Wednesday, February 20, 2013

lawyers, mediations and modifications, oh my!

Many of us in the step parent community find ourselves in legal situations that we are unable to get our arms around. Maybe you're like me and Mama Ex is trying to cut you and your husband out of the kids' lives altogether. Perhaps it's much simpler and your parenting decree doesn't spell out a holiday that you believe it should. Maybe it's super complicated and you're trying to get full custody of the kids.

These scenarios all have one thing in common.

You need a lawyer, yo.

Calm down. Seriously, breathe. I know what you're going through. When I married Hubs, I thought all the courtroom drama had happened long before I came into the picture. I just assumed everyone would behave and follow the decree and we'd all be good. But that's not how life works. Situations change. Thoughts change. Incomes change. People change. Big (and sometimes small) changes within a blended family can have monumental implications, none of which you should be expected to handle on your own. That's what attorney's are for.

Hubs and I hired an attorney to help us forge through the dramatic and difficult task of aquiring a 50/50 custody split. The story of why we are requesting this change isn't important, but what we learned in the process is. And so, without further ado, here are 7 things you can learn from me when hiring an attorney and heading to trial.

I won't even bill you hours.

What To Expect When You're Expecting an Easy Court Resolution

(a.k.a. Ruby Thought She Knew Everything and Quickly Found Out Otherwise)

1) Study Up, Buttercup.  

Don't Google "Custody Lawyer" and hire the first person you see. On the flip side, don't retain someone because your neighbor's doctor's cousin is supposed to be amazing. This is a big deal. You are trusting this person to represent you in a court room. 

Many attorneys offer a free consultation so they can hear your case and decide if they can help you. Think of the consultation like an interview. You are the boss man and they are vying for the job. Ask tough questions and be prepared. Make them show you why they're best for the job.

More important than your questions are their answers. When Hubs asked our attorney what his biggest concern was on our case, he answered proudly, "Well, we are just really busy right now. It's great, because that means we are getting referrals from happy clients."

All I heard was "referrals" and "happy clients." YAY! This lawyer is good! Later on, we found out he wasn't joking about being busy. Our case has now been passed back and forth between three lawyers in the office because they are so overwhelmed.

Remember, attorney's know how to spin a potential negative into a totally awesome positive. Be ready to read between the lines.

2) Your Attorney's Timeline is Horse Patoot.  

No one - and I mean no one - wants to hear, "This process could potentially take 3 years." I mean, you'd run out of the office, dragging other potential clients with you screaming "DON'T GO IN THERE!! THESE ATTORNEY'S ARE INSANE!!!!"

The hard truth is, no one knows. Some cases get worked out in mediation in the span of two months. Sometimes, parties will do whatever they can to drag the process out. (Especially if the result is likely to reduce their parenting time or lower their incoming child support.) There is no attorney in the world that can provide an accurate timeline. You can still ask the question - but his guess is as good as yours.

PS- the same goes for "How much will all of this cost?" No one knows. Save up your dollars though, because I can promise you it won't be cheap.

3) Your Urgency Isn't Their Urgency.

Repeat the following mantra to yourself. "The Law is Like Molasses." Don't believe me? Um...Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian are still married. 'Nuff said.

You know that judge you so desperately want to get in front of? She doesn't want to see your husband or Mama Ex. She wants the two parties to sit their stubborn asses down and come to a resolution. Generally, you can count on a mediation being a required prequel to a trial. But don't look at mediation as a punishment. It's a chance to resolve the issues outside of court and move on with your life. Trying to settle outside of court is always going to come first. You can fight it all you want, but it won't change anything.

4) People cheat the system - and sometimes it works.  

Hubs and I learned this one the hard way. On the morning of our first (yes, we've had several) mediation, Mama Ex's attorney suddenly couldn't make it and asked for a reschedule. We complied and the mediation was set for several weeks later. Eventually, Hubs came to an agreement with Mama Ex after 10 long and very expensive hours. Mama Ex promised to sign the new parenting agreement and show up in court to finalize everything. The court date arrived - and Mama Ex backed out. She decided she wanted to go to trial after all.

She was just buying herself time.

Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater.
I figured the judge would come down hard on Mama Ex for wasting our time (and money) in a mediation she never intended to take seriously. I was wrong. The judge basically said, "Mama Ex, please don't do it again," and that was that.

Judges have to hear about people behaving badly all the time. They really aren't interested in your sob story about the other team being unfair. There is a chance cheaters will get away with cheating. The real bitch is, you have no choice but to smile and just hope someday karma will show up ready to do some damage.

 5) Steps don't get to play.  

The court process is like a cray cray expensive game of chess between two people who don't even want to play. Unfortunately, as a step, you don't even get invited to the table. I always assumed that because I was married to Hubs, I would be present in the mediations. After all, my time and energy go into these kids just as much as Mama Ex's do. This mediation will affect my life. Don't I get a say?

The answer is no. Unless the other party (in this case Mama Ex) agrees to let you in the room, you have no choice but to sit outside and wait it out. You can still consult with your husband before he makes any decisions, but the chances you will be in the room are slim. 

The court room is different. You can be present, but don't think you get to sit up there with Hubs and coo "You Are Not Alone" into his ear. He's on his own.

By the way - show up for the mediation, every lawyer meeting and every single court date. Not for Mama Ex and not for the judge, but for your husband. He needs your support.

6) Times will get tough.

Prepping for trial or a mediation is stressful. You and your husband are on the same side, but the coming weeks and months will test and try your relationship in ways you never could have imagined. Resolve to have weekly sit-down's with each other to share your feelings. 

As a step parent, it is very easy to feel like your opinion doesn't matter because you are not a biological parent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Changing parenting time, reduced or increased child support and modifications to decrees affect you directly. Share your opinions and concerns with your husband or partner. 

Your step kids will also feel the effects of this difficult process. There is a fine line between keeping them informed ("mommy and daddy both have hired a lawyer to help with some problems") and telling them too much ("your stupid mother is gold digging gutter trash"). If you're unsure what to say, consider sending the children to counseling, where they can share their feelings with an unbiased third party.

7) Compromise is a four letter word. 

I know you think you're on the side of right. Ironically, so does the other party. The sooner you realize that neither of you will get exactly what you want, the faster this whole process will go. Like our mothers constantly told us, life isn't fair. A compromise means both people walk away without their ideal scenario. In the end, what is best for the kids is for both parents (and subsequent step parents) to do the right thing. And if one party isn't holding up their end of that bargain, don't stoop to their level. Keep doing what is right and in the end it will pay off.

What is your advice to stepmoms about to embark on a courtroom journey? Give us the good stuff, we all gotta learn!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SD By The Numbers

My oldest bonus is turning 13 this weekend!  Aside from feeling like I may pass out from fear of living with a teenage girl, I'm really very excited for her.  Moving from that awkward last year of tweenager to actual teenager was one of the biggest moments in my life.  No I couldn't go off and do anything awesome like drive or wear thongs go on dates, but I had a sense of new found independence.  For her, this blog is my SD by the Numbers...

13 --  The number of years she's been alive
2 -- The number of years I think it will take before her mother or father will lock her in a closet until she's 18.
15 -- The number of socks I recently found under her bed.
942 --  Times "OMG" flies from her mouth over a weekend.
32 -- questions about when she can learn to drive
0 -- grey hairs on my head before I met my SD
14 0 -- number of grey hairs I plucked from my head this month have now
12,467 -- the number of times I've begged and prayed she doesn't have to go through any of the awful stuff I did as a thirteen year old
1 -- the direction of the band she is OBSESSED with
3 -- number of iPods that magically vanished into thin air have been permanently misplaced  since her 12th birthday
6 -- the age her father still wishes she was
23 -- the age she thinks wishes she is
1,000,000+ -- the number of times she will likely screw up and we'll still love her with all our hearts.
Happy Birthday, little miss!

Monday, February 18, 2013

taking the high(lighted) road

We all remember how ridiculously awful middle school was. Just when you felt confident in your fave tank top, your armpits started sprouting hair out of nowhere. Just when you figured out how to cover up those pesky pimples with miracle foundation, you realized your neck didn't match your face and you looked like an ex-communicated member of Cirque du Soleil.

(It's also a time when you really, really hate your mom.)

So when your bonus child (in my case bonus daughter) is dealing with puberty and boyfriends and breakups and exams AND her parents' lawyers and court dates and child support arguments, she need a truly great friend to help her weather the storm. The friend who will tell her that OF COURSE she can get a haircut like Miley Cyrus and totally pull it off. Even though no one can pull of that haircut. Including Miley.

The friend that will encourage her to try out blue eyeshadow, even though, by rocking that side ponytail, she kind of looks like Tonya Harding. (She'll also need a friend who can tell her who Tonya Harding is.)

The friend that will listen while your step bitches and moans and whines about how, for the THIRTIETH TIME, Mama Ex was fifteen minutes late picking her up from school.

As a step mom, you will, by nature, want to be that friend. You intimately remember how much you hated your mom at that age. She was so clueless. It would have been awesome to have an adult gal pal to vent to. Soooo, this puts you at an advantage, right? After all, as the BM is constantly reminding you, "YOU ARE NOT THIS CHILD'S MOTHER! SHE ONLY HAS ONE MOTHER AND IT IS ME!"

(I mean, sometimes I swear if my bonus daughter was a fire hydrant, Mama Ex would pee all over her, jump up and down and scream, "This is mine! This is mine!")

The logical conclusion is that finally- FINALLY- you have an advantage over Mama Ex. You, as the step mother are uniquely qualified to help your step out as she goes through her mom-hating, body hating, weird hairstyle years, right? I mean, you have the power to use this awkward teen angst to leverage some real bonding time with your step daughter.

It's only fair.


Actually, no.

I know, it sucks. I really do. I've been there. A few months ago my oldest bonus daughter "M" came to me, ready to vent. (All we needed was some Cheetos and Ben and Jerry's and we'd have been set.) M was upset because Mama Ex had walked back a promise to get M highlights for her birthday. Apparently highlights turned out to be too expensive and Mama Ex had decided M was actually too young for highlights.

M was pissed.

I was thrilled. 

This was my golden opportunity. I could see it all play out in my head. I would take M to a nice lunch where we'd scroll through Google images, selecting the perfect picture of what M wanted to have done. Then I'd take her to a nice salon, maybe even get her a manicure, too. We'd have a wonderful day, I would strengthen our bonus mother-daughter bond and all would be perfect.

And then I backed out.

Not because I was afraid of what Mama Ex would do. I'm not afraid of her. I knew she would get pissed and throw a fit to my husband, but I also knew she wouldn't undo the highlights, because M would have gotten more upset. I stopped myself from going through with the highlights for one reason and one reason only:

It wouldn't have really changed anything.

Sure, if I got M highlights, she would love me more than Mama Ex...for that day. But two weeks later, when I had to ground M for that "D" on her science quiz, she would have just gone right back to Mama Ex. It would have been a short-lived - and unfair- victory.

I realized that, as a step mom (hold on, I'm going to get all metaphorical) I'm sort of the second choice boyfriend. Remember, when you were in college and you LOVED your boyfriend, but you knew there was that one dude waiting in the wings who would do ANYTHING to get you, and you totally knew it? So when you and main boyfriend had a fight and broke up for three days, second choice boyfriend would take over and treat you like a princess and make you feel wanted and loved and special. But ultimately, you'd always go back to the boyfriend. Because he was who you loved and he truly had your heart.

That's how M is with Mama Ex. She may hate her sometimes (or a lot of times). She may scream about her and swear she's never going back home again and wants to live with Daddy and Ruby forever and EVER AND EVER. But in the end, Mama Ex is her mom and M loves her with all her heart. Me showering M with gifts just to spite Mama Ex isn't going to change that. The simple truth is, I will never be M's mom. I will always be the second choice. And I have to be okay with that- because it's best for M.

In the end, all I can do is treat M as I would treat a child of my very own. I would never use a child of my own in a power play against my husband. So, I have no right to use my step child in a power play against Mama Ex.

Being mature seriously sucks sometimes.

As a bonus mom, I have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of my step daughters, even if that means I hate what that entails occasionally. My relationships with my bonus girls is a roller coaster with high highs and low lows. But if I cheat my way to one of the high's, I'll know it deep inside, and it won't ring as true. I think I'd rather wait until M really, really needs me for something, and I can have an authentic step mom/daughter moment with her. Not one I manufacture for my own personal reasons.

Are you with me? Do you ever do something awesome for your step kids just to stick it to Mama Ex?

Monday, February 4, 2013

breaking all the (no)rules

Being a stepmom is like living inside a gigantic, doctorate-level text book - without an answer key. There's no cute professor with hipster glasses to give out sound advice (though there are plenty of people with less than a 3rd grade IQ that are happy to offer the unsolicited variety). There's no red buzzer going off if you make the wrong rule, or even a big green happy *ding ding* that goes off when you make the right one. Granted, this sentiment goes for parenting in general, but as a step parent, you're stuck juggling both sides of the equation. What would Mama Ex do? What would Hubs do? And, hey, what about what  I would like to do? Does that even matter? No text book in the world has the answers. 

(Trust me, if there was, Amazon would've jumped on it years ago.)

A stepmom has to make choices and rules using what knowledge she has at the time she has it. So, the question for today is this: Have you ever had to override a rule (or lack thereof) that your steps have at their mom's?

Let me explain what I mean. Some rules aren't created, they're just born our of necessity.  You live it every day without thinking about it, like breathing.

Example: After you eat a meal, wipe your mouth with a napkin.

Easy peasy. Not a YOU MUST DO THIS, but it's expected and understood.

Occasionally, the issue isn't rules, but a lack thereof. A NoRule, as I like to call it. A NoRule is something that would potentially be a set rule in most, say, average households, but doesn't apply in your home because you have chosen to make it a non-issue.

Example: Eating a totally healthy breakfast in our house every morning is a NoRule.

That's right. We will occasionally let the kids eat a cookie or a brownie with their breakfast.

*did someone just faint?*

(Calm down, really. Have you seen how many calories are in a Krispy Kreme? Let's not call Child Services just yet.)

Everybody has NoRules. It's part of the fun of being a grown up and letting your step kiddos get away with something that's a little taboo. But sometimes, a NoRule from Mama Ex's shows up in our house, and it directly conflicts with one of our "set in stone" rules. We may not notice right away. It could take weeks or months. Then one day, I walk by the bathroom as my SD exits and I'm all DID YOU JUST TAKE A POOP AND NOT WASH YOUR HANDS AFTERWARDS???

I mean, gross. 

I totally disagree with 90% of Mama Ex's NoRules. For example:

Neither of my step children (they are 9 and 12) have ever run a dishwasher. Paper plates are the way to go, Ruby. Get with it. *Washing the dishes is a NoRule.*

Neither of my step children particularly cares if they wear the same underwear three days in a row. Washing clothes is expensive, Ruby. Get with it. *Clean underwear is a NoRule*.

My step kids don't know how to vacuum, much less put awa a vacuum. Messes are the way to go, Ruby. Get with it. So our vacuum gets put away looking like this because *Tidiness in the utility closet is a NoRule.* And therefore our vacuum looks like this.

For the most part, Hubs and I can veto a Mama Ex NoRule lickety split. We often have the conversation with the kids that, look, we are clean in this house. Teeth brushed, underwear clean, floors clean, dishes clean. Deal with it. At Mama Ex's, you obviously don't have to brush your teeth. Over here? That dog won't hunt.

Last weekend, though, we hit a road block.

Bonus Daughters 1 and 2 are very, very quickly outgrowing their clothing at Mama Ex's. I don't mean outgrowing like, "my shoes are sort of tight." I mean outgrowing like, "I cut a hole in the tops of my shoes so my toes can hang over and DON'T THEY LOOK COOL?"

*Wearing clothes that fit has become a NoRule at Mama Ex's.*

A year ago, I would have just run out to Target and bought them new duds. After all, clothes fly back and forth between houses all the time; it's part of co-parenting. However, lately we've noticed a strange occurence. Let's say on Saturday we notice the girls need new pants. So we buy three new pairs of jeans/tights per kid and send them home to Mama Ex's, thus ensuring the kids aren't rocking the Salvation Army Chic look at school on Monday. But magically, the next time we pick up the girls for our parenting time, they're wearing the EXACT SAME Barbie sized clothes they wore the previous weekend.

Where did the new clothes go? Aren't new threads supposed to replace old ones? And aren't we paying a sizable amount of money each month to Mama Ex each month to assist her in buying clothes?

Something's amiss, yo.

Hubs and I are not okay with a nine year old sausaging herself into a 5T dress while a 12 year old is wearing her jeans as capri's in -8 degree weather. Both kids are at an age where how they dress and feel about themselves is increasingly important. Besides, when an otherwise fashionable kid suddenly shows up at school looking homeless, red flags go up. Teachers, principals, bus drivers...they notice these things. 

So, while it is clear that Mama Ex is using the kids to act out some sort of weird power play, I don't know how appropriate it is for us to give in. It's like we're in some weird game of Child Custody Chicken. Mama Ex is just seeing how long it takes to make us blink. 

Look, Hubs and I have the money to provide the girls nice clothes at both homes and Mama Ex knows it. But isn't this just setting the stage for future problems if we bend? On the other hand, if we don't bend, are we willing to watch the kids suffer knowing we have the power to do something about it? Where's the line? I don't want to spend my life with Mama Ex dangling the well-being of the kids out in front of us like a sadistic carrot. 

Mama Ex's NoRules are quickly becoming a corner we can't paint ourselves out of. Help, bloggies. Help, help, help.

And if you find that textbook that gives away all those step parenting answers, feel free to send it my way. 

What NoRules do you have at your house? What NoRules does your hubby's Ex allow that make you want to rip your hair out?


Friday, February 1, 2013

we're back...

Oh time has flown.

If you're a follower of Red Headed Stepmoms, let us just say, please forgive us. Life has gotten in the way, as it tends to do. Both Lady and I have been busy little bee's and have neglected this blog. Shame on us.

(In other news, we are both TOTALLY caught up on every ridiculous Real Housewive's show that's out there, and Ruby is completely obsessed with "Homeland".)  

(But that's neither here nor there.)

We hope you haven't strayed too far and have kept your eye on our blog every now and again, hoping we would return with some more advice and stories to share.

Let me just say, we have LOADS to catch up on. 

So, put the Red Headed Stepmoms back in your blog feed and don't give up on us just yet. We're back and ready to roll. Stay tuned, bloggies, stay tuned...