burned in the Bastrop County Complex fire of 2011. They have happily resettled in Oregon.

And... Happy National Stepfamily Day to all the stepmoms and their families! Thank you for all you do to love and care for our children. We're all brave pioneers in this day and age, navigating a very different world when it comes to parenting and marriage.

Did you know that 1,300 stepfamilies form every day? And that's only counting the ones that make it legal. Just like single parent families, stepfamilies face unique challenges that put their stability and health at risk. We'd like to help create a cultural model that strengthens the connections between the two households, instead of drawing a stronger line in the sand.

Even if you're not IN a stepfamily, you're probably here because your life is intimately intertwined with your ex-partner's second family....

We hope to inspire ALL of you to reach out and form a working relationship with the other household, because together, we form the living "nest" for our children. Let's make it a cozy one. :-)

VIDEOS are here on YouTube:

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Success Story: Jesica and Mayra

What does it look like when the “bio-mom” and stepmom transform the ex-wife/stepmom relationship from hell? Here, we talk to two women who were formerly at war for years, but have suddenly made a breakthrough into a whole, new world of cooperation and promise. Mayra (the mom) and Jesica (the stepmom) from the D.C. area tell us their story....

What were some of the biggest problems you USED to have with each other?

Mayra: She was doing too much to try and be the "Mommy.” I felt that when I talked to the kids, they would paint a certain picture. They felt pressured to call her mom, because she would get mad if they didn’t.

Instead of approaching the situation in a calm manner, I would yell at my children’s father about her and instantly become aggressive. Another issue as well, as childish as this may sound, was I did not like it when my daughter kissed her on the lips. To me, that’s something only a biological parent should be doing. I hated the feeling I had when I saw that close connection with them, to be honest. I don’t think I was ready to accept that close affection they shared.

I also had issues with the fact that she would do little things to pester me, such as take my daughter’s hair out after I did it, because as the kids told me "She didn’t like it." Little things like that....

Jesica: For me, it was this person trying to tell me what I could and could no longer do with the kids, or alone with the kids, because I wasn’t their parent. Things that I was so used to doing prior to that were being taken away from me. Parental alienation was normal around the kids—it was like a tug of war. Who was going to win the kids over by buying them what they wanted or giving them what they needed? A big problem was them calling me Mommy, or me showing up for school events or doctor’s visits.

What made you think it might be possible for things to change for the better? Were there little things that caught your attention? Big things?

Mayra: I sat down with my children and asked them how they honestly felt about her. I told them I wouldn’t be mad or sad. I needed to know what they felt and that’s when my kids told me, "She’s nice to us, Mom—we like her and love her.” Prior to having that conversation, I felt that she was “making them” scared, to the point that they had no other choice but to like her!

To hear that come from my kids, in their own words, made me realize I needed to put all the crap away and deal with her, to work it out with her. But the biggest sign I saw was when we were all at the kids’ school due to a difficult issue. It was the way we were able to put it all aside, work well in the same room, and not have any conflict.

Jesica: I just want to say first that prior to now, we did have a period in which we got along. I had taken a six-month break from my husband (boyfriend at the time) and she and I started to talk, because I wanted to see the kids. After he and I got back together, we stopped talking. I guess she saw it as a betrayal or something.

This time around, what made me think it was possible was after my husband and I got married recently. (We’ve known each other for 6 years.) She allowed the kids to come to our wedding, which I thought she would try and sabotage, but she didn’t. Then for Easter, they got Easter baskets from our house and took them home, and she told my husband to thank me because they were nice. These were the little signs. Not very big ones, because soon after, it was back to the same old drama.

There was one big turning point and it was on a day in which there was a crisis in my six year-old stepdaughter's school. There was a bully we’d been having issues with almost all year long. I was around the corner when my husband called, so I picked him up, and we met with his ex-wife at the school. Although I'm sure in her head she was wondering why I had to be there, she actually picked up her cup of courage and asked me how I was doing. I was so shocked I said "What?!" and she said, "Come on, okay? I'm trying!" I turned beet red in shock.

From there, I knew there might be a possibility we could make this work. As long as it didn’t just last for that one day! They say sometimes tragedy can bring people together. I think here that statement rings true.

How did you reach out to the other woman? Were you scared? Was she (from what you could tell)?

Mayra: I reached out at the school. It was awkward being there and talking to their dad and completely ignoring her, so I sucked it up and genuinely asked her, “How’re you doing?” and from there the conversation flowed.. She was shocked at first, I could tell. She asked me, "What?" and I replied "Look, I’m trying....”

Jesica: Although she doesn't know it, I reached out by buying your book. I was scared as to how she would receive it. (In the beginning of the book, it talks about how both sides are jealous and sad and feel like we are in mourning. These were the things that I was sure she would find hard to admit to anyone or even herself!) So I had my husband pretend as though he was buying it for her as a Mother's Day gift, and he told her that he had bought me one too. I thought she would throw it away or toss it somewhere, but never actually read it.

I feel as though I’ve always been the one more willing to try and work things out, but I do think she was scared to speak to me. Maybe “scared” is the wrong word—let’s say nervous. She and I have a lot in common and our faces are pretty easy to read. She was beet red too when she asked me how I was doing. That is how I knew she was being sincere. Had it been a cold and careless question, she wouldn’t have looked nervous or been blushing when she spoke to me.

What do you think made her willing to meet you halfway?

Mayra: Being honest, I think that she was willing to meet me half way a long time ago. It was me who wasn’t willing to try.... I like to do things on my own time, not on anyone else’s. So I guess when I was finally willing to meet her halfway, she had been ready.

It seems that ever since that day, we’ve been on the same page and are trying to work with each other, not against each other. We’re willing to compromise some of our wants in order to move forward.... We stopped being selfish!

Jesica: Honestly, I think it's just been so long that we were both tired. Tired of hating each other and nit-picking at everything! It's exhausting! For the past several years, we’ve been doing it with a passion to the point that I found ways to bring her up everyday.

Even when the kids weren’t around, I thought of different things to bring up and I'm sure it was the same on her side. My husband got tired of it. I got tired of it. I got depressed about it. (I’ve never been to a doctor to confirm this, but I know I was.)

I got tired of seeing how the kids were changing in a negative way. I could tell that they were more sensitive, and less eager to keep going back and forth across the battle lines. I think she finally hit a point where she realized that what she was doing was not benefiting the kids either—and she was over it. When we first started our feud, I was 19-20, and she was 22-23. We’re older and more mature now. All in all, most of what made us change has to do with the kids.

Were there any mistakes you were making before that you're willing to admit that kept this from happening?

Jesica: Yes. I constantly threw it in her face that she was gone for a period of time and wasn’t consistently in their lives. What I said to her were truths, but I didn't have to throw them in her face. I constantly reminded her of why the kids loved me and what I did for them that she never did, or could never do because it was too late (for example, potty- training my stepdaughter). I told her that my house was my house and our rules are our rules. It could have been said in a better manner.

The kids would constantly tell us things like, “Mommy said _____,” and I would just say “Well, tell Mommy I don’t care,” or something of that nature. I should’ve just kept my comments to myself, or to my husband. I would do things that a mother would do, but I never consulted her about it, only with my husband.

Mayra: I can admit I let my anger and insecurity blind me from moving forward. I was scared that the kids would like her more than me. I learned that they love her and like her, but I am Mommy and will always be Mommy in their life and no one can take that special bond from me and my kids..... I have learned to share them instead of being selfish and possessive. One can never go wrong with so much love!

How are things between you now?

Mayra: Things are great and peaceful..... There is no more of "that Effin Bitch" flying around. And no anger.... It feels awesome to have an extra partner in our lives to help raise the kids.

Jesica: Things are great right now. The kids are constantly bringing up how we are getting along and how happy they are about it.

We actually spent time together for the first time this past Friday with the kids—she, my husband and I. We went and got my stepson's hair cut. She and I were there before he arrived. We were talking and laughing and we felt a little awkward, but it will get easier with time.

We’ve been texting and communicating as well. We haven’t just been brushing it off as if this is some easy task. She and I have talked a little about the kids, and how she and I feel about speaking with each other. It has been said that we need to make it work this time and make it last. We both agree no one is going anywhere and that the more love the kids get, the better.

She and I agreed that we need to talk things out and make things happen. We both even admitted that we feel happier now. I feel a huge weight off my shoulders and the anxiety is almost gone.

My only concerns now are that we try not to let small things get in the way and let our emotions run wild. I’m actually doing things with her in mind, so that I don’t offend her, and I can only say I’m hoping she’s doing the same. :-)

Are there any things that you're looking forward to more, now that you've begun to heal your relationship?

Mayra: I look forward to a lot of things. Trips at school, trips out of school and birthday parties and holidays together. Even time with her, hanging out as adults.... We were friends at one point and I’d like to gain that back.

Jesica: I am looking forward to sharing BIRTHDAYS! It used to be so sad when a birthday would fall on her day and we wouldn’t see them. I cannot wait to finally be able to have a birthday party for the kids and not worry about her being there, or vice-versa. We have yet to throw them a party because of it.

I look forward to maybe in the future taking field trips together and hanging out by ourselves, without the kids. (Yes I can see us getting there. Like I said before, she and I actually do have a lot of things in common.)

I also look forward to doing “future firsts” with the kids and not having the stress of them feeling like they have to choose who they talk to—or don’t. I’m looking forward to the kids being happy. The End!

One question for Mayra only....

In many ways, the power to create a cooperative mom/stepmom relationship lies with the mom, because she has so much authority as the mother of the children. In your opinion, why aren't more moms willing to make it work with the stepmoms? Mayra: I think that moms are not willing to work it out because they are afraid and feel like something is being taken away from them. I totally understand that, but ladies, remember: you are their MOM and will always be their MOM and sometimes... sharing is caring!

What advice would you give other moms or stepmoms who are having a hard time?

Mayra: Give it a chance, don’t close the door without trying first. Put aside your personal feelings and pay attention to what your kids want. Sometimes your own feelings will blind you.

Jesica: Part of me honestly thought that she really just was the biggest Bitch!! Your book helps. I can give advice, but every situation is different. Most women run on emotions and put up their walls, waiting for an attack. Mothers are very protective of their children and stepparents are just looking to love the children as well.

My advice is simple. Try not to purposely step on anyone's toes. Communicate. Maybe the other person doesn't know you want to get along. Maybe one or both adults think you are trying to take the kid(s) away from them. What ever the case may be, as hard as it might be: try.

You may even try several times without your attempts being acknowledged, but as long as you try, then there’s a chance. You don't have to be best friends, you don't even have to like each other. You do, however, have to work with each other if you want the kids to be happy.

Ultimately when you see how happy the kids are, you'll realize how much more happy you are. Trust me when I say that the stress and anger and frustration built up in you will go away and you will feel sooo much better—so much, it’s almost indescribable.

Thanks so much, Mayra and Jesica! And we’re happy for you too!

Could you SPEAK to the ex-wives of America?!

Photo credit: Popsugar

Photo credit: Popsugar

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith were on Oprah today with their children—ALONG WITH HIS EX-WIFE. Fascinating stuff.

Will was married to Sheree Zampino for four years (1992-95) and they have a 17 year-old son named Trey. She is now married to former San Diego Chargers player, Pastor Terrell Fletcher. Will and Jada also have two children, actor Jaden (11) and singer Willow (10).

Oprah: ...And speaking of extended family, everybody's here. Both grandmothers are here—

Jada: Yep, we got Kyle, my brother; we got Sheree, that's Trey's mama... and her husband, Pastor Terrell.

Oprah: And so, obviously—obviously, everybody gets along and you all made a consciouseffort for that to happen.

Will: Absolutely.

Oprah: Especially when there has been a previous relationship and a child....

Jada: Yep—

Oprah: Why did you make that decision? We've talked about this before, I think this is powerful—

Jada: Well, actually Sheree and I both had to make that decision, because at the end of the day... we had Trey. And that had to be the primary focus, our primary, uh... you know, just: what does HE need? And so we had to put aside our own craziness—

Oprah: Your stuff—

Jada: Our stuff, and you know, all the baggage that comes with it. And she and I just had to focus on, what does he need.

Oprah:(to Sheree): Was there a talk about that?

Jada: Oh... we had plenty. (She and Sheree laugh, Sheree nods.)

Sheree: We did, we did... It took—it took a minute, but we got it. And we realized (gesturing to she and Will, smiling), we had our chance. Now it's about these kids.

Jada: Right, right....

Oprah:(to Will): Could you speak to the ex-wives of America and tell them that?

(general laughing)

Jada: You know, I wish! And oftentimes—

Oprah: 'Cause so many people are holding on to "what could have been...."

Jada: And the thing about it is, (simultaneously with Oprah:) the kids suffer.

Oprah: Yes. Yes—

Jada: And at the end of the day, it's like... we have to let go of our own selfish desires, our own selfish needs and we have to look: What? What can we do to facilitate the group? And what can we do to facilitatethe children, who—ultimately—they're our future!

Oprah: They're your future....

(Sheree nods vigorously.)

I know for many stepmoms here, I'm preaching to the choir. You've TRIED to make it better with the bio-mom and have been rebuffed more times than you care to count. Or maybe you've just stopped trying.

Or maybe you're a mom and feel like you're forever dealing with a stepmom who seems bent on outshining you in the motherhood department. Fun, huh?

Either way, notice Jada's emphasis on how it was a decision both she and Sheree made to work together.

And most importantly, please note her admission that there's baggage and "stuff" on both sides, but they each found a way to operate from a higher sense of purpose.

The kids' well-being.

Your thoughts?

(Photo credit to The Dougie. Oprah transcripts from Harpo Inc., All Rights Reserved).

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Further Reading:

Why I sometimes want to give up too

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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, sinceI 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.

Why?

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

 

Recommended Posts:

Taming the cobra - Part 2

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"Since emotional processes can work faster than the mind, it takes a power stronger than the mind to bend perception, override emotional circuitry, and provide us with intuitive feeling instead. It takes the power of the heart."

-Doc Childre, Founder, Institute of HeartMath

I talked about the importance of increasing your self-esteem in Part 1 of this series. Here's a simple little exercise you can do whenever something--or more accurately--someone throws you off balance and you need to increase your self-confidence. Instead of relying on things improving with the other person first to make you feel better, take back the control for how you feel and give yourself the validation and support you're seeking

Ready?

It goes like this....

Find someplace quiet that you can sit for a few minutes. It doesn't have to be noise-free, but it would be helpful if you felt comfortable enough to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Barring all else, head off to the restroom.

Take three deep breaths, making sure to exhale fully between breaths. If you really push the air out with your muscles, a deep intake is easier.

Focus your attention on your heart. Imagine that you are able to breathe in and out from your heart. This often has the effect of instantly relaxing you.

Find something, someone or a situation to appreciate. Make this easy! If you love touching a beloved pet, then use that. Maybe it's a sunny day where you're outside. Perhaps it's laughing with friends. Whatever you choose, make it something guilt-free and uncomplicated.

Imagine, first, thoughts of appreciation... and then let those thoughts grow into actual feelings of appreciation. Think of all the ways you're grateful to this thing, person or situation and let your feelings of gratitude and appreciation increase, let them snowball, let them build in intensity. Let the feelings of appreciation fill you up completely with lightness and joy. Just keep breathing in and strengthening the feeling.

When you feel nice and full of appreciation, direct your attention to appreciating yourself. Appreciate yourself for who you are, for simply being alive. There's nothing to prove, nothing to do, nothing to fix. Simply be... and appreciate yourself!

This exercise can take a little getting used to at first. You may find pockets of inner resistance here and there, or just generally feel awkward and weird, even sheepish. But if you stick with it, you'll find a wonderfully healing inner warmth and deliciousness that's available whenever you need it.

Spend a few minutes luxuriating in the feeling of loving yourself, of accepting and appreciating yourself. For some people, this experience feels like some kind of miracle. It's like the feeling you get when you're in love, or when your children or family members look at you adoringly, and yet nothing has had to happen for you to feel this way. You're doing all this yourself, by focusing your attention deliberately.

If you like, you can ask your higher self for guidance on how to handle any challenges you are currently facing and see if wisdom or suggestions come to you. This may not come as a booming, clear voice -- it could be a phrase, or a few words. Or... thoughts or ideas may come to you later on during the day.

When you're ready, bring your attention back to the current moment and the physical space you are in.

Use as needed!

You can even touch base with your heart in a general way throughout the day as an emotional touchstone and get a little boost of calm.

More centering techniques coming on Wednesday in Part 3 of Taming the cobra. Part 1 is here.

If you'd like to read more about heart-oriented meditations, check out "The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath's Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart's Intelligence."

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

Taming the Cobra – Part 1

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One essential element that needs to be in place when you’re dealing with a high-conflict situation—or trying to change it—is self-love. Okay, so the very phrase is associated with cheesy, new-age-y, navel-gazing or, ha, perhaps an uncomfortable reference to something more private, but how you feel about yourself really does determine how everything else “seems” to go in your life.

It’s too bad we don’t have some kind of public version of a self-love rain gauge that we can all read to show us each other’s levels of self-esteem. Then we might be more apt to depersonalize hurtful behaviors from other people and instead, simply say, “Wow, their self-esteem is really low today: need to be extra nice. Or give them a wide berth. Or put up an extra force field of protection to protect my own....”

We can have high self-esteem in certain areas—and then confound ourselves by repeatedly feeling like a dork in others. Maybe we could all have fancy gauges that measured our sense of self-confidence in different areas: work, financial success, meaningful friendships, parenting, romantic relationships, physical health, being of service... and maybe even one related to old baggage from our childhoods.

Wouldn’t THAT be handy.

It’s all too easy to point the finger at someone else and blame them for making you feel bad when there are problems between you. But what if it’s YOU that’s making you feel bad, from the get-go? What if you already know that you have these particular areas of weakness and sensitivity -- and you’re blaming the other person for feeling lousy instead?

Kind of obscures the path to creating healthy change, huh? You’re saying it’s A, when it’s really B, or maybe Q... or X.

So what about you? How’s your self-love these days?

Coming Monday: a simple technique for boosting your self-esteem that only takes about five minutes a day. And no, it doesn’t involve exercise equipment that says, “As seen on TV!”

I’ll also talk about some other techniques that you can use to put yourself in a good place if you’ve been thrown off balance by something nasty the other woman said or did -- or center yourself if you’re preparing yourself to make some incremental changes in your relationship.

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine           All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

Are you afraid of being mugged in your own family?

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"...An epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment. This is, if you think about it, quite a radical idea.”

-Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

Okay, so I’m a little late to the party, but I just starting reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” and I can’t put it down. For anyone who’s not familiar with the book, it’s about how ideas, trends, and social behavior cross a certain threshold and spread like wildfire.

Like Pollyanna, I’m still stubbornly holding out hope that one day, folks will not only be expected to create a new “extended dual-family” after divorce and remarriage, they’ll essentially know how.

C’mon people, you can do it!

Okay...

So maybe we’re not there quite yet as a society.

Perhaps one reason has to do with the Broken Windows theory I just read about in Chapter Four. During the eighties, New York City was at the height of its crime rate. Suddenly, the crime rate dropped dramatically in the early 1990s.

Why was this?

The theory is that if you have an environment where it LOOKS like no one cares or is in charge (a bunch of random, broken windows), then human behavior follows accordingly. This was illustrated by the prevalence of graffiti and rampant fare-beating on New York subways. Trash was everywhere. The cars weren’t adequately heated or cooled. Lighting was poor. You were taking your life into your own hands just to use public transportation!

Proponents of the Broken Windows theory figured one of the first things they had to do was change the impression that crime was basically “okay.” So... contrary to standard wisdom, two visionaries from the Transit Authority and the Transit Police Dept. focused on eliminating the graffiti and catching fare jumpers, first thing. New graffiti tags were cleaned off trains at the end of their lines, before they turned around and went back out. Gate jumpers were collected, en masse, and made to wait by the ticket gates before being taken down to the station, as a public show that police meant business.

It worked!

There were other factors that contributed to the drop in crime, such as a booming economy, an aging criminal population, and a drop in the illegal trade of crack cocaine, but basically, these two simple steps had a huge impact.

Suddenly, the environment signaled a sweeping sea change—and people paid attention.

And then it occurred to me: many dual-families after divorce and remarriage are also living in a Broken Windows environment, although the broken windows are only figurative.

What are the signs and symbols of this breakdown?

The lack of manners!

The lack of civility.

The lack of common human courtesy.

I’m not sure what created the idea that it’s okay not to say hello between moms and stepmoms, between ex-husband and ex-wife, between stepchild and stepmom, but this is where we find ourselves.

Not to make eye contact.

Not to say please and thank you.

Not to acknowledge extra efforts, not to be a little more flexible, just from a sense of kindness and generosity.

To paraphrase the Talking Heads, how did we get here?

Maybe the divorce created an emotionally negative precedent that the two families never recuperated from? Maybe when the first marriage broke down, that psychic “wrenching away” from each other pushed both exes so far apart that they stayed there, due to overheated and overwhelming, unprocessed emotions?

Whatever the cause, not being treated with kindness or good manners is hugely offensive to most of us. We are social creatures attuned to extremely subtle social cues and are mostly in agreement about the standards with which we are supposed to treat each other.

A store clerk is expected to grunt their way through a “Hello, how are you,” even if they are in the worst mood of their lives. When we stand in line and are not greeted, when the grocery store cashier is more interested in an animated conversation with the bagger, or clearly wishes they could walk off their job that day, we canfeel the slight, because that’s what we’ve evolved to do: to pay attention to the unspoken signals that broadcast intent.

Our caveman brains want to know if someone is, first, friend or foe. And if they’re not an enemy, we still seek further information about status, power, potential camaraderie or mutual benefit, etc.

So... I ask you.....

What’s the state of your dual-family environment? Are you living in a state of broken windows?

Do you feel like there’s a potential mugger around every corner in the form of a vengeful “other woman?”

Are you consistently dealing with rude and ungrateful strangers in the form of cold and angry stepchildren -- or an angry ex-husband?

Is your husband helping perpetuate your feeling of fear and anxiety by not standing up for you when you try to create healthier boundaries with the ex-wife or with your stepchildren?

If you’re one of the exes, are you complicit in creating at atmosphere of rudeness, resistance, and competition?

And you know I have to ask it....

What’s YOUR contribution here?

Can you practice better manners, whether anyone reciprocates or not? Can you be vigilant about saying please and thank you? About saying hello and making eye contact? About maybe even cracking a friendly smile in the face of grumpitude?

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

-R.D. Laing

As we’ve seen from what happened to New York, little changes can add up to big changes. And big changes can come from sometimes just one person, initially. Positive changes can be contagious.

Refuse to do your part in trashing the subway anymore -- and see what happens.

Your thoughts?

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine        All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

The Fragile Bridge of Trust

How do you reach out to the stepmother or ex-wife in your life?

Top 10 Reasons for a Mother/Stepmother Relatioship Revolution

Cold Hard Facts

New Stepmom? Heading off conflict from the get-go

What you and I have in common – Part 1

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I’d painted myself into a corner with my writing here recently and felt less and less able to really be myself.

What popped me into clarity was reading about how stepmom Becky Lippett of La Belle Mere (sorry, as of 2017, the blog no longer exists) transformed her previously wretched relationship with the ex-wife, while on the cusp of divorce. Look at what she’s created by taking some very brave risks:

  • “I have a new friend. And I mean that sincerely. I have to admit, to my surprise, that I haven't had to try very hard to like her. It actually came fairly naturally. We have lots more in common that either of us realised.
  • The children seem over the moon with the situation. Their excitement and happiness is impossible to miss.
  • My marriage has improved beyond measure. In fact, we are stronger and more in love now than ever before.
  • I no longer suffer from "Outsider" status. Rather than having the sense of being on the outside of something that is "theirs," I now feel on the inside of something which is "ours."
  • I am less likely to feel the sense of persecution that I felt before. I no longer feel under attack or like I am forced to share my husband and my world with "the enemy."
  • Events such as parents evening, school plays and sports days are no longer likely to induce an anxiety attack that can be measured on the Richter Scale.
  • My heart feels bigger.”

(Becky credits our book, in part, for her big change, which is a huge honor.)

THIS, folks, is why we wrote this book!

This is why I’ve been writing this blog for three years (we turned 3 last month!). It makes me deliriously happy to read Becky's story of change and healing.

Her terrible relationship with the ex-wife was one of the main reasons she was heading towards a split, but instead, her family life has been transformed. If she can do it, then maybe you can too! 

With all my heart, I want to help others create happier extended families after divorce and remarriage. And yet... I’ve been struggling myself.

I’ve been thinking things that have created a sense of separation and disconnection for me and I miss everyone. I want to get back to feeling like we’re in this together. So in that spirit, a list of some surprising things we have in common:

I’m on my own too

Sometimes I felt like such a poser. Where’s the stepmom in our picture? If she’s not typing away with me, doesn’t this cancel out our book’s message of Kumbaya and mom/stepmom harmony? I’ve mentioned before how Carol’s art career takes up a huge part of her life, but even if she had eight arms and two heads, Carol doesn’t have the slightest interest in writing anything here. She has that right, much as I wish it were different. In the meantime, I’m lucky enough to call her a close friend and I love her like a sister. So interviews, videos (more on this in Part Two - they’re in the can and ready to go!) and me picking her brain will have to suffice.

This can be hard because....

I can’t get the moms involved either

Their backs are turned to me too. I say “too” because that’s who’s reading our blog and book: the stepmoms. So here I am, a mom/ex-wife talking to (mostly) all you stepmoms, telling you to not give up, to keep plugging away and trying... when really, I’m in the same boat (minus the heart-pounding tension).

Why is this?

My theory: moms hold most of the power. The kids usually live with them. The kids are “theirs,” whether they’re appalling parents or candidates for Mother of the Year. Who wants to let go of control? The ability to call the shots? Not many folks, once they have it. Most mothers just wish you weren’t around. Simple as that. But it’s still possible to create a life that works, in spite of it. More on that later too.

I know what it’s like to be betrayed

Aggression and deceit, no matter who serves it up, still stings. Lies can make you doubt yourself. In our naïve surprise and confusion over being mistreated, we can gnaw on a situation over and over, trying to make sense of something that cannot be understood.

Being screwed over by someone is a great opportunity to gauge your self-love -- the areas where it’s strong and where it needs shoring up. Although these lessons are of the “oh crap, MUST I learn this stuff this way, through pain?” nature, the breakthroughs they can lead to are invaluable.

Just like what it’s like with the conflict in mom/stepmom relationships.

It’s hard to create peace in your life when you feel like there’s a leak in the submarine. Which is why...

It’s better when we’re in it together.

More on this in Part 2!

Who's in YOUR extended family?

Who’s in your extended family? How often do you see them? Who can you call when you’re in a pinch? Most families are spread far and wide these days, so when you need a parent, sibling, grandmother or grandfather to step in, you’re out of luck. But sometimes, the two linked households after a divorce and remarriage fill that function and it can be such a relief.

On Sunday night, I got a very calm call from my ex-husband David from the emergency room. He had cut his hand with a chainsaw (the very phrase makes me feel queasy) pretty badly, but was doing alright after two shots of morphine. I could hear Carol and Jacob (their four year-old) in the background. Since they live about an hour away from Austin, they needed to know if it was okay for Carol and Jacob to come over and hang out while they stitched up David’s hand (nerves, tendons and muscles had been severed).

Of course it was -- they’ve killed time here before while in town. I told David I was willing to do whatever they needed, whether that was watch Jacob, have him spend the night, make dinner, whatever....

Carol and Jacob  opted instead to wait at the hospital, since they didn't know how long it was going to take. I got a report before they left for home and was happy to hear that David had the most positive prognosis possible (trying saying that really fast three times), given that type of injury: no loss of mobility -- only permanent numbness from half his pinky finger on up and perhaps the inability to stick his pinky finger out sideways.

“How’re you going to properly drink tea from now on?” I teased him.

Now imagine what this whole situation might have been like if we hadn’t all gotten along. No easy place for Jacob to stay and go to sleep, if need be. The stress of a strained phone call, where I'd be asked to pass along information to our daughters  -- or even the lack of a phone call altogether.

As it was, I was one of the first people they called because our little dual-family dynamic means that we operate as each other’s extended families.

I’m incredibly grateful for this....

In other blog-related news, there's an interesting discussion about the relationship with the ex-wife going on over at a cool new find, Stepmum of the Year. Check it out!

(Sorry for the picture-less posts - haven't been able to upload an image to Wordpress for the last three weeks! Any advice appreciated.)

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine         All Rights Reserved

What your stepchild's mom wants you to know about her life

open_door Mutual understanding is one of the most important ingredients in the ex-wife/wife coalition mix. This post is in response to a guest post from the stepmom’s perspective by author Wednesday Martin.

Let the dialogue begin!

It’s not easy to feel judged and misunderstood

It’s not easy for me to be constantly seen at “the enemy” either. You and your husband may have bonded over a vivid dissection of my flaws and shortcomings, which feels scary and threatening. Part of your relationship fantasy about how you two so right for each other could have included a lot of evidence about he and I were so wrong for each other. This may very well be the case, but please consider how uniquely exposed and vulnerable and yes, even defensive this would make anyone feel.

And give some thought to the overall quality of the energy you’re bringing to our relationship. If I continue to sense like you’re gloating over my tiniest mistakes or keeping score on a You Wouldn’t Believe What She Did This Time roster, I’m not going to be very inclined to cut you any slack either! If you’re rude and competitive and snarky with me, how am I supposed to imagine you being patient and kind to my children?

My kids aren’t perfect

If you have your own child with my ex, you know how hard it is to raise kids. Everyone’s a parenting critic, until they have one! I may love my children with all my heart, but does that mean I’m automatically perfectly consistent as a parent? A model disciplinarian? Forever loving, patient and attentive? No, of course not.

The truth is, I often feel helpless, embarrassed, confused, and ashamed of the things I can’t handle or improve as a mother. Sometimes I’m just as overwhelmed and clueless about my child’s behavior as you are. The strong-willed toddler, the pre-teen mood swings, the ill-conceived forays into teenage independence, they throw me for a loop too. It seems like just when I get a handle on one of my child’s more difficult “phases,” they move into a new one, rattling my parental confidence. When you criticize my children, you incite my protectiveness, but my unconditional love gets tested too! Giving birth to a child doesn’t mean you are always in control of that child’s behavior, personality, or the trajectory of their life.

Also, some of the existing behavior or discipline problems you’re now seeing in my children are a reflection of the things in my marriage that didn’t work between your husband and I. And as you might have experienced yourself as his co-parent, my ex-partner and I were often at odds when it came to reinforcing rules and consequences. This likely contributed to the demise of our marriage, so don’t lay the blame for parenting mistakes squarely on my shoulders. Please distribute it fairly.

I’m not expecting everything between us to be all hunky-dory

I’m not looking to be your best friend, but I would like to feel like we’re on the same page as hands-on caretakers of these children. I would like to know that the priority between both households is raising these children well together, instead of proving the other side wrong. I would like to be able to call you to follow-up on a child’s cold, late (or missing) homework, or suspicions that one of them is falling in with the wrong crowd before it becomes a major problem.

The thing that keeps me from going there, in part, is the feeling that you and my ex are talking poorly about me. This makes it hard to trust you, or confide in you about things I may not be handling well because it doesn’t feel safe. If I knew you weren’t going to be so quick to judge me, it’d be a lot easier to problem-solve together. I know this goes both ways.

I’m scared of my kids loving you. There, I said it.

I have to admit, this strikes fear in my heart: I’m scared of my kids liking you, because if they like you, that could lead to them loving you. One the one hand, I want them to love you. But I also don't. It's not necessarily rational.... Plus, it’s hard to feel like the areas where you’re shining as a stepmom also happen to shed light on areas where I fall short as a parent. So is there a part of me that’s happy they don’t like you? Have I subtly or directly encouraged this? Yes, and I know it’s wrong and selfish and ultimately not in their best interests. But I don’t know you. And I don’t know what your intentions are with my children. Would you be willing to tell me?

It’s also hard to feel like a bomb blew up in your family. It’s difficult to see your kids forever schlepping their stuff between two homes. It’s tough to have them go away and not know what’s going on in their lives. I don’t have a crystal ball to see into your household and I worry about them. That’s what moms do! Sure, I want as many people as possible loving my children, but it’s also scary on some level to have it happen out of “viewing range.” And what if love for you mean less of an attachment to me? If you have your own children with my ex, you may think you understand what this primitive fear is like, but if you’ve never shared your children like this with another woman, I can assure you, you don’t.

I’m not my children’s “bio-mom,” I’m their mom. Period.

My children were not created in a test tube! Nor were they adopted (where this term originated). I gave birth to them, much as you don’t want to think about this. Yes, your husband - my ex - and I once went through our own little bubble of history that included joy, wonder, excitement and all the rest of it when our children were born. (Perhaps you two have experienced this yourselves.) Why do you feel the need to belittle my role by changing my name? Are you trying to diminish my sense of power or authority?

The things you’re doing out of a sense of competitiveness to prove that you’re the better mom to my kids (“I’ll show them what consistency and higher standards should look like!”) really only serve to objectify your stepchildren, if you think about it. And that can’t be good for them either, just like the blind parenting mistakes I’m making.

Perhaps part of your behavior is fueled by the pressure to solidify your marriage and validate your husband’s belief that he did indeed choose the right woman by being with you. But keep in mind, demonizing me lets him off the hook when it comes to him dealing with the deep-seated patterns that led to the demise of his first marriage. You should have a vested interest in seeing those issues resolved, because they may affect your marriage someday too.

I probably still have baggage with my ex

Yes, yes, it’s been however many years, but no matter who initiated the divorce, in some ways emotionally skirting too close to the divorce still causes me great pain and sadness. My family is forever in two pieces now, there’s no going back. This is reality for my children. When they came into this world, I never imagined this was how their lives would be.... I’m sure it’s the same for you, if you have children.

Parenting is even harder now that I’m divorced. I don’t have access to a ready ear from the only other person in the world who knows and loves these children (hopefully) just as much as I do -- their dad. Now I’m in the dark, trying to do this all on my own. Even if I have a partner, he’s not their father. His patience is tried too. I can tell when he’s trying to bite his own tongue about aspects of their behavior that he doesn’t like. It feels lonely and sad and sometimes I fear for my children’s future because of it.

The only way out of this mess is to move through the pain, assign accountability fairly on both sides and forgive. But I’m reluctant to fully grieve the loss of my little original family unit because to do so feels like jumping off a cliff into the mouth of an active volcano. I’m afraid to go there, it seems overwhelming and scary. I don’t know how. So it’s easier for me to just resent my ex and blame him and unfortunately, that means you get thrown into the mix too. I do weird passive-aggressive things with both of you, I get angry. I inappropriately stick my kids in the middle and then I secretly regret my bad behavior. You might not believe me, but I know it’s wrong and I know I need to change. I’m just not sure where to start!

I promise to play nice if you do.

We both need to try harder here. If we simply give in to the temptation to see each other in the worst possible light, things could easily continue on like this for years. And in the meantime, the children are growing older and experiences where OUR conflicts take precedence are piling up, instead of the normal developmental milestones THEY'RE supposed to be having. Our focus should be on them, not our drama. Let’s work on minimizing our conflicts and model healthy emotional management skills for the kids to use later on in their own families.

Can we at least shake hands on trying to do better?

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

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Guest Post by Wednesday Martin: What your child's stepmother wants you to know about her life…

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(Like it or not, the two women in your child’s or stepchild’s life are typically the hands-on parents. Gender roles die hard! With both sides vying for control over the same position, there are bound to be problems and misunderstandings galore. And with power struggles come one-dimensional thinking, an abundance of perceived slights and the temptation to demonize the other side.

In the service of  better understanding each other and putting yourself in the shoes of the “other woman”, here’s Stepmonster author Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., with a raw and heartfelt guest post.

I’ll post my response, “What your stepchild’s mom wants you to know about her life” on Friday.)

Mutual understanding is one of the most important ingredients in the ex-wife/wife coalition mix. In that spirit, here are some of the things that the women with stepchildren I interviewed for my book Stepmonster told me they'd like their husband's or partner's exes to know.

Let the dialogue begin!

It’s not easy to feel judged and misunderstood

You likely feel, especially if you’re unpartnered, that the deck is stacked against you, that it’s me and your ex against you. From my perspective, I’m perceived as a wicked stepmother and a homewrecker even when I’m not, no matter how hard I try and how nice I am. Being the fall guy when I’m trying so hard takes a toll on me. And while you might feel shut out, I wrestle with the knowledge that I’m not and never will be “first.” We’re both struggling, you and I.

Your child isn’t perfect

Do you find yourself thinking of me as a rigid control freak? Too harsh or strict toward your kids? If that’s the case, ask yourself what role you and your ex may play here by being permissive, indulgent parents post-divorce. I might have to tow the line in my home because you two are afraid to, or can’t be bothered, or feel too guilty to parent effectively, since you “put the kids through a divorce.”

Have you told your kids it’s okay to like me, let them know it’s imperative to at least be civil and polite to me? Or do you secretly like that they don’t like their stepmom, that they’re disrespectful and rude, even hostile, toward me? Does that arrangement make you feel better, more secure?

What am I up against here that’s any harder than what you’re up against? you’re wondering. For starters, kids of any age resent getting a stepmom way more than they resent getting a stepdad. For a long time, too. And while plenty of kids of divorce do just fine, they are twice as likely to have serious emotional and social problems as kids from intact homes. Remember that when it comes to adolescence, I don’t have the foundation you and your husband do to tolerate all the drama, sullenness, and more. At some point, if your kids are rude to me and I am rebuffed enough, I may withdraw to preserve my dignity. Think about that next time you’re about to tell a friend that I’m “cold” to your kids.

I don’t want to be friends with you, do holidays together, or vacation together

And I’m a little tired of all the pressure I’m feeling from people who haven’t a clue that I “should” want to do, and be doing, just that. We can have a parenting coalition that works. I welcome that, and I welcome civility and friendliness. But if I’m like most women with stepkids, it just doesn’t feel appropriate to me to be close to you. My loyalty is to my husband. I want to get stepmothering right for his sake. Beyond that, I don’t want to feel pressured to be pals with you. I already have pals. So please don’t take offense that I’d like us to be friendly enough, but not necessarily friends.

I don’t love your kids just like my own, just like they don’t love me like they love you!

There’s way too much pressure on women with stepkids to “draw no distinctions” between their own kids and their stepkids. And it flies in the face not only of research findings about what stepfamily “success” actually is, but common sense as well. I might really like your kids, love them even and come to feel extremely close to them one day. But I might not.  Can you blame me, given all the stepmother hatred out there, and given the very real fact of kids resenting getting a stepmother? There’s a whole range of “normal” here, a whole spectrum of stepmother involvement. They have you and their dad. So please, don’t expect me to “love them just as if they’re my own” while also expecting me to follow the sacred directive, “Don’t ever try to replace their mom.” Especially if I have my own kids, as likeable and great as your kids are, they’re not mine, I’m not theirs, and it’s okay for me to just be a supportive ally.

I’m not your husband’s “new wife.” I’m his wife. You’re his ex-wife.

It’s that simple. When you ask him to do chores, come over for dinner or do holidays at your place “for the kids’ sake,” you’re being disrespectful of our partnership. Yes, you are. Please respect my marriage and have healthy boundaries. This includes not putting your ex in-laws in a loyalty bind or using the kids as leverage (“You won’t see your grandkids if you spend time over there with your son and his new wife”).

I promise to play nice if you do.

Most women with stepkids really want to get it right, and try very hard in the face of significant challenges. Getting along would be the best outcome for everyone. I know that, and so do you.

It’s a start....

What Jennifer and Carol have managed to do is impressive. And if you're reading the No One's the Bitch site, it's because you wonder if you and your partner's ex, or you and your ex-partner's partner, can do the same. If all the adults are committed to getting along, the rewards can be tremendous--easier lives, happier kids, and less stress for all.

(Thanks, Wednesday!)

Dr. Phil episode on conflict between moms, stepmoms and dads to air Dec. 1st!

Fire up your recorders! The show we taped last week in L.A. will be on Tuesday, December 1st. We're on the first half of the show (including David, Carol's husband and my ex - poor guy) and then there's another mom/stepmom/dad combo on during the second half of the show.

I had big plans to write a summary of what the whole experience was like, but I swear, we must have used up a year's worth of adrenalin last week and I just couldn't muster the wherewithal to put my thoughts to paper. Let's just say it was pretty surreal. We were terrified, but everyone was incredibly, unbelievably nice, which helped.

And Dr. Phil was tall. :-)

And my heart went out to the other trio on the show, for different reasons. I could identify with each one of them and they seemed to be having a tough time, even though the two parents divorced nine years ago. I won't spoil the story and tell you what happened between them - you'll just have to see for yourself and come to your own conclusions!

By the time the show was over, I think the three of us had to suppress gargantuan yelps of joy that we had made it through alive. But no... we were now seasoned professionals, so we simply smiled and nodded to everyone as we did the royal wave down the long halls, returned to our bulb-lit dressing rooms, and performed a reverse-Cinderella (washing our faces THREE times and returning to Slackerville, clothes-wise). 

This week, I'm in San Francisco to help out with a family situation and won't have access to a computer during the day, so I won't be posting much until next week.

But I just wanted to say I really appreciated everyone's help who sent in questions (which I passed along to the producers) and helped publicize our search for additional guests. Thanks people's! Y'all are the best!

I hope this show plays a small part in getting a bigger discussion going about theses challenging bi-nuclear family issues. Lots of folks are suffering in isolation, thinking they're handling these situations poorly, when in fact, they're right there with the rest of us, stumbling around.

More soon!