blended family

More than one day of thanks

There's a very good chance that your thinking is skewed on the side of non-gratitude. Especially as it relates to this topic of divorce-connected families.

Just like news, a car wreck on the side of the road or gossip, it's the drama, chaos and conflict that catches our eye and rivets our attention in our families.

Our brains are attuned to problems because we're attempting to learn more about either resolving them - or heading them off in the future. But if you're like me and most other humans, there's a good chance your life is mostly focused on problems.

The things yet to be done.

The things done poorly.

The things currently going wrong.

The stuff likely to go wrong.

It's like we're all walking around with not only one piano hanging over our heads by a string, but hundreds of them. How're they're being strung up and by whom, I do not know, but they're there.

And yet...

There are probably many more things going right in your life than there are going wrong.

You've just stopped seeing that.

You have a computer or a mobile phone. You can read. You are currently not under attack by incoming missiles. You are most likely inside, in a building protecting you from the elements. You have food in your cupboard.

However peaceful or not your relationships, you are still connected to people. They're there, which is a lot more than lonely people can say who rarely talk to anyone. Who haven't been touched or smiled at or interacted with in months, maybe even years.

Lest you start feeling yourself traveling down the path of glumness reading through that list, just think: if the opposite of any of those situations above were the case for you, you'd probably give almost anything to trade up to where you are now. Remember what it's like to have a problem so agonizing that you'd practically die to make it go away?

Where you are now is probably pretty damned good, now that you think about it, wouldn't you say?

Spend a second asking yourself:

Who loves you? Who do you love? What brings you joy? What about being yourself do you actually savor and appreciate? Where are your efforts making a difference in the world, even in the tiniest of ways? What have you forgiven recently? How have you changed for the better?

It's easiest to see in hindsight, but life is always continuing on as it is; a rambling, raucous, ever-widening, messy parade of both good and bad. We know it's true, because when we look backwards, we can see that both elements are always there. So why must we be so focused on what's going wrong - when the predictable, the reliable, the nurturing aspects of life and the ones we can count on are also ever present?

A happy day of thanks to you and those you love!

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Moms: you are the crux

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

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

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

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

It’s amazing. Euphoric. And addictive.

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

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

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

a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point

or

something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty

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

And there the situation stayed for several years.

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

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

And strained.

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

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

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

It just killed me.

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

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

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

The very thought made my stomach clench up with fear.

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

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

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

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

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

What do you see?.

© 2011   Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Why I sometimes want to give up too

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Most of our readers are stepmoms. This makes sense to me because it’s the stepmoms who are locked out of the house, waiting outside in the snow.

The dads have a lot of power, because, hey, these are their kids and they get the final say. And the moms certainly have a lot of power because, hey, these children came out of their bodies and they’ll be damned if they’re going to give any of it away to a perfect stranger. Many stepmoms talk about how they just want to give up, after trying so hard to make the relationships work in their own families and between households.

And then there are the poor, hapless kids stuck in the middle, trying to ignore the live grenades bobbing around in the air.

I get it.

It’s hard for everyone.

And yet, I still have this stubborn vision. Call me insane, but I still keep seeing a world in the future where we do things differently after divorce and remarriage.

I can still imagine a way in which we start to tear down these outdated walls, these reactionary expectations about how everyone has to look at the other side like they’re out to get you. Where people get along. Where that’s what’s actually expected of the adults. Where we’ve moved on from the Dark Ages of Family Relationships into a kind of quiet neutrality and, dare I say it, even affection between sides.

I want this so much for all of you I could cry sometimes. I wish you could know in your gut that real change, mind-blowing transformations might be just over the fence, just around the corner, just one magnanimous gesture away.

When two adults get divorced, it’s like they’re walking out of the same house and heading off in separate directions. You go north. I’ll go south.

But when one, or both, of those adults pair up with someone in a new house, they shouldn’t be habitually looking through rifle scopes aimed at the other family! That’s not a loving environment. That’s not a healthy environment. And we damn well wouldn’t want our kids or stepkids living in such a dangerous environment.

But that’s exactly what we’re creating when we just automatically set ourselves against the other household.

And I’m talking to everyone here.

You might say, “Well, we only starting getting pissed off after we had this lunatic come after us! It wasn’t our fault! We only started getting riled up out of self-defense! Really!” ...and in some cases, I will believe you.

I’ve heard enough sad, horrifying, mind-boggling tales of borderline-personality-disordered, narcissistic, substance-abusing, Parental Alienation Poster Child adults to last me a lifetime. It's heartbreaking.

But the VAST majority of us are not dealing with drug addicts or vindictive nutjobs who are hell-bent on ruining the other adults’ lives—and the childrens' in the process.

The vast majority of us, ALL of us, are simply struggling to get by and have some down time and a little fun at the end of a long day, and figure out our relationships, and how to raise a moody child, whether it’s yours or somebody else’s.

The vast majority of us are just regular people with issues and fears and a million things on our to-do list that we will never get to, but for the most part, we’re doing okay.

And in THIS wide swath of a gray area, this middling land of families, there are WAY too many people who are just being lazy.

There, I said it.

We’re being lazy! We’re not willing to look at how we’re feeding the beast of conflict. How we’re fanning the flames and keeping them going. It’s too uncomfortable. We don’t know how. We don’t know “what to do.”

Basically, we are unwilling to own our part until the other side owns theirs first.

And THAT, dear people, is where we’re going wrong. THAT is how you slide from seeing the "bio-mom" or stepmother with a slight distaste based on ignorance (“I can’t really hate her, sinceI barely know her!”), to outright hatred.

A little story for you.....

When Carol the Stepmom first came along (and this was how it felt, like she just suddenly “appeared” by magic in my life, as an announcement from the ex), I figured she was just temporary. Part of this was because of the age difference (she was 14 years younger than my ex and I, which is not uncommon, stepmoms are often younger). Part of this was because I just couldn’t really imagine someone else, someone “new” coming into the picture and STAYING there.

Once I realized she was, or appeared to be, a lot of weird stuff kicked in. I felt extremely helpless, threatened, and uncomfortable. I kept thinking, But WHO IS SHE? Why don’t I get a “say” in whether she’s “allowed” to interact with my kids or not? (Whether rational or not.) In every other arena, I had always had a lot more control over what happened in my children’s lives, and now suddenly, I didn’t.

Something switched on inside me and I turned my discomfort from living in a strange and unfamiliar place of weakness, confusion and flying blind -- and FOCUSED IT ON HER.

I picked her apart in my little brain. I made her wrong. I disliked her. I saw slights were there were none. I started to develop this little ball of cold fury towards her inside myself and it was sickening.

And I made my ex-husband wrong in even more ways than “normal,” back then.

We spent about a year and a half with BOTH of us (Carol and I) being scared of each other, feeling pissy and angry and judged by the other. Of barely being able to interact or speak to each other -- or even look each other in the face, the way you’d look at a stranger on the street!

It was awful. I thank god that life is no longer like that. And my heart goes out to everyone that’s still living that way, because I can still vividly remember how much it sucked.

But here’s the thing, when that “switch” turned on in me, that was the beginning of war.

That’s all it took.

That’s what it looks like.

It’s very simple.

There were no fireworks. There was no yelling. No heated conversations on the phone. No big confrontations or name-calling. No bashing her or my ex in front of the kids.

But it was war nevertheless.

And that’s all it takes for the struggles to begin.

With innocent “miscommunications” on the phone between houses. With disagreements over paltry, or sometimes very large, sums of money. With rigidity and a lack of flexibility over working with the other side when they need it, because doesn’t life always throw you curveballs?

And then the stockpiling kicks in.

You start keeping score of all the times the other side has screwed you over, large or small. You start anticipating being screwed. You “let yourself slide” when it comes to “innocently” screwing them, because you’re tired of always being the better person. It’s exhausting being so noble and fair all the time, isn’t it?

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about all the benefits to be gained by moms and stepmoms getting along, but in many ways, I’m talking to myself.

Why?

Because the people who see themselves at the mercy of the other side have already taken themselves out of the discussion.

Fair enough. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.

But I ask you this...

Would you want your own children, or future children, to duplicate the kind of life you are living now, war and all?

Because they will.

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

Recommended Posts:

Taming the Cobra – Part 1

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

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

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

Wouldn’t THAT be handy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine           All Rights Reserved

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Oprah to announce National Stepmother’s Day!

Photo credit: Harpo Studios

Photo credit: Harpo Studios

I just got a call from an Oprah producer at Harpo Studios, Heather M.! I had spoken to her right before our book came out last year, so it took me a moment to place her name on caller ID. But once I did, OH MY GOD, you could have knocked me off my chair with a pinky finger—or perhaps handed me an adult diaper, because I was going to need it!

As everyone knows, getting on the Oprah show is like the Holy Grail for authors, plus, this is her last season. I felt like I was either sleepwalking, hyperventilating, or both. This just couldn’t be happening!

But no....

It was.

So I tried to gather my wits about me and not sound like a babbling idiot on the phone. Deep breaths helped. A lot.

Not only does Heather M. want us on the show, which is totally amazing and awesome and mind-blowing in and of itself—but even better—Carol and I get to play a small part in a big announcement for a cause that’s near and dear to our hearts: improving mom and stepmom relationships while creating happier dual-families.

Here’s the deal.

Oprah’s staff is working on a show tied to Mother’s Day (happens here in the U.S. on May 9th) where they will be announcing the official proclamation of Stepmother’s Day!

What’s so cool about this is that I, as a mom, get to publicly acknowledge the important and vital role that stepmoms play in our kids’ lives—something I think other moms need to see, hear, and be thinking about.

I remember when Carol and I couldn’t stand each other, more than ten years ago. She was 21, both my ex and I were 35. I just thought the whole idea of them dating seemed insane and ridiculous (and a few other choice words as well which cannot be repeated here!).

The very thought of her interacting with MY kids on a regular basis (with either love or authority), made my hackles rise and my stomach hurt. Before Carol and I starting getting along about 8 years ago, I would have been hard-pressed to send any good wishes to her as a stepmom—much less any stepmom. Like many moms out there, I just wanted her out of my hair—and my kids’ lives.

What changed?

So I was a bit slow on the uptake, but I began to realize that it’s not wise to cultivate someone who will be spending tons of time with your children as an enemy. I mean, really, even on a practical level, it’s clearly a pretty dumb thing to do. What if she took out her frustrations and tensions about ME, and our relationship, ON THEM?

Bad, bad news.

Bad parenting.

And what were we showing the kids about how you resolve conflict as adults? Weren’t we all the ones acting like children back then?

It drives me crazy. I so want moms (not "bio-moms," remember: our kids weren’t adopted) to really GET how important it is to give their kids permission to not only like, but love their stepmomtoo. It sucks to put your kids in the position of having to take your side, while creating all this inner turmoil for them.

Okay... I’m sorry.

Today is April Fools Day here in the U.S. and my post is totally fake. Made-up.

There was no Oprah call (although I did actually speak to Heather M. from Harpo Studios a few times before our book came out last year).

There is no official Oprah announcement about National Stepmother’s Day.

I did a search and found conflicting information. Stepmother’s Day already exists, but it’s alternately listed as May 1st (which seems like it would piss some moms off, coming before their day). Or else it falls on the Sunday after Mother’s Day, which would make it May 16th of this year.

So which one is it? Does anyone know?

I think the fact that there isn’t a clear date only highlights the fact that stepmoms are getting a bum rap, without a clear-cut holiday. A day for their husbands to acknowledge their efforts in keeping the family humming along, to get a card from their stepkids, or to gamely eat burnt toast and raw eggs in bed. Or, you know... maybe just get the hell out of the house and go get a massage, just to be away from the little buggers, like moms sometimes do.

Isn’t it time for a definite Stepmother’s Day?

And shouldn’t we all know when that is?

After all, the majority of the kids are being raised by two women. It’s about time we all knew who they were and acknowledged their contributions. I mean—look—in elementary school, most of the kids still come from nuclear families. As you get to junior high, those numbers drop. And by the time your kids are in high school, it’s pretty rare to find kids who still live with both their parents. That seems insane, but there it is.

If you’re a mom and you find yourself annoyed by the idea of a day to recognize the stepmom in your kids’ lives, you might want to think about the fact that you wouldn’t dare leave your kids with a babysitter who seemed to be giving you the evil eye before you walked out the door (sorry, stepmoms), so why are you fine with just leaving things as shitty as they are between the two of you?

If you’re a stepmom and your hopes were dashed by this post, I do apologize. I hope that someday everyone will know when Stepmother’s Day is and the day will you a feeling of validation and support.

Who knows, maybe there’s still time for an Oprah announcement!

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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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

Who's in YOUR extended family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m incredibly grateful for this....

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

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

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine         All Rights Reserved

Tell Oprah!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The power of being naked

Imagine a medieval battlefield (perhaps you've seen Braveheart) where two lone warriors are fighting, wounded and bloody. At some point, they realize the futility of their struggle and know if they don't stop, one -- or more likely, both of them are going to end up dead. Who puts down their weapon first?

And THEN what happens?

There's a certain kind of surrender, combined with both integrity and a certain kind of strength, that we all recognize from the movies.

You know what I mean, right?

If one side's got ulterior motives, the two men are apt to end up fighting again in an instant.

When you begin to work on forming a bridge to the stepmom or mom, you cannot have a knife hiding behind your back. Or a sword by your leg. You can't have a shield covering your chest either.

This isn't the same thing as giving up the will to live and letting the other side do what it wants!

When you "try" with the mom and stepmom and it doesn't work, because "it never works," to what extent are you truly laying down your weapons?

When you argue with your partner or a family member, do broken-record arguments ever get resolved by defending your same old position... or through the awesome power of a genuinely "soft" heart?

We can all tell the difference when someone is "trying" because they're trying to show us up...

and when they're really trying.

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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What about what happens AFTER the divorce?

hay-bales-351213_1280.jpg

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

Top 10 Reasons for a Mother/Stepmother Relationship Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statue by Australian political cartoonist and sculptor Pat Oliphant.)

Thanks for reading!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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On not even peeking behind the curtains, because there are no curtains...

Sometimes I struggle with tone on this blog. I want so much to inspire people - to show them a different vision of what's possible between families (originally I typed "bision" instead of "vision" which reminded me of "bison," but I'm not up much on buffalo, so clearly, that wouldn't have worked) after a divorce.

To encourage them to experiment, to take a few risks, to boldly go where no mom or stepmom has gone before.

I also hope to gently get in people's faces at times and say, hey! life is short! why are you sitting around, waiting to deal with your shit? time is a' wasting!!!

And then... sometimes I start feeling like a poser. Like I'm starting to look like I'm saying, we've got all the answers - and you don't - and here's what you should do and why you should listen to us, or me, because we've got it all figured out.

Which we obviously don't.

Because NO ONE does!!

And I'd SO love to parade out there a bunch of our shortcomings when it comes to family life and personal growth and just general all-around soaring self-esteem, just to illustrate our ineptitude in all its glory.

But then I don't (parade).

Because I tell ya, writing about personal stuff on a blog sure is tricky. Especially when it comes to family life. There are kids involved. And privacy. And private thoughts and private struggles.

And you can't write about things without taking that into consideration. And you surely don't want to feel like you're trading on the most vulnerable issues of someone's life (or even your own, though some other folks are really good at that) as entertainment currency.

But suffice to say, Carol and I, and everyone in our family, is far from perfect.

Sure, we've crafted this little extended family machine, this tiny, little strange experiment -- and we CAN step back and feel proud of the cobbled-together container we've made for the children.

But sometimes we don't talk to each other for weeks and weeks.

And sometimes I feel disconnected from what's going on in their household - especially now that the youngest daughter is living at their house (and is sorely missed, especially because she's not much of a phone talker and they live about an hour away), and the oldest daughter has ventured off into the world on her own, and is also sorely missed.

That's a giant run-on because that's how it plays out in my head....

Sometimes our version of an extended family feels distant and fragile and stretched thin, even though I know inside it's strong and there when i need it.

But knowing something and feeling something are two very different things, aren't they?

And sometimes I freak out when I think I'm supposed to provide all the answers to everyone about how to do this, because I know some people are dealing with some heavy-duty shit that I can't even BEGIN to fathom, or what advice to give them.

I guess I'm saying, well, this is OUR story.... And because I'm a writer and I'm so damned analytical, I've tried to parse some stuff out, in the hopes that it can influence YOUR story in a helpful way. It's a lesson in using vulnerability as a practice.*

And if that eases your burden in some small form or fashion, then... it's all worth it.

Thanks for reading!

*(With special thanks to Havi Brooks for the inspiration for this post and for writing such an awesome blog, The Fluent Self.)

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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