How-To

What's under the surface?

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

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

And why is it on TV?

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

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

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

The camera flashed to the losing team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it still does.

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

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

.

© 2011  Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

What's your foundation?

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

I had to admit, I was nervous.

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

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

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

Panic!

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

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

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

My two dogs become entangled. Chaos.

The other woman says nothing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow.

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

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

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

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

Friends and family will back you up.

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

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

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

My foundation was off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

…How many times you’ve eaten lunch.

…How many times your name has been called.

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

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

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

Even the terms we use for each other are loaded:

The bio-mom.

Just the stepmom.

The crazy ex-wife.

The evil stepmother.

Why do we speak this way about each other?

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

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

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

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

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

So it’s good to ask....

What might we secretly fear about the other woman?

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Invisible Drivers in Your Life

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

Although... something about this feeling seems familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what’s actually happening.

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

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

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

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

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

And a lot shorter.

And more extreme.

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

Nobody really loves me.

Something is seriously wrong with me.

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

I will always end up being hurt.

Nothing ever goes right.

I suck.

I ruin everything.

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

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

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

Betrayed.

And occasionally, absolutely gutted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can be worthy, safe, lovable, valued.

You can trust others.

You can create a life of meaning and purpose.

But the first step is to listen closely.

And to tell the truth about what you find.

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

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

 

Painful stereotype, meet reality!

knocker-2163643_1280.jpg

Over the weekend, we learned a valuable lesson.

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

All hell broke loose!

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

Yes! Moms can definitely be like this!

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

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

Why are these stereotypes so dangerous?

And so painful?

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

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

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

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

Think about all those lazy, neglectful mothers out there.

Or the self-absorbed, cold-hearted stepmoms.

And there’s plenty more where that came from!

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

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

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

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

The truth of what’s really actually going on!

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

That was the danger in that article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine!, you say.

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

Yes. It happens.

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

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

We’re all trying to find our place.

To be seen and respected.

To belong.

To be safe.

To be loved.

No one’s got a leg up.

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

And how did you arrive at this insight?

We want to hear from YOU!

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

mistake-876597_1280.jpg

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

Two very different kinds of momentum

roller-coaster-1553350_1280.jpg

If you're a mom and you're going through a divorce -- or you've already been through one, where you are couldn't be more different than where a stepmom is.

Divorce makes you feel like a tornado just tore through your life. It ripped up all your dreams for your family, for your children, for your relationship -- and scattered them into another county. You have the external evidence of this in the form of household upheaval and change, but you also have the sense that a bomb went off in your insides too. The disorientation, the chaos cannot be described.

Any stepmoms out there ever go through a break-up? A soul-pulverizing, tough one?

This is where the moms are. Only there are kids involved. And a home. And money. And friends.

History, dreams, memories.

Resentments, disappointments, fury. The kind of wounds that seemed to beg for a legal split, to prove to the world how deep they were.

People push for a public, authoritative "culmination" for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is validation of their feelings. But that's not always what they want, in the long run. Sometimes it just means, I have no fucking idea how to fix this and save my family.

Ripping apart your family is godawful. It's agony. It's primal. It's monumental failure that sears your heart in the process and makes you feel like you'll never get over it.

And then you do.

You start to put your life back together again. You watch your kids on a microscopic level to see how they're holding up. You nurture them. You give them space. You smother them. You lie awake nights consumed with replaying loops of guilt.

And then... you start to savor the freedom. Look! I can parent the way I want to! No more new resentments piling up in the corner! (At least not in your immediate environment....) No more new hurts. It was good for me to get away. I did the right thing!

But divorce certainly doesn't fix everything, as we all know. You're still intimately tied to the person you created children with, because, well, you created children. So imagine all the problems you used to have before, only now, they're complicated by distance and competing agendas. Woohoo! It's a party!

And stepmoms?

Stepmoms fell in love.

Stepmoms arrived on the scene because of the man....

They were simply innocent women, who, like all of us, wanted to find love and be loved and love another and well, if there are kids involved in the process, the more the merrier and I'll just love them too. We'll put it all back together even better than it was before. You'll see. It'll all be okay.

Women are the natural menders, the natural weavers of harmony and cohesion. Of closeness. We make circles of people and experiences.

It's not the stepmom's fault that there just happens to be another woman in the picture -- the mother of the children. If the children were actually motherless, it'd be a whole lot easier to form that circle, but nope. There the mom is, hovering ever so slightly, or glaringly, in your field of perception....

The stepmom is knitting. The stepmom is dreaming. The stepmom is planning and hoping and pouring her best self into creating her dream.

The moms know this place. They were once there too.

The stepmoms are moving towards.

The moms are moving away.

And this is the crux of all their problems, in a nutshell.

This is why the moms don't want you around. This is why they're rude. This is why they shun you. This is why the moms look at you like you're an alien when you try to be gracious and extend a hand in friendship.

They want the divorce as far away as they can get it from themselves, illogical as that may be, since there are still kids to raise. Communications to make. Negotiations to handle into eternity.

And in their minds, they're like, What? Who the hell are YOU???!!!! Where did YOU come from? And why do I now have to deal with you regarding my own children as if you now have some kind of claim or authority over them, some jurisdiction in their lives?

And in the stepmoms' minds, they're like, Hey! Are you crazy? Can't you see I'm here to stay and I'm doing YOU a favor by pouring time, effort and energy into raising kids that aren't even MINE???!!!! Aren't you grateful for that? Can't you show some kind of grace? If you care about your kids, then why are you hurting them by making ME your enemy? Us your enemy?

The pain of the divorce makes moms skitter away, emotionally. Many, MANY women are left with emotions so raw and overwhelming that they simply turn away from them. They have no earthly idea how to ACTUALLY deal with them and process them and heal them and release them. They're that big.

Sound familiar to any of us as human beings?

You've never done that, right?

Nah. Me neither.

And the stepmoms are simply moving forward from a place of love and caring and hope. Many of them have the best interests of the kids at heart and are walking into a field littered with landmines like naive children themselves. If they experience the culmination of having children with their partner and then go through a divorce themselves, they'll know what the moms are going through.

Two people.

Two paths.

And maybe, just maybe, two new possibilities that come with understanding the other.

© 2010Jennifer Newcomb Marine

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!

Taming the cobra - Part 3

snake-2346672_1280.jpg

Feeling like there’s an enemy in your midst can be really stressful. This is what a lot of stepmoms and ex-wives that are stuck with each other feel like -- there’s someone who’s closely connected to your life that has it out for you.

This “breach” in family life is really nerve-wracking and hard to ignore. Family life is (ideally) supposed to be where you can relax and retreat from the world. Where you’re free to be yourself. Where you feel accepted and connected.

Having the other woman around is like someone peeking in through your window, like a cold draft coming in from under the door, or god forbid, like a leak in the submarine. Not a good feeling!

I showed you a simple exercise that you can do to get back to feeling strong and grounded in part two of this series. If you want to center yourself while you attempt to improve your relationship with the other woman, or if you simply want more ways to bounce back from conflict between the two of you, here are a few more tricks to try:

Watching the ego: Most of us are very invested in how we come across to rest of the world. We don’t want to be seen as weak, clueless, losers. We still feel like that sometimes, but we’re always hoping no one else can see those parts. That investment is based on your ego, a false persona. It’s nothing more than a mirage, because your ego is not you!

Can you step aside, become the watcher, and observe your ego in action? If you can, it’s a lot easier to not feel threatened by someone else’s behavior, even when it’s thoughtless or unkind. You have nothing to defend, because you realize the public persona is not what counts, it’s the YOU behind it.

Being in the present moment: Think of the past, present and future on a single line in front of you. Draw a line with your hands. The present moment is exactly in the middle. Ding! How often are you there? Are you actually living most of your life jumping around, back and forth, leap-frogging over the present moment?

Now imagine that line, traveling through time and space, but with you still doing the same thing. Days pass like this. Months. Years. What do you think about that? The past is gone, it doesn’t exist anymore except in your mind. The future is yet to come, but we sure spend a lot of time anticipating it, don’t we? Especially in negative ways. Being in the moment is wonderfully freeing. So simple, it almost seems impossible that it could be so powerful and healing. And yet... there it is, available to you anytime you need it.

Testing your thoughts: There’s a little hamster living in your brain, running on one of those squeaky exercise wheels. It’s a hamster that can talk, and it’s actually rambling on all day long, deciphering events, giving you a running monologue about yourself, other people, and how the world works.

Is the hamster always telling you the truth? How much of what the hamster says is based on old baggage or actual reality? Sometimes it pays to question the hamster and verify whether what you’re believing is right on--or total baloney. It matters because we ACT on those messages. Make sure your beliefs and actions are heading you in the right direction.

Get some fresh air and your blood flowing: Ahhh, the joys of exercise! For some reason, many of us dread it and put it off, but once we do it, we can’t understand why we ever avoided it. A lot of us are already stuck feeling bad about our bodies, so it feels like exercise is “for other people” or will be for us once we reach some arbitrary weight in the future. Bullshit!

Your body was meant to MOVE, to feel alive, to stretch, to lift, to breathe deeply, to feel strong. When you get your heart pumping and the blood moving, you actually discharge negative emotions. Did you know that? There’s plenty of scientific evidence saying so. Wiggle that stuff out of you and feel better in the process.

Tune into life force/the divine: Whatever your religious beliefs happen to be, you have to admit that it’s pretty miraculous that we’re even alive at all, wouldn’t you say? That you’re unique. That so many of us have lived before us and will (hopefully) live after us too. That we co-exist with this vast and complex menagerie of plants and animals and a mind-blowing profusion of the awe-inspiring geographical features of our planet.

If you don’t believe in God, or even if you do, can you close your eyes and tune into the power of life that animates us all? You may not be as alone as you think you are during tough times. Lean on that for a bit and see how it feels.

Your thoughts?

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

Taming the cobra - Part 2

green-2259437_1280.jpg

"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

snake-997865_1280.jpg

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:

What you and I have in common – Part 1

macro-319237_1280.jpg

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!

The moms that take care of the babies

Last night, stepmom Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for Best Actress. I was thrilled, not only because she's just so damned likable and has lived here in Austin, but also because of what she said about the message behind her movie AND the important job that stepmoms around the world do every day--many times without acknowledgment or appreciation.

"...There are so many people to thank--not enough time--so I would to thank what this film was about for me, which are the moms that take care of the babies and the children, no matter where they came from. Those moms and parents never get thanked...."

If only the mothers of stepchildren would realize what a gift they can give to their children by making it okay to love their stepmoms.

If only the mothers would acknowledge the hard work of the stepmoms in person. If only they would open their hearts to partnership with the other hands-on parents in their kids' lives....

And to all you stepmoms out there doing the hard stuff with the babies and the children, day in and day out, I salute you and all that you do for your family!

© 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

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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!)

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

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Weighing the benefits and costs of getting along with the ex-wife or stepmom

Thelma-louise-mustang However new or weird the idea of getting along with the stepmother or bio-mom might seem to you, the benefits of doing so are probably annoyingly obvious.

Yeah, you've probably heard this all before (do I hear yawning?):

  • less stress
  • better communication
  • smoother flow to life in general
  • brainstorming help with the kids = better parenting (esp. with teens or kids that are acting out)
  • less yucky energy in your romantic relationship
  • you no longer have an "enemy" in your life who's out to get you (hoarding information about your weaknesses and shortcomings, waiting for you to mess up)

Seems like a no-brainer for BOTH sides, huh? And yet, for some reason, it's so incredibly easy to lapse into conflict with the mom or stepmom, despite your best intentions to take the high road.

Why is that?

I would venture to say that it's because all those bulleted items above are conscious. They're "no-duh" items, what you're "supposed" to want, what you "should" be doing. But you've got a whole army of unconscious forces that are actually shaping and guiding your behavior -- and it's the unexamined, subconscious stuff that usually wins out.

That's why we find ourselves doing things we don't think we should on a daily basis, such as eating that extra spoonful of ice cream, or looking up only to find we killed another hour online. Whoops.

Here are some of the unconscious drivers, or things we're afraid of losing when it comes to getting along with the other woman:

superiority

  • for moms, it's being the better parent and the better woman, whether you wish you were still with your ex or not
  • for stepmoms, it's being the better parent and the better wife, no matter who broke up with who


fear of exposure

  • here's the flip side of being better than her: you're also afraid of being discovered as being inferior to her -- less put together, less of a success. She'll find out you're actually not doing such a great job in certain areas of your life, such as _________ or __________.


it's messier

  • if you see her as human, that means you're back to seeing her the same way you see other people in your life in all their flawed glory (big sigh here) -- full of contradictions, falling short at times, not always doing what they say they're going to do
  • it kind of sucks to have to cut people slack sometimes, doesn't it? Seeing her as human feels like you're letting her off the hook. You're convinced she doesn't deserve this.


it feels bad

  • If she's not totally, completely, solely responsible for the crappy situation between you two, then maybe you both are. You can't face the squirmy discomfort of seeing your own actions for what they really are, which, if you're human yourself (!), might be:
  • petty
  • vindictive
  • small-hearted
  • competitive
  • snarky
  • childish


it feels so good

  • you're actually really enjoying the drama of not getting along. Though you'd never admit it out loud, you actually look forward to the next time the other woman screws up, so that you can go through that familiar process of fault-finding that ends in such a lovely little (or big) buzz. It's as predictable as dark, imported chocolate or a good beer!
  • Does any of this sound familiar? (I only learned about it in a book. It's never personally happened to me. Ha.):
1. event that shouldn't have happened
  • shock and horror
  • judgment
  • rush of feeling superior
2. deeper analysis of the intricacies of her evil actions
  • heady indignance

3. repetition of your story to a rapt audience of built-in cheerleaders

  • more feelings of smugness, superiority; the blameless, cozy comfort of being the injured party

4. final pronouncement of her absolute wrongness

  • you take the "moral high ground" as you do your best to "move on" and "detach" from the event because, ohmygod, it's "stressing you out beyond belief"
5. ...until the next event...


loss of your role/story/audience/focus

  • If you're not at war with the other woman, then who are you? It's back to same old life, with the same old problems you still have to figure out (and don't know how!). It's convenient having her as a focus for all your ire, it's a pleasant distraction, it gets you sympathy from friends and family. Besides, how comfortable are THEY going to be if you two start getting along better? It's like asking them to start rooting for a different baseball team or change their political affiliation.


letting some wiggy influences into your life

  • You might also be afraid of opening the door to further weirdness (as if life isn't disconcerting enough in these two-family-but-hey-this-is-my-family situations).
  • If you're the stepmom, you might worry about the ex-wife weaseling her way into your own marriage and poisoning it (because the mom smells of divorce and you're afraid it may be catching).
  • If you're the mother, you might be afraid of seeing your former husband remarried, or god forbid, even happily remarried brings up in you. Sadness, loss, regret. You know -- the good stuff.

As you can see, it's the juicy, subconscious stuff that's probably fueling our behavior, as opposed to all those goody two-shoes reasons about why we're supposed to be trying to get along.

SO... WHAT TO DO?

First, pay attention.
See if you can catch yourself mentally and emotionally playing out these hidden agendas.

Second, experiment with stopping.
You may not know what to replace your subconscious mental habits with yet, but just see if you can bring your thought patterns to a halt, like a car pulling up to a STOP sign.

Ask an open-ended question.

If you're competing with the other woman, ask yourself, "How can we make this a win-win situation?" If you're afraid of being exposed as a loser, ask yourself, "How can I see myself as worthy and enough, no matter what?" If you're worried about letting her off the hook, ask yourself, "How can I move forward into a place of peace, forgiveness, kindness and balance? If you're reluctant to look clearly at your own behavior because it feels so shitty, ask yourself, "How can I face this stuff with bravery and honesty and learn the best lessons?" If you're feeding off the drama, ask yourself, "Isn't there something more positive I'd like to be doing with my time, energy and attention? What would that be?"

Practice asking open-ended questions with any kind of problem you're having in life. A part of your subconscious will start to work on creating the answer in the background. It's like having your own personal virtual assitant!

Get comfortable with the vacuum.
I'm not talking about housecleaning, I'm talking about that space we create when we leave room for something good to happen inside ourselves and in our life -- for change. Sometimes it feels like odd leaving an opening, like it needs to be immediately given a purpose, an assignment.

It can take a little bit of time for new things to happen. Get better at hanging out in that place of uncertainty, without having to create a big, dramatic story about it.

And then see what happens!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Erasing the Enemy - Part One

fleur Once upon a time, there was a mom and stepmom, stuck with each other in their lives, like a splinter in their thumb that couldn't be removed. Thumbs get used a lot, so this was a bad thing, this constant, wincing reminder of the splinter as they went about their days.

It was a pretty typical situation in that they couldn't stand each other. It was also pretty typical in that they both felt mistreated and put upon.

fairy_tale_house_1

The mom bristled at having to unwillingly "share" the parenting of her children (children that came from her own body!) with a perfect stranger. She took her leftover anger at her ex-husband for his uneven parenting, mixed in a little jealousy, fear, confusion, defensiveness, and the stomach-curdling knowledge that all her private secrets had been lain bare between the two new partners and probably laughed over - and focused her parenting irritation on the stepmom as well.

She didn't mind making life harder for the husband and stepmom. Weren't they always trying to undermine her as well? Tit for tat, as they say. Maybe one day they would come to their senses and realize how their poor behavior was only emotionally damaging the children and would change. But she wasn't going to hold her breath.

For her part, the stepmom bristled at the unwanted presence of the other woman in her life. It was worse than having the world's worst boss, this looming spectre of the mom (lording her sanctimonious, "maternal" preferences all over them!). At least with a boss, you could go home and escape, but here, their troubles with the other woman were still evident everywhere - in the children's lack of self-control, in her husband's haphazard approach to discipline, in their dangerous marital fights over the children's bad behavior and hurtful rejection of her.

She didn't mind making life harder for the mom. Wasn't she always trying to undermine us as well? Tit for tat, as they say. Maybe one day she would come to her senses and realize how her poor behavior was only emotionally damaging the children and would change. But the stepmom wasn't going to hold her breath.

One day, the stepmom was tooling around online when she heard about a book on conflict resolution* that seemed to hold the promise of creating more peace in her life, or at least help her understand why things were so bad between their two houses.

She was tired of all the stress, the subtle (or sometimes overt) struggles for power between ALL the adults, between the kids, between herself and her lower and higher impulses.

Something had to give.

She spent the next several days devouring the book, during breaks at work, while stirring a pot on the stove, and alone in the bedroom in the evenings, forgoing TV -- even, my stars, Facebook.

The following ideas held a part of her attention captive as she went about her daily routine, motivated by the sense that she was onto something big and potentially life-changing.

  • When we have problems with someone else, we turn them into an "Other," a cardboard cut-out of a human being.
  • It's easier to accuse and blame someone if they're not a nuanced, flesh-and-blood person.
  • When we are battling another, we exaggerate their wrongdoing, the damage they have inflicted upon us, our sense of victimization and our justifications for our own sometimes poor behavior.
  • We seek agreement from others to back ourselves up and "prove" that it's the other person who is wrong.
  • When we are at the height of conflict, we are simply seeing things in the most limiting, childishly basic terms -- we cut ourselves off from new ideas; the powerful energy of good intentions and our ability to blast through logjams and debris; the stretchy, open, expansive nature of possibility.

An idea was forming in the stepmom's mind.

What if---

What if... she reached out to the mom? What if she just basically said, Hey, look -- can we talk? Not as arch enemies, but just as (gulp) two people?

What if she was able to say, I know you don't like me and probably think that I don't like you either, even though I barely know you. And sure, I guess I actually HAVEN'T liked you, off and on, over the years. But---

Do you have a moment? Would you be willing to try and set all this stuff aside, so we can try and work together on some of the more basic stuff?

I mean, it sure would be nice being able to talk to each OTHER about some of this stuff, don't you think? Instead of always having to go through my husband? I mean, your ex. I mean--their father.

It's not like we need to shoot for becoming best friends or anything, but wouldn't it be nice to at least feel like we could work together on some of the simpler things?

What do ya think?

She felt her stomach drop considering the thought, like she'd driven over a sharp hill with a sudden dip on the other side.

Her friends would think she was fricking nuts, especially after all the stories she'd told them, how pissed off they'd gotten on her behalf. May as well walk through the fields past enemy lines, take off all your clothes, set your hair on fire, and dance around until you were pulverized by machine gun fire!

Come to think of it, her husband might not take too kindly to the idea either. Her face flushed with guilt.

But she thought back again to an image that was coalescing in her psyche....

She could see the two of them having a cup of coffee, knees shaking under the table, maybe laughing over something stupid.

Could they laugh over something stupid?

It would be the closest she'd ever actually got to the woman, having the chance to stare at her face, absorb her personality, sit back and observe.

Would she get her head bitten off? Would her efforts be seen as an admission of guilt, inferiority or worse, acquiescence? Ha, wouldn't that be just like her? She thought back on all the conflict between them, the silent tension, the scary legal hassles, the harsh words.

Wouldn't this be insanity, trying this?

She picked up the phone with a pounding heart, and dialed the mom's number.

(Read on for Part Two!)

*The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Shoring up against potential (family) erosion...

I was talking to my friend Bernadette yesterday from Slow Family Living about putting together a panel for next year's SXSW -- and was surprised at her surprise by a part of our conversation. Context: she has four kids under the age of 11. My two girls are 14 and 18, with one already out of the house. The thing that shocked her?

I casually mentioned that I remember how when the girls were in elementary school, we were surrounded by all these other married parents (when I myself was still married), but as they went to middle school, there were more kids from divorced families. And in high school, even more. It got to the point that not a SINGLE friend of either child came from a nuclear family. Not one.

Bernadette's response was, "Oh my god! That's unbelievable!"

And yet, that's reality.

So we're dealing with some real threats to the American family, folks. The longer a family stays together, the older the kids get, the less likely they are to be married. That's shocking and insane and a real shame.

I find that really sad... and also kind of overwhelming. Don't you?

Most of us are reading this site because there's already been a break-up - that's why they are two women in the picture.(And neither asked for the other to be there, but yay, there they are....)

As a culture, we desperately need to get better at learning how to stay married, whether it's the first time around, the second, or maybe even the third! And get help when we need it.

And we need to mitigate the risks to the second marriage as much as possible, by understanding the dangers and challenges for that union, whether in the form of common stepmom issues (read Wednesday Martin's book, Stepmonster for a brilliant assessment of some of the unique challenges) or problems between the mom and stepmom. We must also more carefully consider the role of the father, and what's it's like walking the tightrope between 3-way divided loyalties.

We need help to slow down and reconnect with each other in our families, whether we're a nuclear family, stepfamily, or some other combination thereof.

Sometimes it really helps if you have someone to say, "Oh, right.... This what you're up against -- here's the big picture. Sure, you're about to drive off into dark skies and churning clouds, but here, -- here's what to expect. And also... here are some possible tools to use when you run into problems."

Doesn't it feel so much better to be learning together? :-)

 

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Relevant Posts: