remarriage

The Power of a Name: Just-A-Stepmoms and Bio-Moms

I sometimes like to think of weird things that might have extremely large numbers assigned to them.

…How many breaths each and every creature that’s ever lived has taken, all together.

…How many times the clouds have passed over the sun as someone looked skyward.

…How many times you’ve eaten lunch.

…How many times your name has been called.

When a family dissolves by divorce, we’re typically not expecting to add any extra names to the list of cast members.

When we marry into a new stepfamily, it can feel vaguely insulting to have the name of the ex randomly interjecting itself into our every day.

And yet, there they are: the unwanted. The new woman.

Even the terms we use for each other are loaded:

The bio-mom.

Just the stepmom.

The crazy ex-wife.

The evil stepmother.

Why do we speak this way about each other?

When our aim is to cut the other woman’s legs out from under her before she even gets started, we should be suspicious of our motives.

Do stepmoms ever refer to their husbands as the “bio-father” or is he simply, “the father?” What about their own mothers (unless they were adopted or raised by someone else)?

Are moms aware of the fact that stepmoms are likely performing most of the hands-on tasks to take care of the children? As women, we already know: how can anything be “just...” about that?

ALL of those ex-wives can’t really be crazy. There’s too many of them.

And why are we STILL living in a culture where the cheap and easy trick for creating a villain in a kid’s movie is to give them a stepmom?

So it’s good to ask....

What might we secretly fear about the other woman?

What power are we attributing to her that we want to take away by denigrating her name?

In what ways might we be totally clueless about who she really is?

And isn't it a shame that we don't have a name to use for each other that acknowledges our familial ties to each other -- and allows for the potential growth of love and affection?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was childish, ridiculous behavior.

And part of me knew it.

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

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

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

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

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

Like something was being done TO us!

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

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

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

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

We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.

But we were not helpless.

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

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

The bottom line was....

Was it worth it?

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

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

Well.... No.

It wasn’t.

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

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

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

My kids were hurting.

It sucked.

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

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

I stopped.

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

I apologized at first to David.

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

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

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

And it did, temporarily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still happens.

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

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

And you have to be willing to accept that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

 

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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The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

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

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

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

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

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

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

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

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

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

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

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

Often, there were tears.

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

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here's the thing....

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

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

We've gone too far.

We've broken this.

We are screwed.

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

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

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

Keep listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So.... I ask you:

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

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

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

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

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

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

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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:

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:

Want to be on Dr. Phil with us AND improve your relationship with the mom or stepmom in your life?

I need your help! Can you help us absolutely plaster the internets with our request?

Carol and I have the opportunity to be on the Dr. Phil show next Tuesday and are doing a pre-interview with a producer today. We're looking for two (update: now only one) stepmom/mom sets of women who can't stand each other who are willing to be on the show with us on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd.

If the show/we can't come up with an unhappy counterpart to "us," then we might not be on either! We're trying to find someone as soon as possible.

I know the idea of baring your soul (and neck) on national television is kind of scary, but it's a real chance at creating some movement and understanding in this relationship, and could potentially help a lot of folks as they vicariously share the experience. Mom and stepmom participants would have the opportunity to get some focused help from him... and us! Also, hotel and airfare for the trip would be covered by the show.

It sure would feel great to help contribute to a breakthrough between people. These relationships can be so painful and fraught, and yet, when you finally make a connection, so incredibly healing and supportive too.

Think about it.... The benefits of a more cooperative relationship between stepmoms and moms, even if it's simply more of a business arrangement, include:

  • a cohesive set of rules between the houses so that the children can't manipulate the adults, escape consequences
  • stronger, more stable marriages with less gossiping, venting, negative focus
  • better parenting; more brainstorming and support from the people who know the kids best
  • happier children who have more of a contained “nest” for them
  • less stress for everyone all around

I'm sure we're all in agreement about how important it is to increase media coverage for stepmom, stepfamily, and dual-family issues (including the single parents) after divorce and remarriage.

Why is hardly anyone talking about the dynamics -- and risks -- of these two-family situations, or better yet, how to navigate them in a healthy way?? With an almost 75% divorce rate for stepfamilies, and a lack of "mended relationship" models for children to internalize (and draw from later as adults), there's a lot at stake! Getting on Dr. Phil would be one way to encourage a larger dialogue.

Interested? If so, drop me (Jennifer Newcomb Marine) a line at: marine2marine@gmail.com.

(Latest update: had a great phone interview and will do a second one later on today too. "A crew" will be coming to our respective houses to shoot some footage THIS Thursday and both Carol and I are terrified!!!)

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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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

What if you've been betrayed?

So what if you extended yourself with the mom or stepmom and it went poorly? What if you reached out to her and she screwed you? Or you were just going about your business when you suddenly realized, Whoa! That is totally unfair? Happens to all of us. Stepmom/mom scenarios are rife with little exploded bombs like this, because there are two women trying to wear the same teeny pair of shoes. Makes for a lot of staggering… and very few winning teams in the three-legged sack race.

So what do you do if:

  • you made yourself vulnerable
  • you took a chance with her
  • you now wonder whether she was ever sincere, or had ulterior motives all along
  • you feel manipulated and taken advantage of
  • you're now kicking yourself for what happened?

The first thing to do is depersonalize.

Shit happens. People misunderstand each other. Agendas change (including yours). Core issues get triggered (including yours). People sometimes freak out and do dumb things. And perhaps, worse of all, sometimes people actually DO consciously intend to harm you.

The question now becomes, what are you going to do about it? Here are four steps to take:

1. Take care of the moment

  • First, accept what is, much as you may not want to. The event happened. You cannot make it un-happen.
  • Get helpful support, not crappy support. Helpful: someone who can see the other person’s issues, your issues, and not make either side completely wrong. Crappy: whips you up into a frenzy that only makes you feel more victimized or upset — or self-righteous support, which feels like, “Wow, you dummy, why couldn't you see that you were doing this one stupid thing?”

2. Sort through what went wrong and identify the unacceptable parts of what happened

  • Are you clear on what should NOT have happened? What violates your boundaries? Break it down into specifics so that it’s not just a big emotional ball of mush in your brain. Take note of your answers for step four.

3. Take responsibility for your shit (and yes, it’s probably there!)

  • What did YOU do to contribute to this problem?
  • What errors in judgment did you possibly make?
  • Were you operating from any automatic behaviors that set the problem in motion, in part?
  • As much as we hate looking at this stuff, think of it as exercising. Feels hard in the moment, great after you’re done!

4. Figure out what you want to do, going forward

  • How can you protect yourself in a healthy way, in the future? Any actions you need to take (refer to Step 2)? Anything you need to convey (respectfully) to the other woman? Is there some specific help you’d like to request, even if it’s hard for you?
  • Are there any areas where you might still be open to risk or connection? You might not be ready to go here yet if your feelings are raw. But bear in mind: if you contributed to this problem, then it’s not entirely the other person’s “fault.” May as well not skew the blame and draw a hard line in the sand for the future that may only make things worse between the two families.
  • Take care not to dwell on the event. Handle it and move on. If you mull and stew, you’re only compounding your pain and injuring yourself twice. It may have been the other’s person’s doing the first time, but don’t injure yourself all over again by fixating on the problem. Deal with it, then set your sights back to the better things in life.

Let us know how it goes! As always, we welcome comments and love hearing from folks.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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