Thursday, May 31, 2012

The (Face)book has been opened.

I knew it was coming, I knew it was inevitable, I guess I just never thought it would happen this soon.

My youngest bonus daughter got a Facebook account.

And she's 11.

(Hold on, I've gotta go hyperventilate.)

I'm no prude. I've let my bonus daughters watch R-rated movies, we've talked about sex, we've told naughty jokes. We fart in front of each other. But this is different. This is Facebook. This is millions of people having access to a naive child who has no true understanding of the power of social media and how it can affect her now or in the so very distant future - which by the way, isn't really that distant.

Believe me, I never would have signed her up at this age. In fact, Facebook itself states that below the age of 13 is too young. But Mama Ex made an executive decision (without consulting the other, equally important executive, otherwise known as my husband and her child's father) and signed her up anyway.

Look, Facebook can be fun. For an 11 year old, it basically means getting to post pictures of friends and talking to them virtually over the summer. I would have wanted it at that age, too. But wanting something and needing something are two very different prospects. When I was 13, I really, really, really wanted to date a guy that was 18 that worked as a server at Perkins. We had SO MUCH IN COMMON (like, ya know, we both enjoyed playing Monopoly) and I just knew he was going to marry me someday. Did my parents let me date him? Um, no. BECAUSE IT WAS DANGEROUS...and also super creepy.

In a few weeks my husband and I are taking Mama Ex to court to sort through all kinds of issues (least of which is Facebook), and I imagine we'll figure all of this out at that time. Until then, there isn't a lot we can do. But I wanted to share my thoughts on how to handle a Facebook account if you are thinking of getting it for your stepchild. I'm no expert, but these just seem logical.

1. Do Your Homework

Don't worry. I'm here to personally assure you that Facebook has tons of already built in features that will keep your kid totally invisible from the outside world. If your kid is under 13, he/she is totally safe.

I really hope you didn't just believe that. Seriously, if you're signing your child up for Facebook, go out there and use that awesome thing called the Internet to research settings and tools to keep your kids safe while using that awesome thing called the Internet. Double check the settings on your child's page to make sure they're correct. Here are a few links to sites (including Facebook's own) that cover this type of information.

2. Know the Code.

Your step child's account to Facebook has an email address and a password. In my opinion, your husband should know both of them and if he chooses to share that information with you, great. After all, this is a child (biologically yours or not) living under your roof, using your computer and your Internet connection. And you love this child. You want to protect them and make sure they're safe.

You and your husband have every right to see what they're doing online. At any time.

I get that it seems like you're invading their privacy, but really, it's time to get over that. Do you really think my mom respected my journal's DO NOT READ THIS OR I'LL FIND YOU AND RIP YOUR HAIR OUT sticker? No. How else do you think they found out about that Perkins waiter? I'm not saying you need to get in your step kid's account and snoop every day - but it is important to know you have access if you suspect something amiss. This is especially true for a younger child. Once they're 15 or 16, maybe reconsider if they've shown that they can handle an account sensibly.

I will say this. As a step parent, you might consider letting the biological father be the one to bring up issues if something inappropriate is discovered. Yes, you are a parental figure, but they only have one father and one true mother. Should you find something suspicious, I'd suggest telling it to your husband and letting him lead the charge in doing something about it. That doesn't mean you have to sit in the corner with your hands tied and tape across your mouth. You have input and you should share it. Just let Dad talk first and establish his role as a parent.

3. Edit Thyself.

If your step kid has a FB account, chances are, you are one of the 27 people they actually know. They're probably going to "friend" you. Before you accept the request, remember to edit out photos of you dancing on table tops from your bachelorette party. Or at the very least double check your settings to make certain your child can't see those slightly less than "Step Mom of the Year" photos of you.

If you're like me and have a tendency to pen status updates about how excited you are to be reading that really smutty "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy, re-think letting your step child have access to your status updates as well. It may seem strange to them that all they can see is your name, your marital status and your graduation information, but tough. You are an adult and they are not. There are parts of your life that are not for their viewing or knowing. Just because your step child's life on FB is beginning, doesn't mean yours has to end. Be smart about how much you share.

4. Kids are Smarter Than You

So you want to put up a status about how ridiculously hung over you were on Sunday night after the super awesome wedding. And you even went so far as to block that particular status from your stepchild's account so as to not show her inappropriate material. Good for you.

You didn't do enough.

Your kid still has access to your account through mutual friends. For example, let's say Stepdaughter Mary goes to her friend Larua's house on Saturday afternoon. They get on Facebook together.  Laura pulls up her Facebook account. Laura is friends with you. You forgot to block that hangover status update from Laura. Now Laura and Stepdaughter Mary have both seen your status and know you had a terrible hangover and THAT's why you wouldn't take them to the pool.  


This same concept goes for photos, comments on other people's pages...the list goes on. I know the horse died some time ago, but you MUST CHECK YOUR SETTINGS AND YOUR POSTS.

5. Kids are Mean- Just Like Adults

Remember that time when your best friend and your best friend's mother's hair stylist got in a Facebook war about legalizing gay marriage? Remember how mean they were to each other? Remember how they're ADULTS and still fighting like teenagers?  Now imagine what it's like to be an actual teenager and having the desire to pick a fight.
Kids can be mean. And judgmental. And racist. And filthy.

Once again, it's your responsibility (especially if you're allowing a younger child access to Facebook) to be sure your step child understands the implications of fighting/flirting/bullying online. Sit down with your stepchild and his/her father and have a conversation about what kind of behavior you expect them to exhibit on Facebook. Let them know that bullying and name calling are unacceptable. You are allowing them to have this very adult tool at their fingertips and you expect them to use it as such. If they can't, it goes away. Simple as that.

The truth is, how a child acts with social media as a teen will directly affect how they use it as an adult. If you have the talk now explaining discretion regarding posts, photos and comments, that information will travel through to adulthood. Eventually your children and step children will be dealing with sites like Linked In. If they're prepared for it with proper instruction, it will help them immensely, and make them stand out from the crowd.

The most important thing to remember about Facebook is this: it can open a lot of doors and be a lot of fun if it's done right. Respect the rules, keep an eye on things and maintain the conversation all the time. Share examples of when you've seen people misuse Facebook. Ask your step child to share an example of what she thinks is inappropriate behavior. Ask questions. Ask them again. At some point, your step child is going to come across an online situation where they have to make a choice, and you won't be there to tell them what to do. If you do your job beforehand, you can rest assured they'll make the right one.

What tips do you have for other parents whose step children have been given Facebook accounts?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

let me count the ways...

I spend a lot of my days as a stepmother counting.

10: The number of seconds I count before I say something negative to my stepdaughters about Mama Ex.

5: The number of shoes I bought for Stepdaughter 1 that she isn't allowed to wear because Mama Ex thinks they're ugly. (But mostly because I bought them.)

1,236: The number of times Mama Ex has gotten angry at me for doing something as a stepmother that is "not my job," and is instead hers and hers alone.

0: The number of times I've ever really looked at things from Mama Ex' point of view.

Until now...

Earlier this week, one of my best friends went into labor at 29 weeks with her twins. It wasn't the beautiful birth experience she was looking forward to for 7 months; it was a disaster. When all was said and done, my friend's son was still born and her baby girl is still holding on at just under three pounds.

It is tragic, heart wrenching and unfathomable for me. To see my friend experience such pain, yet at the same time so much is an emotional roller coaster I never want to ride. But what unexpectedly struck me as I later looked at pictures of this incredibly tiny baby girl was this: what did Mama Ex feel when she had her girls?

When Hubs and Mama Ex had Stepdaughter 1 (and later Stepdaughter 2), there was no drama. There was no arguing over who got to have them on Christmas or who got to claim them on their tax documents. There was only love. True, deep and saturated love for these beautiful baby girls they had created together. More importantly, I doubt Mama Ex was pondering what type of woman would someday be helping raise her daughters.

I imagine Mama Ex is often angry and unfairly critical of me because I am a mother figure in her daughters' life. It infuriates her that I was the one standing there with Hubs when the girls got their ears pierced. That's supposed to be her job. Her babies. She has been with them since day one. It should have been her holding their hand when the needle went through their ears.

The truth is, with step parents, the lines are blurred. There is no right or wrong way. Mama Ex can't possibly expect to be there for every life changing moment in the girls' lives, just as Hubs can't. The girls live in limbo, jumping from one hoop to the other, trying to be fair to both sides. The least I can do is try and understand that it isn't easy for their biological mother to watch.

I can't imagine my baby someday being loved and/or disciplined by another woman. I think it would nearly rip my heart in half to hear my child wave to another woman and say, "Bye! I love you!" as she leaves from a weekend visitation. I know Mama Ex never thought it would happen to her. But it has, and here we are, just like thousands of other people.

It's certainly not in "my plan" to someday have a baby with Hubs and then get divorced and experience all this for myself. But I don't have a crystal ball. I can't see the future. For all I know, Hubs will leave me in ten years for a 6'0" blond with a fantastic ass and completely hair free armpits. If that does happen, I am going to want that woman (no matter how much I may hate her) to respect my wishes and my hopes for my child. Not hers. Mine.

So the next time Mama Ex goes into a frenzied tailspin because I read "Goodnight Moon" to Stepdaughter 2 and that's HER job, I might take a step back and realize, it's okay. I can only count on one hand the number of years I've been with these children. I can take a deep breath and try to understand.

Do you ever put yourself in your step children's biological mom's shoes? Do you find empathy for her?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

super struggle

Later today is a gigantic game of football that fans have waited all season for.  However, only a few fans actually have their team playing in this super-sized game.  There are cheers and beers, winners and losers. But everyone is keeping an eye on the QB's to see how they try to pull off the W.

The more I began to think about the gridiron battle this afternoon, I began to think...Do you ever feel like you're the QB of your very own team?  One comprised of you, your fabulous +1, and your step kiddos?  But, unlike the game of football, the teams change.  And at some point, your kiddos go to play for someone else?  The evil team!!  Their mother's team.

The dynamic of some step families can feel like that of a professional football team.  There are QB's to run offense -- in my family that's me, protected by an incredible line -- my hubby.  And then the receivers -- our kids. But on our team, we only have receivers half the time.  

Offense and defense against their mom's team seems to be an ongoing battle.  Longer than just the 60 minutes in regulation games.  Some days we have to put our pads on in a moments notice.  Other times, like around holidays, we know we expect overtime.

But like any game, there is always a loser.  And in the case of split families, it is usually the kids.

So, today, while you're with your team, watching your NFL team, try to think about how to combine the two teams that seem to always be on offense vs defense in your life.  Let the kids be the winners and make a play to improve their chance of winning!

Go Team!



Monday, January 30, 2012

conference me in

Lady has been on my case for the last two months to PLEASE WRITE SOMETHING ON THIS BLOG WE CREATED. Like now.

I've given about every excuse in the book not to.

I'm tired. I just started a new job. I need to work out. I have split ends. My roots are showing. No one wants to hear what I have to say. People aren't going to like me.

No more excuses. It's time to get down to work.

In her last entry, Lady started to tell you a little bit about herself. I'll get to that as well, but before I do, I'm going to ask the question that has been burning on my mind for the last four days:

Should a stepmother be allowed to attend Parent Teacher Conferences?

Now before you get all excited and start ripping your hair out screaming THESE ARE YOUR RIGHTS AS A STEPMOTHER!!!, let me explain.

I am aware that many schools allow divorced or separated couples to schedule PTC's apart from each other. This is intended to avoid the conference turning into a therapy session where Mom accuses Dad of dating a floozy, and Dad accuses Mom of spending her child support on Botox.

I get it.

But here's the thing. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think it's healthy for Mom and Dad to put their differences aside and show up to the conference together. Don't get me wrong, I get that it's hard. I really do. My Hubs is currently in a long legal process with Mama Ex, trying to get more custody of his girls. Things are not rosy. But, the two of them have agreed to suck it up and go to the conferences together.

There are three reasons I think this is great.

1) The children know both parents got the same information and therefore can't try and manipulate parent against parent. (Example: "No Daddy, the teacher told Mommy I'm doing excellent in Math. You must have heard her wrong."

2) The kids see that Hubs and Mama Ex are concerned enough about their education to show up together and act like adults.

3) Hubs and Mama Ex show the teacher that they can be a united front.

This is where it gets dicey. I am an extremely committed step mom. I consider myself an extension of my husband and Mama Ex when it comes to parenting. I do my best to hold up the rules of Mama Ex's household just as much as the rules of ours. I go to basketball games, recitals, field trips and pitch in for school events. In addition, I pay for clothing, nights out on the town with the girls, fun activities, movies, toys. These are things I do willingly and gladly, because this is the family I signed up for. I love to be involved in the girls' lives.


Two weeks ago when Mama Ex texted Hubs to let him know PTC's were next week, she essentially said this:

Girls' PTC are next week. I assume you will go at the same time as me as always. I think it's best if only the girls' parents attend, and then we can take them to dinner afterward.

I guess I wouldn't have a problem with this, if it weren't for the fact that I always attend the conferences with my husband and Mama Ex. Always. I don't contribute. I sit behind Mama Ex and Hubs and listen intently and keep my comments to myself. I'm just there to show support to my husband and to show the teacher that all of the adults in the children's lives are active participants.

This has never been a problem before. Then again, Mama Ex's boyfriend of the month has always come along with her. But now, Mama Ex is single, and suddenly she doesn't think I should attend.

This makes me...not happy. I love hearing how the girls are doing in school. The girls love knowing that I went to the conferences and am showing an interest in their education and their learning.

I believe this to be a (rather selfish) flex of Mom muscle by Mama Ex, mostly because attending a parent teacher conference solo terrifies her. My contention is she only allowed me to attend in the past because she was allowing her boyfriend to come along, too. Now that he's gone, she wants me gone.

News flash: I'm not a girlfriend of Hubs. I'm his wife. I am the girls' step mom.

And so I ask you - based on the fact that I have always attended parent teacher conferences with Hubs and Mama Ex, should I be allowed to attend the upcoming conference next week? Do I risk angering Mama Ex by showing up whether she wants me to or not? Do I leave it to Hubs to go to bat for me? Do we just schedule a separate conference? Do I just let it drop in the interest of not rocking the boat?

A little help, please...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lady's Story Pt. 1

I grew up in the typical midwest, American family.  High school sweethearts for parents, a dog, a cat and a brother that I loved and hated depending on the day.  My parents weren't able to have children of their own but through sweet luck on their side, were able to adopt my brother and I. 

Growing up I was always involved in any activity I could fit into my schedule, made good grades and was boy crazy to the 'nth degree.  I loved traveling with my family and still love retelling stories of our adventures together.

Once in college, it was very apparent that I had become different than a lot of the girls I was in high school with.  Everyone seemed to be focused on finishing school, getting married and having babies.  Well, at least those that didn't just go ahead and have them in high school.  

I was different.  I just wanted to stay in school forever -- and believe me, I tried.  I lived for parties and prided myself on knowing all of the bouncers and bartenders in the town.  For me, looking ahead meant figuring out which outfit I was going to wear on the weekend and what our after-hours theme was going to be.  Marriage and kids were the LAST thing on my mind.

Fast forward a few years and the sound of an olive hitting the bottom of my martini glass, the clacking of stilettos all around me and a trip to the dry cleaners every 4 days was all too regular.  I was living in a power city more than a thousand miles away from home --still in school, still dating and living up the night while working for a fabulous S&P 500 company.  My friends were all ages, single and not one parent in the group.  The thought of children terrified me.  I was on the fast track with my company and was always focused on my next promotion.   Independent woman, hear me roar!