StepMom Magazine

Are you afraid of being mugged in your own family?

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

-Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

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

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

C’mon people, you can do it!

Okay...

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

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

Why was this?

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

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

It worked!

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

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

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

What are the signs and symbols of this breakdown?

The lack of manners!

The lack of civility.

The lack of common human courtesy.

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

Not to make eye contact.

Not to say please and thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s YOUR contribution here?

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

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

-R.D. Laing

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

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

Your thoughts?

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine        All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

The Fragile Bridge of Trust

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

Top 10 Reasons for a Mother/Stepmother Relatioship Revolution

Cold Hard Facts

New Stepmom? Heading off conflict from the get-go

What about what happens AFTER the divorce?

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Picture a hay wagon, careening along a bumpy road, strewing bits of straw in its wake. On one side of the truck, you have a stepfamily — the father and stepmother tersely yelling at each other to hang on tight and make sure Little Timmy doesn’t go flying off into a ditch.

Starboard, you’ve got a single mom and her younger son, also hanging on for dear life; tense, tired and hoarse from raising their voices over the engine.

Behind them is an old-school reporter; running, coughing from the dust, aware of the pen coming untucked from behind his ear. And since this is the 21st century, he’s also got his mp3 recorder tucked into a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, along with a laptop that, damn, sure could stand to be lighter.

Like I said, he’s running.

But he’s not running fast.

His brain is used to instantly calculating a loose cost/benefit equation involving deadlines, pay, and expendable energy, which often saps his motivation. He’s not too eager to get close to the squabbling, drama-filled mess that is the two “families” on the squeaky truck — and he needs to pace himself anyway, if he’s going to be stuck covering them over the long haul.

Sadly, if the reporter could just muster the oomph for a temporary sprint, he’d actually find one, two, or even three adults eager to extend a hand and help pull him up onto the hay wagon for a little TALK.

There, he could catch his breath, take a rest, and lo and behold... find out what the hell is going on with these people — because these people represent the average American family — and he represents the mainstream media.

The mainstream media is totally clueless about American families today.

Make that Western families in general.

Can you say 15 years behind? I know I can.

Check it out:

  • Only 20% of American families today are nuclear families. Twenty percent.
  • Up to 1300 stepfamilies form EVERY DAY in the U.S.
  • 75% of remarriages involving children end in divorce. Three out of four.
  • 46 out of every 100 marriages today is a remarriage for one or both partners.
  • Old forecasts said by 2012, there would officially be more stepfamilies than any other kind of family. But since the Census Bureau doesn’t count a stepfamily if it’s not the primary residence for the child, we don't know if we officially hit that target. They also don’t count unmarried stepfamilies — so you do the math and tell me whether we need to wait for that elusive tipping point.

We are at a crisis point in American families.

We are in dire need of catching up to the family development timeline, to where we actually ARE on the spectrum.

Sure, we’ve all got the divorce meme down. Fifty percent divorce rate (actually, it's changed to 40%) - blah, blah, blah.

We all know about the hassles and heartache of nasty custody battles, child support and visitation issues, vindictive exes, the damage done to kids, etc.

But what about what comes AFTER the divorce?

What haven't we caught up to is the fact that the majority of us are living the next step -- which is a sea of stepfamilies and single-parent families. You're either in a stepfamily, or you're dealing with one, because your children are part of a stepfamily.

Why aren't we talking about THAT?

Who’s weaving the big picture together and spitting it back out for us so that we all GET IT and know what to do about it?

Take a look online and you have these isolated groups of voices, these vortexes of struggle and yet communal generosity, with folks doing their best to solve some pretty overwhelming problems. There are the divorced dads. The first wives clubs. The stepmoms.

And, oh yeah — the kids. Forgot about them... Sadly, I don't know of any resources for them. Sorry kids!

Why isn't the media saying,

Whoa, everything is changed now. We’ve got a totally different family paradigm.

A new paradigm means that a completely new perspective is required, with a collective understanding of the now common, average problems and challenges for most families — and some ideas for how to succeed and still create love, support, and a solid foundation of emotional health.

For example....

Stepmothers If stepfamilies are now the predominant family unit, why are there no stepmom magazines out there?

This is insane!

We have scores of major magazines for working women, working mothers, glamorous women, athletic women, feminist women, stay-at-home moms, single women, teens.

Where are all the magazines for the stepmoms?

StepMom Magazine is excellent and yet can only be found online, which is a total insult. Why isn’t Hearst, Time-Warner or Conde Nast scooping them up?  Even if they don't quite get it, if nothing else, it's an incredible great financial opportunity!

Where are all the articles helping the stepmoms deal with the moms? With an extra-tricky marriage? Where’s the parenting help? (Positive Parenting Solutions is a recent find and is a highly recommended, clear overview of the basics, perfect for all the adults.)

There's still an amazing amount of stigma attached to being a stepmom. There’s too much disrespect, too many legal ambiguities, too much confusion about their role.

Moms And moms need more support to understand why they feel and behave the way they do — which is one big reason there's so much animosity between moms and stepmoms, and even the two exes.

I asked the stepmothers at our support group the other night a question:

How would you feel if you had to share your husband with another woman every other weekend? It was someone he really loved and hey, they still had close ties and of course, he had chosen you as his wife, so there shouldn't be a problem, right?

Wouldn't you feel horribly insecure? Wouldn't you feel hurt and angry and weirded out? Wouldn't you worry that another person in the picture would shine a light on all your flaws and shortcomings and take your partner away from you, even if subtly?

It's the same gut feeling that moms have about their children. Bizarre analogy perhaps, but just as primal, just as fraught and difficult.

Dads Where are all the websites for the dads, helping them figure out how to deal with demands from two different women, while being stuck in the middle with their kids too?

So many stepmoms complain about their husbands not backing them up when it comes to discipline. She wants order because she has every right to expect consistency and peace in her home.

But if he helps impose the order she's asking for, then he implicitly feels like he's taking sides between her or his kids — and there's already a ton of guilt there about the divorce.

He ends up being wishy-washy so he doesn’t feel like he’s betraying his own children, but then inadvertently puts his second marriage in peril.

Stepdads Like the stepmother/father relationship, the stepfather also has to sidestep volatile, open-ended questions, such as the primacy of the marriage versus the mother’s loyalty to her children, issues of authority and influence, a potential for built-in rejection from the stepkids, and financial muddy waters.

Stepfathers are often the silent players in a stepfamily, since most of the focus seems to be on the two women or the two exes.

They’re often left to fend for themselves or expected to just go with the flow, since they’re not the “real fathers.”

Kids And where are all the books helping stepchildren figure out how to navigate this brave new world of divorce and remarriage? Sure, there are a few books out there if you dig around, but why don't we know of any famous titles off the top of our heads?

It’s criminal, but I can’t think of one single web site for kids dedicated to helping them move through these issues.

With going back and forth from house to house, with different rules and consequences, with powerful undercurrents of simmering resentment and victimhood between the adults.

How many kids and teens are out there, burdened by the illogical, but nevertheless pervasive and crippling, subconscious assumption that the divorce was still somehow their fault? They helplessly absorb the conflict between households and in the process, absolutely pulverize their own hopes for a happy marriage and family life, later on.

So why does it matter so much that our culture hasn't caught up to the current reality of family life?

Because people are not getting the help they need, that's why!

It matters because huge numbers of people are unnecessarily suffering.

It matters because we could be heading off a lot of these problems at the pass with more information, education and the next generation of tools for conflict resolution.

We need to bring all the separate pieces of this new American family to the table, so that we begin to address the concerns, fears and needs of each other.

It's like we're all still stuck in the 50's, where nobody talks about how alcoholism and how it's actually a destructive, shameful force-field in a family that destroys love, trust, security and the day-to-day connections that sustain intimacy.

Family members think it's all their fault that they're miserable and can't figure out how to make things work better... when in fact, they’re wrong.

We can undo some of the damage of divorce — and heal ourselves and our children. Families need all the help they can get today to not only survive, but thrive.

Can’t we help them do it?

I challenge anyone with the power to shape our collective consciousness to raise awareness over this lapse in our understanding.

To get the word out. To paint the big picture. To get the cart rolling and the horse moving.

Oprah, are you listening?

Or The New York Times?

Michelle Obama?

Somebody? Anybody?

Help that reporter hop onto the truck.

And give a kid a chance to have his or her own version of a happy nuclear family when they grow up, twenty years from now.

 

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved