Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hello, I'm a Stepmom. And I have baby fever.

Stepmoms are in a weird sort of love-limbo with their stepkids - and people on the outside don't really understand it. We love our stepkids to the deepest parts of our heart. We want the best for them, we cry for them, we worry for them, we live for them.

But they aren't ours. And they won't ever be. No. Matter. What.

This realization is one I spend a good deal of time trying to avoid. (Sort of like how I avoid mirrors after I've gone on a three day Mexican food binge.) Besides, it will be my turn soon enough, with my own biological child.

(Oh wait...we've been trying for 2 years and the baby train has yet to pull into my station. Dammit.)

That's right. I'm a stepmom with two stepkids and the intense desire to have a child of my own with Hubs. And it just won't happen. 

At the beginning, I assumed getting preggers would be a walk in the park because, hey, Hubs is obviously Fertile Myrtle. He has two kids and they were both conceived with a woman who was literally told that she would never be able to conceive children. Ever.

We're talking immaculate conceptions, here.

Naturally, when we made the decision to move forward with baby making, I went around telling everyone with functional ears that: 


Everyone, including myself, expected an announcement within two months. But nothing happened. Then a few more months went by. Then a few more. Gradually, people stopped paying attention to my stomach or checking to see if I was having a drink with dinner. They stopped using phrases like "when you have a baby" or "after you get pregnant". In fact, a lot of people just stopped saying anything. Better to pretend like nothing happened.

Because nothing is happening.

Struggling with infertility is hard enough when it's just you and your husband, waiting for a stupid pink plus sign to show up on a stupid plastic thing that ironically looks just like a tampon. But when you throw in being a stepmom, things get infinitely worse...because people think think they have the perfect solution to your problem. 

You already have kids!!!! TA DAAAA!

I recently started to notice that when I spoke to friends and family about my epic failure to get knocked-up, they would inevitably smile and and say reassuringly, "Well, even if you don't get pregnant, you  always have the girls!" or worse yet,  "Maybe God gave you stepkids because he knew you wouldn't be able to have children." And then they stand there and expect me to be all, "You're right. I am really lucky."

But I really want to hold someone's head under water.

Just because I have stepkids does not make my desire to be a mother any less. If anything, it intensifies it 2000 fold. Let's remember I already have to act like a mom and talk like a mom and love like a mom and curtail the college keg stand photos on my Facebook statuses like a mom...but I don't get to be a mom. I don't get to hold my own child in my arms. At least not yet.

Reminding me that I already have stepkids is like pouring a gigantic bowl of salt on a gaping, open sore in my uterus. Imagine you are trying desperately to buy a house, but every house you fallin love with is taken off the market the second you think you have the deal done. Would you enjoy it if I kindly reminded you that God set you up in a totally killer apartment and you should just be grateful?

Exactly. And that's just a stupid house, not the proverbial fruit of your loins.

So just don't. Don't say anything about my stepkids if I confide in you that I'm struggling with infertility. Just be there for me. Tell me you're so sorry I'm going through this and you hope it will all turn out okay in the end. Because in all liklihood, it will. Don't throw my stepchildren in my face. They're human beings, not a consolation prize at the Infertility Olympics.

Oh...and when 34098098234 people announce their pregnancies on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram? I'm likely going to have an effing meltdown. Just hold my hand and be there. Sometime saying nothing says absolutely everything.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The One Word Hubs and Mama Ex Have to Stop Saying -(Like, right now.)

It's only two letters. Two, teeny-tiny, itty bitty letters. But every time Mama Ex or your Hubs uses this word, it's doing more damage to your blended family than Hiroshima ever could. So what's the word?


Don't flip out on me just yet. There are times when using the word "my" about your kiddos is perfectly acceptable. If Mama Ex is sitting at a restaurant with the kids and someone says, "Oh, who are these little darlings?" it's only natural for her to reply, "These are my daughters, M and T." 

I mean, duh.

The problem arises when Mama Ex (or Hubs) uses that nasty little bugger of a word when it implies possession. In my own experience, Mama Ex loves using this word when she is forced needs to text me to figure out drop off/pick up arrangements.

Me: What time should I pick up the girls up tonight? Hubs is running late from work.

Mama Ex: You can pick up my girls at 6:00 at their Aunt Jane's..

No, no, no, no, no, no. Look, I get it. They're YOUR children. Did you honestly think I forgot for one split second I forgot? One problem, though. They also belong to my Hubs. We are a family. All of us are in this together. Drop the "my" and just say "the". I can pick up "the" girls at 6:00 at their Aunt Jane's. 

(Using the "my" word is the emotional equivalent of a dog peeing all over his brand new chew toy. It's just unnecessary.)

You may notice that Mama Ex brings out this word does this when she's feeling particularly vulnerable, or if she feels her parenting style is being attacked. I can remember one time when Hubs mentioned that one of the girls had an infected cut on her foot and he was going to buy something to clean it up. The response was something to the effect of:

"My girls are plenty clean! I make sure they have baths and clean clothes always!"

Clearly, Mama Ex assumed that Hubs was asserting that she wasn't doing a #1 Mom job of parenting (this is a problem we face often). Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth, but she went on the defensive and started using that word to show that the children are HERS, and he's just visiting. Not a great way to encourage a happy dynamic.

Another instance of "my" that is far more damaging than spoken between exes, is when a parent uses the word within earshot of the kids.

Example: "I'm sorry, Mrs. 3rd Grade Teacher, Mama Ex never tells me when my kids have homework so I didn't know she had a paper due."

Using "my" like this indicates to the kids that one parent has more responsibilities or rights than the other. It also just comes off as a lousy excuse for one parent not pulling their weight. Sorry peeps, but parenting is a 50/50 responsibility, even if one parent has more physical custody. Both parents must make an effort to show that they are equally responsible for the health and well-being of the kids. And every time someone uses the "my" language, it undermines that effort.

The hard truth is, you're not going to stop Mama Ex from using "me me me, mine mine mine, my my my" anytime soon if your darlin' Hubs doesn't lead by example. Talk with him and ask that he make a concerted effort to use the term "our" when he's referring to the kids in conversation with Mama Ex. After some time has passed, if she's still doing it, he may actually have to sit down and ask outright.

So the next time you hear Hubs breaking out the "my" bomb, calmly remind him that if he expects Mama Ex to be accepting of blending the families, he has to as well. And soon, all the kids will know is that their family, though broken in many ways, is united in the most important thing of all: love and respect.

If being is a stepmom is a job...when do we get a raise?

I've been doing some major thinking lately.

(And yes, some of the thinking circles around how on earth I can figure out a way to watch 'Downton Abbey' without crying ever. single. episode.)


I've been thinking about my expectations in my career as a stepmom. In the world of normal careers (accountant, sales rep, , 6+ years experience in a position would be pretty great. I'd be at a point where I'd likely be experiencing the following:
  • A substantial raise
  • My own cell phone paid for by the company
  • Respect
  • Praise for a job well done
  • A bonus
  • Additional vacation time
  • Sick days
  • Stock options
  • Christmas parties with lots of booze
  • A hot copy machine guy to stare at
  • Impromptu "Let's get out of the office at 3:00 and never come back" days.
But as a stepmom? Well,  6+ years experience seems to be equivalent to "Intern". With my years of experience, the bulk of my fringe benefits are:
  • No pay
  • A cell phone that I pay for and use to try and communicate with my stepkkids. And generally get declined because Mama Ex hates that they want to talk to me.
  • Some respect. None of which comes from Mama Ex.
  • A little praise
  • A lot of criticism - from Mama Ex, friends, strangers, etc.
  • The never-ending feeling that I don't quite belong and probably never will.
  • The privilege of acting as Chauffer
  • And Cook
  • And shoulder to cry on
  • Hugs and kisses from my stepkids that are never full hugs and kisses. Those are reserved for Mama Ex.
So when does all of this change? When do I get upgraded to "Executive Vice Parent" to these kids that I love so, so much? Is there some magical date in which the tides turn and all of a sudden I get the benefits that I think I deserve? Unfortunately, I think that answer is "no". 

I realize that all parents, not just steps, feel unappreciated some of the time. Maybe even all of the time. In fact, when I've made reference to the fact with friends or family that I do feel taken advantage of at times, it's often met with a chuckle and some version of the phrase "Well, join the club!" The problem is, as a stepmom, I CAN'T join the club. Even if I want to. My corporate card will never reach the gold level. I'll always be stuck at silver, or maybe even that ugly, tarnished bronze color. I'm like Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places", standing outside the restaurant window watching my colleagues live it up, knowing I don't belong.

As I write this, I realize how incredibly selfish I sound. Why should I expect that at some point I will receive anything just for being a parent-figure? As so many people love to say, "Hey Ruby, you signed up for this. You knew it was coming." At the end of the day, shouldn't I accept and understand that, though it's unacknowledged by Mama Ex, my stepkids or the world at large, I am playing a huge part in how these kids grow up. Shouldn't that be enough for me?

Apparently Wednesday is "Ruby Pity Party Day." But hey, we all need those, right?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

5 Rules My Stepkids Won't Like During Summer...(but still need anyway.)

No more teachers, no more books - you know the drill. Your adorable stepkids are officially on summer break. While splitting the summer between your house and Mama Ex's, they're likely expecting three months of lazy days, warm sunshine and constant entertainment.

So let's have a reality check.

As a step mom who is is not used to the week on week of schedule, I'm not used to having the kids around as often as they will be in the coming months. (Not that I'm not excited to have them more, because I totally and completely am.) Translation: summer is an adjustment. We have my two stepkids for a week at a time. It's great, it's wonderful, it's grand. 

But here's the deal: I work from home. As a sales rep, my home office is literally my HOME office. When I do that "heads down, lost in thought" work, it's in my home.

Unfortunately, my step kids see me at home and think, "HEY! Ruby is here all day! She can take us to the park, make us lunch, play charades, make balloon animals and generally entertain us until Daddy gets home."

Um, no.

I grew up in a home where Mom and Dad both worked and were gone all day. Consequently during the summers, my brother, sister and I were left to our own devices. Inventing imaginative ways to pass the summer days was a necessary side effect of summer, and surprise surprise, I survived. But now that I have my stepkids home with me for a week at a time, I'm noticing that having a parent (figure) around, is much different than having no adult in the house. So, we're laying some ground rules that the kids are none too thrilled about. You might consider these in your own household, whether you stay home or not.

1. Sleeping in is a privilege, not a right

One of the major perks of summertime living for a kid is that they generally don't have to get up early. I'm all for this, but there are limits. For example, as I mentioned earlier, I work from home. My day begins at 7:30 whether the girls' does or not. That means I am going to live my day as though the kids aren't here. Making myself breakfast, getting Hubs out the door, feeding the animals, etc. If my dogs decides to bark at the Fed Ex guy at 8:09 am, I'm not going to shush her just because "the kids are sleeping". If there's one thing I learned in college, it's that sleeping in takes effort, because the rest of the world has things to do. Summer does not equal Ruby tiptoeing around the house so the kids can get a few extra winks.

2. No Phone Zones

As I sit and reflect on my childhood summers, I recall very little texting, You Tubing, Snapchatting and Facebooking. (Granted, they weren't invented yet, but still.) My stepkids are out of school, but that doesn't mean they get to become robots. We have several "No Phone Zone's" throughout the day. Meal times are a huge No Phone Zone time. My stepkids eat at the same time as each other. It's called a conversation, and they need to learn how to have one.

3. Boob Tube Boundaries

I used to say "No TV While I'm Gone" for the summer, but the rule is hard to enforce because I can't stop the kids from picking up the remote. So I flipped the rule on its head. The only time the kids CAN watch TV is if I'm out on an appointment for work. Since I do a large majority of my work from home, this means their TV time is minimal. Oh, and Netflix? I disable it if I'm not home. The last thing I need is the kids checking out "Cabin in the Woods" when I'm not here. The best part is, since the kids are so thrilled to be watching TV when I'm gone, I don't have to worry about them getting into trouble.

4. Imagination is worth its weight in gold

If they can't watch TV and they can't be on their phones, the possibilities for easy entertainment dwindles quickly, so I start to get a lot of "I'm bored" and "When is Daddy coming home?" My response is generally, "invent something to do." As a kid, some of the best days of my summer were spent acting out a soap opera with my Barbies, or building a fort in the living room with my brother. I know my stepkids are creative if they just make the effort to try. I don't even care if they make a mess, as long as they're doing something fun. Creative messes can be cleaned up; gray mush for a brain is harder to clean up. If the kids tell me they just can't think of anything creative to do, I put a book in their hands.

5. Take a Look, it's in a Book

I am a book worm, through and through. I don't need flowers for Valentine's Day; a gift card to Barnes and Noble is quite sufficient. So I'm always surprised when my stepkids roll their eyes when I mention heading to the library at the beginning of summer. It's like I'm telling them we're heading to the guillotine. In past years, it hasn't been worth the battle and I've let it slide. No more.

This year each child will read for no less than 30 minutes per day. As an extra incentive, I've offered a special prize to the child that finishes a book series first. Harry Potter, Pretty Little Liars, The Babysitter's Club...I don't care. Just finish a chapter book series and you get something cool.

(I've yet to figure out what that something cool is yet, but they don't have to know that.)
Oh, and each child will explain to me what is going on in their book at the end of each week. If they haven't finished the book in two weeks, they're clearly not really reading.

6. Earn your keep

Chores are a huge part of summer. If my bonus babes get to spend day after day laying around the house, they can certainly fold a few loads of laundry and *gasp*, unload the dishwasher. This house is by no means as spotless as 'Downtown Abbey' and I don't expect it to be, but a 13 and 11 year old can help it at least look respectable. After all, their Dad and I are out earning money so they can continue to have fun vacations, nice clothes and electronics. They can help out. Complain all they want, but help out nonetheless.

The biggest issue I face with summer is that Mama Ex takes a completely different view of how the kids should experience these next few months. To her, it should be constant fun all the time. She doesn't believe in chores, or reading or using imagination and it's a crying shame. But I've learned that I have to ignore what she does at her home and focus on ours. In order for me to keep my sanity this summer as I share my home with the kids, I have to lay out ground rules and establish routine, or we're all going to be miserable...and hot. Not a good combo.

What rules do you put in place to keep your summer sane?