Self-Care

Never-before-seen Carol and Jen videos!

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the rest HERE. 

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

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

This old suitcase? Why your old baggage matters more than you realize...

As I begin decluttering my house in preparation for selling it and moving to Oregon, I'm struck by how many things I've hung onto over the years for reasons I can't even remember. The things themselves are tied to memories, dreams, and old priorities.

They're also tied to "issues" I used to have and some I'm still actively working on.

Back when Carol and I (and David, my ex) didn't get along, it used to be so easy to point to their ACTIONS and say this was the reason for me being so hurt, upset or angry. I'd provide all the gory details so my sympathetic listener could see how ANYONE in their right mind would be equally offended.

But privately, I also knew that there was something else at play, in the background.

And that was the amorphous ball of "stuff" we all recognize in our quieter moments. Baggage. Old wounds. Sore spots. Irrational patterns of reactions. That vague, embarrassing jumble we wincingly see before we fall asleep at night, while eating a bowl of cereal alone in the morning; maybe during the mindless hum and rhythm of exercise.

Oh.

That old shit.

The stuff I have no idea how to fix!

The stuff that makes me extra sensitive, insecure, fearful or feel like crap about myself. It's as familiar as the back of your hand. But you'd be loathe to ever admit its existence, except with your closest friends (and even then...).

So much more convenient to just keep pointing the finger elsewhere.

But the truth is, when the other person's behavior continually sends you into overdrive, you have lost control of yourself. That means, there's a good chance something old has been triggered.

Blame the wrong thing and your problems will remain an enigmatic and seemingly impossible source of frustration.

Handle it and watch problems with the other household fade away into something manageable or maybe, just maybe, even something... good.

So, how big is YOUR suitcase? What are you dragging around? Are you willing to try and let go of some of its contents?

Some great places to start:

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© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Invisible Drivers in Your Life

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

Although... something about this feeling seems familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what’s actually happening.

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

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

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

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

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

And a lot shorter.

And more extreme.

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

Nobody really loves me.

Something is seriously wrong with me.

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

I will always end up being hurt.

Nothing ever goes right.

I suck.

I ruin everything.

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

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

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

Betrayed.

And occasionally, absolutely gutted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can be worthy, safe, lovable, valued.

You can trust others.

You can create a life of meaning and purpose.

But the first step is to listen closely.

And to tell the truth about what you find.

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

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

 

Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was childish, ridiculous behavior.

And part of me knew it.

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

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

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

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

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

Like something was being done TO us!

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

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

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

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

We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.

But we were not helpless.

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

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

The bottom line was....

Was it worth it?

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

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

Well.... No.

It wasn’t.

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

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

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

My kids were hurting.

It sucked.

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

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

I stopped.

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

I apologized at first to David.

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

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

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

And it did, temporarily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still happens.

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

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

And you have to be willing to accept that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts?

 

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

Beyond counting your blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some context for ya....

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

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

In this village:

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

Other facts found online about those same 100 inhabitants:

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

Only one person has a college degree.

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

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

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

Gratitude is often simply a matter of focus.

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

To the things going right -- or wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

You might also enjoy:

Taking responsibility

Why I sometimes want to give up too

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

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

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

A woman you didn’t know either.

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

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

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

But no more.... It’s done. Over.

And now you’re just a statistic.

And so are your kids.

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

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

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

You look at them and think: Who are YOU?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You WANT her on your side.

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

How is any other choice serving them?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

Further reading:

The dangers of certainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s going on here?

This is how I think this happens....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I finally had to ask myself:

What the hell was I doing -- and why?

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

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

That’s how it happens.

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

Because that what it was. Hateful.

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

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

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

And to stop?

Let’s ask ourselves some questions.

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

So... for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Taming the Cobra – Part 1

snake-997865_1280.jpg

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

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

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

Wouldn’t THAT be handy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine           All Rights Reserved

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The moms that take care of the babies

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine       All Rights Reserved

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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Top 10 Reasons for a Mother/Stepmother Relationship Revolution

(Angelina Eberly* / photo by Alan P. Van Dyke) 1. While our overall divorce rate has dropped down to 49%, a staggering 75% of remarriages involving children end in divorce.

2. Moms and stepmoms are desperate to escape the feeling that a perfect stranger is constantly trying to undermine them. Who IS this person, really? Do you know?

3. Now that nuclear families have become the minority family unit, we must learn how to create harmony in a radically-changed family landscape.

4. Aww, c’mon. It can’t really be as simple as “It’s all her fault! She truly IS a bitch!

5. We owe it to the kids to work on this stuff after dragging them through the muck of a break-up.

6. Women are amazing at responding to genuine vulnerability and olive branches. Sometime it takes just one little break in the dam to set massive changes in motion....

7. Children see what it looks like when adults model maturity, problem-solving, and the mending of relationships—and then get to internalize these skills for themselves.

8. You are so-o-o going to love having both families on the same page—though the kids may sometimes hate it! Consistent rules and punishments between houses means they can’t as easily play one side against the other. Couldn't we all use a little more help parenting?

9. Our culture is hungry for a new family model after divorce and remarriage. Since divorce isn’t going away anytime soon, let’s consciously design an extended-family vision that inspires and motivates. What if this became the new "normal" to shoot for?

10. Contrary to popular opinion, families can actually be stronger and healthier after a divorce. Cooperative extended-families create stronger second marriages (thereby preventing another split-up), better parenting, more brainstorming power, happier children, and less hair loss all around.

  • What did I miss?
  • What has YOUR experience been?

(* When Sam Houston ordered his troops to steal the State archives in 1842 so that the city of Houston could be deemed the state capital, Angelina Eberly fired a cannon down Congress Avenue to rouse the residents of Austin and prevent the theft. She succeeded.

Statue by Australian political cartoonist and sculptor Pat Oliphant.)

Thanks for reading!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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Shoring up against potential (family) erosion...

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

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

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

And yet, that's reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Dudes and daddying

Our meeting for moms and stepmoms at BookPeople was small, but impassioned, and one of the things we kept circling back to in conversation was... the dads in the picture. We talk a lot about the friction between the moms and stepmoms on this site, and sometimes allude to conflict with the kids... but what about the menfolk? And are they wearing britches?! (A morning is not complete without menfolk and britches in the same paragraph.) A common specter looming in conversations of late:

  •  dads who don't back up the stepmom with the stepkids
  • dads who back up the stepmom, but are then seen as betraying the stepkids
  • dads who are reluctant to enforce rules and consequences because of guilt over the divorce and lack of time with the kids (sometimes even if they're the custodial parent!)
  • dads who drive the moms crazy because their words and actions are all over the place, as they struggle with feeling caught in the middle between the two women

I've written here on this site before about how my ex, David, and I had to make some big changes as parents and get on the same page to save his marriage with Carol. So it's a subject that intrigues me: How many of you would say you're happy with the way your ex or your husband parents?

  • If you're the stepmom, do you feel the two of you create a united front? Do you leave the discipline to him? If so, does that make you feel powerless, or less stressed out?
  • If you're the mom, what's parenting like now with your ex? Can you come together to meet common goals with the kids in mind? Or is the situation between you reminiscent of your struggles while married? Have things gotten even worse after the divorce?

One interesting take on the father's perspective: a dad who came into his own as a father after he and his wife split. PBS producer and NYT essayist Joel Schwartzberg has just written a book chronicling his journey and explores "how divorce reinvents relationships with kids and improves one's evolving sense of Dadhood" called The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad. I've been asked to do a review of the book and have also lined up Joel for an interview.

What would you like to ask him? What would you like for him to know as far as what YOUR experience has been like as a mom or stepmom? He's remarried, so he's living this stuff too!

Send me your interview questions at marine2marine (at sign) gmail (dot com) and we'll pick his brain.... Listen to your... radio-o-o Carol and I were up late last night, sitting on the phone together in darkened rooms, miles apart at twelve-thirty at night.

No, we're not secretly starting to see each other (ha, now that would be super-weird) -- we were simply being interviewed by CJAD/CFRB, Toronto's largest talk radio station. It's kind of hard to be "up" and coherent when part of your brain doesn't understand why you're not currently wrapped around your pillow like a lamprey, but I think we pulled it off. One thing that's nice about radio interviews is the hosts usually sound (and feel) like they've had about twelve cups of coffee, so it's easy to get sucked into their energetic orbit.

I'll put a link up later so you can hear us babbling like idiots and begging to be allowed to go to bed.

In other radio news, we're very proud to be interviewing with The Social Work Podcast tomorrow -- it's the largest podcast for social workers in the country! From the site:

Although the intended audience is social workers, the information will be useful to anyone in a helping profession (including psychology, nursing, psychiatry, counseling, and education).

Then next week, we'll be going into the studio for an interview with Radical Mothers' Voice on KO-OP here in Austin.

Fun stuff!

The Power of Simple

Yesterday, I had lunch with my oldest daughter, who recently moved out of the house. I really miss her.

It's hard not knowing what she's up to on a daily basis: what kind of mood she's in, hearing her sing around the house, seeing the books she's into scattered all over the table.

It was a simple lunch: pesto pizza and gyros, water and bakclava and there was lots of story-telling and laughing. Did my heart good.

Tonight, my youngest daughter is coming home for the weekend from her dad's house, where she recently moved.

It's been too empty and quiet here!

What happened to those babies I had only yesterday?

Since I haven't seen her as much as I'd like, all day Saturday and Sunday are reserved for her. She's mentioned some craft stores she'd like to visit and we're planning a few things to cook together. We might even cover the ottoman in the living room together, since she's so handy with her hands.

All in all, I really don't care WHAT we do, as long as we're together.

We could sit around and drink tea and stare at the gathering mud in the backyard (it's been raining here for days) and it would just be wonderful to spend time with her, something I neglect to do sometimes, even when I miss her.

The house is clean, the bills are paid, impending work can be set aside until Monday.

I love reconnecting with those I love....

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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Are you feeling unsupported?

Parking_lotThe ironic thing about working on your relationship with the mom or stepmom in your life is that the harder you're working at improving things between you, the less outside support you have. Just when you need it most, the cheerleaders have vacated the sidelines and are already waiting in their cars to exit the clogged parking lot, while you're huffing and puffing, just trying to make it to the halfway mark of the marathon.

Case in point: our book has ten steps you can take to go from craptacular conflict to cooperative communion. They vaguely mirror the hero's (or in our case, heroine's) journey. You start out trying to get the lay of the land. You honestly assess what weaknesses or unhelpful qualities you're bringing to the situation so you can know what to compensate for. You daydream about where you're ultimately trying to go...

And then, you take action.

Mountain_path The second half of the book focuses on refinements, the fine-turning that's necessary when you're making major changes. You get the chance to work on collaboration, accountability, communication and finally, regrouping to regain your sanity.

At the very end of your journey, you come out the other side a changed person. Perhaps a little worse for the rough-and-tumble wear, but with a new set of skills under your belt, and all the benefits that come from developing a big picture, such as foresight, resilience, and renewed confidence.

If all goes as planned, both families are strengthened and supported. There are new connections between both "sides" and reasons to celebrate what you've achieved.

But friends and family alike will question your efforts on your journey, all the way to the end.

Fire_pit At first, they'll wonder why you're trying to get along with "that bitch," that woman who's made your life hell, or maybe, just particularly more difficult. They'll see your attempts to forge a bridge between you two as foolhardy, unrealistic, overly vulnerable, dangerously ceding control. They might inwardly think you're a sucker, or somehow getting off on setting yourself up to be the victim again.

This is not what we need when we're already on shaky ground!

It takes courage to reach out to the other side. It takes a sense of purpose and flexibility, hard work and perserverance. And yes, it can take enormous vulnerability. But maybe most of all, it takes the motivation to create a stronger family nest for the children, whether they're "yours" or not. We know many stepmothers who fiercely love their step-children....

Dry_stone_wall Most naysaying friends and family are only trying to protect you from getting hurt and being disappointed. That's understandable and in its own way, commendable. But changing their tune only at the very end -- after you're created something successful, brave and unusual, is kind of like showing up only at the finish line to cheer on the 26-mile marathoner.

Our hope is that as cooperative, loving divorced- and step-families become more common, we develop a new language and perspective on this issue. And especially, a foundation of cultural support.

Villagers Wouldn't that be so cool to be surrounded by women who've already done this? Who know the ins and outs? Who can peg where you are on your journey and say, Yes, they totally understand some of the challenges. Who can say, Here's what's coming up... and Hang in there, things are just about to get better?

There are millions and millions of divorced- and step-family units out there, limping along.

ALL those women can't be bitches - now - can they?!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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The new contract is here! The new contract is here!

(with apologies to Steve Martin) It was so cool to get our new book contract by FedEx yesterday as my daughter Maddie (13) and I were heading to the library. She opened the box from the back seat and I smiled as she read the cover letter from the editor out loud. Then, she perused the contract and asked a few detailed questions, which we ended up dissecting.... "Wow, that's really good, that part -- huh, Mom? And free copies too? Cool!"  She's a wonderful artist and writer herself, plus she devours books like they were food.  I think she enjoyed seeing how the book world works from the other side...

It's a bit scary reading these convoluted things though. I've tried to learn as much as I can about the finer points, but still, couldn't they write them in plain English? I'm lucky to have such amazing fonts of knowledge in my writers group.

So, five copies for both Carol and I to sign, then send back. Then, voila, an advance will soon arrive by mail.  Heady times! And lots of work as I write every weekday and we brainstorm every week, plotting out No One's the Bitch: Ten Secrets to Strengthening Families, One Ex-wife/Stepmother Partnership at a Time.

Yes, there are ten secrets. Why ten? Because it's a nice round number.... And because that's just the way the book worked out. The secrets can be followed sequentially, or the reader can jump around and dip into whatever material attracts them.

It'll come out either spring or summer of next year (need to find out for sure), but in the meantime, I'll be posting here as much as I can, though the posts will likely be shorter, since the brain might be a little fried.

Hope everyone's enjoying the summer!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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How to turn critical blog comments into corresponding clarity

Have you ever been sent spinning by negative feedback on your work? I have! Blogging can be exhilarating at times, can't it? There's the thrill of instant connection and rising page hits… the wonderful sense of being of service... and then, the sting of a verbal slap in the face. Recently, we received the following comment from EJ regarding the post entitled "Power: Struggle or Sharing between Moms and Stepmoms?" from 5/29/08. (You can read it in full by going here.)

...I get kind of upset sometimes when I read this blog because I feel like I'm consistently being scolded for something I didn't do. In this instance, the ex-wives seem to be painted as inflexible and power hungry. Really? I don't know that I agree with that assessment individually or on a grand scale. Sure we all tend to mis-trust the unknown...and sharing your children, even with their FATHER can be hard sometimes. But the fact that we do it anyway despite the friction, despite the struggles, says something to our interest in the greater good for our children. What if instead we give moms a break and thank them for doing the very best that they can for their children.

1. First stop: feeling ba-a-d

When I first read this, it really threw me. Were we, or more specifically me, since I'm the writer, consistently chiding and reprimanding people? Not acknowledging their hard work and sacrifices? This was the last thing in the world I wanted to convey! We want to HELP people! Inspire them, cheer them on as they attempt to do something difficult, unusual and brave, but ultimately so worth it....

My emotional reaction to EJ's words ran the gamut, as I felt a bit scolded myself. With the tiniest sprinkling of sarcasm added to her post, I felt my hackles rise in self-defense. I was slightly pissed, then embarrassed… and ended up at self-righteously indignant (I'll explain that part in a sec').

But then… I wondered….

Was there any truth to her comments?

First, I had to sit back and spend some time thinking about the purpose of this blog.

2. Check your flight instruments

What IS our purpose? (No, not special purpose, just our purpose.)

This site grew in February of 2007 from the loins of a book proposal, so we've been at it for almost a year and a half now. Sure, when the blog began, we already had a complete proposal we were hoping to sell (with nonfiction, you sell the proposal first, then write the book) -- a blog seemed like a great way to connect with a potential audience and learn even more about this topic from the people living it, just like us. But sharing real estate right up there with our hopes of selling the project (which we did, yay!) was also the hope that our blog would actually support people in resolving some hairy issues. We had found our way out of some pretty serious misery. We figured there were plenty of people in the same situation, flailing around.

This blog was basically supposed to be a way of saying, here's what's possible.

Here's why we did it.

And here's how...

Not necessarily saying… here's the best way. Here's the only way. And certainly not: we're the experts on how to do this. And if you're not doing it this way, you're an idiot or just… buck up.

So the question was... was I?

3. Use a flour sifter

Well, actually, yes....

I was! In part....

I was a bit surprised to see this and, you know how those things go…. It didn't feel so hot either.

Carol and I talked about this for a long time on the phone (she lives about thirty minutes away and sometimes, it may as well be in a foreign country). The bottom line: I realized I had painted myself into a bit of a corner.

There's all the stuff that I'm trying to "save" for the book (after all, the subtitle is Ten Secrets to Strengthening Families, One Ex-wife/Stepmother Partnership at a Time), trying to write about it -- while also writing around it. A mind-@#%* at times….

There's also the pressure of trying to crank out content of substance that people might actually find useful two to three days a week. Stuff that will hopefully be good enough to live on the internets for a while, more than day-to-day posts that are outdated just weeks later. Sometimes I look at stuff I've written and think, I'm going to put up this crap?! Nothing sounds right....

Do I sound like I'm whining? There's more!

Sometimes I run out of things to write. I mean, what more can I possibly say on this topic? I cast a line into my brain, pull out the fishing line and… nothing. I've got the privacy of all the family members involved, especially the kids. While Carol is extremely open and is more than amenable to telling stories about us, I haven't quite figured out how to write about parenting things that we've worked through, either separately or together, without also mentioning WHAT those things were, and that involves young people whose lives should not be dragged online without them fully understanding what that means. Which they cannot know until they're adults.. Which unfortunately leaves me with a lot of material in a closet, never to be used.

As it should be….

But it's one more avenue closed. And sometimes... you know -- those pesky limits stump you.

I know I’m also trying to write posts in a "nice" way, hoping to not offend anyone or piss anyone off. Why? Well, doesn't everyone want to be liked? Some more than others, of course. I know I like being nice. And can this be crippling? Or simply a pain in the ass? Absolutely. Even I've felt frustrated with the blog at times, like what I was writing was a namby-pamby version of what I really wanted to say.

Which was, right or wrong (and here I'm saying it's wrong, make no mistake, and don't quote me on this as though this were the crux of the issue - I'm just trying to be honest) sometimes this: would you just get off your ass and stop being so lazy? Would you just stop blaming the other woman so much, pretending that you're living in a hell that she and she alone has made for you? Would you, please dear god, think about all the animosity you're creating in the house that these poor children have to live in, whether full- or part-time? They didn't ask for these adult living arrangements, they just get thrown around in them! And if they act like little hellions, maybe there's a good reason!

Like I said, I know it's wrong. Should never be said. Or thought. But hey, I'm human. And hey, it's in there.

So that's where the righteous indignation comes in…. Some of it comes from a healthy, compassionate place of love and concern for the shit that a lot of kids are going through, (like the exes I know who cannot speak to each other on the phone six years after their divorce, and make the kids do all the talking between the mom and the stepmom - ridiculous), but some of it is sorely misplaced. And for that I truly apologize.

4. Take a cue from the Census Bureau Because… what a lot of these feelings of angst come down to is the need to more accurately understand who our audience is.

Who's going to be reading this blog? Ex-wives or stepmothers with real and serious mental issues, drug and alcohol problems? Women that are actively abusing their children, or severely getting off on trying to make the other woman so miserable that suicide starts to seem appealing for the intended target?

Hardly.

Those women that I'm so frustrated with are not receptive.

Those women are not reading!

Our average reader is probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, in terms of problems and possibilities. There's hope for them. They're willing to look at their own failures and shortcomings and see how they might be feeding into any difficulties. They're working. They're trying. They're open to learning, willing to listen and watch and soak things up in the spirit of change and improvement and creating harmony.

That's who you are....

So if I've lectured anyone or scolded anyone, out of frustration, or irritation, or a sense of judgment, I am truly sorry. I usually try to be an equal-opportunity kind of gal, when it comes to nailing people. :-) But I can see how I may have inadvertently started to sound like a bit of a harpy. And I guess I do sometimes feel a little crazy, like I'm talking into a void…. You try typing all these words!!

I promise to keep a closer eye on all this in the future. And I'm always open to feedback, as long as it's handled respectfully.

5. Learn the lesson and regroup

So… what actually came out of all this was something really good. I can actually say thank you to EJ for taking the time to speak up, to hammer out her thoughts, to care enough to actually engage in a dialogue with us. So thank you, EJ!

We've come at this from several different angles, we have a better sense of what we're doing and where we're trying to go, and we've made some much-needed course corrections. Hopefully, our blog will continue to be helpful to some of you. Hopefully our words will support and inspire. And as always, we love knowing that you're out there and are reading.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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What impact do stepmoms have upon us? An interview with Kelly Gray

We've heard from teens about life with a stepmother. We've heard stepmoms themselves discussingwhat it's like for them, trying to manage an instant family and competing loyalties, all while adjusting to a new marriage. I thought it'd be interesting to hear from someone who has the luxury of hindsight in this situation. 

Blue_sky_climber I met Kelly Gray while rock climbing down at the greenbelt one lovely, scorching day and I could tell his climbing mates were enjoying his infectious laughter and sense of playfulness. Before I knew it, I got sucked in too. Not many climbers like to sing while they're climbing—but he does. And if you don't mind making a fool out of yourself, you'll find that it actually helps both your climbing technique and your nerves….

I'm proud to now call Kelly a friend and I thank him for letting me pick his brain!

How old were you when your stepmom came into your life? How did that go for you? And any siblings?

My step-mom came into my life when I was about eight, though she was my Dad's secretary at the time and didn't become my stepmom until I was about 17 or 18. I was good friends with her son, too, so the transition was actually a little easier. You know when you spend the night with your friends in grade school, their parents kind of "mother" you or whatever, so I was kind of used to her being in a parental role by the time she became my stepmom. She'd also come to pick me up at school a couple of times when I was sick. 

Fence_kids I think the transition was a bit more difficult for my little sister because here was another woman with different ideas about what it means to be a woman. My stepmom's kids both basically turned their backs on her because she was dating my Dad (her employer), which made the circumstances surrounding her divorce suspect for her family as well. The situation was pretty insane for her, and at the end my sister and I both felt really bad for my stepmom because her situation was just so out of control.

Did your relationship dramatically change with her over time?

Not really. Well of course mine did—when I came out of the closet my very religious step mom got on the phone and told me that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Bob…. She kind screwed the joke up, but you get the point. Eventually, I felt like she was really hostile towards me and probably drove my Dad to disown me. My father and I had talked about my sexuality before that; of course anybody paying attention would have guessed, and he'd always promised to be supportive. So when I got dropped, I naturally blamed my stepmom. To this day, I still feel a little like she played a part in all that.

Did you ever feel like your relationship with her impacted your relationship with your father, for better or worse?  

Secrets This one is really funny, because my biological mother ended up with two step kids herself, and I'm really close to my step-brothers. We've all talked about this one –actually my stepmom acted sometimes as a mediator between my Father and I, and my step-brothers both said the same thing about my biological mom! We all agreed that it was easier to talk with our stepmom about some things we couldn't even tell our biological parents, and in some cases, helped "break" the news to our fathers. In a lot of ways it improved the relationship a lot. I did always kind of resent that third person being there, though. My Dad and I were best friends, and when my stepmom came along it added this layer of complexity, I think.

Did you ever feel guilty (in terms of your mom) about having a good relationship with your stepmom? 

Hell yeah!!!

Hey, when Dad marries the Secretary and I find myself being compassionate despite the fact that she's "the other woman", you can bet that the guilt is going to flow freely. In a lot of ways, I felt like was constantly betraying my mother, but I had to do it in order to be on good terms with my father. My mom was always pretty understanding, to a point, but there were times when she'd talk about my stepmom in a really negative way that really drove the point home.

Did you ever play the adults off each other for your benefit? 

No, our parents never really denied us anything so we didn't really need to do that. 

What are some good memories you have about the way the adults in your life related to each other?

Waiting_room Honestly? I think the best memory is when my sister's first child was born. The two sets of parents sat in the same waiting room and had their experience as if the other wasn't there. It was great, they kind of mutually agreed to ignore the other set of parents.

What's your relationship like now?

Pretty good, actually. My stepmom is more like a friend than ever, and when I went home recently, we even rode around in the same car together and talked about what all was going on in each other's lives, including the new guy I'd been dating and her drama with her kids. 

What are you most grateful for now with your relationship with your stepmom? How about then?

Now, I'm just grateful she's willing to be an observant third party. Then, I was grateful she didn't try to send me to military school!

What did you wish you had known before about how to better relate to her?

Ranch_fence I wish I'd have avoided venting to her about my mother, and to my mother about her. I treated my stepmom like a best friend, and in retrospect she really was, but I should have understood where to put boundaries. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for her to hear me talk like that - or for my Mom to hear me talk about my stepmom, without commenting and getting involved. I wish I'd have talked to my friends about that stuff instead.

Anything you'd like to tell other stepmom's to reassure them, or help them head off problems at the pass?

Ivy_doorways Kids can be real shits, I know for sure that I was. My stepmom managed to stay ahead of the curve as far as level of maturity, and for that I'm truly grateful. I think my stepmom understood that my sister and I were both A) teenagers and B) insane after our parent's divorce, and honestly gave us unconditional love, even though we really made some attempts to hurt her as badly as we were hurting inside. I know that had to be so hard, I can't even imagine, loving these two people who aren't even your own blood, even when you're getting the absolute worst they have to offer.

Despite the ups and downs, I think that woman probably deserves a medal. And let's not forget that this very religious, very Southern Baptist woman now has a gay step-son (and all that comes along with that) and has found a way to make that OK?  She's a better person than me.

Thanks again, Kelly!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Top Ten Reasons to Not Even Bother Trying to Get Along with the Stepmom or Ex-wife

Zen_rocksToo often our coping strategy for the stresses of dealing with an ex-wife or stepmom revolves around… waiting it out. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you're hoping to eventually gain the upper hand and then -- once you do -- well, it'll be a cold day in hell before anyone will ever wrench it away. Unfortunately (fortunately?), that day never seems to come. When oh when will YOU ever get to call all the shots? When do YOU get to run the show? When do YOU get to be the one in control? Ahhhh -- who are we kidding? Here are the top ten reasons to just throw in the towel!

 

For Stepmothers:


10. She already hates me, there's no changing her
mind, I'm sure she's saying stabbing me in the back right now.
9. If it weren't for her, we'd' have a lot more money.
8. She's such a terrible mother.  Just look at the way she ___. (fill in the blank)
7. It's too hard, scary, weird, ____. (fill in the blank)
6. She's such a control freak, meeting her halfway would just be hopeless.
5.   She tries too hard to micromanage his relationship with his own kids.
4. If I tried to actually get along with her, I'd just be letting her
off the hook for all the crap she's pulled in the past.
3. Don't I have enough on my plate without adding this to the list?
2. You mean getting along is even possible? Aren't you a bit late for April Fool's?

 

For Ex-wives:

10. She already hates me, there's no changing her
mind, I'm sure she's saying stabbing me in the back right now.
9. If it weren't for her, he wouldn't be such a crab about money.
8. She's such a terrible stepmother.  Just look at the way she ___. (fill in the blank)
7. It's too hard, scary, weird, ____. (fill in the blank)
6. She's such a control freak, meeting her halfway would just be hopeless.
5. She tries too hard to take his attention away from his own kids.
4. If I tried to actually get along with her, I'd just be letting her off the hook for all the stuff she's done in the past.
3. Don't I have enough on my plate without adding this to the list?
2. You mean getting along is even possible? Aren't you a bit late for April Fool's?

 

And the Number One reason to not even bother:

1. Enh… let's face it. This woman really IS a bitch!

 

Lotsa_hands Inspired by the thought-provoking list of Classic Complaints on stepfamily.org, as seen through the eyes of the stepmom, ex-wife, ex-husband, stepfather, single mom and most importantly, the stepkids. (They're missing a list for the Remarried Ex-Wife, but that's a minor grumble. These lists are brilliant!)

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

 

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