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.