Reaching Out

Carol and David lost their home - a fundraiser

Carol Marine

Carol Marine

Hi everyone, Carol and David Marine of Daily Paintworks and their 6 yr. old son Jacob lost their home in a terrifying fire yesterday out near Bastrop. Their entire subdivision was wiped out (up to 300 homes) and the fire is still spreading - it's currently 16 miles long, 6 miles wide, has covered over 35,000 acres and is moving south towards another town. Today's forecast of more high winds is bad news for surrounding areas.

[UPDATE: A neighbor confirmed late Monday afternoon that nothing of their home survived. It's just dirt and ashes. Over 1,300 homes have burned and the fire is only 30% contained as of Thursday, Sept. 8. Please see the end of this post for an update on the astounding outpouring of support from the online community -- and artists in particular.]

They lived in a cute, little house in the middle of a beautiful pine forest, which is kind of an aberration in Texas. Rolling hills, tall towering trees, orange pine needles everywhere on the ground. All of which made for a lot of tinder, due to an extreme drought and the highest temperatures ever recorded in the state for August.

bastrophouse
bastrophouse

Here's an older picture of their house right after they bought it, before they added on a woodshop and studio for Carol. Jacob is a bit bigger now:

My 16 yr. old daughter Maddie and I were visiting them, along with two of Carol's friends, Karen and Randi. We were sitting around their big table, swimming in beading supplies, laughing, talking--when a neighbor came over and told us we had to leave right away.

At first, Karen and I went out to the backyard to see and were making jokes about how David had paid off a neighbor to say that, just to get all these crazy women out of his house. We couldn't see anything over the tall trees. Then Randi went out front and we heard her saying, "Oh my god. Oh my god!"

davidworking
davidworking

When we stood in the front street, we could see huge clouds of billowing smoke. There wasn't even enough time for them to take more than their computers. I backed my car through their front yard and up to Carol's studio, but we didn't take anything more than a few small paintings of Carol's. They lost all her art that filled their house.

Carol took their small car and David hooked up their pick-up to their camper, so luckily they have that. They're currently in a campground and will have to decide where to go from here....

When we finally left, the smoke had changed to black and was much bigger. It was incredibly frightening. Here's a video that someone shot on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/wELdKgk80e8

They had good insurance, but it will take time for that to all kick in, so I'd like to help them in the meantime.

Please consider making a donation below to help them get back on their feet.

 (The fundraiser is officially over and the Donate button has been removed. Please see the update below for the total raised.)

It's true, the most important thing is that they're safe. They are my family and I love them all dearly. But my heart aches for everything they lost - all the mementos, all the memories, their sense of sanctuary.

Thanks for your help. And please say prayers for everyone that lost their house, dear pets, or is still in harm's way.

With love,

Jennifer

[As of mid-day on Friday, Sept. 9th, only five days after the fire, over 300 kind and generous people have donated almost $18,000 to help Carol and David. That's right: almost EIGHTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!! You have no idea what this means to them, folks. No idea. They have been moved beyond words and have cried about this more than once -- in a good way. :-)

As of Sept. 20th, the fundraiser was closed, with over $21,000 raised!

Carol and David say thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over for this wonderful expression of love and support from fellow artists and fans of our book.

To see all these incoming links from art blogs far and wide, to see the names of so many studios and even other daily painting sites online, honestly, it's blown their minds. It's really something to be proud of. Y'all are part of something really special.... 

You've all helped turn a gut-wrenching experience for Carol and David into something affirming, amazing and beautiful.... They can never thank you enough and they will never forget this!] 

A Challenge: Just Meet Her!

(Audrey S. [mom] and Gina W. [stepmom] on Mother's Day with their children.)

(Audrey S. [mom] and Gina W. [stepmom] on Mother's Day with their children.)

"The problem of the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small."
     -Mother Theresa

Our old grievances can change in an instant when we simply open to the other... and listen.

WHAT IF... the divorced mom or stepmom is just as baffled by you—as you are by her?

WHAT IF... you have more in common than you realize?

WHAT IF... her actions towards you are nowhere near as deliberate as you assume them to be—or vice-versa?

WHAT IF... you could erase years of accumulated tension and resentment with her in one short moment?

WHAT IF... she’s open to forming a connection with you—and that evokes the same in you?

Curious?

Perfect!

Because we invite you to meet the stepmom or ex-wife in your life this month during our “Just Meet Her!” challenge.

The purpose?

To see each other as human. That’s it. That’s your only goal. No hashing out of issues. No point-scoring. No validating past wounds.

Just meeting her, face-to-face, for coffee or tea.

If you've already had a few pleasant, respectful communications with her (by email, phone or in person), then this challenge is for you!

If you are in an actively high-conflict situation, then meet with another person who shares her role as a mom or stepmom.

Our challenge was inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s beautiful and thought-provoking TED video “Take the Other to Lunch,” where she meets with someone who is seemingly her political opposite, only to discover that they both feel judged and misunderstood, and yet are still capable of building trust between them.

(video timeline notes)

  • Early background about her two conflicting selves: 0:01-1:54
  • What we miss by thinking we know it all: 1:54
  • How we so easily "demonize" each other: 4:35
  • Describing the initiative:  5:46
  • Her lunch and the guidelines she used:  7:06
  • Insights about her lunch:  8:25
  • Who should YOU take to lunch? What can you expect? 10:00-11:00

One of the fastest, most powerful ways to change this relationship is also one of the scariest.

Suddenly, you are two fallible, vulnerable people.

Both winging it.

Both at times hurt and confused by how difficult these roles are...

As Lesser said, it's "--two people, dropping their weapons... dropping the pretense of being know-it-alls..."

Surely you can bring yourself to, as Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project suggests, deliberately suffer for 15 minutes for the good of humanity.

Or in this case, thirty.

What might your first steps be?

Here are the guidelines.

If you’re meeting with YOUR other, ask each other:

  • Describe a silly phobia you have.
  • Tell me about a happy childhood memory.
  • What's a favorite movie, song, book or TV show?

If you’re meeting with AN other, ask each other:

  • What have you always wanted to ask someone from the other side?
  • What are some of the biggest fears stepmoms or moms have?
  • What are some of the biggest hopes of moms or stepmoms?

General Guidelines:

  • meet for a min. of 30 minutes
  • meet in a neutral location, such as a coffee shop or park
  • don’t persuade, defend or interrupt
  • avoid volatile topics, such as family, conflict-loaded situations, etc.
  • be curious, be conversational and be real... listen
  • meet for a maximum of 45 minutes and then end it, even if it’s going well

Communicate with us and your friends here on NOTB (or on Facebook):

Let us know your plan to meet and when.

Let us know how your meeting went!

If you are worried or nervous before your meeting, come to us for support. And then come to us after too, to decompress and process your experience.

We know our readers are some of the bravest, ballsiest women out there.

So show us what you got!

We’ll all be cheering you on....

And we just might start a revolution that snowballs into something really big!

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there...

- Rumi

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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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Why I sometimes want to give up too

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Moms: you are the crux

Divingforrocksdyno.jpg

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

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

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

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

It’s amazing. Euphoric. And addictive.

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

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

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

a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point

or

something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty

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

And there the situation stayed for several years.

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

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

And strained.

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

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

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

It just killed me.

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

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

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

The very thought made my stomach clench up with fear.

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

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

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

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

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

What do you see?.

© 2011   Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

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

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

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

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

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

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

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

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

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

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

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

Often, there were tears.

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

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here's the thing....

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

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

We've gone too far.

We've broken this.

We are screwed.

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

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

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

Keep listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So.... I ask you:

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

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

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

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

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

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

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

Which boat are you in?

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

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

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

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

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

Is this woman crazy and dangerous?

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

Which boat do think you’re in?

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

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

Sounds obvious enough, right?

But here’s where this gets tricky.

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

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

And sometimes, this is true.

But sometimes... it’s not.

A little story for you.

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of helping Mordecai, he quickly walked away.

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

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

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

In less than a second, Mordecai became the enemy.

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

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

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

We lose our compassion.

We lose any sense of responsibility.

We turn living, breathing people into objects.

What fascinates me is that millisecond of self-betrayal.

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

We don’t even realize it’s happened!

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

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

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

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

So how do you know when she does?

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

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

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

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

How about you?

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

Success Story: Jesica and Mayra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are things between you now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One question for Mayra only....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Popsugar

Photo credit: Popsugar

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

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

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

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

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

Will: Absolutely.

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

Jada: Yep—

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

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

Oprah: Your stuff—

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

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

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

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

Jada: Right, right....

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

(general laughing)

Jada: You know, I wish! And oftentimes—

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

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

Oprah: Yes. Yes—

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

Oprah: They're your future....

(Sheree nods vigorously.)

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

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

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

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

The kids' well-being.

Your thoughts?

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

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Further Reading:

Are you afraid of being mugged in your own family?

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

-Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

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

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

C’mon people, you can do it!

Okay...

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

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

Why was this?

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

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

It worked!

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

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

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

What are the signs and symbols of this breakdown?

The lack of manners!

The lack of civility.

The lack of common human courtesy.

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

Not to make eye contact.

Not to say please and thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s YOUR contribution here?

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

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

-R.D. Laing

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

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

Your thoughts?

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine        All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

The Fragile Bridge of Trust

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

Top 10 Reasons for a Mother/Stepmother Relatioship Revolution

Cold Hard Facts

New Stepmom? Heading off conflict from the get-go

What you and I have in common – Part 1

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

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

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

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

THIS, folks, is why we wrote this book!

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

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

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

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

I’m on my own too

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

This can be hard because....

I can’t get the moms involved either

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

Why is this?

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

I know what it’s like to be betrayed

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

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

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

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

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

More on this in Part 2!

Who's in YOUR extended family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m incredibly grateful for this....

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

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

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine         All Rights Reserved

Tell Oprah!

HeyOprah I'm joining forces with three other good friends* in the hopes of getting more publicity for blended family and "dual-family" issues, just in time for National Stepfamily Day on Sept. 16th. It's estimated that only 20% of American families are now nuclear families. And stepfamilies have an almost 75% rate of divorce!

The single-parent family and the stepfamily are uniquely stressed and at risk because of conflict with each other -- which translates directly into heartache for the kids, not to mention the adults. If only we had a clear and reassuring roadmap to show us the way to empathy, cooperation and mutual respect.

I know it's possible... because I've lived it.

Maybe Oprah, awesome creator of the Big Picture that she is, will pick up her paintbrush to work her magic... and one of her producers will pick up the phone!

Won't you join us in asking Oprah to cover these very important issues by sending her a quick email?

The future families of our world will thank you. :-)


*Wednesday Martin (Stepmonster), Izzy Rose (The Package Deal), and Brenda Ockun( StepMom Magazine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People in movies.

Angels.

Saints.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This should only take about one minute total.

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

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

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

Repeat as needed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet her.

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

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

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

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

Rise above the fray.

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

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

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

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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Cold Hard Facts

Welcome to our first guest post!

It's by Katherine Shirek Doughtie, one of the co-authors of a "sister" site, the fabulous, but sadly currently dormant The DHX: The Doughtie Houses Exchange — which is also about creating cooperative mom/stepmom relationships. (Katherine is the mom and Jill Doughtie is the stepmom.) The post is actually a reprint of a Nov. 2007 entry, but I thought it was so good, and so important, that I asked Kathy if she wouldn't mind us posting it again. She graciously agreed, so without further ado...Here's Kathy:

Cold Hard Facts

-by Katherine Shirek Doughtie

Chilling.

I just looked up some statistics on second marriages and, boy, they are not good. When Jill and I first started talking about this blog, we tried to figure out roughly how many marriages were second marriages and how many ended in divorce. We both guessimated — based on what? a hope that humans can actually learn from their mistakes? — that second marriages were statistically less likely to end in divorce.

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

Divorce rates for second marriages? About 60 - 80% .

At the high end, that’s almost double the divorce rate for first marriages (47%).

So why do second marriages end? Mainly because of two things: Complexity and money. Money is relatively easy to deal with (here’s an excellent guideline) — as long as you are willing to be brutally honest with yourself and your partner. OK, I’m being a little casual about the money stuff… money is usually extremely tied to emotional issues and I’m planning on getting into it in depth in a later post. But long ago I learned that there were two kinds of problems in the world: Emotional issues and technical issues. (Losing weight is a prime example of a technical problem that very often becomes an emotional issue.) And money — as painful and crazy as it is — is really a technical issue on much the same scale as losing weight.

The complexity of living in a blended family, however, is an emotional issue. There’s no way around it. You can’t sit down with a ledger or Quicken and figure out how to deal with the biological mom, or how to make the sibs and step-sibs get along or how to reconcile the painful comments in the car that the other house is the “fun house.” That’s emotional. That’s core stuff.

And with a 60 - 80% divorce rate among second marriages, it’s not an issue you can easily dismiss.

Which means, to me, that this whole conversation about how moms and step-moms might be able to work together better is not just so that we can reduce a little stress in our lives. It really is so that the second marriage has a much better chance at surviving.

I’m going to put on my “bio mom” hat solely now. And this may seem stern and harsh, but really it’s in response to that statistic, and as an admonition to some future Kathy should I ever become a step-mom myself.

Here it is and it’s a cold hard fact:

I’m the biological mother. I am not going away, ever.

You’re the step-mother. And the statistics aren’t in your favor.

And the reason the statistics aren’t in your favor is because, in part, of me.

It’s very icky. It’s ugly to say and, projecting myself into the other household, abhorent to hear. But, actually, it’s true. And it becomes extremely dangerous when there is still a boatload of baggage left over from the first marriage, and the whole situation is riddled with bitterness, vengefulness and anger. We, the biological parent, do have the upper hand — legally, emotionally, biologically. And if we want to wield it for evil and try to pry apart that fragile second union, we can. And we do. And that’s just so ugly for everyone, it makes me sick.

So am I saying that the step-moms of the world have to genuflect to us because we have the biological trump card? Do we now get to have final say in every decision?

Absolutely not. Because there’s another corrollary to the above cold hard fact, that I wish more bio-moms would actually pay attention to, and this one goes thusly:

This step-mom also takes care of my children.

The peace that I can promote between the households directly and unequivocally affects the emotional well-being of my children.

To quote my favorite philosophical work, Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. Sure, you’re the legitimate owner of half of the DNA. But that comes with some responsibilities, too — because your first priority is really no longer yourself and your precious anger. Remember those first six weeks of the babies’ lives, when your entire existence was turned upside down just to ensure the survival of that little infant? That hasn’t changed. We still have to turn ourselves inside out to make sure those kids make it through the night. And the step mom is there running the other household, and she must be respected and honored for that. If you want to play that bio-card and play power games, you can. But the losers will be the children.

Let me repeat that on its own line:

The losers will be the children.

It’s more than just about making life a little nicer that we need to get this figured out. For the step-moms in the world, it’s about keeping that marriage intact. For us moms in the world, it’s about keeping our children intact.

Let’s make this a revolution. The cold hard facts are saying that blended families are becoming more and more prevalent. Let’s learn from our past mistakes, get over our anger, embrace the future possibilities, and get it together. For ourselves, for the sisterhood, and for our children.

To read more of Katherine's writing, check out her book Aphrodite in Jeans: Adventure Tales About Men, Midlife And Motherhood or her personal blog.

 

© 2009 Katherine Shirek Doughtie     All Rights Reserved

The benefits of dealing with big family changes together

Why does it matter whether you can create an extended family or not?  Aren't you just better off keeping most of the power in your own hands?  If you form more of a connection to the other family, won't that mean they just end up getting away with more shit?  How do you create a balance between the two family units?  And is that even possible? Are the potential rewards worth the effort?

I've posted recently about our oldest daughter, Sophie, leaving home.  I thought I'd let you see what moving through that process looked like (in a three-part post) when it came to doing it together, from my eyes (the mom).

First… her party.

Stiff smiles and Salvadore Dali clocks I'd long had this idea in my head for some kind of ritualistic ceremony for Sophie and then later, for Maddie. (You can blame/thank Joseph Campbell for that - he once said something about how teens don't have any sort of transitional rituals in our culture and they suffer because of it; acting out, sometimes blurring the lines between independence and dependency long before or after what's best. At any rate, it struck a chord).

At first, I thought we'd do it when she turned sixteen, but that didn't happen.  Then I thought I'd do it when she graduated, but really, what pushed it to the fore was her leaving for foreign lands (the wilderness that is Europe).  Somehow, the idea that she'd not only be leaving the house, but traveling somewhere big and new on her own, made this half-baked idea of a ritual seem somehow more urgent.

What I had in mind was a group of elders, sitting around, telling the unvarnished truth about a variety of topics, ones that real grown-ups dealt with, like responsibility, life purpose, sex, relationships, money.  I imagined women who had known her all (or most) of her life telling stories -- relaying near misses, lessons learned the hard way, things they'd wish they'd known long ago….  Those same nuggets of wisdom could go in a book too!  People could write things down beforehand and then we'd put them in and give it to Sophie during the party.  I envisioned juicy details, lots of laughing, a wonderful feeling of intimacy and closeness in the air.  And lots of love of course.

What ended up happening was uh… slightly different.

Spontaneous love-in's cannot be planned Carol (the stepmom) thought the idea was brilliant.  And beautiful.

Great!

It was to be a surprise, so we simply told Sophie that she needed to stick around that day, because we had something up our sleeves.

Carol and I brainstormed the guest list together and whittled down the list of topics from 15 to 10.  We planned the food, who would make what.  It'd be women-only so we could really let it all hang out.

Unfortunately, what became evident after I sent out the invitations was how squirmy people felt about their little "writing assignment."  Several folks, including myself, left it 'til the last minute.  When I finally did my writing, I saw why!  This was hard -- even embarrassing.  This crap was the sum of my life's wisdom, this cliché-sounding bit of pith?

Leave it to Carol and David (my ex-, her husband) to tactfully bring it to my attention that Sophie probably wouldn't really enjoy or appreciate a roomful of adults giving her what would probably feel like advice.  It all seemed so nice and glow-y in theory, but in practice, would likely feel forced and awkward.

So we dropped the "ritualistic" part of it and simply focused on the book.

Lucky for us, Carol comes from an extremely creative family (no surprise there, look at Carol's site or step into her studio).  Her mother, Sandra, made a stunning handmade book for us to use (she even wove the beautiful black and red fabric - thanks, Sandra!) and we threw the whole thing together one evening, a few days before the party.

A glitch sensitively conveyed though - David felt a bit left out.... If this was going to be some kind of big, meaningful send-off for his daughter, he didn't want to just be at home, wondering what was going on.  So… he'd be the honorary man-guest. He knew everyone who'd be coming anyway. Plain old reality can be oh-so-lovely Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we seemed to be swamped in activity.  There were errands to run to make sure Sophie had everything she needed, but it also seemed to be one constant party at our house.  Two of her closest friends simply stayed, day after day, night after night.  While normally I might have asked her to wrap it up kiddo, I thought it was a harmless enough way to give her some sweet memories before she left.  I could live with some extra crumbs in the kitchen and a continuously disappearing cupboard….

So the day of the party finally arrived.

I was watching David and Carol's dogs again (another dog-sitting/tech. help swap) and Maddie and my mom and I set up the house.  Sophie's friends were already here, so, they came.  The various "elders" arrived (limping, all wearing feathered-headdresses and bejeweled canes), and so did Jacob, Sophie's little brother.  It was quite the raucous event.

No ceremonies.

No rituals.

Just an acknowledgment that she was about to take off on a journey out into the huge, wide world....  Some talk of where she was going, what she'd like to do....  But no pronouncements from on high.  Just shitloads of fantastic food, wine, and a fancy, crystal punch dispenser that looked like it was imported from Russia (thanks Mom!).

And a few mumbled words from me as I handed over the book, about how much we all loved her and were going to miss her, but also how excited we all were for her.

Perhaps the most ritualistic touch came from Sophie's little sister Maddie herself, in an impromptu idea that she came up with, all on her own.  For about two days before the party, Maddie worked furiously cutting up long strips of paper to be folded into beautiful little paper stars.  She used her special patterned paper (that kid could work magic with dirt) and got the stars started for people.  Then she printed out instructions for everyone, asking them to write a secret wish or hope or saying for Sophie. She bought her a tiny cardboard treasure chest to store the stars in (something small and light to fit in her backpack) and set out pens, books to write on, and a little glass jar to collect the stars on a tray.

I fretted a bit at the gathering, wondering if Sophie was enjoying herself. Then, one of my dearest friends (an honorary aunt to the girls) reassured me, it wasn't so much the way Sophie felt NOW that was important, it was how she was going to remember all of this, with her whole family and her friends here, celebrating HER….

Start with hello...

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day and we were discussing the horrible state of affairs between her house and the other house... the one with her ex-husband and his wife. I thought back to the early days between Carol and I, and could easily remember those stomach-churning moments when I would accidentally end up talking to her on the phone, or stumble through an awkward greeting at their house or ours. Elch.... It's weird to think of how far we've come. I tried to think of something encouraging to say to my friend. How DID Carol and I go from where we were to where we are now?

It sounds so simple, but honestly, I think it started with our hellos.

At some point, I made a conscious decision to try and make things better between us. But how do you signal this to the other person when how it's been before has been so consistently awful? It's not like you can suddenly say, hey, how about we try something different? (Okay, actually you can, but not many people are capable of exposing their soft, furry underbellies like this....)

Carol and I used to be like two cats with raised back-hair around each other - all it would take is minimal exposure and our reaction was instantaneous. It was both sad and hilarious to hear later that we were both suffering in the same, totally stressed-out way, but we were. (We've since regaled each other with tales of our dread and mortification and acrobatic efforts to avoid each other's presence. Has made for some good laughs.)

I think the first few times I tried to say "Hey, how's it going?" like I meant it, Carol just looked at me, startled.  And then her surprise was instantly replaced with suspicion, as in What the hell is she doing? What is she trying to get from me? And probably most importantly, How can I get her out of my face???

The other piece to this is that I tried to use my much-improved relationship with David (my ex-, Carol's husband) to convey that I wanted to change things with Carol.  Which meant, looking back, that I had to do some work to get to that point too, in terms of forgiveness and making amends with him.

Once Carol got the message that I was extending a little teeny olive branch, even if it was a little wilted and there weren't many leaves on it, she stuck out her branch through a crack in the door too.

There's nothing like seeing that someone is trying to make you try more.

So start with hello and see what happens.  It's not like it was the solution for everything for us, because we went backwards many times too, but it was the definitely the beginning of something new.

And once we had a few successes under our belt, we felt even more inspired to extend ourselves.  And it became harder to be a jerk to the other side, to be rigid and inflexible even though we were sometimes losing ground in being so damned cooperative!

And it's what led us to yesterday, sitting next to each other on the couch over here at my house, at a going-away party for our oldest daughter (she leaves for Europe tomorrow, I can't believe it!).  We took a picture with both of us kissing Sophie on the cheek at the same time, with Sophie laughing.

Who would have ever thought THAT was going to happen?!

Much to be grateful for, and it started with one of the most common of words....

On a separate note, our bulletin boards should be going up over the next several days, so I hope you'll drop by and say hello.  : )

Many thanks to David (computer programmer extraordinaire!) for his help (and a nice little trade of programming for standard-poodle dog-sitting)!

Happy Monday!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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How to greet the stepmom or ex-wife at the door when the kids swap houses

Sleeping_guard_catSo the mom or stepmom is here to pick up the kids and it’s usually... awkward. Whether you like this person or not, it’s in the best interests of the children and your stress levels and sanity to make this as positive an experience as possible. With the right perspective and some basic manners, it’s totally doable.

Ingredients

  • Children
  • Any belongings the kids need to take with them
  • A calm, can-do attitude
  • Good manners

Instructions
(Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult)

  • When the doorbell rings, lower the noise level in the house by turning down or turning off the TV or any music so you can easily hear and speak to each other.
  • If you’re on the phone, continue your conversation later.
  • Put any barking or jumping dogs temporarily away.
  • Take a deep breath before you turn the door knob.  Then take one more.Door_glass
  • Relax your face. 
  • As you open the door, smile!  Make eye contact.
  • Ask the stepmom or mom to come in and make eye contact again.  Be warm, if possible.
  • Make chit-chat: ask her about traffic, the weather, etc.  (If you there’s something specific you know she’s been doing, follow-up on that to let her know that you pay attention to the things she’s interested in.)
  • Invite her to sit down if the kids are being slow.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, try to imagine that you’re talking to a neighbor you don’t know very well.  You would still be polite and friendly, right?
  • If there’s any information you need to communicate to her, do that now (homework deadlines, medical or dental appointments, illnesses, playdates, etc.). Write information down if need be.Back_to_school
  • When everyone is ready to go, say goodbye to the kids.  Say something simple and encouraging about their upcoming time together (“Enjoy your new book!  Have a good time at ___!”). You want the kids to feel optimistic about making the transition to the other house. If they see that you’re calm and agreeable, it will help them develop the same perspective.
  • Make sure to say goodbye to the stepmother or ex-wife as well; addressing her by name is a nice touch.  Make eye contact again.
  • Gently close the door.
  • Take a deep breath.  Then take another one.

Tips & Notes

Tip: Be prepared. Make sure the kids have packed up beforehand and their things are ready by the door. Help them if they need it.

Tip: Talk to the kids beforehand about not dawdling so you don’t keep the stepmom or mom waiting.

Dirty_laundry Tip: Don’t worry about how clean your house is compared to their house. This is a contest no one will ever win.

A note to Moms: Even if you don’t like the stepmother, she’ll be taking care of your children for a set period of time, so you want to set the right tone with her from the very beginning, for the kids’ sake.  If the children see you interacting with the stepmother with courtesy and respect, you convey the message that you expect the same behavior from them. 

Bitten Nip any bad behavior from the children towards the stepmother in the bud immediately. Take them aside privately and let them know that this person is to be treated with consideration, no matter what. Not liking someone is no excuse to let manners fly out the window.

A note to Stepmoms: Even if you don't like the mother (or the kids!), do your best to keep the feeling in the air positive and clear.  Not liking someone is no excuse to just toss your manners in the dumpster.

Stone_rainbow If you're having difficulties with the stepchildren, try not to transpose your feelings of frustration and anger (especially potential judgments about her parenting skills that you believe are contributing to your problems) onto the mom.  If you’ve got a beef with the mom, see if can take it up with her privately.  Take things one experience at a time.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Relevant Posts:
The Awesome Power of Thank You and Hello
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How do you reach out to the stepmother or ex-wife in your life?

The Fragile Bridge of Trust

When Indiana Jones threw sand out into the precipice, suddenly revealing an invisible bridge, he found the magical solution to quickly getting across, away from his enemies. But… he still had to actually cross the narrow bridge without falling off.

Trust between you and the stepmom or mom is like that same skinny bridge made real by the sand.

Sometimes you can't see it, but you can sense the fuzzy edges, suspended there in mid-air.

It's ever-present, but still requires a leap of faith. And even if the bridge is there, shining under a spotlight, it may require balance and nerves of steel to get safely to the other side. It's scary!

Plus, you know... look how far down the ground is.

There's the link of trust, but there are also many different levels of connection.

There's the functional, logistical trust you have with people you work with. The simple, surface trust between you and acquaintances. There's the underground river of trust between you and your closest friends, the ones who know all your dirt and still love you.

As the level of mutual need and dependency goes up, so does the risk.

That’s because both parties need something from each other.

Stepmoms need to know that the mom will respect her way of doing things. That she has every right to establish rules and principles in her home, guidelines that are just as valid and important as the mom's. She needs to know that her responses and emotional reactions to the children, whether good or bad, are just as valid as anything either parent might be feeling -- they're not just "pasted" onto the family unit bubble like something "extra."

Stepmoms sometimes need space from the whole chaotic jumble that is a stepfamily, since this is probably not what she originally imagined for herself when she envisioned having a family.

She wants respect. She wants closeness. She just wants to be appreciated for who she is, what she brings to her family, and not treated like a permanent outsider.

Moms need to know that the stepmom is not in secret competition with her and will not be subtly working to undermine her, to turn the children against her. She needs to know that, while the children now have a different world to immerse themselves in after the divorce, their old one is still treated with respect and held in a certain esteem. Moms need to know that she's not being blamed for behavioral issues that are just a normal part of development.

She needs to know that her instincts to protect her children won't always be chalked up to lingering issues with her ex.

She wants respect. She wants closeness. She wants to be appreciated for who she is and not treated like a permanent threat.

When one or both parties first attempt to reach out to each other, to risk a little something of themselves and work together, it can actually be terrifying.

Even if it's over something as simple as helping little Jane transport her art supplies from house to house without always losing something, or keeping Mark the man-child from continually sneaking out of the house and into trouble.

Here's the biggest fear: what if the other woman slaps you down?

What if the ex-wife or stepmother is just waiting in the lurch for a show of weakness and then, she goes in for the jugular?

And how the hell do you trust someone you don't like anyway? And what if she's already given you plenty of reasons never to trust her again?

Well, it's true—stepmothers and ex-wives typically have very different agendas, different end goals. But they're both working with the same fears and that's actually a good thing, here. They're in the same boat.

Use that commonality to help you!

Neither wants to be further tackled when she's down. Neither wants to reach out for the olive branch and then have it yanked away at the last minute, humiliating her. Neither woman wants to leave the door to the ammunitions room open overnight.

All I can say is it takes time. And repetition.

Two things we hate hearing.

Time makes it sound like you could be at this for years and years, getting nowhere. And repetition has about as much appeal as doing scales on a violin when you're just learning how to play and can only make screeching noises.

Start out small and see where it gets you.

If you get nowhere, take a breather, then try again.

If you still get nowhere, take another breather and regroup. Monitor your self-talk: is it the stuff of drama and tragedy, or a shrug and "Enh, moving on…"? Can you put yourself in her shoes and imagine what she might be feeling?

Where is it you're trying to go?

How high up on the scale of cooperation are you shooting for? What would you consider a success?

It's going to be different for everyone. Movement for some might be an exchange of tight grimaces at the front door, whereas before, no one ever even got out of the car for a kid pick-up, they just laid on the horn with anger. Improvement for others might be a heartfelt talk on the phone about Lily's grades, Timmy's depression, Sarah's pot-smoking.

What would be progress for you?

And if it's hard and doesn’t go well, what will you do with your residual feelings? Will you handle them responsibly? Can you address any inconsistencies in your boundaries without trying to rub the other woman’s face in it?

Even if you get somewhere, don't be surprised to find that you and the stepmom or ex-wife aren't always on the same page. I remember, early on, thinking Carol (the stepmom) and I (the ex-wife) were doing pretty well, only to hear from David (my ex-) that she was upset over something inconsequential (I thought) I'd said weeks before. It would take several awkward conversations to make things right, but we did, and then we plowed ahead….

It takes a certain kind of humility to keep reaching out, to keep trying to cross that bridge of connection. You've got to set aside the score-keeping, your ego, and all those vague voices in your ear that belong to friends and family, making the other woman wrong.

Have you ever truly forgiven someone who's hurt you, I mean truly forgiven them? Same kind of softness required here.

The payoffs for developing trust, even a semblance, are many.

Less stress between the two of you.

Less stress thinking about her when you're alone. More partnership and collaboration (what kind of cake should we make for so-and-so's birthday?). Less bitching with your partner. New ideas when brainstorming.

And let's not forget how important it is to create a virtual wall of parenthood in the face of children's bad behavior!

Lucky for you, and maybe, surprise... you're not in control. It's not only your show. That is, a lot of stuff happens off stage without your input, permission or direction. Which means, some very good things… might… just… happen—all on their own.

It just takes YOU to get the train rolling with a little push. And before you know it, you'll be on your way to developing some threads of trust between you and the stepmom or ex-wife that might turn into something strong and weight-bearing.

Best of luck!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine       All Rights Reserved