Monday, March 11, 2013

STOP! 5 Questions to Never Ask A Stepmom. Like, ever.

*Knock knock.*
Who's there?
A stepmom.

No seriously. There are people out there that don't know what to say or do in dealing with step mothers. But they need to learn - cuz we're everywhere, yo. We're waiting at the doctor's office, sweating out to Zumba at the gym, and hearing about our step kid's obsession with eating glue at parent teacher conferences.
Navigating the complicated landscape of a blended family can be difficult for an outsider. So, rather than tell you what to say to a stepmom, I've compiled a list of the top 5 things to NEVER ask a step mother again. Share with your friends, your hair dresser, your cousin and every person you know that has a blended family.

(That's basically everyone, by the way.)

1) "Aren't you just soooo sweet for taking on your husband's kids?"

Um...hold on.These are my husband's children - not filthy rats that we picked out of the sewer. They are a part of my husband and now, a part of me. You might mean well, but by praising me for accepting my step kids, you're insinuating that I married my husband in spite of his children. Wrong. I fell in love with my husband for many reasons, and his kids rounded out the top two. (Number one was his nice butt, natch.)
Think of it this way. Would you ever walk up to another mother and say, "It is so sweet the way you stay with your husband even though he gave you the cutest kids on the planet."

No, because that would be stupid. And it makes no sense. So why would you tell me I'm amazing for getting to be a part of something so fantastic?

I'm a stepmom. Not a martyr. Just tell me I have a great family and leave it at that. 

2) I want to plan a fun night out with you and your Hubs some Saturday soon...which weekend are you without the kids?

Look peeps, I have kids. You have kids. Millions and millions of people have kids. Would I ever stop inviting you out to see "Wicked" simply because you have rug rats? Hellz no. In fact, I might be inclined to ask you out more often simply because you have kids! We all need a break, right?

I understand the logic behind this one. After all, many fathers only have their children every other weekend, so you're being respectful by trying to avoid taking Dad away from that precious time. And seriously, that is sweet. But here's the thing - we are trying to have as normal a family life as possible. And in most households, mom's and dad's occasionally go out with their friends for an evening and leave the kids with *gasp* a babysitter. 

Why can't I do that, too?

After all, part of being a kid is saying sianara to your 'rents every now and again to enjoy a night of junk food and debauchery....while your parents are out doing the exact same thing.

Bottom line - don't worry about trying to schedule around the kids' calendar. We'll make it work, and we're dying for an invite out just as much as anyone else. 

(Also, we might need to borrow your babysitter's list. Step mom's actually don't double as babysitters, if you can believe that.)

3) So, you have step kids. Are you going to try for kids of your own?

Well, are you going to take care of that overactive bladder problem you have?

C'mon people, this falls under the "none of your business" category, too. You must think of a step mother as a normal, average mother. You don't get a free pass for nosy questions just because she's a "step". And by the way? Most step mothers think of their step kids as their own kids, so your question is already insulting before it even comes out of your mouth.

4) Whoa, that waiter referred to you as your step kid's mom. Shouldn't you correct him?

No, I shouldn't. And neither should you. Do you have any idea how many people assume I'm these kids' mother? I get it all. the. time. This happens because people don't know the inner workings of our family. 

The 17-year-old waiter at TGI Friday's sees me and my husband with wedding rings, sitting with two little girls. Logic says, "That's Mom and that's Dad."  I don't need to embarrass the poor kid - he's being paid to bring me ranch dressing, not decipher our family dynamic. (However, I do tip extra when a waiter simply asks the generic question, "Is it okay for this sweetie to have a cookie?")

Occasionally I will correct someone, but it's my responsibility to decide when that is appropriate. Like I said earlier, I don't need a reminder that I'm a step mom. I know what I am. It kills me that I will never be those adorable girls' real mom, even though my heart is positive that they are. Please just let me decide when to correct someone's mistake.

5) What's the latest with that crazy bio mom? SPILL!

Look, I'm a girl. I love gossip and nights of wine and venting. Just not when it comes to Mama Ex.

I know you've heard me say bad (okay, really bad) things about her before. What you don't realize is, I'm seriously trying to stop. Mama Ex is going to be in my life for the foreseeable future. Yes, she does things that infuriate me, but when you encourage me to recite the top 10 list of Mama Ex atrocities (and believe me, such a list exists), you're only compounding the problem. Besides, if it's okay for you and me to talk smack on Mama Ex, how can I be mad at her for saying terrible things about me with her friends?

The good news is, you and I can still talk. In fact, I need you. I need a friend that I can share my frustrations and my fears with. I need someone to be there and remind me that I can do this; I can be a good step mom and a great wife and a terrific friend. More importantly, I need to be reminded that it's okay when I mess up.

The overarching rule of talking to a step mom is this: just talk to us like a normal mom. Ask us questions about our can even drop the "step" word. We think of these kids as our own, so you can too. And by the way? Just like any other normal mom, sometimes the last thing on earth we want to talk about is the kids. So bring over a bottle of wine and let's discuss a topic where no rules Channing Tatum's abs.

What sorts of questions do you hear as a step mom that drive you crazy? Tell me on the comments below or tweet me your answer!

Friday, March 8, 2013

please do not feed the drama machine

When I became a step mother in 2007, I was surprised by the ease of blending together Hubs, my two bonus daughters, Mama Ex and her husband. In fact, I dare say I felt fantastic about it. When I first met Mama Ex, we shook hands politely, smiled and all seemed well. Mama Ex was decent about being flexible and even encouraged the girls be with us on "unscheduled" times.

That was then.

Now it's all gone to hell in a handbag. And not even a designer one.

Mama Ex and her husband separated in 2008, and we saw the effects of the event immediately. Things changed at a break neck pace, leaving Hubs and I with our heads spinning.  

We somehow suddenly became the enemy.  

Mama Ex put a full stop on informing Hubs of any medical concerns (even surgeries), school conferences or anything having to do with the girls' well being. Mama Ex began to date an endless stream of men, and when she was out with them, the girls would stay with smoke-filled homes of neighbors rather than to their Dad's. To top things off, Mama Ex dusted off the existing (crappy) custody decree and began to follow it to the absolute letter. This also meant we were victim to her interpretation of what the decree stated, right or wrong. Zero exceptions. 

Something had to be done.

As a last ditch effort, we picked up and bought a house within two miles of Mama Ex's apartment, hoping that living closer would inspire her to let us have the kids like she did before. It didn't work. In the end, Hubs and I realized the only thing we could do was file a motion to modify the decree to request a 50/50 time split with the kids. 

Mama Ex didn't exactly meet the modification request like this:
                                             Happy Woman Jumping Stock Photo

Suddenly, nasty lies started creeping into conversations we had with the girls. And they could only be coming from one place. For instance, the girls wanted to know why Daddy wished to take Mommy away from them. On more than one occasion, the girls even asked us, in tears, "What if Mommy dies while we're with you? She'll be home all alone and no one will be there when she dies!"

Generally, 9 and 12 year old kids don't worry about parent perishing over the weekend, so it was clear Mama Ex was planting ideas into their heads. But, as a responsible adult, it wouldn't be right for us to explain that Bud Light and several male strangers would surely be keeping Mommy company while the girls were gone.

So, all of this brings me to my point - being the bigger person. Do you ever feel like Mama Ex is constantly bringing out the low blows?  Does she perpetuate misconstrued, vicious and sometimes seriously damaging lies that make your bonus kids question what on earth is wrong with you and their Daddy? Things like:

....Mommy said you and Daddy are lucky because you both have good jobs. Mommy had to raise us alone so she can't get a good job.

...Mommy says you take us to Beauty Brands because you think Great Clips is for poor people.

....My shoes don't fit because Mommy says you're supposed to buy those things because you and Daddy have good jobs.

...Drinking wine only makes you drunk if you drink more than three glasses.

...Our cable got turned off because the pay place doesn't take the kinds of checks Mommy has. She says they'll take your kind of check, though.

If you believe in yin and yang, then for every awful, disrespectful, made-up thing that Mama Ex tells the girls, Hubs and I have to counteract that with being good, respectful, and truthful, right?

But here's the rub...

BEING TRUTHFUL WITH THE GIRLS WOULD MAKE MAMA EX LOOK BAD, which is the one thing we're trying to avoid by being the bigger person.

It's a vicious cycle that even mounds of ice cream can't fix. I've tried.

What's a stepmom to do? I don't appreciate my bonus kids operating under the assumption that Hubs and I have stacks of money we're sitting on. Or that we're somehow responsible for Mommy only having a high school education. Those things aren't true, but explaining why they aren't truthful requires us to say less than flattering things about Mommy. And that doesn't help anyone.

Therefore, as a general rule (unless the lie is so huge that we have to have a serious talk), Hubs and I have come up with a sentence that we feel does two things:

1) It lets the girls understand that we don't agree with what is being said.
2) It doesn't put down Mama Ex.

When a planted whopper comes out of the girls' mouth, we simply say, "I'm sorry that Mommy feels that way, but she is entitled to her own opinion. We disagree with her opinion about XYZ."

And do you know what almost always happens?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Life moves on. 

Our daughters aren't stupid. They're 9 and 12. The relaying of information - true or not -  from parent to parent gives them a feeling of importance and power. They love the drama, yo. And it's like a drug.

(Otherwise the Bravo network wouldn't be in existence.)

By responding to Mama Ex's lies with screams and yells and digs back, we just feed the drama machine. But by simply saying that we respectfully disagree with Mama Ex's opinion, there's nowhere to go after that. Dead end.

And then we go play Uno.

What do you say when a fat lie comes out of your bonus kids' mouths? Do you immediately defend yourself or do you step back and stay clear of the drama machine? 

Friday, March 1, 2013

the surprise of my life

To my youngest stepdaughter:

Over 6.5 years ago, on a cold October night, Daddy came to pick you and your big sister up for his weekly dinner. He rang the doorbell and greeted you with a hug and kiss, just like he always did. But something was different this time; a girl was with him. Even though he introduced me as "his friend, Ruby Red", I could see it in both of your eyes. You knew something was different when you looked at Daddy. He was happy. Truly happy. You looked up at me and smiled, and I almost melted into a puddle on the floor.

I'll never forget that dinner. We all laughed and laughed together like we had all known each other for years. You, little miss, even held my hand on the way out to the car without me even asking. When we dropped you off at home, you and your sister knitted your eyes together in worry and asked, "We're going to see you this weekend at Daddy's, aren't we?" At that second, you both burrowed yourselves into a little space in my heart. Today, my heart has grown 10x the size it was, and you two girls have most of that space all to yourselves.

I've always known that you love me and that you see me as something more than just a stepmom, but I've never known how deep it goes. We always exchange "I love you's" and hugs and kisses...but I sometimes wonder if you do those things because you feel you must? On Tuesday night, I got an answer.

Little miss, you came into the house this last Tuesday and smiled an older and wiser version of the same smile you gave me all those years ago. You held out a red piece of paper to me and said, "I made this for you today." When I opened it and began to read, I wasn't expecting much. You always make little cards for me that tell me you love me and you think I'm an awesome "cooker." As the words you had written connected in my brain, I didn't even try to stop the tears. This wasn't a moment for acting tough and being strong. It was a moment I wanted to be vulnerable, to let you see how much you had touched me with your words.

You will never truly understand what this little piece of paper means to me. It may have only taken you three minutes to make, but it will stay in my heart for a lifetime.