Expectations

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

Never-before-seen Carol and Jen videos!

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These videos were filmed in Carol and David's backyard, before the fire, along with almost 1,700 homes and over 34,000 acres. Sadly, none of those trees are alive anymore... Sorry for the lousy quality. The originals were lost somehow over the years.

I've had these three videos of Carol and I hanging around in a tech vault somewhere and completely forgot about them! They're Part 2 of the following topics:

  • The most common problems between divorced moms and stepmoms
  • What to do if "the other woman" doesn't want to get along
  • The benefits of working together

Our thinking has evolved a bit since then, in that we're much more aware of how some women really shouldn't keep trying to make it work -- and should just focus instead of creating healthy boundaries between houses and focusing on their own happiness and that of their family. 

We hope you'll find them helpful. Here's Part 1 of 6 videos:

You can find the rest HERE. 

Enjoy! We'd love to hear what you think!

© 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

Moms: you are the crux

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At 46, I’m certainly not one of the greatest rock climbers around, but it’s a obsession I truly love that has changed me on many levels. Just like any sport that attracts die-hard followers, it has its own lingo and insider terminology.

“Beta” are the tips and inside scoop to help you successfully complete a route. If you want to challenge yourself a bit more, you can tell your friends, “No beta please, let me figure it out by myself.” To "dyno" is to actually jump and leave all contact with the rock for one or two brief, but terrifying seconds, as you hurl yourself to the next hold (hopefully).

One of my favorites is “crux,” which means the hardest part of the climb that’s most likely to throw you off the wall like a bucking horse. The crux will likely put you in a place where you think for a few seconds, This is impossible! Or Now I’m going to fall for sure! Or maybe even, I so suck at this stuff....

But when you get through the crux, when you hang in there, even though your forearms are burning and your legs are starting to quiver in an excellent imitation of a sewing machine for just. one. more. second -- even though your fingers are beginning to melt and you know they’re going to fail at any moment -- well, that’s when you feel your best.

It’s amazing. Euphoric. And addictive.

After that, the rest of the climb seems like a cakewalk (mostly).

One of my favorite parts about climbing is the camaraderie you find with friends, new and old. Because of the risks inherent in climbing stories off the ground, because of the fears you are all facing about yourself and your (lack of) abilities, you really end up bonding with your climbing buddies. You're putting your life in their hands and they're doing the same. We cheer each other on constantly.

I’d like to play around with the word crux here, because it has a double meaning. The dictionary defines "crux" this way:

a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point

or

something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty

Back when Carol and I didn’t know each other and we avoided each other like the plague, I felt completely justified in blowing her off. I thought, “Who cares about making it work with her? Screw it. I didn’t ask her to be a part of my kids’ lives. They have two parents already. I’ll be damned if I’m going to make any room for her in our family, split up though it may be. I’m not going to bend over backwards to make life any easier for her, especially if I sense even the tiniest bit of competition from her.”

And there the situation stayed for several years.

I had my own angst to deal with whenever my kids traveled back and forth between houses during the weekends. There were the typical mishaps and misunderstandings. I thought I had enough shit on my own to handle as a single mom, but one day I was set on a path I never could have foreseen.

I saw something in my children’s faces that chilled me. They had just come back from a weekend with their dad and Carol, their stepmom, and they just looked... so... sad.

And strained.

It was as if they were being asked to carry a burden that was way too big for their tiny, little selves. Something that was beyond their understanding or ability to work through emotionally, like adults. They had to segment themselves, like pieces of an orange.

This was life at mom’s house. / And this was life at Dad’s.

Two separate worlds, with a barbed-wire fence down the middle.

It just killed me.

They were going to keep on accepting this reality (what other choice did they have?) like dutiful, miniature donkeys trudging up a hill. I think just knowing this is what made me snap.

Things had to change. This state of affairs could not go on. The problem-solver in me looked around at the external circumstances to see what could be adjusted, like moving furniture. Hmmm, nothing of any value.

The answer was internal. I would have to change the dynamic between our houses. I would have to figure out a way to dissolve the distance, or at least greatly reduce it. I would have to find a way to create a connection, create an even purely logistical, practical sense of partnership with their stepmom, because she spent a lot of time with the girls and did much of the hands-on stuff with them.

The very thought made my stomach clench up with fear.

Moms, did you know that about 75-85% of our readers are stepmoms? They are the ones who comment the most. Who post the most about their attempts to reach out to the mom, only to be rebuffed time and time again.

Are you turning away from the stepmom, as I once did?

You are the crux of the matter here.... In many ways, you are the key to this whole relationship even working at all. Or not.

How well do you know the stepmom? If you don't, why not?

When moms set aside their justifications for increasing the separation between the households, it’s like the damn breaking in a strong river. The current can flow. Wounds can heal. Family nests can be remade. Please think about it. And next time, look a little deeper into your children's faces when they come back from a weekend visit, or when you bicker with the other household.

What do you see?.

© 2011   Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

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For a while there, whenever our dual-family family was ironing out some major issues—like which kid was living where, and for how long—we'd have these really intense family meetings.

We'd all sit around the kitchen table after dinner, or in the living room, half of us sprawled on the floor... and we'd talk.

One of the adults would bring up the main issue to handle, and at first, it would seem just like a regular business meeting.

Here are the facts. Here are the problems. Here's what I think we should do....

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

And then that's when the bees would start streaming out of their nest. The bats would pour out of their cave at sunset. The fire ants would bubble up from their mound.

Because, of course, everyone felt the need to chime in on their position.

Depending upon their personality and whether they were an extrovert or an introvert, some of us were (cough) a little more vocal than others.

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

Occasionally, someone would storm off (only to drift back again).

Luckily, we all seemed to recognize when someone had been quiet for too long; conflicting emotions visible in their face, eager to be expressed, yet fearful of being vulnerable, amping up the volume.

Often, there were tears.

During really stellar meetings, every single person in our stepfamily/single-parent family-family would take their turn and cry, their voice rising with confusion, hurt and anger.

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here's the thing....

It was always such a SURPRISE to hear how others really and truly felt.

Really.

I mean, some of this stuff just seemed to come out of left field.

Like, Really? That's what was going on with you? That's what you thought I meant? That's why you were doing and saying this? Because of this other thing that I had no idea about?!

Which is kind of pathetic, in a way....

Why weren't we paying better attention to each other! To all the hidden clues in words and behavior? To facial expressions and little dropped hints? To conversations skirted around?

EVERY TIME we had one of our awkward and tumultuous family-family meetings, we'd get to this point where I'm SURE we all thought, Oh crap. We've really done it now. One, or two, or even ALL of us have dropped so many bombs here that we FOR SURE have blown up whatever connections existed between us before.

We've gone too far.

We've broken this.

We are screwed.

And I know I wasn't the only one who felt this sense of sheer terror, this sense of fear and brain-scrambled, mental overwhelm, this ache in my stomach—like we were a bunch of kids playing with live dynamite in a remote fort tucked into a hill.

Who would find us when it all went off and the ground collapsed over our heads, burying us alive? And why in the world were we doing all this without the help of a trained counselor, a therapist, like normal people???

Somehow though... somehow... we'd keep going. We'd keep talking. Keep cajoling. Keep asking questions.

Keep listening.

And after so many verbal and emotional expulsions (the only word that seems to describe how it felt), something else would finally be detectable in the air.

Hope.... We sensed ourselves actively moving to a better place.

Respect.... For each other and our struggles, our pain.

Resolve.... To treat each other better. To pay closer attention. To do the right thing, even if it was hard.

Awe.... For being able to do this with each other, for being brave enough to look at the raw sloppiness of our inner selves, the stuff we normally hide from others - and show it.

Love.... For each other, for our vulnerabilities, our fears, our tender spots, even for our known and vehemently-denied handicaps.

And finally... gratitude. That we have managed to create something so fragile and beautiful, and yet also strong enough to bear the weight of each other.

Our family-family meetings always revealed the truth of things in all their messy, bumbling glory, in the end.

And with that truth came a new understanding of what was important to each of us... the breakable parts of each other that we must treat with extra care... what our new choices now were for moving forward.

We may not have left those meetings knowing exactly what was going to happen, but it was the clarifying light of that chaotic, but cathartic truth that let the right things unfold in the future, and those problems always ended up eventually "going away."

I can't even remember what most of them were now!

So.... I ask you:

In what ways do YOU feel like you don't understand the truth of other people in your family-family?

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

What are YOU not telling others when it comes to things you are hurt or angry about?

In what ways might you be blind to some of the biggest priorities and fears of others?

(I love learning about these hidden forces at work in our dual families, so this week, I'll be announcing a new course to share what I know, and to help you create more understanding in your own “family-family” for the new year ahead—even if things are really tough. You’ll have a chance to pre-register soon.)

What are your thoughts? I want to hear from you!!!

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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

Which boat are you in?

Many of you come to this site because you’re looking for information that might give you an advantage with your difficult mom/stepmom relationship. You want something extra to help you create a shift. Movement in the right direction. A breakthrough out of nowhere.

You’re the only one who knows what it’s like in your particular situation.

If you’re like most people though, you’ve got a razor-sharp sense of how things stack up on the scoreboard. Who’s done what to whom. How you were justified in reacting to various offenses.

But what about when it comes to the potential for real change -- how do you know what to do? Which direction to go?

There are two possible boats you might be in if you’re struggling with the stepmom or ex-wife. So I’ll ask you:

Is this woman crazy and dangerous?

Or is she normal enough that you might one day get somewhere?

Which boat do think you’re in?

The one where you’re both basically “normal,” but having a hard time?

Or the one where she’s damaging the kids because she’s abusing drugs or alcohol, compulsively lies, maybe has a diagnosable personality disorder, and is actively alienating the children from you, even though it’s destroying them in the process?

Sounds obvious enough, right?

But here’s where this gets tricky.

When people attack us, when they hurt our feelings, snub us, do things that piss us off, when they do something with the kids that we strongly disagree with, we almost always put them in the second boat.

We are appalled at their flaws and issues, their behavior. We are offended. The reason they’re capable of acting the way they are must be because there’s something seriously wrong with them. They’ve got major problems.

And sometimes, this is true.

But sometimes... it’s not.

A little story for you.

In the brilliant book, “The Anatomy of Peace,” an Arab and a Jew lead a weekend workshop for the parents of troubled teens who are off on a wilderness retreat.

Yusef, who’s Arab, tells a tale from when he was young and earning a living, begging from Westerners on the streets of Bethlehem. He knew an elderly, blind Jewish beggar named Mordecai from working the same beat.

One day, Mordecai fell and spread his donated coins all over the ground. Not only was he struggling to stand up, his days’ earnings were everywhere.

Yusef’s first impulse was to help Mordecai get up and retrieve his coins.

But in an instant, without even being conscious of it, Yusef thought of all the injustices that the Jews had committed against his people; how angry, bitter and put upon he felt by these circumstances; this choice he had to make.

Instead of helping Mordecai, he quickly walked away.

Not only did Yusef do something unkind, he also betrayed himself in that moment.

He went against what he himself thought was the right thing to do.

Immediately after betraying himself, his mind turned to making Mordecai wrong. Making the situation wrong. Making the pressure he felt to help wrong and unfair.

In less than a second, Mordecai became the enemy.

Do you see how Yusef couldn’t, from that frame of mind, be able to accurately tell which boat Mordecai might be in (friend or foe) to save his life?

Same thing for us when we don’t do a brutally honest, slow-motion replay after a conflict-filled event.

When we can’t tease out our feelings of superiority, self-righteousness, our vindictiveness, our desire to get sympathy from others over our hardships, we lose our mental clarity.

We lose our compassion.

We lose any sense of responsibility.

We turn living, breathing people into objects.

What fascinates me is that millisecond of self-betrayal.

The self-betrayal comes first, then all else just “seems” to automatically follow....

We don’t even realize it’s happened!

We want to get along with the other woman, sometimes from just wanting less stress, more peace, cooperation, etc.

And deep inside us all, we know that our choices, our actions, our conflict-filled relationships after divorce actually hurt and frighten our children.

This knowledge tugs at our hearts and keeps us up at night.

But... something “goes wrong” again with the stepmom or ex-wife, we betray ourselves, and off she goes into the Crazy boat, even if she doesn’t belong there.

So how do you know when she does?

For one thing, it’s strikingly clear. You know it in your gut in no uncertain terms. This feeling is consistent from day-to-day. It never goes away. Those are the special circumstances that need to be taken seriously and managed with professional resources.

The Crazy boat requires stronger boundaries so you can protect your children and step-children. Maybe later, you can lower those boundaries. Maybe not.

The Normal boat is where things actually have the potential to change.

As a human being that’s a constant work in progress, I commit acts of self-betrayal on a daily basis.

How about you?

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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…

ivy_doorways Please note: If you tried to leave a comment earlier and couldn't, please try again, as comments should be working now. Host issues - we're working on it.... Thanks!

(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!

The shifting sands of connections

There's a funny little thing that can happen with people you love that drags the relationship down without you even noticing it - until after the fact.

I just came back from visiting my daughter Sophie, who moved out a short time ago into her own cool, little abode with roommates just north of the university. She's got the flu (or maybe just a cold) right now and it felt good to take her some soup, a few groceries, give her a hug, and hang out on her bed gabbing (while internally blessing my immune system to do its mighty job).

Lonely_sand_hill
When kids leave the nest, you miss them.

You've got to make an effort to stay connected to them, because life rearranges itself to fill up any empty spaces with busyness and details and new problems and responsibilities, and next thing you know, it's been days since you've last really talked!

We all know what that's like when it happens with the children or partner or friends in our lives -- and it's actually not any different with these dual-family relationships either. David and Carol were in Germany recently for almost a month visiting relatives. And because of one technical issue or another, we never were able to talk on the phone or by skype the entire time, which was weird.

For no good reason, a part of me starting thinking, is one of them mad at me? Is anything the matter? And irrationally, part of me also started feeling annoyed, like, fine! hmph!

Totally groundless reactions, but that's what our little hamster brains do in the absence of information sometimes, doesn't it?

When Carol came back a week early to teach a workshop, I made a note of her return, forgot to call her to check in, and then began to notice, hey -- she hasn't called me either!

Canvas_1
Stupid stuff. Because really, the poor woman was totally jet-lagged and hopped straight into teaching a three-day, all-day painting workshop and was actually out of her mind with fatigue, so it's not like the very first thing she's going to do is call me!

And why hadn't I picked up the phone either?

When we finally did talk, it was wonderful to catch up and we were both clearly happy and excited to do so. I'd missed her!

Same thing with David....

They came over one evening and we all hung out, slouched on the couches in the living room; talking about their trip, laughing, the latest things on our minds with life and romance and the girls and what Jacob (their 4 year old son) thought of Germany. Time flew by until we all realized it was late and they had a long car ride home, so we hugged good-bye.

Early_windsor_apples
It was soooo good to connect with people I love and care about. They're my family! It may sound bizarre to people who are also in divorced situations, but David and Carol are actually two of my closest friends and I know they feel the same way.

The combination of time and distance in a relationship can lend itself to imagined problems where there are none, even with people you're close to.

So why in the world do our minds do this?!

Is it just a function of general neurosis?

Insanity?

Or are we trying to protect ourselves against any potential problems, so we can head them off at the pass?

What do you think?

If you're working on improving your relationship with the mom or stepmom, check and see if this dynamic might be at work.... If so, that's actually a good thing, because it's one extra burden you get to shrug off and simply toss to the ground.

What a relief.

Wishing you strong connections and a happy family life!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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A crystal ball: will your relationship with the ex-wife or stepmom ever improve?

Here's an easy way to know if you're ever going to break through the impasse with the stepmother or bio-mom. Ask yourself: am I stressed? Does my stress level stay at a pretty consistent level?

(Sure, you might also be thinking, Well, it's because of HER that I'm so stressed, but not so fast, Buster....)

When I think of this situation between us, do I already feel like a loaded-down camel, about to be brought to its knees?

The answers to those questions will tell you a lot more than you think.

If you're like most of us, you're kind of amazed (but sadly, not surprised) at the amount of stress that you manage to live with on a consistent basis.

We're all running around like crazy people, not getting enough sleep, not connecting enough with those we love, feeling like we're sliding down the hill backwards with tasks lists coming at us like snowballs. I mean, who remembers how to eat at a dinner table with other family members anymore?

This would all mean that your resistance to change, to the unknown, to additional stressors, is already at its limit.

Who in their right mind wants to tackle anything hard, when life is already hard enough?

People in movies.

Angels.

Saints.

Really friendly, hard-working dogs, like Labs or Huskies or fierce, tiny, guard-dog Chihuahuas.

So if you want to make headway with this other woman that you just happen to be stuck with (and chances are, she feels the same way!), start by reducing your overall stress levels.

This way, there's space in your heart, your brain and your psyche for movement, for change, for room to grow.

I recently started reading a new book called "HeartMath" about tuning into the heart, which apparently has its own tiny "brain," that can be trusted to make decisions.

It talks about using some easy exercises to get your body into a state of "coherence," which is a fancy way of saying not working against itself. Believe it or not, our autonomic nervous system (or ANS) for short is usually fighting against itself.

The ANS has two parts: the flight or fight branch and the rest and restore branch. One is the accelerator and the other is the brake.

So when you're stressed, your body is alternately trying to help you ramp up to avoid getting eaten by the tiger, but also calm you down, so that you don't use up all your stores of adrenalin and poop out at the wrong time.

When you're consistently stressed, you deplete your stores of energy by keeping both feet on the accelerator and the brakes.

There's an easy exercise in the book you can use to regroup at any time. This is an over-simplified description below without the benefit of additional context (I highly recommend the book - get it at the library or something), but if it makes sense to you, try it.

This should only take about one minute total.

  1. When you're having a hard time with something, notice it and decide to take a time out. Mentally describe the situation in one short sentence.
  2. As best you can, step around your unpleasant feelings and racing thoughts. Tune into your heart. Imagine that you're breathing in and out from your heart. No need to force any intense deep breaths, just visualize breathing in and out for at least 10 seconds.
  3. Imagine a situation that brought you simple, unadulterated joy, happiness or appreciation and re-experience that feeling. (For me, it's an image of my two daughters laughing together as friends, or petting my two giant, hairy dogs, tails thumping on the floor).
  4. Ask your heart, "What would be a more efficient response to the situation, one that will minimize future stress?"
  5. Listen to the answer that comes from your heart, not your head. You might hear some simple statements, but you'll know they're coming from your heart if you end up feeling calmer and clearer.

Keep doing this simple exercise during the day and you'll see a noticeable difference in your overall stress level and your ability to meet challenges, without reverting to your usual coping patterns.

Take that leftover surplus of energy and use it to create a bridge to the other woman. Or barring that, healthier boundaries that help you to create peace....

Repeat as needed!

New stepmom? Heading off conflict from the get-go...

Feeling your way into potential stepmotherhood? Are you dating a divorced man with kids and things are looking promising? Here are a few ideas for setting a healthy course from the very beginning that will make you thank yourself later.

Bond over the good stuff, not the bad.
Don't make a part of your bonding experience with your guy bitching about the ex-wife. Know that part of his motivation in doing this is to prove to YOU that you're the one he's fully choosing. SHE didn't work out because she was simply the wrong woman. And in all honesty, like any human being, he's also probably projecting some of his issues onto her because he's clueless about how to fix them.

While pillow talk often involves an analysis of what went wrong in previous relationships so you can talk about how you want to do things differently now, don't let yourself get sucked into the kind of gossip that only makes things worse in the long run.

You don't need to knock down one person to raise up another (and you wouldn't want him doing this to you later if things ended up not working out, right?). Avoid it. Gossip is a habit and it creates a crappy energy that is cumulative and has momentum. The last thing you need is a growing pile of dog shit in the corner of your bedroom!

Meet her.

Yes, I'm advocating walking into the enemy's camp and introducing yourself, but hey, she was once just a person too -- someone that your partner loved enough to marry. Maybe she's not so bad after all. Be adult enough to form your own conclusions about who she is, instead of simply taking someone else's word for it. And that means talking to her on the phone, or if you live in the same town, meeting her face-to-face. Everyone has a phone. Pick it up and call her!

This suggestion may sound insane, but hey, we live in crazy times. We are SURROUNDED by divorced families and stepfamilies and that isn't going to change. If that's the case, then it's time to start approaching these situations from a brand-new, radical perspective. Let's head off problems pre-emptively, instead of dealing with the same old, same old. Be a revolutionary and muster some bravery!

Set some healthy parameters.
Introduce yourself. Tell her you know this is an awkward situation -- for both of you. Tell her you're not interested in turning the kids against her or keeping any conflict going between she and her ex (and then don't!). Tell her you're committed to staying out of the middle and letting them work through whatever they might need to, without someone gossiping about her and feeding into the score-keeping.

Tell her you'd like to work together to make this the easiest it can be for the kids. Tell her you'd like to be helpful and flexible and hope she will be in return. Who knows? Maybe you can even create a subtle, healthy competition to see who can act with the most consideration, clear communication and good manners. When people are treated with kindness, warmth and respect, they often respond in kind. Be stubborn about acting this way.

Rise above the fray.

If you take the high road, you have the potential to create a real ally in the ex-wife. What's going to raise her ire (and sense of resistance and revenge) is knowing you two are noting every fault and shortcoming of hers. If you make it clear that you are going to refrain from doing that, she'll know she can trust you to act with maturity and foresight.

Part of you may feel like you're going to be letting your BF/husband down if you don't bitch and vent with him about her, but trust me, you'll feel so much better about yourself. You'll create the space and integrity to maintain peace and cooperation between households over the long run -- and that's a huge contribution you can make to your immediate family and to the extended family as a whole.

  • What did I leave out?
  • What's your experience been?
  • Who's had some successes along these lines and what worked for you?

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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