The Pendulum – Long-distance stepparenting

June 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

I live on a pendulum, swinging back and forth between the extremes.

Sometimes I have kids, sometimes I do not.

Their rooms gather dust in the months between their trips to see us; my memories of them grow dim. And just when I think that I have finally figured out how to cope with them living over a thousand miles away, there we are, picking them up at the airport and trying to learn how to occupy the same space and be this sometimes family all over again.

It wasn’t always this way. We used to live in the same state, see them every other weekend, approach some semblance of normalcy. It was always harried and fleeting and maybe only skin deep, but it was often enough that no one forgot how to be around each other. This change, now a year in the making, has not been an easy one.

I don’t know how to be 100%, all in, but for only a cumulative two months each year. If I don’t separate myself from it the minute they set foot on the airplane to go back to what really is home to them, it will rip my heart out, each and every time. And really, to separate myself so easily means that I have to hold back while they’re here, if only just a tiny bit, so I still have a piece of myself to go back to.

I don’t know that I can do that this time.

The summer stay is a longer one. Much longer. To the tune of a month, in fact. There isn’t anything about it that doesn’t terrify me. The honeymoon with the kids will wear off, their mom will grow increasingly desperate for external chaos to match the chaos she feels in heart as the stay plods on, and for me…well, what if I get tired of it?

What if I can’t do it?

What if I don’t remember how, or if I realize I just don’t want to? Last summer, I started counting down the days to get back to normal after about day 5. I can’t do that again this year, to them or to myself.

So the choice is really a simple one: No holding back.

Tell me this isn’t the dilemma at the crux of every stepmom’s heart. You know you have to give all of yourself to these kids, but to do so means to risk it all: getting caught up in the wrath of the biomom, becoming vulnerable to hurt when your stepkids reject you, the loss of the life you have when the stepkids are not there.

I guess that last one is the big one for me. It’s a selfish fear, but it’s very real for me. If I don’t hold back, just a little, what happens when they leave? Can I ever hope to get back to normal with just the two of us here?

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Regaining power in a high conflict divorce

June 18, 2012 § 2 Comments

Maybe at first you thought that it couldn’t be that bad.

Or you thought maybe if you could just help, it would get better.

Or maybe, now that you’re not new to it and you’re completely run out of the will to try anymore, you’ve resigned yourself to realizing that it is that bad and you helping doesn’t seem to make a difference, you hang onto hope that maybe one day she will just learn to let go and your life could approximate something even close to normal.

You married into a high conflict divorce, and that’s really the shit of it.

Everything out there for blended families offers such shiny, glimmering prospects: co-parenting, family scheduler, 50/50 split custody, mediation, alternate agreements. All such seductive words. All useless in a high conflict divorce. Especially if you are the stepmom in the equation.

It’s a harsh reality to face. There is nothing you can do to change the situation.

How much energy have you wasted trying to be the conduit, trying to diffuse her vitriol, trying to keep the peace? How many emails have you helped write, how many phone calls from her have you taken? How long did you continue to beat your head against the brick wall before you realized your head was starting to crack and not the wall? Are you still submitting yourself to the abuse?

It is such a difficult thing, to surrender to powerlessness. It goes against human nature. And in high-conflict divorces, all of this is even moreso diffiuclt, because if your situation is anything like mine, you know that you are unequivocally right. Every single time, in every single argument. You’ve got logic, kindness, intelligence, and dammit, the kids’ best interests on your side. But she just won’t quit, ever. Even when she knows she’s wrong, she’s right, right? She’ll cut off the nose to spite the face and sometimes it seems as if you are there holding up the mirror so she can get the best angle.

To admit powerlessness feels like you are admitting wrongdoing. As if loving your husband and his kids, providing an open and loving home, being compassionate could ever be wrong. To say you can’t change her feels like admitting defeat, like letting her win. But it doesn’t have to be.

There is an element of freedom in embracing your lack of power over the situation. Almost like regaining control of your life. Because, you know what? Whether you’re right or wrong, she’s always going to want to fight. Him, you…it doesn’t matter. She fights because she doesn’t know any other way. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that this is a theme in her life. Look at her family, her friendships (or lack thereof). You’re no exception. The lack of results for all of your well-intended efforts doesn’t mean that you have failed. It just means that you have been going to Taco Bell and ordering a cheeseburger. That dog just don’t hunt.

You can write email after email after email explaining 6 ways to Sunday all the ways she is wrong. But why? So she can write back and rewrite history, get under your skin, throw in passive digs, flaunt the parenting plan and cause you angst? Hey, why do you keep hitting yourself?

Let go. Just let go.

It’s okay.

You know she’s wrong, your husband knows she’s wrong, and you know what? She fucking knows she’s wrong. She knows it better than anyone else. That’s why she screams the loudest and points the finger at anyone else who will get in her way. Do what you want to do in your home and don’t worry about what bullshit she has to say about it. It is bullshit and she can write it all she wants; you don’t have to listen to it or care that she’s writing it.

Keep your records, keep them religiously. But quit inviting her to challenge them. At a certain point, the patterns speak for themselves. You don’t need any email trail between anyone to show the pattern.

She didn’t let your husband talk to the kids on the phone? Write it on the calendar. After years of emails telling her that he wanted to talk to them? You know what, she knows it already. It’s about the chase, the game. She’s waiting for you and him to email her. She’s got her lies all picked out. So don’t give her a chance to spread that poison.

She wants to send the police to your house? Let her. You’re not doing anything wrong. Eventually, dispatch will get used to her calls and they will figure out the pattern.

You do what you want to do. You want to take the kids on vacation? DO IT. She may not like it. She may stamp her feet and she might call 5 times a day. But you know what? She doesn’t get to ruin your vacation. Put the kids on the phone and walk away. Don’t listen to it. It’s just going to make you mad, and you have a choice to not hear it. You are entitled to happy moments in your life with your stepkids.

You know she’s going to have a fit; it’s inevitable. At some point, learning to accept her unpredictability as a certainty is going to be your saving grace. There is a peace to be found in accepting what you already know.

It may not get better, ever. But you have choice. Admitting you are powerless is not about giving up your own power, it’s about taking power away from her. She doesn’t get to run roughshod over your life, never giving you a moment’s peace. You don’t have to allow her any of that.

coming out

June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

as the years have added up in my relationship with my husband and with my s-kids (and in the anti-relationship with their mom), i’ve thought a lot about putting my experience with it to words. it’s been a tough decision and i’ve struggled with how to do it. i tried writing about it here and there on my personal blog, but even with my mostly anonymous identity there, it still didn’t feel safe. i gave up for awhile, thought that it wasn’t worth the risk, that it was one of those dreams you just have to let go.

but the idea was always there.

there is so much to share as the stepmom in a high conflict divorce relationship. so much to learn, so much to share with others. but the irony of it all is that for all of us out there, we are relatively quiet. most s-mom blogs peter out, go private, or get deleted. most forums dance around the issues and never quite get to where we need to get as a collective group. fiercely protective of our husbands and s-kids, we wouldn’t dream of risking putting words to our feelings, lest it come back to slap him in the face in the courtroom.

even saying that much out loud feels like a risk.

it came out in therapy (yes, surprise, i got a therapist to deal with the mindfuck that has come with the years of being party to this particular brand of mental terrorism) that i used to have a personal blog with actual followers that i gave up when things got serious with my then-boyfriend (now husband). i realize how much i miss writing, not just for me, but for others. there is value in telling my story, and maybe not just for me. maybe i will start to make sense of things, gain some closure and some strength. maybe more like me will find their voice, and find a way to gain their own strength.

so i decided to take a risk. it helps that some of the legal roadblocks have conveniently lapsed recently, but either way, it’s time.

i’m done letting her have the power in this part of my life.

this is my story. i get to say how it is written, and who gets to know about it.

“i want to write about it, except that she might find it.”

no, bitch. i want to write about it. accept that.

about that

June 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

you meet him, this guy. he changes your whole world, makes it worth living, makes you believe in soulmates and true love and everything you thought was lost in this world. nothing could be more perfect.

except.

except that he comes with baggage. kids, great kids, and an ex. an ex who is an entire set of luggage unto herself.

everything about your life is now about turning that except into accept. because you can’t accept a life without him, which means you have to figure out how to accept his life. all of it.

this is my journey.

Where Am I?

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