Tag Archives: divorce

Something to Think About

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It is my hope that all you stepmom readers will learn something from my experience of losing both my husband and stepsons.  Some stepmoms may wonder why they should try to get along with the mother of the kids.  Why shouldn’t you is what I want to know?  I realize that some mothers are difficult to endure.  Some  are hostile, weird, crazy, jealous, insensitive, manipulative, beastly, petty—fill in the blank.  Eliza was all that and then some!  You might be thinking, Well you don’t know my husband’s ex!  While I might not know her personally, I do know the archetype.

Even though I know I tried my very best to smooth things over between she and I (in the last two years), she didn’t.  I could only control myself, and rightly focused on changing my attitude about her instead of trying to force  her to be different.

Therefore, I want to make sure that you are doing everything on your end to be peacable.  Please pick and choose your battles and think of your situation with the end in mind.  We all know that stepparents have no legal rights to their stepchildren.  Your husband is truly that connecting force between you two.  Unless, you have a stable relationship with the mother, that is (especially in the event of death and/or the children are not of age).  No him or her=no stepchildren.  You can’t force/demand/court order the biological parent to allow you to interact with their kids.   

As you see in my case, it is to your benefit to get along with the mother of the children.  I truly wish that Eliza would have honored my role and feelings.  There is no compelling reason that Nicholas and I should not have the boys in our lives.  It still hurts that she is punishing us in this manner.

If you are giving it the best that you’ve got, I heartily encourage you to keep up the good work!  Life offers few fairy tale endings and your efforts alone may not produce the desired outcome.  But speaking from experience, you won’t regret trying.

I do, however, wish that I would have had this attitude from the very inception.  While I wasn’t the one who started the fires and mostly ignored her combustive behavior, I wouldn’t have spit on her if she was on fire (as the old saying goes)!  I felt like it wasn’t my “job” to appease her (or get along with her) in any manner.  Afterall, it was her who was causing trouble, being difficult, and behaving in a bellicose manner!

So if you are holding onto grudges, insecurites, myths about the ex, things your stepchildren told you she said,  past hurts, or any other minute issues (and if it’s not life or death—IT IS SMALL!) stop while you still have time to regroup, reflect, and reposition yourself.  Like it or not, she will always be their mother.  You can’t “wish” her away or pretend she doesn’t exist.  Figure out exactly what you want your blended family life to be and go for it.  Wake up and change directions while you still can.  Most anything is possible because everyday is a new day.  Even if you can’t have peace with her because of her relunctance (or disinterest) you can have it within for trying.

With that being said,  if you still can’t think of any reason under the sun as to why it would be a good idea to be on stable ground with your husband’s ex; think about your stepchild(ren) and your life without them in it.

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Will You Be My Stepwife?

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Gaylord Focker, will you be my son-in-law? 

I’m pretty sure that most of you have seen the movie “Meet the Parents” starring Robert Deniro.  Of course it takes him the majority of the movie to accept that his daughter loves Gaylord Focker.

Such is usually the case with step and biomoms.  Sometimes it takes moms a while to acknowledge the fact that stepmoms actually love their children and mean them no harm.

And that ‘s okay.  Give the moms space to accept reality in their own timing.

Stepmoms, for what it’s worth, you should make every effort to interact civilly with your stepchild(ren)’s mother.  If possible as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Don’t get me wrong, I KNOW that some people are utterly unreasonable, don’t want to get along, and are mentally unstable to boot.  But that has nothing to do with you and who you are!  You are a stepmom with values and principles and a good heart.  Use every opportunity you can to be the bigger person.  In the end, the small things just don’t matter.  If it is not a life or death situation you will be better off letting it go.  Working together works–trite but true. 

Take it from one who knows, it feels so good to do the right thing even when you feel that the other person doesn’t deserve it.  I struggled a lot with this thought when it came to dealing with Eliza.  I was most successful when I remembered that we didn’t deserve to have Jesus die for us, yet he did without hesitation.  Therefore take what a person “deserves” out of the equation. 

I had “proposed” to Eliza in the early stages of our  burgeoning correspondence.  I even shared articles with her from the CoMama’s  so she wouldn’t think I was crazy for even dreaming of such a partnership.  I wanted to let her know that I was not trying to take her place.  I also wanted her to know that I wished to work with her for the sake of our boys.  I can’t say that she accepted because I feel that if she had, the boys would be with me now.

Even though I was rejected, I have no regrets for wanting what I felt was best for the boys.  It’s a small consolation in the face of all that has happened, yet it’s one less burden that I currently have to bear.

Life Wife

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I’ve been thinking a lot about being a “second wife.”  Personally, I really don’t view myself in this manner.  I like to think of myself as a “life wife.”  After all, we are in this thing together for life.

Eliza used to remind me that she was married to him first as if that made her the winner of some contest that I didn’t know I had entered.  I have no idea why, as I have never had a problem acknowledging that fact that she is his former spouse.

At the inception of our relationship, she had attempted to get me fired from my job several times.  Once she went as far as going down to the superintendent’s office to air her grievances.   When Eliza soon realized that the school administration would not get involved in her personal vendetta against me she grew irate. My boss finally cautioned Eliza that she was trespassing on school grounds.  She also advised her to leave us alone and move on with her life.  She responded that my husband would never really belong to me because she had him first!  I was truly astonished by her immaturity.

I don’t see the glory in being involved in a failed marriage.  True, it is a fact of life but not much to brag about.  The best thing that came out of that particular union are the kids.  That’s it.

At the last court date, Eliza must have gotten tired of hearing the judge refer to me as “his wife.”  She quickly switched from calling him by his first name to “my ex-husband.”  Well, your Honor, my exhusband…My ex-husband said…When my exhusbandI asked my exhusband…we both found this peculiar considering how much she detests him.  Why would she want to lay any kind of claim to him–past or present?    This was my first time hearing her use the term.  Again, she simply threw it about as a reminder to everyone that she was “The First.”  But I think she failed to take into account that the husband she had is not the one I have.  It is afterall, his second time around.  His experience with her has helped him be a better husband to me. 

In our society we are consumed with being number one.  Everyone remembers the first man to walk on the moon, as well as we know that Martha Washington was the first First lady.  Don’t forget that must people want to fly first class.  We live for firsts because we are such a competitive society that second place just won’t do.  I mean look at the world of sports today. It’s only about the title.  But I can say that this is one situation in which being second is the best.

Estrangements

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I found this telling poem written by William Pitt Root in a book called I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You.

A man and his wife are estranged.

They have a child

they love.

The child returns from a visit

with the father

carrying a sack of candy

the mother sees and takes

and throws away.

The child cries, the mother cries,

the father, if he knew,

would cry.

The father knows.

His wife has told him

of that illness, often.

How the hands chill,

the eyes glaze.

But the father loves the child

and the child loves the father.

Neither has a full knowledge of love

and there are things

to be put in love’s place.

So the child cries, the mother cries,

and the father, if he knew,

would cry.

In Her Shoes

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When my stepson Evan was 8 years-old, he was having a lot of problems in school.  This wasn’t really anything new–he has always had self-control issues.  But because Eliza kept them away from us, we knew little about how severe his problems in school really were. 

We suspected that he had a mental illness one random weekend when Eliza allowed the boys to spend the night.  Evan arrived with a tiny blue pill in his hand.  She had instructed Ethan to make sure he took it with dinner.  When I noticed it I inquired about it.  Ethan only ten at the time, couldn’t accurately articulate why he had to take the pill.  He basically stated that it was because Evan “was acting bad in school and getting suspended a whole lot.”  We were both alarmed.  We had to wait for Eliza to pick the boys up before inquiring about the pill.  At this time she did not allow us to have her phone number and only contacted us when it benefited her.  When my husband attempted to ask her about it she told him that she would call him about it but never did.

Evan started second grade with us on a good note.  However, three days into the school year, Evan was suspended for biting a classmate.  A few weeks later we attended a skating party hosted by his school.  None of Evan’s classmates would interact with him.  Ethan confided in me later that several of the kids had approached him saying how scared of Evan they were! That was only the beginning.

My husband works over 45 minutes away from Evan’s school.  And because my job is a lot closer, it was me who had to pick him up from school when he was suspended.  Kid you not I left work at the minimum of three times per week to get him.  Sometimes I would be fortunate enough that the call or email came at the tail end of the day.  Evan’s school is dismissed at 2:00pm and ours at 2:45pm.  I was saved by the bell many times by generous co-workers who knew of our situation.  Often someone would cover my seventh period class so that I could leave.

 I used to dread when my classroom phone rang beacuse it was usually the secretary informing me that my son’s school was on the line.  The first time it happened it I felt a surge of fear.  I thought something had happened to Nicholas.  Afterall, I only had one “son.”  After that I received so many calls from his school that I became embarassed.  Surely the office staff would start to gossip about my “bad”child. 

The majority of the time the calls came right before my lunch time.  I would make a mad dash to grab him and drop him off at the sitter’s, sometimes sliding through my classroom door right before the minute bell rang.  This went on for months.  We had tried paying a child care service to pick him up when he was sent home for the day.  This worked for a few weeks before the daycare provider grew tired of picking him up so frequently.  She felt that it was taking away from her other clients.    I was livid about what Evan was putting us through.  I even secretly gave him a nickname: Crazy 8’s.  Evan was obviously acting very “crazy,” he was 8 years-old, and he was a game aficionado.  In fact, one time he was sent home for hitting the teacher because he could not finish playing the game. 

Once while presenting at a writing conference I received “the call.”  Unable to leave my husband had to pick him up.  Eventually my husband learned that he was eligible for FMLA and his job would be protected when he needed to leave.  However, this was a drain on our finances.  My sister and aunt would pick Evan up when neither him or I could leave work.   But at least we were fortunate enough that we had family who was willing to help us.   I knew a woman who wasn’t so lucky.

I worked with Lisa my first year of teaching.  I really didn’t know much about her other than that she was divorced and had a son.  Shortly I discovered more about her when she started being absent 3-4 times a week.  At first, we all thought she was ill and had no problems following the contingency plan that Ms. Johnson had established.  The plan was that each English teacher had to take 5-8 of Lisa’s students each day that she was absent.  Remember, this is high school, so that meant  we would see an extra 25-40 students per day.  And because her absences were not planned, there were no lesson plans that came along with her unruly bunch.  It got old really fast.  We were all annoyed about having to take on her responsibility in addition to our own.

One day we were all sitting around in the English office discussing Lisa and her absences.    By then it had already leaked out that she was absent so frequently due to her young son, Austin who suffered from bipolar disorder, ADHD, and ODD.  We were all beyond feeling empathy for her even though we knew that she was a single parent and that her extended family lived in Florida.  Lisa was carrying the load all by herself.  A few times she had even brought Austin to school as a last resort.  I saw him a couple of times in the English office playing quietly.  He was a cute little boy and seemed to have a sweet personality.  In other words, he didn’t “look” like anything was wrong with him.

Honestly then I was ignorant about mental illness.  I knew that bipolar disorder was a type of mental illness and what the other acronyms stood for but that was the sum of my knowledge.  Everyone had opinions about what she should do, myself included.  I made a comment wondering if Austin was truly bipolar and the room got quiet.  Lisa had entered the area.  If a hole would have opened up in the floor I would have hurled myself into it.  I felt soooo bad.

To her credit, she did not indicate that she knew what we were discussing her life.  But I am sure that she knew.  At the end of the year she was let go due to her poor attendance.  Shortly after that she moved back to her home state in order to get the support she needed.

Today I think about Lisa a lot because I am now walking in her shoes.  Now I see what a journey it is.   She would have a been a good resource for me to brainstorm with.  I see Austin in Evan.  On the surface, he looks peaceful, too.  But what lies underneath is a very troubled child.  I used to wonder if God was punishing me for my lack of understanding.  But now I know that He is using Evan to  teach me endurance, faith, and true compassion. 

Evan’s behavior became so volatile and unpredictable that he was eventually placed in an alternative school for students with behavior problems.  His behavior did not improve there, it actually worsened to the point that we finally relented to our last resort, residential treatment. 

I have learned many things since Evan has been in our home.  I have learned about the devastating toll that mental illness can take on a family.  I learned what it really means to love unconditionally when you are pushed to the limit.  I’ve learned to leave the judging up to God.  Sometimes we don’t know what others are going through based solely on our superficial observances that we deem to be the gospel.

Criminal

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Sometimes I look back and wonder exactly where I went wrong in this whole ordeal with Eliza.  Now that I’ve had to time to figure out what my “crimes” were, I must say that I am guilty as charged.

 

In hindsight I realize that I was a little too eager to make our relationship known to the world. I paid little attention to how she might have felt.  I mistakenly assumed that she had accepted the divorce and moved on with her life.  Boy was I so wrong!  From her point of view I’m sure I came off as Ms. Goody-Goody–ready and willing to step in and take her place.  

 

The first time I met her I smiled and extended my hand in greeting.  Eliza glared at me disdainfully and ignored my gesture.  She declined to say hello.  In that moment I understood I was the perceived enemy. I was a little alarmed by her lack of decorum, but at the time, I really didn’t take her rebuff to heart.  In my ignorance I figured she would eventually soften when she saw how well I treated her children.  Wrong again!!!  This approach had the opposite effect.  It seemed the more I bonded with the boys, the more irate she became.  Later down the line Eliza accused me of wanting her boys for my own. 

 

Another offense I committed was my refusal to be scared off.  I have to give it to Eliza; she really had some creepy, morbid, desperate weapons in her arsenal that would have caused a saner girl to break camp.  I know that my diligence puzzled her especially considering she had successfully ran off several other women he had attempted to date.  My dogged determination to stay with my husband only served to fuel her fire.  She was willing to do anything to get rid of me.

 

 Any time that they had court dates, save one or two when I just couldn’t alter my schedule, I was there.  It didn’t matter that my husband had actually requested my presence.  My presence was a constant reminder to her that she was no longer his wife.  My courtroom cameos were an affront  to Eliza.  It meant that I was overstepping boundaries and “meddling in her business.”  She told my husband several times “out of respect do not bring your wife or whatever you want to call her any where near me.”  Seeing us together must have seemed like I was rubbing salt in her wound of a failed marriage.  This was not my intention; but now I can see why it could have felt that way to her at the time.  Really, I was simply a thorn in her side.  She and my husband had many separations during their short time together.  As long as he was single, there was always a chance for reconciliation.  Our marriage was the end of this ever being a chance again.

 

However, I was not content to be a shadow in my own life.  I didn’t feel that it was realistic of her to expect me to be invisible for the sake of her insecurities.  My most felonious crime was being lovable in the eyes of my husband.  Our marriage aggravated her obviously low self worth.  Her solution to this problem was to compete with me.  While he might have had me, she had their two children.  Even though he divorced her, he could not truly cut ties with her because of the boys.  She constantly reminded us both of this. 

 

So what would I do differently you ask?  I think I would have made my self less visible—not invisible.  Perhaps I could have been gracious enough to give her the space she desperately needed to come to terms with her situation.  This action could have saved us a lot of stress down the road, who knows? 

 

Today I read a beautifully candid post by Thirty Something Mommy of Two Boys that details her journey at the other end of the spectrum.