single mom

What's under the surface?

I caught the tail end of the Little League World Series (Japan vs. the U.S.) today....

I stopped mid-channel-surfing because I thought--wait--what are these little kids doing playing such an intense game of baseball?

And why is it on TV?

I was reminded of, many years ago, living in Spain as a child and my older brother serving as the pitcher on our local, American little league team. These were low-key family events. Lazy. Long. Hot.... My friends and I often wandered off to play in the dirt with sticks and our dogs. Most of the time, it didn't seem to matter who won or lost.

But this game on TV was high stakes, with wound-up parents in the stands, looking as if they might pass out from the stress. I wondered at the pressure some of these kids must be under, how long and hard they'd worked to get there.

The American team won at the bottom of the sixth inning by one point, breaking a tie, and like any triumphant team in sports, the young players were euphoric. The kids exploded into leaps and fist pumps, and then finally into a happy pile over the home plate.

The camera flashed to the losing team.

That's the sucky thing about a game: someone's always gotta lose.

My heartstrings were pulled when I saw one little Japanese player openly crying and as the camera cut back and forth between the two teams, more young boys on the losing team began to cry too.

If they were grown-ups, they'd be better at hiding this, I thought. They don't know how to mask their feelings yet....

When divorced moms and stepmoms don't get along, the same thing happens: we're hurt, but we try not to show it.

We don't want to give the other side the satisfaction of seeing how upset we are. How furious or fearful, how devastated and obsessed.

We don't want them to know they've gotten under our skin.

In trying to save face, we harden ourselves, so that the behavior from the other side won't sting.

But it still does.

And though you might argue otherwise, it stings for them too, even though it might seem like it.

Seeing this is often one of the first steps to real change.

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© 2011  Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

Impossibly High Standards

When it comes to how you expect the other woman to behave, could you meet those same standards?

Never say a single bad word against you. Always do what's best for the children (according to your private interpretation). Never be late (come hell, high water or bad traffic).

Never get angry, be snippy, play the victim, or be a flake.

Life is messy. You solve three or four problems and twelve others line up to take their place.

We all know it: everyone drops the ball on a daily basis.

Doesn't life just seem impossible, in some ways?

And one thing we do that helps is to vent about it. To our friends. To co-workers. To perfect strangers. Yes, even with the kids in our lives.

We connect. We gain support. Comfort and reassurance.

If we're doing it right, we use venting temporarily to release pressure, just like a pressure cooker's bobbing weight lets off extra steam. We let off steam with sympathetic friends so that we can then take action. We take action to hopefully, fingers crossed, fix the problem (while 11 others unravel in the background).

We're trying!

So if you nail the other woman's ass because she has the audacity to vent and present a skewed analysis of "the situation" as you see it, you will always be unhappy.

If you nail the other woman's ass because she dared express one of the "negative" emotions, such as anger, frustration, superiority, competitiveness, self-pity, or vengefulness, while refusing to consider whether she might actually be trying to find a temporary, empowering response to a difficult situation, then your own emotional reactions to her will constantly remain on Red Alert.

If you nail the other woman's ass over mistakes and situations that you would easily excuse in yourself because of the natural messiness of being human, you will constantly feel under siege, as if she's doing these things on purpose to make your life miserable.

She is, after all, just a person.

Like you.

Why is she expected to be perfect -- and you're not?

And what might happen if you held her to the standards you normally apply to yourself and those you love?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

One-Way Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about the other side?

Where does your compassion for them begin and end?

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

A hint...

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

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

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

 

Painful stereotype, meet reality!

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Over the weekend, we learned a valuable lesson.

Jenna shared a link to an article on our Facebook page (our group has since been closed) that she thought might be potentially inflammatory, but also stimulate an interesting discussion -- given the fact that some stepmoms do indeed wrestle with this kind of behavior with the mom in their lives.

All hell broke loose!

I watched in horror as both moms and stepmoms sought to defend themselves against common stereotypes associated with each side.

Yes! Moms can definitely be like this!

No! It’s unfair that these assumptions are made, when there’s a perfectly good reason for some of this behavior.

The heat of the comments really made me think....

Why are these stereotypes so dangerous?

And so painful?

Think about it: stereotypes exist for a seemingly good reason.

They’re a way to size up a population that’s different, a population you may even fear.

They’re a way to separate yourself, to reinforce your chosen identity and say, “That’s not me. That’s not how I would have handled that situation/challenge/problem, etc....”

We reject the negative qualities we see in others. We push back against unwanted behavior we don’t condone and can barely understand.

Think about all those lazy, neglectful mothers out there.

Or the self-absorbed, cold-hearted stepmoms.

And there’s plenty more where that came from!

Crazy, irrational, control freak moms who must still be carrying a torch for their exes, blind to the ways they’re dragging the kids through the mud and ruining them for life.

Competitive, passive-aggressive stepmoms with a martyr complex, bent on squeezing the kids out of the picture so they can have Dad all to themselves, or themselves and their kids.

Obviously, we’re so much better than those other people....

But when we buy into the stereotypes, we lose two important things.

The truth of what’s really actually going on!

And the chance to learn from someone who’s not like you.

That was the danger in that article.

It fueled more of a separation between all of us. Between the side that was so clearly “right” and the side that was being victimized in a lop-sided characterization.

And all of a sudden, all the GOOD in the other side seemed to be canceled out, in one fell swoop.

One of the best parts about our community is we each offer a glimpse inside “the enemy’s camp,” in an effort to help the other side UNDERSTAND...

What might be fueling that other person’s difficult behavior?

Is it the pain of seeing someone they love in pain? Grieving a loss that’s knocked them off their feet? Jealousy? Protecting someone dear? Feeling hurt and betrayed? Lost and powerless?

Show me one person in your life who doesn’t occasionally act like an idiot or a total pain in the ass when they’re struggling!

When you’re having a hard time, your attention turns INWARD. You focus on the problem, the issue, your discomfort.

This inward focus puts you out of sync with your external environment.

You miss cues from other people. You respond from habit or old, unresolved issues in your past. You may become rigid in your behavior. You probably overreact to simple things.

Fine!, you say.

So you can understand the other woman overreacting every once and a while. But years? Maddening crap for years??!

Yes. It happens.

Do you see how hard it is for all of us to navigate these relationships? To continually adjust?

We are ALL bumbling along in these dual-family relationships. We’re the guinea pigs. We’re writing the two-family playbook right now, as we make our mistakes....

We’re all trying to find our place.

To be seen and respected.

To belong.

To be safe.

To be loved.

No one’s got a leg up.

Really.

So try this next time you’re frustrated with the other woman....

Ask yourself, what might make ME act like this? What would have to be going on with ME to push me to this type of behavior?

Haven’t you ever gone off the cliff in your life? Acted in a way that filled you with regret and dismay later? Ever watched yourself act like an out of control child from afar, absolutely horrified?

There's a real, live human being behind each stereotype...

What are some stereotypes you now know not to be true about stepmoms or divorced moms?

And how did you arrive at this insight?

We want to hear from YOU!

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

Who’s that jerk driving that car?!

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Funny thing about us and driving....

When we cut someone else off in traffic because we have a lot on our mind that day -- we’re tearful, or pissed, or stressed out about a gut-wrenching problem with no end in sight -- we cut ourselves some slack.

We’re really not THAT kind of driver, we think to the other person, as they speed up and pass us, while glaring our way to make their point.

You’re entitled to be spacey, distracted. You’re dealing with a lot right now. It couldn’t be helped.

But to them, you ARE one of those kinds of drivers.

The kind that starts with the letter “A!”

And it is assumed that you drive like this wherever you go, spreading your bounty of misery far and wide.

But what REALLY just happened?

One way to look at it is...

The other driver took an event that was situational and made it all about your character.

You have no qualms about your character, because in your mind, your actions weredue to the situation.

And therein lies the rub betweens divorced moms and stepmoms.

A stepmom thinks,

I have had it up to here with an ex-wife who won’t even cooperate over the simplest of communications between our households!

Why did *I* have to get stuck with the standard, ex-wife bitch on wheels for my partner’s ex -- someone willing to drag her own children through a lot of drama, just to flaunt her power in my face?

For her part, the mom thinks,

I have had it up to here with my ex once again pawning off his job on yet another woman!

Why did *I* have to get stuck with a stereotypical, interfering stepmom -- out to prove she’s better than me at my job, assuming she has the right to manage my children’s lives, when she’s barely known them a few years?

So who’s right?

Is it situation... or character?

Both?

Can you see the assumptions about character that each woman makes in the descriptions above?

And can you empathize with the initial frustrations of each woman in her situation? Frustrations that are probably prompting some unpleasant and negative behavior towards the other woman?

Does her behavior in a difficult situation now define what kind of person she is, for all time?

Can you also see how easily we cut one side or the other slack -- depending upon whose “side” we’re on?

And yet, we assume the other person is acting with calculating and malicious intent -- if that’s how the end result feels to us.

But what if she’s really not?

What then?

Now that I’m aware of this distinction,* I can’t help but see old assumptions with new eyes... everywhere!

And that includes when I’m on the road too....

Have you ever confused character for situation?

What happened?

(Thanks to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” for inspiring this post.)

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts?

 

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

Beyond counting your blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some context for ya....

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

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

In this village:

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

Other facts found online about those same 100 inhabitants:

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

Only one person has a college degree.

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

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

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

Gratitude is often simply a matter of focus.

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

To the things going right -- or wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

You might also enjoy:

Taking responsibility

Why I sometimes want to give up too

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The dangers of certainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s going on here?

This is how I think this happens....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I finally had to ask myself:

What the hell was I doing -- and why?

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

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

That’s how it happens.

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

Because that what it was. Hateful.

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

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

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

And to stop?

Let’s ask ourselves some questions.

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

So... for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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

New videos are out!

Announcing our new Backyard Series videos! There are six of them total, although most people have never seen Part 2 of each topic.

Sorry for the terrible quality, but we used to host these on our website and then lost the original files.

Carol and David's backyard is no more either, since it burned in the Bastrop County Complex fire of 2011. They have happily resettled in Oregon.

And... Happy National Stepfamily Day to all the stepmoms and their families! Thank you for all you do to love and care for our children. We're all brave pioneers in this day and age, navigating a very different world when it comes to parenting and marriage.

Did you know that 1,300 stepfamilies form every day? And that's only counting the ones that make it legal. Just like single parent families, stepfamilies face unique challenges that put their stability and health at risk. We'd like to help create a cultural model that strengthens the connections between the two households, instead of drawing a stronger line in the sand.

Even if you're not IN a stepfamily, you're probably here because your life is intimately intertwined with your ex-partner's second family....

We hope to inspire ALL of you to reach out and form a working relationship with the other household, because together, we form the living "nest" for our children. Let's make it a cozy one. :-)

VIDEOS are here on YouTube:

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Happy Mother's Day!

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To ANYONE who takes care of our children, whether you made them or not, I salute you! Thank for all you do for these little beings (and sometimes medium and big ones) who can be moody, uncooperative, whiny, over-sensitive and angry--but also wonderfully innocent, vulnerable, warm, playful, all-accepting, and sweetly kind.

Our children need ALL of us!

They need as many adults to love them as possible and one of the most generous things we can ever do for THEM is to make room in their lives for others as well.

I hope it's a day of recognition for you, whether stepmother or mother, but if not, please make sure to acknowledge yourself. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back, feel appreciation for yourself, and soak up some loving kindness beamed inwards!

Parenting is a tough job, no matter who's doing it. But our consistent and selfless efforts make all the difference in the world to the children that evoke our tender hearts....

Much love to all....

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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

Related Posts:

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)

Our longest interview yet!

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Check out our latest coverage from The Huffington Post in an article called "Stepmothers, Mothers, and the 'B' Word" and the longest interview we've done yet -- in Austin's own LiveMom, a great resource for local stepmoms and moms!

We'll be taping an extended interview about ex-wife/stepmother issues with Communication 360 early tomorrow morning, so maybe we should start the coffee pot now (and we don't even drink coffee).

The show is hosted by a husband and wife team, Lisa and Phil Mulford, who focus on conflict resolution for tough issues. Phil is a practicing attorney and divorce mediator who has successfully mediated hundreds of divorces. We're looking forward to this, since they've already let us know they want to deal with the more emotional aspects of the mom/stepmom relationship. I'll post a link once the interview is up.

We've got several new projects in the works and would love your feedback about what you'd like to see or any extra-rascal-y questions you'd like to have answered.

Coming up:

Look for a new video series featuring Carol and I in her forested backyard, talking about some of the most frequently-asked questions we get about the book. We taped something last night that was a total blast (lots of mosquito-scratching, very telegenic), but the cicadas were so loud they drowned us out! We'll try again and hopefully upload this week.

 

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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

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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The Fragile Bridge of Trust

When Indiana Jones threw sand out into the precipice, suddenly revealing an invisible bridge, he found the magical solution to quickly getting across, away from his enemies. But… he still had to actually cross the narrow bridge without falling off.

Trust between you and the stepmom or mom is like that same skinny bridge made real by the sand.

Sometimes you can't see it, but you can sense the fuzzy edges, suspended there in mid-air.

It's ever-present, but still requires a leap of faith. And even if the bridge is there, shining under a spotlight, it may require balance and nerves of steel to get safely to the other side. It's scary!

Plus, you know... look how far down the ground is.

There's the link of trust, but there are also many different levels of connection.

There's the functional, logistical trust you have with people you work with. The simple, surface trust between you and acquaintances. There's the underground river of trust between you and your closest friends, the ones who know all your dirt and still love you.

As the level of mutual need and dependency goes up, so does the risk.

That’s because both parties need something from each other.

Stepmoms need to know that the mom will respect her way of doing things. That she has every right to establish rules and principles in her home, guidelines that are just as valid and important as the mom's. She needs to know that her responses and emotional reactions to the children, whether good or bad, are just as valid as anything either parent might be feeling -- they're not just "pasted" onto the family unit bubble like something "extra."

Stepmoms sometimes need space from the whole chaotic jumble that is a stepfamily, since this is probably not what she originally imagined for herself when she envisioned having a family.

She wants respect. She wants closeness. She just wants to be appreciated for who she is, what she brings to her family, and not treated like a permanent outsider.

Moms need to know that the stepmom is not in secret competition with her and will not be subtly working to undermine her, to turn the children against her. She needs to know that, while the children now have a different world to immerse themselves in after the divorce, their old one is still treated with respect and held in a certain esteem. Moms need to know that she's not being blamed for behavioral issues that are just a normal part of development.

She needs to know that her instincts to protect her children won't always be chalked up to lingering issues with her ex.

She wants respect. She wants closeness. She wants to be appreciated for who she is and not treated like a permanent threat.

When one or both parties first attempt to reach out to each other, to risk a little something of themselves and work together, it can actually be terrifying.

Even if it's over something as simple as helping little Jane transport her art supplies from house to house without always losing something, or keeping Mark the man-child from continually sneaking out of the house and into trouble.

Here's the biggest fear: what if the other woman slaps you down?

What if the ex-wife or stepmother is just waiting in the lurch for a show of weakness and then, she goes in for the jugular?

And how the hell do you trust someone you don't like anyway? And what if she's already given you plenty of reasons never to trust her again?

Well, it's true—stepmothers and ex-wives typically have very different agendas, different end goals. But they're both working with the same fears and that's actually a good thing, here. They're in the same boat.

Use that commonality to help you!

Neither wants to be further tackled when she's down. Neither wants to reach out for the olive branch and then have it yanked away at the last minute, humiliating her. Neither woman wants to leave the door to the ammunitions room open overnight.

All I can say is it takes time. And repetition.

Two things we hate hearing.

Time makes it sound like you could be at this for years and years, getting nowhere. And repetition has about as much appeal as doing scales on a violin when you're just learning how to play and can only make screeching noises.

Start out small and see where it gets you.

If you get nowhere, take a breather, then try again.

If you still get nowhere, take another breather and regroup. Monitor your self-talk: is it the stuff of drama and tragedy, or a shrug and "Enh, moving on…"? Can you put yourself in her shoes and imagine what she might be feeling?

Where is it you're trying to go?

How high up on the scale of cooperation are you shooting for? What would you consider a success?

It's going to be different for everyone. Movement for some might be an exchange of tight grimaces at the front door, whereas before, no one ever even got out of the car for a kid pick-up, they just laid on the horn with anger. Improvement for others might be a heartfelt talk on the phone about Lily's grades, Timmy's depression, Sarah's pot-smoking.

What would be progress for you?

And if it's hard and doesn’t go well, what will you do with your residual feelings? Will you handle them responsibly? Can you address any inconsistencies in your boundaries without trying to rub the other woman’s face in it?

Even if you get somewhere, don't be surprised to find that you and the stepmom or ex-wife aren't always on the same page. I remember, early on, thinking Carol (the stepmom) and I (the ex-wife) were doing pretty well, only to hear from David (my ex-) that she was upset over something inconsequential (I thought) I'd said weeks before. It would take several awkward conversations to make things right, but we did, and then we plowed ahead….

It takes a certain kind of humility to keep reaching out, to keep trying to cross that bridge of connection. You've got to set aside the score-keeping, your ego, and all those vague voices in your ear that belong to friends and family, making the other woman wrong.

Have you ever truly forgiven someone who's hurt you, I mean truly forgiven them? Same kind of softness required here.

The payoffs for developing trust, even a semblance, are many.

Less stress between the two of you.

Less stress thinking about her when you're alone. More partnership and collaboration (what kind of cake should we make for so-and-so's birthday?). Less bitching with your partner. New ideas when brainstorming.

And let's not forget how important it is to create a virtual wall of parenthood in the face of children's bad behavior!

Lucky for you, and maybe, surprise... you're not in control. It's not only your show. That is, a lot of stuff happens off stage without your input, permission or direction. Which means, some very good things… might… just… happen—all on their own.

It just takes YOU to get the train rolling with a little push. And before you know it, you'll be on your way to developing some threads of trust between you and the stepmom or ex-wife that might turn into something strong and weight-bearing.

Best of luck!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine       All Rights Reserved