Friday, September 30, 2005

Curious Twerp and the Anatomy Lesson

This is the Twerp.

He was a good little boy and always very curious.

One day, the Twerp's Mom was changing his diaper.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Your penis," his Mom answered.

The Twerp was curious. "Can I touch it?"



"Why not?"

"It's yucky."

Indeed, it is.

This post inspired by the classic works of Curious George, a recent gift to the Twerp which has been read with great enthusiasm every day for the past 2 weeks.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Girl... Interrupted

Since becoming a blended family, with my husband sharing 50/50 custody of my stepdaughter, we have always made an effort not to plan special family outings when my stepdaughter is visiting her Mom. The reasons for this are obvious: we want her to feel as much an important part of the family as anyone else, we don’t want her to miss out on seeing members of her extended family, and we want to avoid any feelings of jealously on her part in thinking that we might have more fun when she is not home.

Maintaining this idea that life comes to a stand still when my stepdaughter is not with us has not been easy. I have a very large extended family (mainly due in part to my parents' divorce and re-marriages to my stepparents) so keeping up with everyone can pose a bit of a challenge… especially around the holidays. I will admit that there have been times when I felt as though I was making more of a sacrifice than I should have been expected to make. After all, my stepdaughter doesn’t sit around twiddling her thumbs when she is visiting her Mom; movies are still seen, playdates are scheduled, and parties are celebrated with enthusiasm. Why, then, should our life be interrupted every other weekend?

The answer? It doesn't, but my stepdaughter doesn't need to know that. First and foremost, I realize that you cannot instill grown-up logic on a 9 year old. In a way, life does stop when she is not at home... it stops for her. So, why ruin the illusion?

The compromise. We try our best to make sure my stepdaughter is a part of as many family events as possible. And when we can’t, we don't discuss what plans we might have when she is not at home. On the flip-side, we also don’t try to make every weekend at home filled with special outings to compensate for what she might have missed out on when she was visiting her Mom. As unrealistic as it is for our lives to come to a complete halt when she isn’t home, it’s equally unrealistic to create the expectation that family weekends need to be packed with activities in order to be special.

Sometimes, being together at home as a family is special enough.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Empathy for the Ex (a.k.a. Sympathy for the Devil)

About a year and a half ago, I decided that I was going to try to get along with my husband's ex. At the time, both of them were constantly bickering and nothing was being communicated with regards to their daughter -- my stepdaughter. So, I decided to take the higher ground for my stepdaughter's sake and figure out some way to communicate with her Mom. And for a short time, it worked. Whenever she would come to pick V. up at our house, I would greet her at the door, hand her V's school bag and let her know about all the stuff a Mommy should know: permission slips that needed to be signed, visits to the doctor's, etc. She seemed to appreciate my efforts even if the sharing of information was totally one-sided. There even came a time when we had to exchange a telephone conversation and I was not afraid to answer the phone.

My ally in this exercise? Empathy.

I learned to put myself in her shoes, imagined what she was feeling and what I would want to see happen if I were her. I put aside my own feelings of anger and resentment and focused on what was best for my stepdaughter. It worked for a while and I know that I was much more content with this way of living.

Unfortunately, my ability to empathize was ultimately undermined once this woman took out a restraining order against my husband after he tried to pick up my stepdaughter during his custodial day. The night the papers were issued, she called the house to speak with her daughter. I was so angry that I simply said "She is not home. She will call you later." And hung up.

I was angry and disappointed. I was quickly reminded that the desire for us all to get along was, at that point, mine and mine alone. If the three of us ever have any hope of co-parenting, then we all needed to change our attitudes and the way we approach one another. The power of one, in this case, was not powerful enough.

At present, emotions are still running high and my husband and his ex do not communicate at all, except through certified mail which often times goes unanswered and even uncollected at the post office (by her). They are embroiled in a bitter custody battle that is scheduled for court next month. In the meantime, we are under advice from lawyers not to communicate verbally with my husband's ex. ::sigh::

Still I try to remain empathetic, albeit from a distance. I understand, even though I don't agree with, what she is doing and why. She currently is not in a relationship, although she was supposed to get re-married almost 2 years ago. If I were in her shoes, I'd be a little bitter too to see my ex-husband and his new wife moving on with their life together and adding to my daughter's family. This woman has nothing right now except her daughter. And, right or wrong, she is doing everything she can to hold on to her. As a mother, I can't blame her.

Empathy has brought me this far, and I hope it will continue to see me through the battles that lie ahead.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Thoughts on Stepmothering: Some Lessons Learned

In the six years since becoming a blended family, I've learned some valuable lessons about what it takes to be a Second Wife and Stepmom. Living through my husband's bitter divorce, and now custody battle, have posed some of the greatest challenges I have ever known. Nothing could have prepared me for this life and I have to admit that accepting the reality of things and letting go of the fairytale has not been an easy task. Now since adding "Mommy" to my ever-growing list of titles, I know I still have a lot to learn, but here's some wisdom I have gathered along my journey:

- Be patient. As in my case, divorce and resulting custody battles can be time-consuming and downright ugly. Things may not always go as you want them to, but try to remember that your partner is trying to make the best decisions for everyone. Support your partner/spouse; criticism can be alienating. Don't be afraid to seek counseling for help getting through this.

- In the beginning, strive first to be a friend to your stepchild. They (as well as their bioMom, and maybe even your partner) may have a tough time figuring out and accepting your role in this child's life and may feel threatened. This is especially true if your interactions with bioMom are limited.

- Work with your partner to establish discipline guildelines, and let him handle most of this in the beginning. Otherwise, you are sure to become the
Wicked Stepmother.

- Try to see the good qualities in your stepchild's bioMom. Never speak negatively about her in front of them. Whatever crap is going on between your partner and her, it does not and should not involve the child. Yes, even a cold-hearted, manipulative shrew like my husband's ex- has a few redeeming qualities. Do your best to find them, as I did, and focus on it. Remember, above all else, that that child loves his/her Mommy and you should not do anything to undermine that love.

- Never send messages to your partner's ex- through your stepchild.

- Never make your stepchild feel guilty for loving his/her Mom or you could be contributing to what's called
Parental Alienation Syndrome.

- Develop your own family rituals and routines, not to replace old ones but to offer a sense of comfort and stability to your stepchild, and yourselves.

I will admit that, for me, being a Stepmom and Second Wife has downright sucked at times. I felt alienated in the beginning; like I was an outsider intruding on my husband's time with his daughter. I struggled to find my place in her life, and to find a place for her in mine. My husband and I made a lot of mistakes and I felt a lot of resentment towards her in the beginning. She represented this past life of his, and this other person who was wreaking havoc on our lives. But we've worked hard, together, to try to create a strong family unit in which my stepdaughter can thrive. and know that she is loved.