Thriving Now

Weird: being wrong feels like being right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine

One-Way Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about the other side?

Where does your compassion for them begin and end?

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

A hint...

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

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

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:

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

Book Review: Keeping Kids Out of the Middle

Imagine if children young and old could speak in keen, poignant words about how parental conflict affects them - in terms that adults would not only understand, but get their attention as well. Then imagine that those words have been channeled into a book by a child psychologist who’s surely put in his years consoling those same children, as they attempt to heal from the wounds inadvertently inflicted upon their parent’s battleground.

In “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle: Child-Centered Parenting in the Midst of Conflict, Separation, and Divorce” Benjamin Garber, PhD covers some volatile territory meant for parents that are still married, but arguing; separated, or divorced — and their step-parents.

Some of the content might not sit well with readers, but in a way, that’s the point — to spur us on to honest self-assessment and modify our behavior where needed. We’ve all heard, ad nauseum, about how important it is to act cooperatively in the best interests of the children when a family splits up (or is on the verge). But aside from some vague notions about WHY this is so important, how many of us actually know HOW?

Garber shows you.

He starts with the basics of good co-parenting, then helps us understand what good and bad parenting feel like from the child’s perspective, a good incentive to change…. In the section called “Not All Co-Parents Are Created Equal,” I appreciated the fact that he broke down co-parenting issues in terms of personality differences, but also context.

For instance, as the parent-on-duty during the week, the mother or stepmom (as is the norm) is likely saddled by the need to impose more rules and consequences, due to school, homework, bedtime, etc. If the child simply visits their father’s home on weekends, the context for their relationship is necessarily looser and lighter, and so is the child’s experience in that household.

The stepmom or mom may feel like the nagging shrew. And the weekend parent might feel secretly guilty and selfish. This imbalance can subtly feed into the potential alienation of the child from one parent, or the other, over the years, and that’s where the story really starts to get sad…. From the summary:

“When co-parents conflict, their kids get caught in the middle. They become ‘adultified,’ infantilized, and alienated. They’re made into messengers and spies, implicitly forced to grow up too fast or to remain needy for much too long.”

So what to do?

There’s plenty of information on lot of information on co-creating a child-centered parenting plan. Not one centered around the children, with them in charge, but one that places the needs of a healthy child before even their own wishes.

The Introduction says it better than I can. Garber explains:

  • how to better distinguish understand and meet your child’s needs.
  • how to distinguish between your child’s needs and your child’s wants.
  • how to keep your child’s needs front and center, apart from your own.
  • how to establish and improve consistency and communications with your co-parent(s).
  • how to continue to meet your children’s needs as your family changes.
  • (and perhaps most importantly), how to take the high road every time, even if you believe that your parenting partner does not.

I can already hear a chorus of readers objecting, saying, “How in the hell am I supposed to cooperatively create a parenting plan with my ex, or the ‘other woman’ when we can barely even talk to each other in the first place?”

To which I say, read the chapter called “The Child’s Experience of Adult Conflict” and take a closer look at what ongoing tension between the parents, and the lack of a unified safety net does to a child’s inner foundation. Or skip ahead and read “How Children React.” Use this information to motivate the other parent to rise above your own problems and focus on what your child needs.

If all else fails, bolster your own familial system to provide stronger parenting support (and make sure to distinguish between what you need as a parent and what your child needs from you).

There’s much of value here. I myself plan on going back through the book again for a closer read.

I would highly recommend this book to couples in conflict, couples undergoing a separation or divorce (there’s great information on how to communicate during both of these situations) and especially, blended families struggling with parenting issues.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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Looking back at the ugly times between us...

I am working like a fiend on this book and feel like an athlete that's training, or actually, make that running a marathon. I've never written at this pace in my life! Last week, the focus was on a chapter called Own Your Own Crap. (Tt was "Shit", but we changed it to "Crap" for the book. One major cuss word is probably enough!) Since there's a section in each chapter called "A Look Back from Us" where we each tell a story about that topic in our own words, Carol had supplied me with a long list of terrible memories, horrible impressions and old resentments. All about me.

The chapter talks about all the ways we keep it bad between us, but blame the other person. This is all too easy to do.  And gets you nowhere....

But hoowee, talk about fun to read! (She's already read my list, didn't phase her a bit.)

Believe it or not, it was fun to read though. I told her it was as if she'd lifted the lid of her head and let me eavesdrop inside. I *knew* a lot of these things already, because we've already actively talked about a lot of them. But it was another thing altogether to get it in a long list, all in one document.  : )

Can you imagine having this experience with somebody? Most of us will never do this with another human being, ever, in our lives.

She kept saying how horrible she felt writing all this stuff down. She felt guilty and it dredged up some awful feelings. I think it was very brave thing of her and I'm grateful she did it. It's the perfect material for the book - juicy, full of details - REAL. The stuff people can relate to.

It also really made me see how incredibly far we've come....

To be friends now, to have gone through some tough times together and come out the other side and then, to be writing this book together and dissecting all this stuff like it's a lab frog....

It's weird, but it's also good.

We're closer now than we've ever been and I think having done this bizarre thing together has created a unique bond that we'll always have.

I hope we can do this material justice!

And I hope this book ends up helping a lot of people create what we have.

If we can do it, after going from hating each other -- to this, then other people can do it too.

© 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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Staying Connected with Your KIds When They Live at the Other House

bonding with your children after divorceMy youngest daughter is living with her dad and stepmom now and I often miss her. While it makes me happy to know that she's thriving there (and at almost 13, that's quite a feat!), I still can't quite get used to her room being empty most of the time and not having her snooping around in the kitchen or spreading out her drawing supplies all over the family room ever day.

Mentally, she seems so far away, because it's a 30 minute trip to their house and somehow, that "one-hour roundtrip" phrase just sounds in my head like an ominous gong.  Us poor South Austinites - whining about driving anywhere that takes longer than seven minutes....

But then it occurred to me.

This is my daughter!  I miss her! She's only getting older!  Pretty soon I'll be bidding her farewell at the train station or the airport or maybe just the massive, metal college doors and then what will I look back on as far as the moments we had together?!

So I thought, fuck it, who cares about the cost of gas and the time spent in the car?

I want to see her more than the once a week she comes home on Sundays.  So now, we have a standing dinner date every Wednesday.  Last week was our first date.  And I'm just about to go pick her up after I finish writing this.

Aside from how much fun we had last week and the easing of guilt over not seeing her more, here's one thing that really makes this worth it: her reaction.  Oh my god, talk about warming a mother's heart.... When I told her I wanted to come see her every Wednesday and go out, just her and I, she lit up with such excitement and surprise.  My baby!!

And that's just from something I'll be doing ONCE A WEEK!

But it's a chance to connect, a chance to spend time. 

In essence, it's a chance to tell her in so many words that she's important to me and she's a priority in my life.  That's worth all the gas in the world.   And more.

So if you're living away from one of your children, how about doing a little brainstorming to see what kind of outside-the-box solution you can come up with to stay connected and in touch? 

To show them that amidst the five million things competing for your time and attention, you're windshield-wiping it all off the table, just be there and hear/be/feel/do whatever.

Whether it's sending regular emails, talking on the phone (make sure you have a common topic to connect with to avoid the "uhhhhhs" and bored "mmmhmmmms"), or meeting for weekly dinner dates, there's bound to be SOME solution you can find that works for you.  Maybe you can look into something you know THEY'RE really into just to have a "in" for conversation - think of how tickled they'd be.

I'd love to hear what other folks come up with.

And now, I'm off to stuff my face with quiche, decaf coffee and perhaps a strawberry napoleon at the aptly-named La Madeleine's!

 

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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The Guilty Pleasure of Gossip

divorced moms and stepmoms gossiping about each otherGossip always comes back to bite you in the ass. And with stepmothers and ex-wives in particular, there seems to be plenty of it to go around. Think about it. The set-up is perfect.

You're probably privy to the odd personal detail about each other, and yet, if you're like most women in this situation, you've also got plenty of safe, isolating distance between you as you give each other a w-i-d-e berth out of dislike and distaste.

The other woman may have quirky social phobias, compulsively spend large amounts of money that she can't afford on _____ (fill in the blank); have outlandish and wildly ambitious dreams about someday doing/being/seeing _____ (fill in the blank again with something ridiculous).

Whatever her dirty little secrets or outrageous acts of stupidity and incompetence, if you two aren't getting along, those factoids are the perfect fodder for that most human of pastimes — clucking away about the most inane prattle; dabbling in defamation; basking in belittlement.

You know what I'm talking about, don't you? Even though I've never done it before, I've read up on it, so that's why I'm now going to graciously share what I've learned.

Despite the thrill of spite, gossiping is a potentially dangerous prospect — akin to lying — with a lot at stake. Of course, this is usually only obvious in hindsight, when you're kicking yourself, so maybe it's a good thing to think about beforehand. There's secrecy, ill-will, a sprinkling of deceit.

And then there are the logistics of keeping versions of reality straight. This usually takes some deliberate effort and forethought, creating a nice little undercurrent and fear and anxiety so everything stays covered up and properly secure. But if your earful ever makes it to HER ears, watch out! This can easily become the stuff of war. You may be up shit creek for a good, long while.

Then… you're even worse off.

Although it's no fun, ask yourself — what damage might result from your gossip being discovered? What trust do you stand to lose (and not just hers either)? What credibility will you now have to work to regain? What consequences might you now have to face?

I once gossiped about a woman who worked at the same organization and was also a member of my writers group. I can still vividly recall the feeling of every last drop of blood draining from my face in a cold wave as I accidentally pressed "send all" to the group, when I had meant to simply continue my catty conversation about said co-worker with another writer.

Not only did I now look like (and was!) a two-faced backstabber, I still had to face her at work the next day. She handled the situation with poise, tossing aside my mumbled, incoherent apology with a somewhat confused and uninterested shrug. To this day, I still don't know if she was just magnanimously allowing me to save face with a calculated show of ignorance, or if she actually hadn't read my words. Still, I can't remember the event without feeling slightly sick to my stomach.

Yep, gossiping usually creates guilt and shame. You know it's wrong (and yet… ahhh, the temptation). How do you know this?

While you may still feel "justified" if the other person's actions suck, there's still a part of you that holds basic standards for the way you should treat people in the back of your mind. And the ultimate litmus test: would you want someone else to be talking this way about YOU? Probably not.

But the lure is so strong because of the payoffs.

We gossip to feel superior to others; to vent frustration and a feeling of powerlessness; to generate sympathy from listeners while we regale with tales of victimization or audacious nerve — even to indulge that dark part of ourselves that is really and truly delighting in the misery and struggles of another.

But just like a drinking spree that feels momentarily freeing and crazy, you'll pay for it afterwards when your natural sense of human decency kicks back in. (Hopefully. Maybe we shouldn't assume.)

Maybe the worst consequence is actually external.

When you gossip, you're saying things about someone that you would never say to their face. Not that you should always say everything you think to someone directly, but in this case, there's probably a huge gap between your thoughts and actions. Do you say a bright, tight hello and shoot her visual darts dipped in poison? Do you pretend to be cooperative on the phone, but look for reasons why her plans or requests "just won't work for us?" Do you roll your eyes in her presence when her back is turned? Act nice, but then bitch about her to the kids?

Since you're hiding something when you hang someone's dirty laundry out to dry in your own backyard, you've got to keep on eye on what's out there in the public domain of interaction, just like a lie.

This creates a certain kind of brittleness and superficiality in your behavior. It feels gross and uncomfortable to you, and it probably feels weird to the other person too, whether you think so or not.

Plus, feeling guilty just makes you want to get the hell away from them (aside from whatever problems you're ALSO having with them) and that's not going to help either.

The worst part about all of that is that it definitely makes it harder to connect and have something new happen between you. The guilt, the awkwardness, the avoidance - the whole dynamic keeps you frozen in conflict. Not only does it feel awful, it's sad too, if you think about the opportunities lost.

Next time you find yourself tempted to join the hens on the fence, bite your tongue. Sure, you'll lose the buzz of scandal-mongering, but you'll feel better and cleaner in the long run, and you just might create the space for something positive and important to change between the two of you.

 

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

Babysitting My Ex-Husband's Son for the Weekend

babysitting my ex-husband's sonThis weekend I did something kind
 of weird, only in the sense that it doesn't happen very often around the world,
 as far as I know…. I babysat David and
 Carol's 3-year old son, Jacob from Friday morning 'til Sunday afternoon. They went
 out of town for a well-deserved break (alone! first time since he was born!) 
and I offered to babysit both Jacob and their two standard poodles in exchange 
for some free web design work.

In case you're 
new to this column, David is my ex-husband and Carol is his wife (and also my 
daughters' stepmom). I’m an honorary 
aunt to Jacob ("Auntie Jen", which sounds alarmingly like "antigen,"
 but anything related to antibodies can't be all bad, so I'll take it).

Rather than trying to explain this whole 
arrangement to a perfectly friendly, but nevertheless perfect stranger at the
 park Saturday, I opted instead to simply describe Jacob as the son of close
 friends — which is technically and completely true. What was also weird is that having Jacob here 
with us felt so "normal," easy and somehow, complete.

I thought I'd simply try and recapture some of my favorite 
moments from the past three days while it's all fresh in my mind.

I think it's fair to say that Jacob
and I genuinely really like each other. I've
 been told he regularly asks about me in their household.

One of the things
I really loved was him saying "Oh! Hi Jen!" to me regularly
 throughout the day, as if he'd just bumped into me at the corner store. This always prompted an enthusiastic, faux-surprised
 "Oh! Hi, Jacob!" back from me. Our own little call and response. He's such a ham — he knows this game gets a rise out of me. He smiles in a sly, amused kind of
way that just makes me want to squeeze him.

I was so proud of my two
 daughters (M. and S.) and how much they helped out. Of course, they each have
 their own relationship to Jacob since he's their brother, but I got a closer
 look at what that's all about.

When he 
was crying repeatedly throughout his first night here, it was S. (she's 16) who
 got up with me the first three or four times, without complaint. She sweetly held Jacob to soothe him; she 
even crawled into his crib at one point to help him fall asleep. "Don't worry, I've done this before,"
she assured me. That crib seemed awfully
 small! She knows how to sing to him to distract him; to ask for kisses, which
 he always gives, even through tears.

They were both so patient and comforting and playful. We
 were such a team!

M, in particular (she's 12) 
knows Jacob really well, now that she's living with her dad and stepmom. She watches Jacob twice a week while Carol paints 
and she takes her (paying) job very seriously. She was able to handily advise me on matters of food and sleep
 preferences, but was thrilled to be able to leave the dirty diaper changes to 
me. I got to see her repertoire of games,
her personal stock of distraction/placating techniques, and her brisk and 
practical focus on getting things done.

I was really impressed by both of them in different 
ways. It was simply wonderful to see 
them interact with him with love, amusement and affection. Good job, girls!

I enjoyed sitting with Jacob alone on the couch, pulling out
 our tattered little-kid books, which haven't been looked at in eons. I improvised with the words to keep his
 attention, rediscovering some of my favorite picture-books anew. I watched him hunt for animals hidden in 
trees, study finer visual details and relished hearing him repeat my words 
after me.

S. and I got to hear Jacob sing 
several times. Jacob is extremely musically-inclined. Ever since he was an infant, he's loved 
banging on things and has a really good sense of rhythm. When music comes in, he'll immediately stop 
whatever he's doing and listen carefully. He REALLY pays attention. He'll 
seize on a few phrases in a song and then sing them, using a soft voice. I am charmed by this, and love seeing him in
the throes of a magic, music trance. Lucky for him, there's music going at both houses at all hours of the 
day and night.

Jacob didn't ask for his parents 
too much during the day. I think it
 helped that, along with his two big sisters, his two big dogs were here too,
 knocking up against him. It was like
 part of his house just migrated over here with him.

The hardest part of the whole weekend was Saturday
night.

Friday night had been hell, with Jacob
 waking up over and over and over (I lost track around the tenth time and it's 
my policy to never look at the clock when I wake up, so it's all a blur). Every time he cried hard, I went in to soothe
 him. Saturday morning, I was a wreck and
 so was he. He couldn't seem to nap that
 afternoon, but the girls watched over him while I konked.

At the urgent advice
 of David and Carol, I was to let him cry it out on Saturday night. This was a routine they already had in their house and it worked pretty
 well, with Jacob knowing what to expect and rarely fussing for long.

I was more of an "attachment parenting" kind of 
mom when the girls were younger, but at this point in my life, think there's
something to be said for either school. I would try out of respect for their approach, and selfishly, so that I
 could get some more sleep.

Nevertheless, it was pretty grueling to hear him crying and
 yelling my name from the other room for what seemed like forever. "Help me Jen!" Jen! Help me!" I finally called David and Carol for
 reassurance. How long should I do 
this? What if he never stopped crying? I felt terrible!

Eventually, thankfully… he settled down.

The next morning, I realized the 
windows to his room had been open all night 
(though the room was warm enough). Great! Now the neighbors were all
 going to think I had been flogging someone the night before. But Jacob was fine and seemingly unscathed,
happy and chipper. It was funny — our
 two parenting philosophies had each had their turn.

One of my very favorite memories
was sitting around the dinner table together. We have four chairs at the table and there's usually one or more chairs 
empty during meals. Little Jacob was right
 there, perched on a pillow and a towel, chomping away, spiking his food
 deliberately with a fork. All of our 
chairs were full….

It felt complete and right,
having Jacob here, like he was family visiting for the weekend— which he was. And knowing we got to give Carol and David some time off made me feel really good.

You just never know what's going to
happen in these crazy, new extended-families, once they're up and running.

 

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

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Balls in the Air - Dating as a Single Mother

divorced moms and datingDating while you're a single mother can be quite the balancing act. If you've never done it before and find yourself dipping toes into dating waters for the first time, you may wonder how anyone manages to juggle it.  If dating is old hat, you know of which I speak.  You may find yourself looking back with fondness to the days "when it was just you", but honey, those days are gone.  And most likely, they're not coming back anytime soon.

So is it possible for single mothers to date with aplomb?

Yes!

Granted, you may feel like a Chinese acrobat, spinning plates on each hand, one foot ,and the tip of your nose — but it IS possible. Let's jump into the pond and see if we can warm up in the water.

One thing that's totally different is the aspect of space.

No longer are you free to just s-t-r-e-t-c-h out into your days, soaking a new partner up.  Instead of lolling around together during the week, you may instead be monitoring homework, rustling up dinner, wrestling laundry, solving a family crisis (sibling squabbling, anyone?), or just attempting to tidy up.

On the weekends, there are more fires to put out, family fun to plan, and schedules outside your control involving visits to Dad for the kids.  A Saturday or Sunday in which to do a whole lot of nothing with your new honey pie might seem as scarce as a cluster of shrinking icebergs.  You may even fear that your shortage of available time makes you a less-attractive potential mate, but honestly, what can you do about it?  It is what it is….

There's also the element of physical space, which in this case, means: privacy.  And face it, when you think of privacy, you're probably thinking… sex.  And you're right!  No matter when sex comes into the picture while you're dating (right off the bat/only after you're engaged — I make no judgments), it's probably going to happen at least ONCE more before you die, right?  So how do you handle it?  Where do you go?  And what do you do when there are small people around, a few rooms over, hopefully sleeping or plugged into their ipods?!  (This was probably the LAST thing on your mind while you were in labor.  And I don't blame you.)

But privacy issues don't end at the boudoir door.  There's also the phone.

You're probably craving the privacy to talk in intimate and hushed tones about grown-up and personal things, the privacy to talk without little ears straining for details. You may feel self-conscious mumbling like a total love-struck idiot on the phone in front of your kids (especially the teens).  If you find yourself gabbing away while standing in your walk-in closet or outside in the cold, a soundproof phone booth is probably looking really good right now.

Conjuring up the image of all those cute little ears makes me think of one other really squirmy way you have even less space as a dating single mother: there's the suspended piano; the heavy anvil hanging over your head labeled "Commitment" (note the capital "C"). Commitment comes into play awfully early in a new relationship, which seems completely out of sequence.  This can make everyone mighty uncomfortable, yourself included.

Witness:

We're all familiar with the dreaded stereotype of the floozy single mom, a parade of new partners traipsing through her bed, and by proxy, her children's home.  As a mother, you have to be careful about who you're letting into your kids' lives. If you're going to take the plunge, divvying up your free time and eventually having your wee ones meet the new guy, you have to know there's going to be some sort of constancy to this thing.

But how can you know if there's going to be anything to it, if there hasn't been an "it" long enough to tell?

Sometimes… things don't work out and the relationship ends up being more transitory than you had hoped.  Unfortunately, either way, there's a lot more pressure on the relationship to BE something that's going to GO somewhere, but you need the luxury of space to suss this out.  A true conundrum….

Then there's psychic space.  Sure, we all enter relationships with an assortment of baggage (a fuchsia, snappy overnight tote; a gray wheel-y Samsonite; perhaps a banged-up wooden trunk that's been passed down for generations).  No one expects otherwise.  What your new partner probably wasn't counting on though was being stuck interacting with all these other people.  Who are all these people!  There's your ex-.  Maybe he's remarried, so there's his wife, the stepmom.  If they have kids, they're in the picture too.  In addition to negotiating a new relationship with you, he's also got lots of other folks to process mentally; lots of stories to digest, events to take in; gossip to catch up on.  Will this whole experience end up being antagonistic for him and everyone else?  Uncharacteristically positive?  No way to know from the get-go.

And then — there's the whole reason dating is such a different animal for you in the first place: the kids!

Like the happily working mother of a young infant you fiercely miss and adore, you may feel forever torn.  You want to be there for your children, to love them and give them your time and attention, and yet, you may also your feel guilty about yearning to spend time with the one who makes you go hubba-hubba.  Free time, an already limited and valuable commodity, is now being sliced thinner to serve even more people.  Chow down!

How can you make sure to get enough moments of connection with your kids while your heart is scanning the horizon for your sweetheart?

I suggest you do at least a weekly check-in and see how everyone's doing: the kids, your new partner and don't forget - yourself.  A little negligence where the kids are concerned isn't so bad over a few days' time, but if something stays "off" for more than that, or you find yourself consistently coming back to that same nagging feeling, do something about it!

This is another thing - trying to keep everyone happy.  Forget it.  Can't be done.  Not that everyone can't end up just fine in the long run, but it's not your job to make sure everyone's always smiling and has a spring in their step.  Sure, since you're the parent, you've got to ensure that you're making the right choices for your child's security and sense of emotional safety, but if you're envisioning endless evenings of peace and harmony, you might be taken aback by the children's sullen faces, the withdrawn behavior, the lack of interest in your mate (which is not to be confused with the kids' natural reaction if you made some truly lousy choices as a parent - confusing, isnt' it?).

You can't make him entirely comfortable either.  It's not pleasant, feeling like the piece of string that's being pulled by both sides, but do your best to help the younger ones, not take on the caretaker role for your partner — and let the rest slide off your back.

(As far as guilt, think about how important it is to model what you want your child to embody or internalize for themselves later on, as adults.  Everyone has the right to happiness, to partnership, companionship.  While you may feel like crap on some level that you're divorced in the first place, it's still possible to teach your children something positive about relationships, stability and romantic love….)

You're also not in charge of the relationship between the children and (once they meet him) your beau.  You can hope they get along, but the less you try to push here, the better.  You can't make them like him, or vice-versa.  You can't make them want to do things with him, or vice-versa.  The best you can hope for is that both parties will take their own tentative steps towards connection, at their own comfortable pace, according to their own personalities, in their own time, and will start creating a foundation of trust and mutual acceptance.  It's weird to have something so important be so out of your hands, but truly, it is.

Another unalterable fact: your life is not completely open and yielding like it was when you were a single woman.  You've got fixed responsibilities that are not subject to negotiation and there are little people counting on you to do the right thing.  I read somewhere that the emphasis shouldn't be on self-esteem these days, so much as self-respect.  Are you parenting and managing your life in such a way that you can respect yourself and your actions?

This turns us back to you again and managing your own emotions.  As we all know, dating can be some pretty tumultuous territory.  Opening your heart wide to love and be loved by another adult is scary business at times — you may find yourself careening between despair and hope, exhilaration and intense insecurity.  For your kids' sake, please, do your best to moderate the highs and lows of the rollercoaster ride.  And for god's sake, spare them the gory details!  Save as much of your calmness, strength and serenity for your home life and your family and you'll thank yourself later (so will their therapist).  Plus, your relationship will likely be better off too.

Lots of plates to juggle, huh?  If you're feeling overwhelmed, just remember how good women are at multitasking.  We can keep a million things in our heads at once.  We can dab at a little one's snotty nose while talking to a friend on the phone while stirring pasta and unloading the dishwasher.  We can listen supportively to our partner while kissing the top of our child's head as they fidget in our lap while tuning into what's happening on the other side of the house and scratching the dog behind the ear with our foot.

I read somewhere once that mothers are constantly scanning for both love and danger in our families.  We're constantly on the lookout for opportunities to love and enrich, to deepen our links to each other, the ties that bind.  And conversely, we're scanning for possible threats to the health and well-being of our children and mates, both physical and emotional.  By making an earnest, sincere, heartfelt effort to keep those two forces in balance — having them at both the forefront and back of your mind, you'll be just fine.

And so will your family….

Enjoy!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

 

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Focusing on What Works or On Perpetual Problems

stepmoms and divorced moms thrivingIt's so easy to focus on what's wrong in our lives. My ex-husband David told me about an interesting theory a few days ago: our cave-man brains are so used to honing in on what's incomplete, what needs to be done, that vague sense of "not enough, not enough" as an once-useful, but now outdated survival instinct to help us stay alive.

But now, we live in a perpetual state of stress, where we're constantly focused on our problems.

Way to go, brain, says our rattled nervous systems!

Lately, I've found myself experiencing little peaks of excitement and gratitude (almost like Christmas is tomorrow or cookies are in the oven or I'm about to go book-shopping) as I go about my day and then I'll stop and think, what am I so excited about? Nothing in particular is happening. What's this all about?

And then I kind of scratch my head as I do a mini-scan of my life. Huh -- everything's normal.

I think it's this - my focus is somehow changing. Things are as they've always been, with an equal smattering of "good" and "bad", though the details are different. It's just... my attention happens to be wandering more and more over to the "lucky" side - and there I find myself, looking around, going, wow. Cool!

I thought I'd make a list of all the things that are making me feel so perplexedly-blessed, just for fun.

Maybe my list will inspire yours.

What are the things that continue to go well in your life, with lots of effort, very little, or none? In what ways do you feel like you have it really good? What things just seem to fall out of the sky? What's finally paying off?

What feel like little gifts from the universe?

So in no particular order, the things I'm grateful for:

1. My little brother is safely home from Iraq, as of yesterday. He was there as a contractor for years and I always feared for his safety, but he's back now for good. My parents kept their Christmas decorations up until he got home and I'm just about to go see him after I write this post! Even though he towers over me, he'll always be my little brother and I love him.

2. My daughters. My relationship with my oldest daughter has changed as she moves closer to being an adult and ventures further and further out there into the world - literally and metaphorically. I listen to her dreams of traveling and learning and the passion and joy of new interests, and my heart swells. I feel myself "loosening" with her in that Mom-kind of way, but also growing closer to her. It's wonderful and surprising and thought-provoking all at once and I'm so proud of her.

My youngest daughter is now living with her Dad and Carol. This is a tough one. I want her to feel like she has the space to do this, as her big sister did for a year, but I also miss her desperately. She might be surprised to hear this, because when she was here before, it was business as usual, with a mostly distracted mom, glued to work and the computer and household drudgery. Nevertheless, I did my best to listen when she talked about what she was up to, to look with care at things she had made and was sharing with me, to fret where appropriate in that mother-hen kind of way.

Now that she's "there" most of the time, I feel a general sense of confusion when I try to mentally tune into her. I know she's happy and thriving and seems to be all lit up with the things she's learning and doing and making. I'm holding her in my heart and trying to stay in touch, but it still feels weird. Something to write more about and explore, as I'm sure other women, and men of course, are in the same boat. Still... I come back to feeling mostly happy for her.

3. A new relationship I'm in is going really well.... We have an easy way of relating to each other (we dated in high school!), have so much fun being complete idiots together; sharing interests, actually helping each other change and grow. It feels good to just "be" in it and not overthink things. Not that I'm analytical or anything....

4. Working at home. "Working" is sometimes a euphemism, as I work... to find work. However, the fact that I've managed to do this for almost a year blows my mind. Freelance work is slow at the moment, but things always manage to turn up. Faith is key here. But so are freedom and possibility.

5. David and Carol. I went to a clothing swap last night at my friend Michelle's house and there was Carol! (And her friend, Karen, someone I really like.) Carol and Michelle have become friends, so it shouldn't have surprised me that she was there, but seeing her "out of context" was funny. I feel so lucky to have a connection with her, to feel like we know each other and have worked through some things together and trust each other. I know not a lot of ex-wives and stepmothers can say that.

And David.... He's still a close, cherished friend. We talk mostly on the phone, but he's one of the people who knows me best in the world, and I think, still, vice-versa. There's a shorthand there because of history and time and that's somehow really comforting. We respect and value each other's opinions and I know THAT'S also a rare thing....

6. Friends and family. Wow. When the two begin to blend and blur, you are lucky indeed.

7. Dogs. I love my dogs. I sing to them every day. I talk to them. They both have a million names, mostly made up of nonsensical syllables and sounds. They follow me around, keep me company, make me laugh (and occasionally scream "argh!!") and give me something to do by distributing copious amounts of dog hair throughout our domain, humiliating me if I don't vacuum at least every other day.

Can you say "dog howling???? Every time these two howl at a passing siren, I am seized by the feeling of rapture.

8. Rowing and rock climbing. I have an ongoing joke about only participating in sports that begin with the letter "R", but I hate running, so I guess the theme doesn't really hold water. Both things are meditative, make me feel strong (and sculpt actual biceps!), dissolve stress, force me to go outside, have created scores of new friendships and are activities I crave if not every day, at least every OTHER day. Luckily, I could do them the rest of my life and still have much to learn and miles to go in terms of technique and improvement.

I want to be an old-lady rower and I want to climb all over the world.

What's on your list? Big or small? Even if some areas of your life suck, what's working? What makes you thank your lucky stars?

I saw a neat pattern in a list that was forwarded to me from a newsletter I get. You turn a complaint into something to be grateful for by looking at what your complaint is NOT.

A sampling (author unknown, otherwise I'd happily credit them):

I choose to be grateful...

*For my huge heating bill, because it means I am warm.

*For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means I am alive.

*For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.

*For all the complaining I hear about the government, because it means we have freedom of speech.

*For the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes, because it means she is at home, not on the streets.

*For the taxes I pay, because it means I am employed.

*For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means I have been capable of working hard.

*And finally, for too much e-mail because it means I have friends who are thinking of me.

 

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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How an Ex-wife and Stepmom Stopped Hating Each Other - Our Story

It's all well and good to read here about our wonderful, happy blended family, or about other harmonious ex-wife/stepmother teams at equally brilliant, literate, incisive sites. But what if you really are struggling mightily with the stepmother or ex-wife in your life? What if you honestly, truly just CAN'T STAND the woman!

Is "hate" too tepid a term to describe your feelings towards her? Does the mere mention of her name give you an instant headache, or knots in your gut?

What if you find yourself going down your list of grievances against her on a daily basis, and adding more by the week? Do you rail against her ad nauseam to anyone that will listen (including, oops — the kids)? Do you avoid her as much as possible? Does a simple phone exchange or brush by the front door raise your blood pressure for hours?

If so, you're not alone.

So great, the large wooden boat is cram-packed out there - alone at sea, bobbing in the dark and the rain. Now what do you do?

Well, two things here….

1. I can talk a bit about how Carol and I went from actively disliking each other (aren't you happy to hear that!) to becoming close friends and... 2. I can also cover a few things I've learned over the years in pondering this subject.

A little story….

The very first time I met Carol was in my driveway.

It was a beautiful Spring day, but despite the searing-blue, cloudless skies and California-like temperature, I believe I had already been sweating bullets for hours in preparation for their visit: their being my ex-husband, David, and his new girlfriend. And not just his new girlfriend, but his new girlfriend FOURTEEN YEARS my junior. (Do not spend time looking closely in the mirror before a visit like this. Just sayin'….) I was also internally rolling my eyes at the fact that David just had bought a motorcycle (long since sold) and bolted outside out of superstrung nerves when I heard them pull up.

Ech. There's nothing like pure jealousy to rival the feeling of poison helplessly coursing through your veins.

Carol was pretty, in shape, and I'd already seen her art, so I knew she was talented and creative. She swung a muscular leg over the back of the motorcycle, dismounting like a gymnast, and removed her helmet, shaking out beautiful, light-brown curls. I hated her already. I felt something melting in the pit of my stomach which should have been accompanied by the smell of electrical wires about to catch fire. I wanted to turn around and go home, but -- oh.

I already was. There was nowhere to run.

The rest of the visit was a blur (one of those out-of-body experiences that’s akin to addressing thousands from notes you can't read, or bumping into a movie star in a bathroom or elevator), but I do know that I now had a target to attach my venom to — a real-live person whose voice I could remember and whom I could now imagine addressing my children. MY children!

Yes, the territorial aspects kicked in right away, true-to-form.

This would have been helpful if I were a mother tiger in the jungle and needed to protect my cubs from being carried away by a baboon or radioactive chimpanzee, but, in this case, my instincts were simply triggered in a hopeless someone's-going-to-win-and-someone's-going-to-lose-and-that-ain't-gonna-be-me kind of way.

What followed were about two years of tension. And sometimes "tension" was putting it extremely mildly.

I'd say the whole thing culminated when I slammed the phone down on my ex-husband after he'd calmly told me he thought the kids should live with him because "Carol could do a much better job taking care of them, since I always seemed so stressed out from work" and proceeded to wail on the floor, curled up in a fetal position in front of the fireplace, imagining lengthy, costly court battles which I would ultimately lose. (And before you hold that against him, know that he's since apologized profusely for one of the stupidest, most thoughtless things he's ever said.)

At first, there didn't seem to be any reason to try and make things any better with each other. If we could just minimize contact with each other for… oh… the next twelve years or so, we'd be just fine.

But it became harder and harder to "minimize contact" as Carol and David got married and their lives intertwined. There were school events, family events, holidays to negotiate.

Along the way, I hated thinking about how much more organized Carol seemed to be, how much more disciplined she was with her art. I hated knowing that there were probably plenty of cozy evenings between David and Carol, dissecting my behavior and what had went wrong with our marriage.

I hated thinking about her interacting with the girls. I was totally oblivious about what went on between them and this drove me crazy. Who was this woman anyway? She was a perfect stranger having tons of experiences with my own children and I knew nothing about her! It was like having hired a babysitter by pulling out a name from a hat and sending the whole lot off to Disneyland without having even met her. (I knew the stepmoms out there will cringe, reading that, but that's what it felt like at the time….)

So what finally changed? Why did ANYTHING change?

Well, I finally got tired of all the animosity. And so did Carol.

Simple as that.

Okay, so that was the beginning of things changing between us, but it started there.

You can say our changes were selfishly motivated, and that's partially right, but I also worried about the effect my ill will was having on the girls (our daughters are 12 and 16 now, and David and Carol also have a 3 year old son - what I'm describing took place about five years ago). Sure, I was proud of the fact that I was keeping my mouth shut when it came to saying anything "bad" about Carol, but I was also never saying anything positive or warm about her.

…As if my children wouldn't notice!

So, in some comical, frozen-arms-forward, blindfolded manner, I took a few lurching steps her way, in the hopes of thawing our relationship and creating at least a more well-oiled "business machine". We were the two hands-on parents and we were stuck with consistent, regular contact, for better or worse.

I have to admit, it's not like Carol reciprocated right away. She didn't jump for joy at my efforts to reach out, but neither did she bite my head off. (Maybe it was a bit like putting your hand into a snake's cage, with the pet store owner assuring you the snake had been recently defanged and was "perfectly harmless".)

I'd say there was a period of about a year, to a year and a half, when we both started taking baby steps towards each other. Oddly, David was the channel through which we both sometimes broadcast our good intentions. He also ended up in the middle of a few misunderstandings, when one or both of us had our feelings hurt through some perceived slight, playing the peacemaker. That must have been strange….

It wasn't easy to keep shooting for harmony. Sometimes, we'd both feel really exposed and vulnerable. And weird too. People would ask us why we were letting the other person "get away with things", like they were uncomfortable with us getting along; anticipating the drama.

We both definitely felt like we were in uncharted territory.

One thing that really helped was knowing that the other person was trying too. It made us both bite our tongues a bit more. We couldn't so easily badmouth the other person if we were going to be interacting with them again soon, like that same day or the next. Plus, there was less to feel guilty about if you hadn't just said something nasty about them!

There wasn't any one special memory for either one of us when we both realized, "We're friends!," but somehow… eventually… we were.

We had done it.

And we both realized how rare and fragile that friendship was, initially, and took pains to protect it.

Over time, as women do, we tentatively confided in each other and tried to prove to each other that the other's trust wasn't misplaced. We turned to each other for help with parenting problems and then, with problems in general. Closeness grew. And when we hit rough spots in the road, we did our best to talk about them directly, instead of venting elsewhere. Now I don't think there's anything we couldn't talk through….

And neither of us has that sense of the other one trying to undermine us, like we used to. We're working together as a team. We talk about common goals, we admit shortcomings where appropriate. Neither one has a long, secret list of grievances on a rice paper scroll we're regularly adding to in spidery handwriting, in hopes of one day finally proving to the world that this other woman is really and truly a bitch who's made our life absolutely miserable.

But we know we're lucky. And we're grateful.

For lots of folks out there, they're just counting the seconds, hours, weeks, months and years until the other woman is out of their life, like we were, and that day Can't. Come. Soon. Enough.

So what if this is where you find yourself?

On Monday, I'll finish this essay by combining the trajectory of our story with an outline of things I've learned from books and deliberate study. This will be more a more prescriptive post, but I'll reference aspects of our story to help it all make sense. You may be pulling your hair out NOW with angst, but there IS a way to create peace in the middle of chaos.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine  All Rights Reserved

 

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- and +

conflict or harmony for divorced moms and stepmomsWhy does it even matter if you get along with the stepmom or ex-wife in your life? Can’t you just go through the rest of the days, weeks, and years (that you’ve got the kids), leaving things as they are?

Your motivation to improve your relationship is even lower if things are bad between you.  Like thinking of exercising when you’re lying in bed, all warm and cozy, and it’s cold and weirdly dark outside, and you just suffered through one of the worst bouts of insomnia of your life.

Why try!  Who cares?  What difference will it make to the world if you just stay in bed???

It all comes down to two little symbols:

-

and

+

In one corner, there’s all that crap that usually attends these ex-/step relationships.  You may have favorite stories you haul out to prove to friends and family what a real bitch this other woman is, how unreasonable she is, how calculating and manipulative, how unyielding and difficult she is.  The boatload of stress she adds to your life.

In so many ways, it’s easy to do.

You get caught up in the emotion of the story; you’ve got a beginning, a middle and an climatic end that delivers sympathy, excitement and perhaps some righteous anger on the part of the listener.  Like a magician pulling a endless silk scarf out of hat or from behind someone’s ear, you can provide a list of her wrongdoing that is endless, colorful and entertaining.

And what are you left with at the end of these stories?  The fuel of conflict throughout human history.  You get to be right!  You get to be better!

But that flood of temporary good feeling ultimately just leaves you with this:  - .

If it’s bad now, and you settle for the ego strokes (however fleeting and feeble they may be), it’s going to stay bad.  If you’re unlucky, it may even get worse.  There will be all those lovely feelings of jealousy, frustration, competitiveness, anger, confusion; wanting to give up.  There will be that wonderful sensation in your stomach where your innards are being twisted to their limits like rubber bands.

There will be more drama, more conflict, newer stories coming down the pike that you can tell in the future.  And in the meantime, you’re bringing reactivity and ill will to your household; maybe you’re leaking misplaced anger or despair into your marriage or romantic partnership and inevitably — especially — your relationships with your children or stepchildren.

Eeek!  Stop talking about this!  Make it go away!  It’s too horrible to read about.

The sad thing is, if you just settle for --- (that’s a big dose of the negative, for emphasis), you’ll never know how good + could be.

What is +?  The + stands for all the good stuff that could come your way if you worked to get past the negativity.  We’re all grown-ups here.  You know what it’s like to do the right thing and stop engaging in that whole win-lose mentality.  What’s ONE THING you could do, right now, to make things better with this other person?  What’s another?  Imagine yourself putting those ideas into place.

Will you try?

Here’s what you stand to gain if you worked on creating a bridge from your world to hers.  A partner who knows the ins and outs of the kids’ issues.  Better communication, fewer flubbed up meetings, school details, forgotten items traveling back and forth between the two houses.  Someone to call when you’re stumped by parenting issues (who actually has some good ideas that you don’t!).  Someone to share good news with.  Someone to befriend who intimately knows your world like few others, even close friends.

And then, think of what it would be like for the children if you two got along.  No more (or less) guilt if they like one or the other better (maybe temporarily, but still).  No more hiding their own daily life stories, editing themselves as they go along.  Less of a separation between their two lives, less of a schism, internally and externally.  More of a feeling of a united family unit, even if it’s slow in the making.  They get to breathe a little easier, knowing there is a more cohesive family container holding them, watching out for them, looking after them.

And then there’s your romantic partnership.  If you’re the stepmom, obviously, we know you’re in one.  There less animosity that you’re channeling everyday, fewer stories that have to be listened to along those lines.  Less time wasted, grumbling.  There’s more room for lightness and happiness and other things, because god knows there’s never enough time for other things.  If you’re the ex-, you may or may not have a partner.  Either way, there’s just less venting to bring to the table and that can only be appealing and healthy.

Globally, both families are much more likely to be stable and weather the inevitable gale-force winds that blow into our lives if this one link is strong and reliable.  You’d be surprised how much weight the shoulders of women can bear, but then again, if you’re a woman, you already know.

We’re asking a lot.  And we know some people are going to be pissed off, reading this, as if we’re saying it’s a piece of cake and geez, come on and just do it already.

We know it’s tough; figuring out how to get along with each other was one of the hardest things we ever did.

We’ll talk soon about how.

 

© 2007 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Trying to get along with the bio mom is one thing, but it gets much more complicated when she's egging on her current boyfriend who then becomes very aggressive and threatens my partner (custodial father of 2 girls) and yells in front of the girls.

If she were single it would be complicated enough, but she is the borderline personality disorder type and she is manipulating her boyfriend (a big 6'5 security guard) into menacing my partner (without any provocation from my guy). How do you deal with a crazy ex who incites her new partner to be aggressive??

I mean, we're taking note of all this and if it continues to escalate we'll call the police, but meanwhile it seems like it would be pretty stupid to try to be friends with such a vindictive/selfish woman (she doesn't even care that her guy is scaring the girls by threatening their dad - whom they love dearly and get along with wonderfully - in front of them!).

For the record, btw, she is the one who ended their marriage by having an affair, then she's the one who wanted a divorce. I am not the "other woman" or anything, my partner and I got met well after their divorce.

June 30, 2007 12:38 PM  

Stepmom2Be said...

I totally agree with anonymous. I would love to have a friendly relationship with bio mom and I'm sure other stepmoms out there want the same thing. That relationship is possible, if bio mom is not psychotic, unreasonable, or distrustful (especially when it comes to legality). My fiancee and I tried to be amicable and trustful, and giving bio mom the benefit of the doubt, but time after time, she betrayed us and shown us that she cannot be trusted. Maybe one day we'll be on good term, but at this point, friendship is impossible. We will not force our friendship on bio mom. Besides, bio mom is the one who needs to earn our friendship because she is the one who insticate problems and makes things difficult for everyone. Society need to understand that Bio moms are not always the victims in a bad divorce.

August 27, 2007 9:29 PM  

Anonymous said...

I love your message and I lived it for the first year and a half of my marriage. Biomom and I buried the hatchet right after the wedding and it was wonderful. I was all about all of your +'s. But then. A conflict arose and her anger poured everywhere, drowning the goodwill I had worked *so* hard to build over the previous 18 months. I've retreated, and am now of the mindset that "friendly" is better than "friends," in this case. I simply don't trust her anymore, and don't think that "friendship" was ever real. Advice?

October 18, 2007 1:59 PM  

Anonymous said...

I am the bio mom and have gotten along well with the stepmom. The problem arises around bio dad and I. Everytime I think we have made some progress it is brought back to the level we were at during and immediately following the divorce. It would be a piece of cake if I just had to deal with stepmom.

November 13, 2007 3:51 AM

 

 

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Carol and Jen Photo Session

This is us together...

Our sunset "golden hour" was more like the gloomy gray-hour, weather-wise.  Here's what we came up with (Jennifer's on the left, Carol's on the right):

We had a lot of fun and it was nowhere near as painful as we were expecting it to be....  Thanks to David Marine for being Mr. Photographer!

 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just curious who is who there.

October 14, 2007 7:48 PM  

Belinda Del Pesco said...

Really nice sequence. Great to see your faces together.

October 17, 2007 8:16 AM

 

 

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Which house would you rather live in?

Consider two homes....

Same potential people. Totally different outcomes.

Stomach-knotting relationship #1: The mother is running around, yelling at the kids to get their things ready, taking her anger at the stepmother out on her kids. She’s stressed because the house is a wreck after homework and school projects, too much to do at work and a few crappy nights of sleep for everyone this week. She normally makes sure at least the living room looks presentable, quickly shoving items without homes into the laundry room and her bathroom if need be.

The kids are stressed because Mom is freaking out. They know she doesn’t like their stepmom, even though they mostly do (sometimes they feel bad about this, like they’re cheating on their mom), and they wish their dad was picking them up instead, so they’re dragging their feet. Plus, why does their mother always run around, picking up, before their stepmom comes over anyway? The stepmom doesn’t care what the house looks like. Sometimes it’s messy at dad’s house too.

The stepmom is in her car, cursing at the traffic where she might normally not. She curses satisfactorily at a driver who cuts her off. She flips the stations, trying to find a song to bump her into a better mood (unsuccessfully). All she knows is, the kids better be ready. The last thing she wants to do is stand in their doorway, or god forbid, the living room and wait in her house. She pulls up in front of the house and her heart sinks. How she hates coming here.

New and Improved relationship #1: The kids are dragging their feet again, like they always do whenever they need to get anywhere on time, but the mother tries to stay on them, so they won’t be late and not make their stepmom wait. The house is a wreck after a particularly rough week, but she’s not going to feel bad about it. Even though their house is usually cleaner, she’s not going to engage in “contest-thinking”. So they live in a pig-sty sometimes, so be it. It hasn’t killed anyone... yet. She stands in the doorway of her youngest child’s room, making sure they pack their clothes. She gives everyone a general reminder of the time and tries to help the kids remember what to take, especially things she knows are important to them, like a favorite toy, stuffed animal to sleep with, or new clothes for her fashion-conscious teen. She’s looking forward to a few moments of peace after everyone leaves.

Stomach-knotting relationship #1: The doorbell rings and all hell breaks loose, as the dogs rush to defend their fortress from a known threat at the door (judging from their master’s behavior). The mother struggles to drag Fang and Fido to the laundry room, cursing the stepmother again under her breath (and perhaps her ex- too) for making her life miserable. She looks around at all the papers, art supplies, dirty socks and shoes and various toys scattered on the floor and her chest tightens. She yells for the kids to come in an angry voice before she opens the door. Shame at her own feelings of hatred and helpless anger flood her body.

One the other side of the door, the stepmother is longing for a trapdoor (for herself? for the mother?) and technological advances that would make the teleportation of children instantly possible.

New and Improved relationship #1: The doorbell rings and the dogs go insane, as usual. She drags them outside while announcing what the kids already know, it’s time to go. While the children’s things aren’t near the door like they’re supposed to be, she knows that they’re packed up and ready, for the most part. Now it’s just a matter of rounding up the savages, which can sometimes feel like sand slipping through your fingers. She takes a deep breath before she opens the door and makes a conscious effort to calm herself, wanting to be able to connect with the other woman from a warmer, more peaceful place. The stepmother looks around at the plants outside the door and wishes she had more time to learn about gardening. What was that she needed to pick up at the store? And there's a school conference coming up that they need to follow up on....

Stomach-knotting relationship #1: The mother opens the door and looks in the general direction of the stepmother’s face, but does not make eye contact with her. “Hang on, I’ll get them,” she mumbles in a tight voice. She is aware of the fact that the stepmother looks well-put together, whereas she is not wearing any make-up. A quick glance at her harried appearance in the mirror makes her heart sink and then grow instantly hard. Meanwhile, outside the door, the stepmother’s heart rate has practically doubled and her blood pressure has climbed to an unhealthy level. It will take a good thirty minutes for it to go back down to normal after they leave. She listens to the chaos unfolding inside the house. She has not been asked inside, nor would she want to go in. But she did catch a glimpse of the living room. Doesn’t this woman ever clean? No wonder they’re divorced….

New and Improved relationship #1: The mother opens the door and greets the stepmom with a somewhat frazzled smile. “Hey, how’s it going? Come on in…. They’re ready, but I need to round them up. How was traffic?” They make a moment’s small-talk until the mom interrupts and asks the stepmom to hang on before she belts out a summons that could possibly be heard across the world. They make a bit more small talk, catching up on a few details about the kids or politics or whatever, until the mother interrupts again. She asks the stepmom to have a seat while she goes off to grab the children by the extra skin of their necks and carry them back, one by one, like a mother cat. The stepmom chuckles and shakes her head at the madness of it all, but with affection.

Stomach-knotting relationship #1: The children are standing by the open door, somewhat sullen, aware of the stress between the two women. They feel awkward and caught in the middle – like they’re supposed to show their mother that they prefer her, but guilty over loving their mother so much despite all the efforts the stepmother does make. The stepmother notices with some alarm that she is not breathing! If she could just get outside... now. She calculates the seconds until her freedom. The mother gives each child a hug and kiss and pinches up her face as she imagines the neglect that awaits them in the immediate future (such as bedtime or mealtime… or anything in between). She only says goodbye to the children and not the stepmother. The stepmom mentally grumbles an insult as the door is closed.

New and improved relationship #1: The children are standing close to the door with their mother and stepmother. “So Timmy seems like he might be coming down with something. He was pretty sluggish yesterday. You might want to keep an eye on him – extra vitamin C or something…” says the mother. “Oh, I know just the ticket,” says the stepmother as she musses Timmy’s hair. Some of that fizzy vitamin drink you like mixed with orange juice should do the trick.” Timmy’s eyes light up and Courtney whines, “Hey, I want some fizzy vitamin drink too! I don’t feel good either!” The women roll their eyes and exchange a knowing smile. “Right…” says their mom. She hugs and kisses the kids, says bye to all and closes the door with a bit of relief.

The stepmom feels a happy sense of chaos as they all pile into the car. She never would have thought things could have worked out this well, but as she checks her charges in the back seat through her rear view mirror, she smiles to herself. There's love here, and support from many different directions, and an enduring steadiness that makes her feel like everything will be okay.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was so well written and empathetic, I can't wait for the book.

October 14, 2007 8:10 PM

 

 

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Our Logo, or... One Mission, Two Cups

Believe me, the irony of where I was and with whom was not lost on me. The last time I'd been here was about 17 yrs. ago when I was dating my ex-husband. Now, I was here with Carol, his wife, and their almost two year-old son, J.

We were on a mission: find a coffee cup that looked good next to one I'd found the day before at Goodwill - a lime-green number with golden-yellow insides. The object was to find something in another color, but complementary. Different, but not too different.

J. was armed with two sticks (he loves to carry things in pairs) and we headed into Breed and Co., a now chi-chi home decor and old-timey hardware store combo. Used to be, David (my ex-) and I would wander up there on a lazy Sunday morning after first heading to Texas French Bread, where we'd down an entire, pillow-sized loaf of fresh Walnut-Raisin Bread.

Inside Breed, we wandered through the maze of aisles, amongst pricey place settings and bursts of color and ornate, sometimes funky designs. Nothing seemed to work - the cups were the wrong color-family (too pastel, too florescent), the wrong size (too small, too big, too fat, too skinny) or... the wrong price (sorry, but $35 for one cup is like driving down the highway at high speeds and throwing bills out the window just for fun). We were Goldilocks embodied. Just as were about to leave, we spotted the blue cup. Mottled, speckly, a warm, deep blue; wide, cartoonish brim. We set it next to the green cup on a fiery orange-red placemat. Voila! Perfection!

We walked out of the store happy and excited. Carol would paint them that weekend.

She sends me the jpeg by email, with foreshadowing in her words: uhhh, this didn't go so well. I'm not thrilled.

I study the picture....

Disappointment. The cups seem sad and morose, the whole picture is much darker than I imagined....

Now what do I do????? I cringe as I think about how to convey my reaction to Carol. I don't want to step on any toes, hurt any feelings -- I know what it's like to create something out of thin air and then get a tepid response. Eeek! How to handle this?

I review the picture again and see what I actually *do* like about it. There are several things that I can genuinely point out, and I do.

She agrees with my feedback, even the "negative" stuff, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. We're on the same page! Whew!

That same day, she goes back to an antique store to buy a red pitcher that we're going halfsies on (we split the cost, she gets to paint the object, I get to keep it; it's a no-brainer) and spies the perfect cup. No, this time, the REAL perfect cup.... A saturated red, nice upstanding lines, I love it.

She tosses off another painting (how does she do this so easily) and THIS ONE I LOVE!

You'll see the end result above...

One more tricky situation successfully navigated. We get better and better at this all the time.

 

©Jennifer Newcomb Marine
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The Beginning, or... A Moment of Pause in the Wind Tunnel

So half the dog and pony show would be leaving the building. Fine. I could regroup — always do. Piece of cake, no problem.

I stifled a rising sense of panic as I explained my dilemma by phone to my good friend Kim Lane (writer and publisher extraordinaire of AustinMama.com).

Moments before, I had rewritten the marketing section of the book proposal I was working on with my daughter’s stepmother, Carol – removing her completely from any promotional involvement. Great, she would still actively participate in the creation of the content (developing a happy mother/stepmother relationship) once we got a contract, but as far as traipsing around and talking about the book before or afterwards — that was it — she was out.

I struggled with the language, alternately typing and wiping away large swaths of text, finally realizing, cursor blinking, I am totally fucked. This sore-thumb paragraph explaining Carol’s lack of participation, no matter how positively-worded, would be like poison for the entire project and any possibility of securing a contract. I called Kim looking for a reality check.

Who would want this thing now, without our “hook”? Carol was either a full part of it, or such a phantom that she really wasn't there at all. I couldn't figure it out.... We’d be like a million other hopeful author-wannabes — not a snowball’s chance in hell. Big dreams for my life over the next two years bled into the grass like chalk being hosed down on a sidewalk.

And yet, there was no denying it. I had been instrumental in Carol’s decision. Days before, I stared out at spiky, leafless trees and a rain-soaked backyard as she explained in great detail how she had recently pulled away from being an active, hands-on stepmother. You know how you can hear little snippets of someone’s life and not put all the pieces together until one startling, sharp-edged moment?

I hadn’t realized the cumulative effect of all the bits and pieces she’d been telling me, but here was the big picture: no more disciplining the kids at all. Period. That responsibility had been completely handed over to David (my ex-, her husband).

I felt terrible, hearing her describe how she’d needed to step outside the mine field for her own sanity, to put a halt to the occasional, staggering heartbreak and the incessant, unresolvable stress. She’d pulled back to bring more peace to her home and marriage, but now she had a different problem – she’d landed hard in a pit of despair and powerlessness.

She had given up.

And she didn’t want to feel like some liar, giving talks or interviews, nodding her head and having to retreat into the background so as not to parrot some party line she didn’t believe in anymore.

Big concept, little words: giving up. My heart was heavy as I considered what this must feel like for everyone in their household.

But it all came back to this: David (her husband, my ex-) and I had made a grievous error way back, from the very beginning. We’d let Carol fill a vacuum created by us.

David and I are consciously aware of the fact that we’re uneven disciplinarians. Embarrassing, but it’s the truth, and we both know it. We mean well, but are often wildly inconsistent. Over the years, we’ve had countless talks about parenting issues, brainstorming possible causes of conflict; creating plans for improvement. Sometimes our lofty intentions come to fruition, but oftentimes not.

Carol was organized, self-disciplined, eager to create order and routine when she and David got together seven years ago. She’ll also be the first to tell you that the situation was ripe for her own control-freak issues to kick in beautifully, an organizer walking into a messy living room in dire need of de-cluttering.

We set her up, unknowingly, David and I. We doomed her to conflict and resistance from our daughters, C. and M, swords and shields clanging and clashing. We put her in the intractable position of being in charge of creating change while undercurrents that maintained the status quo (that would be, uh… the rest of us) were raging strong as ever. We were lazy, unaware, it all seemed so wonderfully convenient.

So now there was another vacuum, one that had to be filled the RIGHT way. There was no getting around the hard facts: if we didn’t want to jeopardize the stability of yet another family unit, my ex- and I were going to have to step up to the plate and make some monster course corrections, whether we knew how to or not.

I could see this as clearly as I’ve ever seen anything. I scribbled five main areas of parenting I wanted to work on with the girls (12 and 16) while still on the phone with Carol:

1. Make responsible choices 2. Clean up after yourselves 3. Help out regularly around the house 4. Be respectful of others and their things 5. Value and support our connections to each other

Simple enough. It was the absence of this behavior that was wreaking all the havoc. We’re still doing a multitude of things right and we know our kids are basically good, but we struggle with the same crap as anyone else (along with pre-teen and teenage hormonal surges thrown into the mix).

But like a perpetual dieter, I can’t say I felt too much confidence in myself to pull this off. So I felt resolve, intensity, some healthy humiliation and shame, even a sense of real partnership with David. The question was, would this be enough?

Carol and I talked in person in the kitchen when I picked up M. last weekend. I’ll be endlessly grateful to my friend Kim for a perspective that saved the day: our current “dilemma” was the last chapter of our book. Matter of fact, we couldn’t write the story without it! Things were going exactly as they needed to.

David and I needed to correct an imbalance that truly existed between our two households — to right the listing ship, to put the power and responsibility right back where they belonged. (Not that Carol shouldn’t have ANY authority, obviously, but c’mon - this was ridiculous.) Time to hunker down and pull the plow ‘til the field was all done. Time to figure out how to do this and do it well.

Carol brightened noticeably when we looked at things this way. Her posture straightened, her face softened, her voice became clearer. Right – so she’d pulled herself out of the wind tunnel earlier, but it still wasn’t working. Now David and I were stepping back in where we should have been all along. Only time would tell whether she could truly breathe a sigh of relief.

I tentatively asked her how she’d feel about returning to our original plan with the early (and after) marketing parts of the book, given the freedom to present her feelings and her situation authentically. She surprised me by reacting with genuine excitement, we thought of the masses of stepmoms and moms out there were struggling with the same issues. Cool! We could help them too - we were just drilling down to the juicier stuff. So, yes, she was on board again, taking into consideration childcare issues and her need to regularly paint (just as strong in her as my need to write). We’d make it work….

We had a clearly-illustrated problem, a goal we were shooting for, a direction to aim ourselves.

Woohoo! Everybody wins!

Um… except for the fact that there are still real changes to be made... and David and I had better make them.

So that’s what we’re going to do.

 

 

3 comments:

Kim said...

Brava! Truly great directions, Jen. I've always been impressed with your and Carol's relationship, and this just makes me stand in awe anew. You two -- well your whole family really -- are laying such new and important groudwork that I know will help countless women (and men) parent better, connect better, and ultimately do the very best to remain sane and raise healthy, well-adjusted kids. It truly is the new village. (and I am honored to have helped you in this exciting stage).

Can't WAIT to read your book!!

Kim

February 19, 2007 2:34 PM  

David R. Darrow said...

Now there's a book I'd read. If not for the hunt for answers to blended-families challenges, then at the very least because you are such an engaging writer, Carol. Such talent abounds.

I totally appreciate that you are trying hard to navigate difficult waters as a team. I cannot imagine that it won't, at times, involve certain areas of great conflict, tossing the hands up and "quitting" several times.

But The world needs this book. It isn't complete yet because you aren't. The disappointments, the battles, the acid, the "what-were-we thinkings" will make the book if you don't let them break you!

You have anew fan in your corner.

--D

February 26, 2007 7:51 PM  

Belinda Del Pesco said...

Wow. WOW. I am in speechless awe. What you have written here - your process of reflection and resourceful re-mapping of the situation, as a team - is wonderful. Every blended family should read this post, because the level of accountability and communion over it, is so inspiring. I hope it goes in the book as a raw, true, from the moment blog post excerpt. We're all in a long row to hoe, till the kids are grown, at least. You're illustrating that work-arounds are within reach, even from the deepest holes on the rainiest of days.

February 28, 2007 7:06 AM  

 

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