Wednesday, November 12, 2014

gray matters

Is anyone still reading this blog?? :-)

So sorry for the absence, step bloggies. Life sometimes just gets in the way, right? Well no worries - I'm back, and soon enough, Lady will be as well.

During my absence, so many things have happened that I feel you stepmoms can identify with. One of them is really bugging me.

Asking permission.

As a stepmom, I feel like I'm constantly having to ask for permission to do something I know is right. But, because I'm not "the mom", I have to get approval from either Mama Ex or my husband. 

Don't get me wrong, some things are seriously not okay for me to decide:

  • Tampons for my oldest stepdaughtesr? Not my call. 
  • HPV shot for my stepdaughters? Not my call.
  • Allowing my stepdaughter to go on a date for the first time? Not my call.
These are just no-brainers. But in-between the obvious legal decisions, health decisions and black and white issues, there is some gray area - and that's where stepmoms live.

Right smack dab in the middle of the gray.

Here's an example:

Earlier this week, my stepdaughters both had an orthodontist appointment. They're each at the age where braces are probably going to be needed so they don't end up looking like Jewel. Hubs was working and unable to make the appointment. Mama Ex was supposed to go, but at the last minute opted out because she couldn't get off of work, either.

So it was on me.

I picked up the girls from school at 11:00 and went to the appointment. I listened, took notes, asked questions...all on behalf of both biological parents. I even made sure to mention that I was just a stepmom, and would have to get back to the orthodontist about whether we would continue with treatment. I was happy to do it all of this. It made me feel like I actually matter in this family. Both Hubs and Mama Ex couldn't be there, so good ol' stepmom stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done. YAY ME!

The good feeling didn't last.

The appointment ended around 1:15, and the girls still needed lunch. We grabbed a bite quickly, but by the time it was all said and done, the clock read 1:48. School ends at 2:15. It made zero sense to return the girls to school for less than 30 minutes, especially since the classes they were missing were art and choir. I called Hubs and told him I was just going to take the girls back to our house and they could spend the rest of the afternoon finishing homework from their classes earlier in the day. He approved and that was that.

A few minutes after returning home, my youngest stepdaughter's phone rang. It was Mama Ex checking to see how the appointment went. This is the convo I heard:

T: Hi, Mommy!

Mama Ex: (inaudible)

T: Yes, it went great! I do need braces and maybe even an expander thing to make my jaw wider! It was fun to see the pictures of my teeth on this big TV!

Mama Ex: (inaudible)

T: Yeah, we got some lunch that Ruby took us to get. So now I'm just on my bed at Daddy's house doing homework.

Mama Ex: (inaudible)

T: Because Ruby just took us home after lunch and the appointment. Why are you yelling?

Mama Ex: (inaudible)

T: (starts crying) I'm sorry! I didn't think it would matter! Please don't be mad!!


This went on for several minutes, and though I couldn't hear the other side of the convo, I could easily glean that Mama Ex was less than thrilled that I didn't take the girls back to school after the appointment. 

I'll be honest with you - I never thought it would be that big of a deal. Did I make a minor decision without asking Mama Ex? Yes. But I did ask Hubs and he was fine with it, and as their father, he has that right.

Of course Hubs got an immediate call from Mama Ex, explosively angry that I had the audacity to make a parental decision to not return her children to school.


Let me get this straight - I took 2.5 hours out of my day to take these kids to an orthodontist appointment on behalf of the biological parents, and that was fine. I listened to a doctor explain what procedures these children needed on behalf of the biological parents, and that was fine. I asked questions about the procedures and cost of this orthodontia work on behalf of the biological parents, and that was fine. I use my own insurance to get $1,000 per child covered if we move forward with the treatment...and that is fine. But making a common sense decision to let the kids miss 25 minutes of school is unacceptable and completely outside my boundaries?

Did I miss something?

The bottom line is, Mama Ex didn't like that I made a decision without her. As long as she knows exactly what I'm doing with her children and when I'm doing it, all is well. But the minute I step outside what she is expecting, all hell breaks loose.

And that isn't fair.

You can't trust someone to be there for important medical procedures/consultations, and not trust them to make a truly insignificant choice about 25 minutes of school. You either trust me, or you don't.

Pick a lane.

Is that too much to ask?

Has this ever happened to you? Do you feel like one minute you're worthy of parental decisions, and the next you're no different than a babysitter? Tell me how you feel in the comments!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Liebster Award!

Two blogs in one day! Aren't you lucky, bloggies?

So, several moons ago, the multi-talented Heather over at The Life of a Traveling Navy Wife was kind enough to bestow upon me a Liebster Award....and I've done absolutely nothing with it. Shame on me. 

But I shall now redeem myself by participating in the award.

I had no clue what this award was, and wondered if I was going to receive a large cash prize and perhaps a medal carved from an ancient Greek stone. Not so much, but thankfully there was an explanation provide. "Liebster," in German, means sweet, kind, nice, endearing, beloved, lovely, pleasant, valued, welcome. Woot woot! The award is passed from one blogger who thinks highly of another. I am super duper flattered that Heather included me in her list of Liebster awards.

The Rules of the Liebster Award

  • Each person must post 11 things about themselves by answering the questions that the nominator has set for you. 
  • Create 11 questions for the people you’ve nominated to answer. 
  • Choose 11 people (with less than 200 followers) and link to them in your post.
  • Go to their page and let them know (or contact them through social media).
  • No tag backs!
Such fun! I will respond to Heather's questions below and then offer up five other bloggers to keep this award running along!

Here are my answers to Heather's questions:

1. What question do you hate to answer? Are you and Hubs going to have your own children?
2. If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich? Writing. All day, every day. With some singing thrown in.

3. How did you choose the title of your blog? It was one of the first things I thought of. I needed to work in the word "stepmom" and I remembered the old saying about "the redheaded stepchild." I felt like it worked for stepmom's, too!

4. What is your favorite charity (and please tell us why)? The wonderful and brilliant ASPCA. I am a gigantic animal rights activist. I believe in adoption because there are a quadrillion beautiful dogs and cats out there that need homes. No need to breed, peeps.

5. Most daring thing you've done in your adult life? This is pretty obvious, but becoming a stepmom is up there. I know many women and men who have a strict "no kid baggage" policy. But to me, my husband having kids was not a deal breaker. It's not jumping out of an airplane, but I still find it daring.

6. What is the best meal you've ever had?  So, the Hubs and I were in Omaha on vacation once and stopped at this place called Crave (which is a chain, I think). I broke my "no carb" diet and ordered the lobster mac and cheese. It tasted as good as Channing Tatum looks. I only had it that one time, but returned to the restaurant a year later and it was OFF THE MENU. I still want to cry thinking about it.

7. Craziest thing in your refrigerator right now? Progesterone inserts. Yes, inserts. Just google "progesterone" and "infertility." Good times, yo.

8. What one book would you recommend to your readers? Anything by Gillian Flynn. Believe it or not, "Gone Girl" is not her best book. She's astounding and from the midwest like that makes her uber awesome.
9. Road trip or airplane? (caveat: given you can choose between the two to get to your destination) Road trip. I can pee when I want and see things I'll never see again. Road trips are an experience. Airplane trips are a nuisance.

10. Sweet or salty? Gimee dat salt.

11. What is your favorite indulgence? Wine. Always wine.

I was going to tag five other bloggies, but half of the ones I was going to choose have already been nominated! So, if you are inclined to do this, DO IT. I nominate everyone! And you can answer Heather's questions, because she's got way better ones than I would think of.


lady in waiting

You know when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize something you've never taken the time to realize before? That happened to me last night. I sat up in bed at about 2:30 AM and had an epiphany.

What I realized was, I spend a whole lot of time doing this one thing as a stepmom, and when I think I'll be done with it, it just starts back up again. It's not laundry (though that has its moments). It's not cooking. It's not a household chore of any kind.

It's waiting.

Waiting and waiting and waiting. Then waiting some more.
Of course, everyone is always waiting on something. I mean, that's just life. But as a stepmother, the things that are at the top of my wait list have changed dramatically. As a single gal, my waiting list was something like this:

1. Wake up and wait for Taco Bell to open
2. Get back from Taco Bell and wait for hangover to go away
3. Wait for Friday night so I can drink all weekend.
4. Wait for graduation so I can get a big girl job and make money.
5. Wait for the 15th of the month so I can get paid from my big girl job and spend my money. Probably on Taco Bell.
6. Wait to meet Mr. Right.
7. Wait to get married to Mr. Right. 
8. Get married to Mr. Right and wait for the rest of our lives.

It was all so easy, the waiting. There was no real stress in my life to speak of before getting married and starting my life as a stepmother. But then came the marriage, and subsequently, the role of my lifetime. I'm not complaining, I promise. But a little introspection never hurt anybody. 

After a year or two as a stepmom, my wait list changed in ways I never would have experienced. Instead of worrying about hangovers to go away, I was waiting on a completely different set of circumstances. My waits changed to this:

1. Wait for kids to fully accept me
2. Wait for Mama Ex to accept me, even a little bit
3. Wait for child support payments to be easier
4. Wait for mediation dates
5. Wait for court dates
6. Wait for the Xanax to kick in during the court dates
7. Wait for court decision
8. Wait for completely messed up court decision to sink in
9. Wait for money to show up in bank account to pay for crappy court decision
10. Wait for the day we can forget court ever happened
11. Wait for kids to appreciate what we do for them 
12. Wait for Mama Ex to appreciate what we do for HER
13. Wait to be recognized, just once, for being a good stepmom
14. Wait for Mama Ex to get divorced
15. Wait for Mama Ex to stop dating a guy the kids hate
16. Wait for Mama Ex to introduce us to her new boyfriend of three weeks that has moved in with my stepdaughters
17. Wait for school to end
18. Wait for vacation to start
19. Wait for school to start
20. Wait for the day the kids don't expect everything great in life to originate at our house.
21. Wait for the day that this all gets easier

#21 is my biggest wait. And what I realized lying in bed last night, was this. It's not going to get easier. Not ever. As I've said many times before, I'm in this for the long haul. My stresses and waits aren't going to go away when these kids turn 18. And my #1 wait? The one where I wait for the kids and Mama Ex to fully accept me? They might never, ever happen.

I think when I became a stepmom, I just assumed everything would fall into place like the damn Brady Bunch. But that isn't reality for me, or anyone else. Mike and Carol Brady never had to deal with their past spouses (where were they, anyway?). I'd like to see a real episode, where Mike's ex-wife lies and tells the kids that Mike isn't paying child support and that's why she can't afford cable. I'd like to see the kids be confused about who they can truly talk to, because they feel like no matter what, they're hurting one of their parents.

My waits are just going to get longer and harder as the years pass. Soon it will be waiting to see if my oldest stepdaughter takes our advice and tries to start a career, or takes her mother's advice and goes the route of "get married and let the guy take care of you."  
There's no way of knowing. There's no way of seeing. I have to just accept that whatever happens what happens, and waiting around for it all to work out perfectly, tied up in a big red bow is an exercise in futility.

And as for that Brady Bunch episode that shows life with a real blended family?

I'm still waiting...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the kids aren't all right

Being part of a family that is separated into two different factions can be challenging.

Screw challenging, it can feel downright impossible.

Our side, their side. His side, her side. It's a constant war between two parties. And something struck me the other day. How often do I stop and think about the third side? The side that gets the least amount of attention.

The kids' side.

Look, human beings are naturally selfish. And the older we get, the more self-involved we can certainly become. So, adults who find themselves in a divorce/split situation spend an awful lot of time trying to understand and dissect their own feeling. They think long and hard about how this co-parenting thing is affecting their own day to day. But those kids...they're the ones it's taking the biggest toll on, and oddly enough, the easiest ones to forget about.

So stepmoms, let's take a minute to listen to the kids. Because this is probably what they would say to us if we just shut up and listened.

1. I'll just pretend I don't remember

But I do. I still remember when Mom and Dad were together and happy. I remember this one time we went to the park and ate fried chicken and laughed until Dad snorted pop up his nose. But I also see how upset you get, stepmom, when I bring up those memories. You think it means I don't like you, even though I do. You think it means I don't want to make memories with our new family, even though I do. So...I'll just pretend. When I think of a memory of my mom and dad together, I won't bring it up. It's easier that way.

2. I'll pretend I hate her, too

Last week I told you that Mom had to get her tooth pulled, and I heard you whisper to Dad, "...that's what you get when you don't brush your teeth for three months."

You don't like my mom very much. I don't really understand why you don't. My mom is cool and I love her! I hate it when you say bad things about her and I hate it when she says bad things about you. One time I told my mom that you make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, and she got really upset and cried. I learned never to do that again! So now I just agree when mommy says you're a terrible person. And now I laugh when you make a mean joke about my mom. I don't really agree, but it makes things easier for me. I kind of feel like I'm living two separate lives...

3. I'm sorry I'm so expensive

I hear you talking to Dad about how much child support is. I'm sorry that I cost so much. I don't mean to. Next year I'm not even going to ask if I can play basketball because I know it's just going to cause a fight between you and Dad and my mom. You'll argue over who should pay for my basketball shoes and my uniform and it's not worth it. I hate to hear the back and forth. So I'll just say I don't really feel like playing sports. I'll say they're too hard or I don't enjoy it, even though I would love to make a lay up that wins the game. But if you and my Dad and my mom aren't arguing, that's worth it for me.

4. I'm sorry I'm a brat

Remember last month when you threw me that 5th grade graduation party and I sulked the whole time? It wasn't because I wasn't grateful for the party you and Dad threw me. I was so excited for it! It was because I felt guilty. My mom wanted to throw a party for me to, and she made me feel really bad that I didn't come to hers. But I didn't have a choice!! It was Daddy's and your day to have me. But that day, I couldn't get the look on mommy's face out of my head. She was so upset and sad. And so I wasn't as happy as I should have been. You and Dad thought I was being a brat. I wish I could tell you what was really going on...

5. I'll put a smile on my face

I can't talk to anyone about what I'm feeling. I have to put on a show...pretend I'm always happy or everyone starts blaming everyone else. I can't even have a bad day and lash out for no reason, because I'll hear, "well, she just came from her father's house and you know how it is over there" or "her mother must've made her feel guilty for wanting to be here." 


I just had a bad day at school. I spilled milk on my pants and was tardy to 4th period. The guy I like at school doesn't like me back. And It isn't Mom's fault. It isn't Dad's fault. It isn't my stepparents fault. I JUST HAD A BAD DAY.

But I'll just smile and pretend it's all okay. Mom and Dad won't know and they'll be happy and that's all that matters. 

I'll just put a smile on my face.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Twenty questions

I'm suffering from major writer's block today, so I thought I would try something quick, simple and easy that can help you all get to know me better. 

Behold, 21 things about Ruby Red you didn't know (and maybe didn't want to know but I'm telling you anyway)...

1. I always read words backwards and try to pronounce them backwards in my head. I don't know why.

2. I hate stroganoff.

3. I have been married for seven years as of this past Monday. Woot!

4. My stepdaughters were 3 and 6 when I met them and they are 11 and 13 now. It gives me gray hair to think about it.

5. Mama Ex and I used to get along relatively well. We didn't go shopping together or anything, but we were on friendly terms. It basically all changed when Hubs and I went to court to ask for more time. I don't regret any of our decisions to go to court.

6. I love guacamole. Like, an unhealthy love.

7. I try to stay out of the Leann Rhimes/Brandi Glanville mom/stepmom drama that seems to explode on Twitter all the time. That shit is cray cray, yo.

8. I have two dachshund dogs and two cats. Both of my dogs are rescues and are full breed animals. Both of my cats are rescues. I am a HUGE proponent of adoption and animal rights and may or may not give anyone a hard time who buys from breeders or pet stores. But I'll always do it nicely!

9. I have an obsession with anything on the Bravo! network. That obsession has expanded to "Ladies of London" this summer.

10. My favorite non-alchy beverage is icy cold Dr. Pepper, though I really try not to drink it.

11. I have struggled with infertility for 4 years. It drives me bat sh*t crazy.

12.  I'm deeply considering opening this blog up to talk about my entire life as a whole, rather than just experiences as a stepmom. Thoughts?

13. I enjoy paying bills.

14. My fave movie of all time changes daily, but it varies between "Gone With the Wind" and "Sex and the City." I blame the drastic change on the afore mentioned Bravo! network.

15. I was affiliated with one political party my entire life and changed 5 years ago. But I'm still registered as the original affiliation because I'm too lazy to change it.

16. I've started 5 novels and never finished any of them. Someday, friends. Someday.

17. I'm a Midwesterner. Don't hate.

18. I change my nail polish at least twice a week. My husband calls my nail polish drawer the "Rainbow of Death Drawer."

19. For my real job, I'm a sales rep and I frigging love it.

20. My college degree is in interior design. 

21. I really, really love red wine.

What else would you like to know, bloggies? I'm pretty much an open book.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's in a name?

Are you ready for a huge revelation, stepmom bloggies?? Here we go...

I'm not perfect.

Can you imagine? Yes, it's true. I, Ruby, make mistakes on lots of occasions. The good news is that I can hold myself accountable when I'm called out for a mistake. Such was the case with this weekend.

I'm on Twitter (you can find me at @RedHeadStepmoms). Twitter can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a dirty time bomb that detonates when you least expect it. Last week, after a particularly icky encounter with Mama Ex (like, Defcon 5 awful), I posted a tweet to Twitter. It went like this:

Fact of Being a Stepmom: Anyone you meet that shares BM's first name will already have a strike against them.

So here's what I meant by this tweet. I meant that most stepmoms have at least some conflict with the stepkids' mom. It's natural and it would be silly to pretend that it doesn't happen. In the interest of being honest, I will admit that when I meet a person and her first name happens to be exactly the name as Mama Ex's, it does cause me to flinch a bit. I don't automatically hate that person (nor do I hate Mama Ex) and I don't want them to die. I don't want bankruptcy and measles to befall her family. But...I do flinch.

I meant the Tweet in jest. In sarcasm. In funny ha-ha. In fact, Mama Ex probably feels the exact same way about me! When Mama Ex meets someone named Ruby, I'm pretty sure she thinks, "Oh, God. Another Ruby. How many of you are there in this world?"

Ya know what I mean? It was supposed to be playful.

Some people did not take it playfully. There were those on Twitter that believed I was yet another stepmom spewing vile hatred toward birth mothers. And you know what? That's fair. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the wisest of tweets. I was in a bad place at that moment and posted a joke that probably didn't come off as joke-y as it should have. I got called out on it, as I should have been. Thank you, Twitter friends!

Lesson learned.

But shortly after all of this happened, a new firestorm arose. There were many people that were quite annoyed at me for using the acronym "BM" to refer to the kids' mom. The general consensus was this:

"Birthmom" is a term used for adoption. When talking about your stepkids' mother, the term BM or BirthMom or BioMom is derogatory and implies that the woman was only used for her DNA, and is not worthy of anything else. The term "mom" should be used instead.

After having a few back and forths with some tweeters, I saw some real value in what they were saying and promised to give it thought. I promised to reconsider using the term BioMom or BirthMom or any word that isn't just "Mom."

And I did think about it. Like, a whole lot. I weighed out all the factors and came to the conclusion that, indeed, it is okay to use the term BirthMom/BioMo/BM/Mama Ex or whatever term is necessary to indicate that I am speaking about the biological mother of my stepchildren. Now, before you all go coo coo on me about why I'm wrong, let me give my reasonings:

1) "Mom" gets confusing

I am a part of the stepmother support community. I write a blog about my experiences as a stepmother. In the stepmom community, the use of the acronym BM to indicate BirthMom is used pretty consistently. As a matter of fact, acronyms run rampant in the community. Other commonly used acronyms are BD (biological dad), MIL (Mother in law), SD (stepdaughter), SS (stepson), etc. Acronyms are a part of the deal. I truthfully don't see that changing because it helps to delineate who you are speaking about. Just using the term "Mom" can get very, very confusing. Let me give you an example.

Let's say I'm telling a story in which I'm talking about myself, my stepchilldren, Mom, my husband, and my mother in law. 

Did you catch that I used the term "mom"? Who's mom? The kids' mom? My mom? The neighbor's mom? It's a little muddy. However, if I say BioMom, BirthMom, BM, or Mama Ex (which I use in this blog), you know exactly who I'm talking about. I do not mean it in a derogatory way. BM is the kids' biological mom and the only one they will ever have in the history of forever. That is a fact and I don't think it implies that this woman is a bad person in any way. It is simply a quick acronym to use as a clarification.

For another example, check out these two almost identical tweets:

1. @RedHeadedStepmoms: "Took SK's to the grocery store and Mom texted to be sure I got them cupcakes for tomorrow's school party."

2. @RedHeadedStepmoms: "Took SK's to the grocery store and BM texted to be sure I got them cupcakes for tomorrow's school party."

Am I nuts, or does #2 makes more sense? Look, I totally get that the terms for my stepkids' mother can take a turn to Negative Town really, really quickly. And that's where we all have to be careful.

Terms for Mama Ex that are not okay: The Bitch, Money Grubbing Whore, Egg Donor

2) Expect unto yourself what you do to others

Yo...Stepmoms. We have to understand that the door opens on both ends. We can't get our panties in a twist if we read an article by a stepfather and he uses the term "BioDad" to talk about the biological father of his stepson. That author is using it in the same way we do. Only fair.

Just like with BioMom, the same rules apply. My Hubs is the biological father of his children. For an author to use just the term "Dad," it can get muddled. 

BioDad, Daddy Ex, BD, whatevs...that's what he is. Right?

Terms for Daddy Ex that are not okay: Sperm Donor, Disney Dad, Bastard Asshole, Dickwad

3) These terms are for articles/blogs/letters/written word ONLY

It truly isn't necessary to use "BioMom" or "BM" in a conversation with another person that is face to face. When we're speaking to someone in person, chances are the context of the situation is already pretty clear. If I'm standing right next to my stepchildren and someone says, "Oh, what lovely children you have," it would be downright ridiculous for me to say, "Thanks. Their BioMom would certainly agree." 

Um, no. That makes it sound like their mother is that robot from the Jetson's.

I would simply say, "Thank you. I agree with you and wish I could take the credit! But that would have to go to their mother and my husband!" The clarification is easily done right then and there. Vocal conversations work faster and easier than written.

4) Stepmom isn't the nicest word either

Hey, all you BM's and BD's out there...I'm not exactly over the moon about the word "stepmom." I mean, I could list out quite a few movies (Cinderella, Snow White, Happily N'Ever After, Enchanted) where stepmothers are basically the axis of evil forever and ever and ever. "Stepmom" is often associated with pretty scurrry stuff.

But guess what? Just like BM and BD, it helps clarify, right? If you just called me "the lady that married my ex-husband and now has my kids part time" in an article or tweet, that would seem:

a) long winded
b) kind of rude

So, "stepmom" it is.

There is a big push to find a different word for "stepmom." Words like Bonus Mom, Extra Mom, or just putting "Mama" in front of the first name of the stepparent, like "Mama Ruby." I personally don't think we need the change. I've tried out "Bonus Mom" a few times, and it never set right with me. It made me feel like a prize at a carnival. 

I am a stepmother. That's who I am. And I can either own it and work to CHANGE the negative connotation with the word, or I can cry and whine about it. I choose to work hard to change the view of the word. I want my stepkids to be proud of their stepmom. I want my stepkids to be proud of their biological mom and their biological dad. I want everyone to get along and be happy.

That's a tall order, I know. But hey, we're all here and trying. We're all learning to be better people and be cognizant of feelings for every person involved. Like I said before, I'm certainly not perfect and I always encourage constructive criticism for when I make a boo boo. 

And I make them a lot.

Terms that are not okay to use for a Stepmom: Other Woman, Home Wrecker, StepBitch, Baby Stealer, Wicked Stepmother

PS: I feel like it bears repeating that this blog is my opinion and my opinion only. I am very open to others' opinions and encourage an open dialog because otherwise we all just sit around and learn nothing new. I welcome your comments! But everyone, play nice, mmk? Super mean comments will be deleted.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

STOP! 4 (More) Questions to NEVER Ask a Stepmom. Ever.

I get a lot of un-asked for advice when it comes to my role as a stepmom. It's amazing what experts people think they are from watching a few episodes of Oprah, or because they have a friend going through the "EXACT same thing." 

Except that they don't.

As stepmothers, we are all going through very similar things, but no one's story is the same. Nobody has the exact same set of circumstances that you do. I feel like when people try and relate to me as a stepmom, they go about it all wrong. Say all the wrong things. So, as an update to my previous list, let me add a few more phrases to never say when talking with a stepmom. Feel free to pass along to all of your friends that need a quick reminder...
1. Well, you signed up for this, didn't you?

This. Drives. Me. Banana bread. 

No, dear friend, I did not sign up for this. There was no document that meticulously laid out all of the trials and tribulations I would encounter when I became a stepmom. That's like me finding out your daughter is smoking crack and saying, "Well, you became a mom. You signed up for this." 

What I did sign up for was to unconditionally love a husband and two stepkids, and to try and maturely handle a very interesting relationship with the mother of his children. That's all I knew. I didn't have a crystal ball that forewarned me about anything. To imply that I can't ever be upset, or shocked or taken aback by something relative to being a stepmom simply because I got married is a whole load of BS. I am a human being and I have feelings...and those feelings will sometimes be nonsensical and ridiculous. Telling me that I should have known this was coming is not only insensitive, it's mean. So don't say it.

2. But you only have XYZ years left before this over, right?

Um, no. Becoming a stepmother is a lifeline commitment. My stepkids, much like biological children, don't fall off the face of the earth when they turn 18. In fact, just like biological children, my stepkids might become even more of a challenge when they become adults. I mean, all those that never called their parents for help after 18, raise your hand.

That's what I thought.

By stating the number of years until the kids are 18 to me only says one thing: you think my stepparent role is about money. Because child support (in some cases) ends when the child turns 18. 


My role as a stepparent is not shaped around the amount of money my husband and I spend toward child support. In fact, that's at the very bottom of the list. Stepparents give their heart, love, and soul to their stepkids. Money's just math.

Understand that when a friend says this phrase, what they are truly saying is, "only XYZ years until I don't have to hear about your damn stepkids and Mama Ex anymore." And maybe it's time to get a new friend...cuz your stepkids aren't going anywhere.

3.You want me to drive by Mama Ex's house and see if there's a blue Jeep in the driveway and get a picture of the owner? SURE!!!!

Put down your keys and step away from my maniacal plans. I need you, my friend, to stop me. I have gone off the rails.

Sometimes this happens. I go a little coo coo. I hear stories from the kids about Mama Ex, and I get curious. I want to know if they're true. More importantly, I want to know if they're things I can use against her in court. It's so, so bad of me. It's naughty and it's wrong. Mama Ex has a right to live her life and as long as it isn't putting the kids in danger, I have ZERO right to meddle.

So when I come to you with a theory on how to figure out the password to her email, or a plan on how to catch her cheating on her boyfriend, you've got to talk me down. Don't encourage me. Remind me that this is NONE OF YO BUSINESS, RUBY! Remind me to live my life and stop focusing on hers. Period.

4. Look at the bright side, if your step kids turn out messed up, it isn't your fault, right?

This doesn't come up a lot, but every now and again, as I'm relaying a story to a friend about something nutso that the kids have done, it does surface. And it's hurtful. As a friend to a stepmom, you have to remember that as much as we whine about the kids, or share stories about how much they're driving us nuts, we view them as our kids. Just like you see your biological children as your kids. You don't get carte blanche to say negative things about my stepkiddo's just because they're "steps."

I take my role as a stepparent very seriously. I influence these kids. I am a part of their lives. So, if one of them ends up as a drug dealer, yes, it is partly my fault. I did sign up to nurture them and love them unconditionally, regardless of who they become. Sometimes it may seem like you have some leeway to speak candidly about how you feel about them because they aren't biologically mine, but really, that's not the case. 

As I've said before, just think of my stepkids as though they are biologically mine. Because when they are with me (and even when they're not), I think of them that way. The best thing you can do is listen to me and support me. Don't try and pull stories from me. DO tell me I'm doing a great job and that you understand how difficult it can be. Relate to me with stories of your children. We're in the same boat, you and me. Let's ride it out together.

Monday, June 30, 2014

You've got a friend in me..

As a stepmom, I find a lot of my time gets sucked into being mad. Not just at Mama Ex, or Hubs or my stepkids. Sometimes I'm mad at everyone and everything. And I need someone to turn to. Lately on Twitter and blogs, I've seen a lot of people pondering where they can go when they're at the end of the rope. need friends. Good friends that can listen and help and offer advice. Here's a list of the 6 friends you need, and the situations for when you need them.

The Listener

Everyone needs a bitch fest. Sometimes we just need to sit down over a glass of wine or beer or club soda and just....spew. But this type of vent fest is not for every friend. You need The Listener.

The Listener This is not the friend that interrupts every two seconds to ask, "Wait, what were you wearing when Mama Ex did this?" or to say, "I know exactly what to do. You need to do the following things, in this order...." 

You need the friend that will listen with open ears, and an open heart and just let go...for hours if necessary. This friend is probably someone you've known for a long time, but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes people who don't know us well are the best listeners, because they don't have years of experience with us to navigate through. The Listener is there to serve one purpose. Listen. 

Best place to hang with The Listener: At home with no one else around. There will be ugly tears.

The Comic

You know her. She's the girl that can take a paper napkin and magically turn it into a 40 minute comedy routine. She knows you well, and she knows what you need to turn the frown upside down. This isn't the friend for the heart to hearts, when you're really needing answers about a problem. This is when you need to laugh so hard you wake up the next morning and feel like you did a hard-ass ab routine. Sure, you can tell her stories about Mama Ex and the kids and Hubs, and she's going to hear that and empathize. But she's going to be more concerned with doing a killer impression of Nikki Minaj on quaaludes in an effort to make you STOP thinking about Mama Ex and the kids and Hubs. And that's what you need right now.

Best place to hang with The Comic: At a hole-in-the-wall bar, where no one will care that you just laughed so hard you snorted cabernet up your nose.   

The Confidant

That's it. The last straw. You can't take it anymore. Your stepdaughter is a monster, Mama Ex is driving you up the wall, and quite frankly, you aren't sure you even want to be with Hubs anymore.

It happens.

You need a friend that can hear every awful, terrible thing you're thinking right now...and will keep it to herself. We all experience times when the stress of it all just seems insurmountable. We feel the only way out is to give up, throw in the towel, and throw around the "D" word (that's "divorce"). The Confidant has known you a long time and can see the difference between moments of weakness and true despair. She can decipher if you really mean the things you're saying, or if you just need time to cool off. Either way, she isn't going to judge you or hold you accountable for anything you're saying. 

Most importantly? She is a vault. 

She is not the friend who's going to hold what you say over your head later. Nothing says Lousy Confidant like someone who drunkenly brings you up at a dinner party by saying, "Hey, Ruby! Remember that time when you said you hated Hubs and hoped you could get a quickie divorce? Whatever happened with THAT!?"A true confidant has enough secrets to create Hiroshima on your life, but never will. 

Note of advice: if you've ever had even the slightest trust issue with one of your friends, she is not your Confidant.

Best place to hang with The Confidant: Like with The Listener, at home with no one else around. Perhaps a nice restaurant with a corner booth if you aren't sharing earth-shattering secrets.

The Go-Getter Coach

This friend takes no bullshit from anybody. She is in your corner all the way, and won't let anybody walk on you - including yourself. As stepmoms, sometimes we find ourselves taking a back seat to important situations because we don't feel like we have a right to be there.

The Go-Getter knows better, and she's going to let you know. This is the friend to seek when you're feeling sorry for yourself and need someone to WAKE YOU UP. To help you remember that you chose a great man with great kids and you have a great life if you'd stop sitting around brooding about it. Are times tough? Sure they are! Are you going to put your big girl panties on and deal with it? DAMN STRAIGHT YOU ARE.

The Go-Getter also has answers when you only have questions. She is a "to the point" kind of gal that doesn't mess around with "what if's" and "I'm nervous about"'s. She has time for one thing and one thing only: results.

BONUS: Schedule some time with your Go-Getter right before a confrontation/event where Mama Ex will be present. Not because you're going to punch Mama Ex in the face, but because you need to exude confidence and know that you belong.

Best place to hang with the Go-Getter: The gym. Burn off some calories and get endorphins flowing while you plan your world domination.

The Oracle

Okay, not really. She can't see the future, but she can certainly see answers that you never thought of before. 

(My Oracle just happens to be my mother-in-law (who knew?)!)

This gal is likely older than you, but certainly wiser than you. She's seen things you've never seen and knows how to navigate your situation because she has the unique ability to remove emotion from the equation. The Oracle can objectively look at every trouble, pick it apart, and put it back together again in a way that makes sense to you. 

The Oracle is likely armed with a pretty vast knowledge of what you've been through as a stepmom, so she knows all the players of the game. This enables you to jump right in with your problem, rather than having to give a lot of background info to catch her up. She is ready, willing and able to make decisions where you can't, and dole out advice that is sound and thoughtful, rather than impulsive and potentially damaging.

When in doubt on which friend to see, head to The Oracle.

Best place to hang with The Oracle: Anywhere. She is there to help you, to listen and to guide. Period.

The Stepmom

C'mon, you didn't think I'd forget about this one, did you? Ironically, The Stepmom can be a combination of all of the previous friends I just mentioned. Because The Stepmom truly understands where you are - because she is a stepmom herself. 

The Stepmom can be the next door neighbor, a Twitter follower, or even your best friend from high school. She could be new to the stepmom world, or she can have 25 years of experience. It doesn't matter. No one relates to the struggles of a stepmom more than another stepmom. 

The Stepmom is all of us. 

We are here to laugh, to cry, to vent, to scream. We are never too far away, but know when to step back. We understand custody decrees, legal battles, and practically have a doctorate in acronyms that no one understands (DH, SD, SS, SK, BM). And we will never leave you. Whenever you need us, we are here. There is no "best place" to hang with The Stepmom. We are every place, every time. 

So use us. It's what we're here for.


Friday, June 27, 2014

bed of rotten roses

The other day we talked about money relative to child support, and how frustrating it can be when it appears that Mama Ex is misusing the money that lands in her bank account every month.

Ironically, shortly after I wrote that blog post, a fellow #twitterstepmom (@stepMomsAnon) posted this picture with the question:

Is this BioMom providing abusive care to her children?

I immediately felt a lurch in my gut. I could identify with this picture. A few years back, my youngest stepdaughter was sleeping on a blow up mattress (she did have a bed frame, though) in her room at Mama Ex's home. The previous mattress was old and smelled, and needed to be disposed of. A new mattress was required, but Mama Ex didn't have the money to buy her a new mattress.

Fair enough. Mattresses are expensive. They can be a few hundred dollars, and we knew that Mama Ex didn't have that kind of disposable income. Rather than be petty and shout from the rooftops "THIS IS WHAT CHILD SUPPORT IS FOR!", Hubs and I decided we would do the right thing and purchase a mattress for his daughter. Basic living conditions are necessary for her to do well in school and have good self-esteem about her life. 

$150 wasn't worth an argument about semantics.

I felt good about this decision and even better that my SD was finally getting to sleep on a decent bed. All was well. 

But a few weeks later, Hubs saw a text from Mama Ex to her daughter in response to asking for a new toy. The text essentially said, "Ask Daddy if you want that, honey. He's responsible for getting you these things. Just like your mattress."

Then the feces hit the oscillating equipment on the ceiling.

(That means shit hit the fan.)

All this time, we were getting necessities for my SD, thinking that Mama Ex was just unable to pay for them. We didn't interrogate her, we didn't accuse her. We just took care of it because it was the right thing to do. But to find out that even if she had the money, she wouldn't have taken care of those costs because it was Hubs responsibility?

Not okay.

So...despite my experience with this rotten and icky situation, my answer to @StepMomsAnon's question is still the same: No. That picture does not depict abusive care.

Poverty or near poverty is not a crime. There are millions of children who are sleeping on blankets on the floor at night with a mother and/or father doing the best he/she can to give them what they need. And they are failing to make ends meet. That is not abuse or neglect. That is an unfortunate situation that I can feel empathy for. Times can be tough, and we've all been there.

Don't get me wrong, there is a decidedly large difference between not being able to provide your children with proper care/clothing and choosing not to because you expect someone else (like the other parent) to handle it. Mama Ex probably could have paid for a mattress and didn't. Is it wrong? Hell yes. Is it abuse? Trust me, the Missouri court systems don't think it is.
But here's the biggest thing of all. IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYWAY. No one is going to show up at Mama Ex's door and demand that she change her mind about what the father of her children is required to pay for. Sure, we could spend several thousand dollars going back to court and once again slowly explaining to Mama Ex what child support is, and how it is to be used. But would it be worth it? That thousand dollars may as well go toward helping the kids with what they need that they clearly aren't getting elsewhere.

Is it unfair? Yes. Is this part of the responsibility of marrying a man with children? Yes, it is. 

As a stepmom, I face this situation a lot, and I know a lot of you are with me. Hubs and I are able to give the girls everything they need at our home, and we are able to give the girls everything they need at their mother's home. 

Does that mean we should?

Not necessarily.

I think Hubs children should experience both sides of the fence. As I said before, there is nothing wrong with living in a home that doesn't have every available amenity at all times. That's life, yo. However, when it comes to basic needs (like lunch money, mattresses, clothes that fit), I believe Hubs children should have those, even if that means we get to dig in our pockets and pay for it. I tell myself this every morning:

I can't make Mama Ex do the right thing. But I can hold myself accountable to do right by these children that I have committed to.

End of story. End of discussion.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Show Me The money

As I connect with more and more stepmom's out there, I hear the same story complaint repeated back to me over and over and over again.

The money.

Where's the money?


As a stepmom, you are forever expected to be okay with (okay, not forever, but for awhile) watching a significant portion of your Hubs' salary go right out of his paycheck, flutter through the air and land in Mama Ex's bank account. 

Where she gets to do with it as she pleases.

The money should go to supporting the children (hence that clever name, "child support"). But it doesn't always happen that way - or at least we assume it doesn't.

Stepmoms are practically set up to fail when it comes to having grown up, mature thoughts about child support. After all, we know how hard our husbands work for their money, and we can think of 12 zillion more productive things that WE would do with that money if we had it in our joint account where it belonged. Unfortunately, thinking about all the ways Mama Ex is spending our hubby's money incorrectly isn't helping anyone. And if you're talking about it out loud, chances are, the kids are hearing it.

Here are some tips for stepping away from the negative nelly approach to child support and focusing on how to make (partial) peace with it.

Glass Houses, Throwing Stones, etc. etc.

I know how tempting it is to assume the worst when it comes to child support. You see Mama Ex go on a trip to Florida but then see a notice from the school that the kids are low on lunch money. What gives??

 But c'mon...have you honestly never bought a new pair of shoes when the money should have gone to your car insurance? Have you never had a bank overdraft for something stupid? Unless your financial house is constantly in order and has never been out of order, you probably shouldn't judge Mama Ex's spending habits. Everyone makes mistakes and you wouldn't want to be held accountable to Mama Ex's financial standards, right? She doesn't want to be held to yours, either.

The Law Isn't Going to Change

I've heard it 10,000 times. "Why can't the government make it so that the money from child support can ONLY be used for housing, or food, or something that benefits the child?"

Because it won't make a difference. Think of it this way.

Let's say Mama Ex gets $100.00 per week in child support. Let's say she gets $500.00 per week for her job. That's $600.00 per week, yes? Okay. You think Mama Ex spends at minimum $70.00 per week of child support on stuff for herself. NO FAIR!! So let's just pretend that suddenly the government steps in and makes it so that child support can only be spent on groceries. Fine. It won't matter. Mama Ex will just reallocate. Instead of using the $70.00 from child support on herself, she'll use the $70.00 of child support on groceries. And now she has saved $70.00 of her own money that used to go toward groceries. Which she can use to by stuff for herself. It's still $600 per week, no matter how you slice it. If she's determined to use the money for herself, she's going to find a way, yo.

And you sitting in the corner, mentally adding it all up and making assumptions about what you think she's spending will just make you crazy. And crazy isn't very sexy. Your husband likes you when you're sexy.

You Don't Know Mama Ex's Situation

Unless you are part of a very small group that probably exists somewhere, Mama Ex is probably not providing you receipts for everything that she's spending or receiving. You see a new pair of shoes and think, "UGH! Those TOTALLY came from child support!"

Um, how do you know? Did Mama Ex show you her bank statement?

Perhaps Mama Ex got a killer bonus at work. Maybe she went gambling on Friday night and made a cool $1,000.00 on Kitty Glitter. Good for her. Maybe her new boyfriend showered her with a "I think I love you" present. Perhaps she got them on a killer sale at Goodwill. The fact is YOU DON'T KNOW. You don't know any more than Mama Ex knows how much your car payment is each month. 


And her money is none of yours.

But My Stepkids Told Me....

BUT RUBY, you say. The kids told me that Mama Ex didn't get a bonus and she doesn't have a new boyfriend and she didn't win any money on Kitty Glitter. They kids TOLD me she bought that Michael Kors bag with her child support. 

Your stepkids are lying, yo.

Or maybe I should rephrase. Your stepkids are placating you. They are repeating back what they've heard you already say so they can win brownie points with you. Children do not understand child support. It's this weird mythological thing that's out there causing drama between their mom and their dad. They know Mom doesn't think she gets enough of it and Dad thinks Mom gets too much of it. Imagine how stressful that is for them. It's like living in a yo-yo.

Give your stepkids a break and never discuss child support in front of them. If a friend mentions it in conversation when the ankle biters are around, SHUT.IT.DOWN. Kids have enough to worry about without you bringing in the cost of child support each month. 

But the Kids DO Understand

Even more of a reason to keep mum. Imagine you're 14 years old and you truly do understand what child support is. You totally get that it's supposed to help make your life better at Mom's house because she makes less than Dad. Now imagine you hear your stepmom complaining that she is SO SICK of giving money to Mama Ex. In your head, that translates to, "My stepmom doesn't think I'm worthy of this money. I must be a pretty crap kid."

I realize there are extenuating circumstances out there and thousands of Mama Ex's abuse their child support dollars. And that sucks monkey butt. What you must ask yourself is, "what good will it do me to dwell on this?" It likely won't be changing any time soon. If you can, try and put a positive spin on it. Whether you realize it or not, that child support is helping your stepkids. It may not be helping them as much as you would prefer, but hey, that's life.

Now go buy your stepkids some ice cream and buy yourself some new shoes...