Own Your Own Shit

Your Mind is Effing You Over – Not Anyone Else

Have you ever thought about how weird it is that so many people are divorced now?  

I remember when my kids were in elementary school and I was still married, we were surrounded by other nuclear families during drop-offs and pick-ups and school events. In junior high, not so much. In high school, neither one of my children had friends whose parents were married. Not one.

Think about that for a moment. Not a single nuclear family to be found amongst our circle of friends. I know it’s the same for many others.

This is shocking and should alarm us.

But perhaps not for the reason you’d suspect.

I’m all for kids growing up in an intact family, with two involved parents (stressed by work though they may be) and siblings (squabbling or not). I’m even for kids growing up with a hands-on, single parent (stressed by work though they may be) – or a stepfamily based on love (imperfectly “blended” though it may be).

What I’m not in favor of are all the lies we tell ourselves.

About who’s doing what to whom and why.

About how you’re not to blame, but the other person is.

About why any of it bothers you.

I’ve had to learn what I’m about to say the hard way and will continue to learn about it for the rest of my life.

The reason we have such a hard time with the other woman, our ex, or the other household is because we’re not right with ourselves.

We’re still caught up in old tape loops from long ago, about how we’re unworthy. How we’re going to be abandoned. We’re wincing when someone unknowingly scratches at an old scar, our skin still thin and tender and over-sensitive, or accidentally bumps up against a hard, but fragile scab, not yet healed.

We’re hiding from our fears, from a sense of free-floating shame, from a gnawing anxiety about when the other shoe is going to drop.

We’re pretending to feel more in control than we are. We’re trying to hold a big, wet soggy blanket of guilt up over our heads with locked, shaking arms and we’re so, so tired, wondering when we get to put it down.

We distract ourselves from all of it by leaping from one online lily pad to the next, compulsively getting lost in promises of entertainment or self-improvement, or whatever’s on TV or in the cupboard or any other way we tune out, just to get away from that weird feeling

As we fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, we are occasionally faced with some clear, but uncomfortable alarm bells going off about those we love: I must do something about what’s going on with ____. The time is now.

But life always piles on, every day, and the ringing of the bell becomes so muffled by activity that eventually we can’t hear it anymore. Until we do again.

None of this is stuff we really know what to do with.

It’s deep and it’s big and it’s odd and it’s overwhelming.

Our family life was hard then, and failed for the same reason it’s hard now: because of what lives inside of us.

We are the problem, not them.

You ask, But how can you say that, when ______ (fill in the blank with the other person’s unacceptable behavior)?

Well… remember the last time you felt centered? When you felt strong and grounded? Not all amped up and ready to blindly tackle the world. Just calm, clear-headed. Humble, accepting of yourself.

Remember when you felt a sense of compassion and respect for yourself and all others? When you felt yourself humming and vibrating with the power of love and its ability to blast through all the muck of our minds, all the fear and confusion, all the grasping at control?

From that place, people create miracles.

From that place, you can look at other people’s difficult behavior and feel immune from unkind intentions - or know whether you’re misreading people in the first place. From any of it being a commentary on who you are, your worth as a person and what that means about who will or won’t love you because of it. From that place, people stop operating from the subconscious directives that sabotage their life:

You can’t really trust people – watch your back.

You will never truly be happy – life is too hard. Maybe later.

There’s something wrong with you, deep down – no one will ever completely love you and accept you, just as you are.

People will always, eventually disappoint you – that’s just the way it is.

You can never do anything important well enough – just look at how you’re always behind or have already failed.

Our subconscious minds are very powerful. The majority of our behavior is driven by these old “rules.” If your life is hard, you can actually thank your subconscious for doing such a good job, because it’s only carrying out its original instructions, like an obedient dog.

The reason this matters is because of what we are teaching our kids, what we are transmitting to them in a science fiction-like download.

During the first five years of their lives, our children and stepchildren spend most of their time in a hypnogogic state of delta and theta, soaking up everything without a filter. That’s the important part. There’s no discernment there. Just a red, blinking “Record” button that’s on. (Alpha is regular consciousness and beta is very active consciousness, where you’re focused and purposeful.)

They are learning new, immutable “truths” about two primary aspects of life:

  • How the world works, based on how their parentsor stepparents respond to their external environment.
  • Who they are, based on their parent’s or stepparent’s perception of them.

It’s our job to love and accept ourselves, so that our kids can do the same.

It’s also our job to reduce our sensitivity to perceived conflict, so that we don’t “program” our children to expect that life is hard and you can’t ever let your guard down or you will be screwed -- because they will grow up to play out those scripts just like a robot would.

What do you think your children or stepchildren are learning from you right now? What might their lives look like in the future because of it?

None of this is said to add to the weight of your existing soggy blanket of guilt or to increase your fear. These ideas are offered in the spirit of knowledge as power. Knowledge creates curiosity and a new context. A new context creates hope.

So reverse-engineer your life. Ask yourself,

What major negative beliefs is my subconscious dutifully carrying out?

And,

How might the current problems I’m having with the other household reflect those negative beliefs?

Finally,

Can you live with leaving this as a legacy for your children and stepchildren?

If the answer is no, then figure out how to change those beliefs.

When you do, you’ll create a new pathway into the future for your stepkids and kids with their own marriages (and that of your grandchildren and stepgrandchildren!). And you’ll be a hell of a lot happier. I’ll be writing more in the future about what’s helped me change mine.

Thanks for reading! (And thanks to Seth Godin for inspiring this post!)

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Who gets more “emotional authority?”

One day while talking to Jenna on the phone, we realized: one reason these relationships between households can seem so impossible is because we have the two most important relationships of our lives competing against each other:

parent and child

vs.

husband and wife

This creates a dynamic in relationships that I like to call “emotional authority.”

What that means is that family members often feel like the strength of their bonds and connections to other family members automatically confers upon them certain rights, certain “givens.” The intensity and purity of your love for another seems to equal more power, more say in what happens to them, how they are treated and all decisions related to that person.

It’s like that person is “yours” to a certain extent, even though on the surface, that sounds ridiculous. But we’re already familiar with how this works in “traditional” relationships, especially in nuclear families.

Think about it.

When you were growing up, it was accepted that your mother (or primary caretaker, if this was different) was the one directing your life. 

Making decisions about what you would do, eat, when you would go to sleep, who you would socialize with (when you were very young), health-related issues and schooling.

Just as in nature, it was assumed that, at a basic level, your mother or caretaker would fight to protect you against any perceived threats and we accept that as an instinctual “given.”

She would go up against bureaucracy, bullies in school, other adults who might not have your best interests at heart and extended family members who disapproved of you, in an effort to nurture, shelter and love you – without giving her actions a second thought. Granted, some of us didn’t grow up in nurturing households and suffered at the hands of neglectful or even abusive parents, but nevertheless, we still know the archetype well.

As a society we also have certain givens for a husband and wife relationship.

Spouses and cohabitating romantic partners confide freely and openly with each other about the most private, intimate matters. Traditionally, they make financial decisions together, divvy up household chores according to their own preferences (hopefully!) and do their best to form consensus around parenting values. They are loyal to each other and sexually monogamous. They protect the sanctity of their household and their right to dictate what happens in their household. They relax together, pick up the slack for each other when life becomes busy or overwhelming, and rest in the safety of knowing that their partner always has their back as they weather the stresses of life.

But let’s cross the lines a bit and see what happens…

Let’s say that a stepmom is largely responsible for overseeing her stepchild’s homework in her home, as dad works full time and is less available.

She knows her stepson has been struggling in school and she feels for him, after witnessing many nights of homework that ultimately ended in him crying, extremely frustrated. For the past two years, mom, dad and stepmom have all had access to the child’s school records and online accounts. But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, mom revokes stepmom’s privileges. She lets the school know that she no longer wants the stepmom involved and that “only the parents should have access to these records and accounts...”

Stepmom is thinking, “What the hell? I should be able to access things because I’m fully involved in his school and have been already for two years now. Furthermore, my husband wants me to be, so that’s reason enough.”

Meanwhile, mom is thinking... 

“That’s the father’s job to stay on top of things like this, not the stepmom’s. Who does she think she is? Why do we need one more person getting involved, complicating everything? She needs to just let the parents handle this and step out of it!”

In this case, the stepmom feels all the mother tiger instincts that a mother would normally feel. So what happens when the mom tries to pull rank with a stepmom who feels connected and concerned about her stepson? Fireworks, that’s what!

And as for the mom, she certainly remembers a time when it was just herself and her ex handling school matters. They had separate parent-teacher conferences so they wouldn’t have to be in the same room. Now there’s another woman involved who feels like she “has the right” to be included in communications with the teacher regarding her own child? Says who?!

Does one side have to be the winner and one the loser in our divorce-connected families?

It would appear to be so—at least that’s how it feels. What seems like a huge priority for you, something that has to happen for your child, stepchild or your romantic partner can be a definite “No,” for the other party though—and they’re not going to budge.

This is tricky business, because when we act from a sense of emotional authority, our strong feelings can make us easily discount the other person’s concerns and demands in favor of our own, since we feel that our perspective takes into account what’s best for the one we love.

Our agenda is "superior," since it’s based on love and fierce attachment.

We couldn’t let go of our emotional authority even if we tried, nor would we want to. In our example above, both women were likely feeling a strong sense of emotional “jurisdiction” because their actions came from love and concern for the child.

This dynamic sets us up for clashes of the worst kind, since they are rooted in instinctive maternal feelings of protection—or romantic attachments to the person we love and have chosen as our mate.

The big takeaway here: 

Giving up or taking a step back feels like betraying our loved one and abdicating our responsibilities to them.

This is one of the biggest reasons why trying to figure out how to “work with” the other side can be so confusing and emotionally charged.

© 2013 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

(This is an excerpt from our book, "Skirts at War: A Survival Guide for Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.")

Weird: being wrong feels like being right!

One subject that we talk a lot about here is how difficult it can be to see the other person's perspective. And because you can't see it, you end up digging in your heels in a difficult situation, attributing intentions to them that may be wildly off the mark and stoking your own emotional fires.

Check out this fascinating TED talk by author Kathryn Schultz, who wrote "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error."

Her site, Being Wrong, is definitely worth checking out. You'll find links to a Slate series with high-profile people about how they "think and feel about being wrong."

"The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t."

We will contort ourselves like Cirque du Soleil gymnasts to convince ourselves that our position is the best one, when sometimes - not always - we're making decisions based on only half the facts.

And even though we may secretly suspect on some level that we're missing something, we'll plow ahead, counting on the intensity of our feelings to let us know we're on track.

Schulz takes us on an entertaining trip into the funhouse of our mind.

Let us know what you think and if you've ever backed yourself into a self-righteous corner, only to eat humble pie later!

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Never-before-seen Carol and Jen videos!

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the rest HERE. 

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

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

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

One-Way Compassion

Many problems between houses start because someone is actually trying to solve a problem.

A father desperately misses his kids. A stepmom is trying to find her place in a family with lots of history that came before her. A mom feels disoriented, sharing parental responsibilities with someone she doesn't know.

People struggle with their emotions and act in less than helpful ways -- or behavior they think normally doesn't "apply" to them.

And yet... it does... when they're in pain

It's easy enough for us to "excuse" our behavior, because WE know what's at stake for us, what we're grappling with, the anguish we feel in our hearts.

And so we have compassion for ourselves, we have understanding for the difficult time we're having in our lives.

But what about the other side?

Where does your compassion for them begin and end?

Can you see their pain? Can you reinterpret their angry, manipulative, crazy behavior?

A hint...

If you find yourself swinging back and forth on the pendulum of being a hero or victim/martyr in your situation, your compassion might be on too much of a one-way street.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

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

 

Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You

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Most of us are reluctant to turn the flashlight back on ourselves and look at the ways we might have screwed up.

After all, who likes feeling like they’ve messed up?

Like the balance of power has shifted in the story and all of a sudden, instead of the other person being so predictably wrong - it’s now our behavior that’s under scrutiny?

Back during the days when I used to not get along with my ex-husband David and his wife (and my co-author) Carol, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to mentally nail them for things they had done wrong. The slightest little mistake was grounds for a rant with my friends -- or a ruined afternoon, with me stewing in my anger and irritation.

Never mind the fact that there was also a part of me that was secretly enjoying the fact that they might have screwed up, such as getting a pick-up or drop off time mixed up.

And never mind the fact that I also did what I could to subtly help them get it mixed up, while also trying to claim otherwise.

It was childish, ridiculous behavior.

And part of me knew it.

But instead of looking at that reality, I chose instead to focus on them.

And they, in turn, were doing the same thing with me. (Something they fully owned up to later).

After all, how many of us, when we sense someone in our immediate environment out to get us, open our hearts in response?

Maybe if you live on a mountain in Tibet you do, but I doubt the majority of us mere mortals lean that way out of habit.

So there we were, judging the hell out of each other, blowing things out of proportion, taking lots of things personally, making ourselves and everyone else miserable... and the entire time, we’re all still feeling victimized.

Like something was being done TO us!

I have to shake my head and laugh at this now, because it seems so clearly illogical and insane.

I can’t speak for David or Carol, but when I had my first inklings of owning my own shit, it was like a blast of light shining through the curtains.

Once I started to see how I was fully participating in this impossible, never-ending, score-keeping behavior, I couldn’t STOP seeing it in all my actions.

And I suspected that they probably had inklings of this as well.

We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.

But we were not helpless.

Admitting to myself that I was deliberately trying to set them up, trying to make them fail, trying to make myself out to be the well-intentioned, blameless victim -- even if it meant occasionally putting the kids in the middle as leverage was life-changing.

I could throw up my hands and claim my innocence all I wanted in public, but now that I knew the truth of what I was doing, I could never go back and pretend otherwise to myself again.

The bottom line was....

Was it worth it?

Was it worth what I was doing to the kids to feel temporarily superior to David and Carol? To feel like the better, more loving, devoted parent? (One who still uses her kids as “leverage?” Right....) To milk sympathy from friends and family about how unfair it was, how stressful and awful their “two against my one” was?

To self-righteously funnel my leftover anger and grief about our marriage into something tangible, something that gave me the feeling that at least something was actually moving? Something was actually happening?

Well.... No.

It wasn’t.

It wasn’t worth all the stress. It wasn’t worth how hard my heart felt.

It wasn’t worth the feeling that I was now living behind a large rock wall, thirty feet high, waiting for flaming balls of mud to be lobbed upon me at any time. Or constantly gathering up mud inside my own yard to lob back.

My brain hurt. My head hurt. My stomach hurt.

My kids were hurting.

It sucked.

So... when I clearly and irrevocably saw what I was doing, I made the decision to stop.

Whether they did or not, whether they apologized or not, whether they ever understood or not.

I stopped.

And I told myself the truth about my crappy behavior, without justifications, without trying to turn my actions back on them somehow.

I apologized at first to David.

And then, later, when things were better between us, to Carol.

And then, eventually, when my girls seemed old enough to really get it, I apologized to them too.

You’d think that all of that apologizing would make a person feel pretty darned small.

And it did, temporarily.

But that’s what humility does. It makes you small enough so that you can see the error of your ways.

It takes you out of your ego so you can get over yourself.

It gives you a chance to just shut the heck up and take stock of what’s you've created, shame-inducing and all.

When you own your own shit and when you apologize to people -- without any investment about what’s coming to you in return -- without any expectations of what’s going to happen now or how you’ll be perceived as “better” -- magic can happen.

Time and time again, I hear stories of huge turnarounds that occur between warring parties.

A heartfelt apology is made and ice melts. Handshakes are made. Smiles freely given for maybe the first time ever.

Maybe not immediately, but sometimes... eventually....

I firmly believe, though it sounds all new-agey to say, that you change the energetic field between you and the other person. You stop the tension, the pushing and pulling. The space opens up between you for something new to be created, even if there’s no way to anticipate what that might be.

It still happens.

Based on my own experiences, I recommend that the exes start with each other, in particular. It’s often the leftover angst and anger between them that can really fuel the competition between the women -- and all the offenses that come along with that.

When you own your own shit, it's true: you may not make one single thing happen as far as changing the other person’s behavior.

And you have to be willing to accept that.

But you will feel a MILLION times better about yourself and your own sense of integrity.

And you will be giving your children an AWESOME gift to emulate themselves one day.

You will have stopped leaking your self-pity and vengeance all over them, when they're just trying to be kids, doing their kid thing.

You will be showing them what's possible when the two people who brought them into this world put down their weapons and say they're sorry... and maybe cry for the chaos they've wrought.

You'll make it okay for them to love their stepmom, like they should be able to, since she likely loves them.

You'll show them what it's like when all the adults create something new and wonderful out of a weird and awkward situation.

And then truly, even though their lives may have exploded with the dissolution of their original family, you'll show them that life really can be okay -- and new bonds will form that they can lean on for the rest of their lives.

Won't you try it... and see?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

 

Painful stereotype, meet reality!

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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

Who’s that jerk driving that car?!

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Funny thing about us and driving....

When we cut someone else off in traffic because we have a lot on our mind that day -- we’re tearful, or pissed, or stressed out about a gut-wrenching problem with no end in sight -- we cut ourselves some slack.

We’re really not THAT kind of driver, we think to the other person, as they speed up and pass us, while glaring our way to make their point.

You’re entitled to be spacey, distracted. You’re dealing with a lot right now. It couldn’t be helped.

But to them, you ARE one of those kinds of drivers.

The kind that starts with the letter “A!”

And it is assumed that you drive like this wherever you go, spreading your bounty of misery far and wide.

But what REALLY just happened?

One way to look at it is...

The other driver took an event that was situational and made it all about your character.

You have no qualms about your character, because in your mind, your actions weredue to the situation.

And therein lies the rub betweens divorced moms and stepmoms.

A stepmom thinks,

I have had it up to here with an ex-wife who won’t even cooperate over the simplest of communications between our households!

Why did *I* have to get stuck with the standard, ex-wife bitch on wheels for my partner’s ex -- someone willing to drag her own children through a lot of drama, just to flaunt her power in my face?

For her part, the mom thinks,

I have had it up to here with my ex once again pawning off his job on yet another woman!

Why did *I* have to get stuck with a stereotypical, interfering stepmom -- out to prove she’s better than me at my job, assuming she has the right to manage my children’s lives, when she’s barely known them a few years?

So who’s right?

Is it situation... or character?

Both?

Can you see the assumptions about character that each woman makes in the descriptions above?

And can you empathize with the initial frustrations of each woman in her situation? Frustrations that are probably prompting some unpleasant and negative behavior towards the other woman?

Does her behavior in a difficult situation now define what kind of person she is, for all time?

Can you also see how easily we cut one side or the other slack -- depending upon whose “side” we’re on?

And yet, we assume the other person is acting with calculating and malicious intent -- if that’s how the end result feels to us.

But what if she’s really not?

What then?

Now that I’m aware of this distinction,* I can’t help but see old assumptions with new eyes... everywhere!

And that includes when I’m on the road too....

Have you ever confused character for situation?

What happened?

(Thanks to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” for inspiring this post.)

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts?

 

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

Beyond counting your blessings

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Let’s say some prayers for our friends and neighbors in Japan.

The earthquake and tsunami have once again reminded us just how easily everything can be taken away from any of us in an instant, and now, a terrifying nuclear crisis is unfolding before our very eyes.

May they find a way to cool the reactors and spent rod pools very soon, and may aid start flowing into the country for those in need.

I lived in the Philippines for 3 years as a teen and many of my friends and fellow students were Japanese. My heart goes out to this beautiful, bustling, complex country.

It can be hard to connect a natural (and man-made) disaster to your own life, especially when it’s happening across the globe, in a culture very different from our own.

But this is an amazing opportunity to acknowledge the good things that you’re taking for granted and in doing so, open your own hearts, connecting yourself to our planetary neighbors - whether in spirit or by donating to relief efforts.

Some context for ya....

From David J. Smith's book, If the World Were a Village:

“At this moment, there are more than 6 billion people on the planet! It's hard to picture so many people at one time -- but what if we imagine the whole world as a village of just 100 people?

In this village:

  • 22 people speak a Chinese dialect
  • 20 earn less than a dollar a day
  • 17 cannot read or write
  • 60 are always hungry [emphasis mine]
  • 24 have a television”

Other facts found online about those same 100 inhabitants:

Of all the wealth in your village, 6 people (all American) would own 59% of it.

Only one person has a college degree.

20 people in the village would consume 80% of all the energy, leaving 80 people to share the rest.

Only 7 people have a computer or access to the internet.

So as you can see, we’re blessed in a multitude of ways, though this is easy to forget.

Gratitude is often simply a matter of focus.

Which begs the question: where do you habitually turn your attention?

To the things going right -- or wrong?

Automatically tackling our problems with a laser beam, a bulldozer, or a truckload of how-to manuals is a carry-over from our caveman days, when we needed to figure out a daily strategy for staying alive that worked.

But we’re lucky enough not to have to worry about being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger anymore.

Instead, we now have the luxury of turning our attention to “first-world” problems.

Struggling in jobs we hate. Feeling unappreciated in our marriages. Wondering how we let our children slide down the slippery slope to valuing their friends and texting more than their own families.

Fretting over the latest incident with the mom interfering in your life again. Hating your ex.

If you find yourself feeling guilty because you see yourself in the list above -- don’t.

It’s meant as a reminder: there is always good and bad in life.

Maybe you’re just neglecting the good, like a plant accidentally left out on the porch at night, in the cold.

Can we all just take a step back and look around?

Can we all just glide above the clouds a bit and survey the ground below us?

What are all the things that are going well in your life that you take for granted?

Where are you basking in abundance and don’t even see it?

With close friends? Family that’s always there for you? A roof over your head? Good books and websites you love? The presence of nature around you? Healthy food? The safety and stability of a country not at war?

I’ll be eternally grateful that we figured out a way through the muddy morass that used to be our two households, after my ex got remarried.

I’m grateful that I love my ex still and Carol, his wife, and the stepmom to my kids -- and that they’re two of my closest friends. I'm grateful that our children have more adults in their lives, watching over them and fretting about them, more people to connect with, to love them and nourish them.

I’m grateful for my partner in this work, Jenna.

And I feel so lucky that I get to do work that makes even a small, but genuine difference in some people’s lives.

I hope our story can inspire you to shoot for more in your divorce-connected family. Even if your situation is tense and conflict-ridden, I hope our site helps you to see that you have more power to create peace FOR YOURSELF that you ever knew.

And now, let’s send a thought bubble of love and healing out across the ocean, to Japan....

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

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Taking responsibility

Why I sometimes want to give up too

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What to expect when you weren't expecting... a stepmom

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Maybe you experienced a long, slow slide towards divorce. The communication dwindled. The awesome sex became lost in the tidal wave of daily life demands. It was always one thing after another with the kids. Or perhaps you were unlucky enough to be blind-sided by the sting of infidelity.

However you found yourself in the Land of Divorce, putting your life back together, reveling in the opportunity to occasionally eat cereal for dinner when the kids were at Dad’s house, I bet you never saw this one coming: another woman in your kids’ lives.

A woman you didn’t know either.

Remember what it was like after a break-up, when you were younger? Maybe you dumped him. Maybe he dumped you. But you bump into him with his hot, new girl on the street, with that air of intimacy about them, and part of your stomach goes, “Wrenk!” It’s just human nature, whether you still want him or not.

Now take that feeling and magnify it by ten when a new woman arrives on the scene with your ex-husband.

Because THIS is the man who fathered your children. THIS is the man who shared your pregnancies, who you spent countless hours talking to about what was going on with the kids. THIS man was supposed to be your future. Your partner stretching out into the years of your family’s history. One half of the foundation, the nest for these vulnerable little beings.

But no more.... It’s done. Over.

And now you’re just a statistic.

And so are your kids.

But hey, people do this all the time now, right? What’s the big deal?!

This may be hard for stepmoms to really, really understand, even when they have their own kids: but when a new woman comes into your children’s lives, it’s just plain weird.

Like someone you’ve never met before plopping down at your table of friends. Like someone getting into your car at a stop light. Like a perfect stranger joining you in the hospital waiting room during a crisis, their brows furrowed with worry.

You look at them and think: Who are YOU?

And why are you now a part of my children’s world?!

Sure, on a logical, practical level, we get it. You’re dating him. He’s dating you. If he’s integrated you into his life enough for you to meet his kids, then he’s probably in love with you and Lord knows, it’s always best when both people love each other.

But it’s the emotional stuff that throws us for a loop, as moms. It’s the automatic “jurisdiction” we don’t get - that sense that you now have a right to have input on how things should be done with our kids, when they made it this far in life just fine without you. (It makes sense for that to eventually happen, but sometimes it comes wayyyyy too early.)

It’s knowing that our children are creating their own bonds and connections with you “off stage,” as it were, outside our view. It’s wondering if you truly want them there, or if you’d rather have him all to yourselves -- if you resent them, just don’t like them or are irritated by the same behavior that irritates us.

It's the fear that yes, there is love there between you. We want that -- but we also don't. Our own experiences as mothers are often so much more conflicted that the cookie-cutter version of motherhood. Our children's love with someone we don't know can cast a spotlight on our shortcomings as a parent. We can feel guilty and anxious, fearful and confused.

It’s the vulnerability that we feel, knowing that a natural part of romantic attachment with new couples is a dissection of past mistakes and mishaps, and this likely includes stories about us that we’d rather have you not know....

In writing about this subject for years now, I think I finally understand how painful and heart-wrenching it must be for stepmoms to often feel like the perpetual outsider, to be exasperated by the ever-shifting boundaries, to be reminded over and over again that important family memories and milestones took place that had nothing to do with you.

I’m not even sure I could do it! And I have the utmost admiration for those of you who do, who keep plugging away in the face of all that pain and frustration.

Please just know that some of the difficult behavior you experience with the moms has nothing to do with YOU personally (although if you trade mutual barbs, it will eventually, sadly).

We would feel this way about any new stranger interacting with our kids, even though you may think our actions are irrational and ultimately destructive. Sometimes they are. We’re not perfect. But we’re also trying to do the best we can to do right by our children....

Think of it like this: in our minds, we are traveling down a long, flat, straight road. We can see miles and miles into the horizon. We once felt secure in the knowledge that we’d be traveling down that road with another adult by our sides: the father. The only other person in this whole world who cares about the kids just like we do.

We may have accepted that he will no longer be traveling down that road alongside us (though some moms haven’t, but that’s another story). Perhaps he’s on the right side of the road now, and we’re on the left.

It just feel jarring and strange, disorienting and illogical to be joined on that road, walking along with someone we don’t know, someone we don’t feel comfortable with, someone who may or may not be on the same parenting page whatsoever.

So please, give us time. Leave the majority of the parenting to your partner, even if you see him fumbling or out of his element. Leave the communications between houses to him. The financial negotiations. The discipline. At least initially....

Don’t take our mother tiger behavior personally. Focus on making YOUR life happy!

And moms, just realize: once you’ve seen the stepmom in your kids’ lives for a while, once you’ve seen her trying and trying, busting her ass and putting in all the same grunt work that YOU do, please, for the love of God! -- cut her some slack.

And reach out to her. She’s taking care of YOUR kids!

You WANT her on your side.

After all, isn’t that the highest sacrifice you could make as a mom? Creating room for another woman, so she can do a good job of loving your children -- with your help?

How is any other choice serving them?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

Further reading:

Moms: you are the crux

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

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

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

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

It’s amazing. Euphoric. And addictive.

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

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

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

a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point

or

something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty

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

And there the situation stayed for several years.

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

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

And strained.

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

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

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

It just killed me.

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

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

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

The very thought made my stomach clench up with fear.

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

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

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

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

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

What do you see?.

© 2011   Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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The dangers of certainty

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We have an interesting opportunity to learn something, after what happened in Arizona on Saturday.

As many of you know by now, 6 people were tragically killed (including a nine-year old girl born on 9/11) and 13 were critically injured when a 22 year-old man opened fire at Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s “Congress on Your Corner” meeting at a local supermarket. She was shot point-blank in the head and is still in critical condition, as of this writing. I do not know the medical status of the other injured parties.

I’m saying prayers for the families and friends of all those who were killed or wounded and I hope you will too.

I’d also like to invite you to think about something...

and to listen to a little story that’s somewhat scary for me to tell....

But first, already, when you take note of the word “Democrat” in that second paragraph, something starts happening in your brain, doesn’t it? Wherever you happen to be on the political spectrum, that word, that political distinction, means somethingto you, even if you’re not an American.

It stands for certain qualities or values that you either assign to yourself -- or reject as standing for something you’re not.

You either go, Yes, that’s me, and maybe get a hint of something that feels good, such as validation, or a memory where your beliefs made a positive difference in the lives of others.

Maybe there’s also self-righteousness, or indignation, or anger.

Or else you go, Nope, that’s not me and get the same feelings (read through them again and see).

There has been a lot of discussion this weekend about the toxic nature of our political discourse here in the United States. I believe that same toxicity is reflected in our dual-family relationships as well.

It’s gotten pretty ugly on both fronts, because we constantly feel the need to define and identify who we are -- and who we refuse to be.

Democratic liberals are weak, lazy, bleeding hearts. Conservative Republicans are greedy, selfish, money hoarders. Democratic liberals are generous and kind-hearted and care about elevating the common good of all. Conservative Republicans are hard-working and self-reliant and contribute to a better world by propelling the economy forward.

(No matter what country you live in, you also have political parties that represent similar aspects of your character.)

Do you see how you want to identify with one side or the other?

Me too.

But something very troubling is happening to our global society and we’ve got to do something about it.

Take a look online at any public forum (comments on YouTube, message boards on any topic) and you will see rudeness, insults, and a level of mean-spiritedness that is truly shocking.

Don’t you often find yourself thinking, How can people actually speak like this to each other?!

And where ARE all these people? Surely they’re not acting like this in real-life?

Is this who we REALLY are when our identity is hidden and anonymous?

So what’s going on here?

This is how I think this happens....

When we over-identify with one perspective, our big-picture vision shrinks.

We lose our ability to see nuances, shades of gray, to see the truth of polar opposites in a situation. Life is complex and subject to constant change, but we begin to insist that it not be.

Because of our passionate attachment to our beliefs, our emotions become heightened.

Our thoughts and feelings become sensitized to input and we overreact to triggers.

We act as if others have disagreed with us or acted contrarily ON PURPOSE, just to make us angry or offend us.

We stop seeing the other side as human, with fears and needs that are just as messy and unpredictable as ours.

We start demanding that they see things the way we do, or risk being WRONG.

Maybe this wouldn’t normally be such a big deal, but here’s where it starts to get dangerous:

When we dehumanize others, our standards for our own behavior drop.

We cut ourselves slack for speaking or behaving without respect. We rationalize how the other side “deserves it.” We keep the focus on their unacceptable, “Oh-my-god, you wouldn’t believe _____!” actions, repeat our stories to sympathetic listeners, and conveniently avoid examining ourselves.

We ignore the mistakes we’ve already made, our habitual shortcomings, our ignorance, our contributions to the problem.

This switch, this transference of our focus happens so quickly and automatically that we don’t even see it, much less catch it.

And the intensity of our emotions makes our viewpoint feel so real and so right that we don't have the motivation to question the situation anyway.

Do you see how your political identity, and the means you use to defend it in your mind and in your speech, reflects some of the same problems you may be having with the other household?

There’s a lot at stake in the world these days - economic struggles, jobs, issues of war and survival. We look to our chosen political parties as one way out of uncertainty - as one small means of gaining some semblance of control, some kind of positive movement forward.

The “other side” is a threat to all that.

By the same token, there’s a lot at stake in our families. Our relationships and bonds with the children. Our feeling of safety and stability in our homes, places we yearn to infuse with love and belonging and growth and joy. The sanctity of our romantic relationships. Financial and legal issues.

What do you do when what you care about and identify with feels threatened?

Where are you striking back and losing a sense of the other side as human?

I steer clear of talking politics here for obvious reasons, but here’s a raw, personal story for you to illustrate my point.

When the shooting first happened on Saturday, I immediately thought of all the phrases and expressions I’d heard certain political pundits use; the language of violence and smugness, of suspicion, aggression and the joy of domination.

That kind of language gets attention. On a marketing level, it “works” because it gets people riled up and invested.

But it’s alarmed and worried me in the past, and now, I was horrified and saddened by what had happened to these innocent people, including several elderly folks and a child. I wanted to blame it on someone, aside from the apparently crazy young man.

Part of me felt happy that these political personalities were finally going to get busted and be held accountable for their reckless, baiting invective. Considering this possibility gave me a certain comforting frisson of right and wrong. Of good and bad. Of temporary justice.

I went online to certain political sites and got a hit of self-righteousness as I saw others agreeing with me. I saw both “sides” interacting with each other in the comments section, trying to prove their points by utilizing “facts” that supported their argument.

After a while of obsessive reading, staying up way too late, continually searching for that one culminating point that would finally make things feel settled inside me, I finally started to feel a little sick.

Guilt and shame hovered around the edges of my consciousness, reprimanding me for feeling gleeful and victorious whenever I read an online salvo that seemed to hit its mark... in the midst of tragedy.

I finally had to ask myself:

What the hell was I doing -- and why?

Mentally and emotionally (I wasn’t posting, just reading), I was duplicating exactly the same phenomenon that everyone else was bitching and moaning about: making the other side wrong. Blaming them. Wanting to convince them it was their fault. Seeing them as “less than,” as stupid and uninformed. Seeing myself as superior and clearly, so obviously, right.

I was contributing to that same kind of sick discourse that I was so self-righteously condemning, sitting in my safe, little room at home.

That’s how it happens.

And it was all too easy to flit from site to site, getting one dose after another of reinforcement for my lop-sided, hateful perspective.

Because that what it was. Hateful.

We like to tell ourselves that hate is a strong emotion reserved only for OTHER people with sworn enemies, or for those who are capable of gunning someone down, but I would like to suggest that hate also has much subtler and quieter manifestations. It's easier for us to go there than we realize.

Collectively, we have gotten our nation -- and our families -- into a pretty deep hole, where the shit is flying fast and furious above our heads.

Isn't it time for us each to look within our hearts and figure out how each and every one of us is adding to it?

And to stop?

Let’s ask ourselves some questions.

Questions are always good in the middle of a mess, don’t you think?

So... for you:

What do we want for ourselves as a country, full of opposing, but equally impassioned viewpoints?

As a planet where our nations are intimately tied to each other, reliant on each other for peace, for financial prosperity, for help from each other when a crisis strikes?

What do we want for our families? For ourselves, living day to day, interacting with each other in this land of divorce and remarriage?

For our children, who look to us to guide them when it comes to handling conflict and challenges in life -- and to protect them from not only the lies of others, but trust us to see and dismantle the lies we tell ourselves?

I hope you will reach deep down and bring the best of yourself to your life, your political identity, and your family - no matter how “wrong” the other side is.

I hope you will find a new willingness inside yourself to stop your automatic patterns of assigning blame and probe deeper for the poisonous roots of conflict, so that you can heal them with honesty and bravery.

I hope the people injured in Saturday's shooting will be alright, including stepmom Gabrielle Gifford.

I hope you will show your children -- whether they’re “yours” or “someone else’s” -- that we are capable of so much more than the cold comfort of being right.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

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

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

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

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

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

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

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

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

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

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

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

Often, there were tears.

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

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here's the thing....

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

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

We've gone too far.

We've broken this.

We are screwed.

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

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

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

Keep listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So.... I ask you:

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

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

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

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

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

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

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

Two very different kinds of momentum

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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